My Thoughts on Quilting Machines
My Ideas on Quilting Machines:
Machine quilting has undergone a radical transformation since I began machine quilting over 15 years ago. When I began machine quilting, it was literally a dirty word among quilters in general. Nearly all long-arm quilters were only doing edge-to-edge pantograph designs and there were more bad ones than good ones. This tended to give machine quilting a bad name.
I attempted to machine heirloom quilt on a long-arm which was unheard of at the time. I had to develop a way to make my machine maneuverable so that I could stitch directly on top of previously stitched lines in order to quilt designs in a continuous manner.
When I began teaching machine quilting on domestic machines there were no machines on the market with the extended arms which are now available.
That meant the standard sewing machines had to be used to do heirloom machine quilting. Today, many machine quilters still use their regular sewing machine to do their machine quilting. It can be done and done very well with practice and patience. The extended throat machines make this process somewhat easier, but it is still not the ideal situation for the home machine quilter.
Many of my students longingly tell me that they would love to have a long-arm machine to do their own quilting. I will usually try to steer them in a different direction by asking them the following questions. I then discuss my views regarding hobby versus business usage. (Keep in mind that I have done machine quilting as a business, for my own pleasure, and as a machine quilting teacher.)
Things to consider:
1. What type of work do you want to do?
A. Pantograph edge to edge
B. Freehand custom work
C. Heirloom feathers, etc.
D. Large stippling or meandering
E. Computerized controlled machine work
If you chose either A, B, D or E - you might want to think about a long-arm machine. If you chose C, you might want to think twice about a long-arm. I will admit that you can do heirloom work with a standard long-arm machine, but it is not easy.
2. How much room do you have to set up a machine?
Long-arm machines take up a lot of space. A machine capable of doing a king-size quilt will require a room about 20 feet long by 10 feet wide, minimum. This is a pretty big chunk of real estate to dedicate to a quilting machine that will probably not be used continuously. I know that I can't set-up my long-arm in my house and expect to stay married to my wife. My machine is set-up in a separate shop about 15 miles from my home, which is not very convenient.
3. Physically - how big and strong are you?
What you never seem to hear is how physically demanding long-arm machines are to operate.
As easy as some of the better machines roll there is still a lot of weight that you have to wrestle with for extended periods of time. Every time you move that machine - you are pushing or pulling the 30 to 50 pounds that the machine head weighs. When you come to a sharp point in a design that requires an abrupt change in direction, you will have to bring the machine to a stop and then start again in a different direction. This can and will get tiring over a period of time and could cause wrist problems. Standing for long periods of time may lead to back, knee and leg problems as well.
4. How much money do you have to invest in your quilting hobby?
This is a question that you really should honestly answer before making a large investment in a long-arm machine. It took a very long time for me to pay for my long-arm, and I was doing it as a business for several years.
I jokingly ask my students how they answer the question "how many machines do you really need?"
Answer: "Just one more."
My Suggestion to Solve the Long-Arm Dilema:
The solution that I have settled on is to purchase a mid-arm machine and use it as a sit-down machine. Following are reasons I believe a mid-arm machine is the best choice.
1. With a sit-down, mid-arm machine you can do all of the types of machine quilting mentioned previously, except computer controlled work. (For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would opt to utilize a computerized program.) In addition, you can do stitch-in-the-ditch work which is extremely difficult with a traditional long-arm machine.
2. The larger throat area on the sit-down, mid-arm machine makes it much easier to move the quilt sandwich through the machine when compared to domestic home machines - even those with an extended arm. Also, because the throat opening is taller than a domestic machine, the machine operator has greater visibility around the needle area. Another advantage over the home sewing machine is that the hopping foot is an integral part of the machine and not an accessory that has to be attached to the machine. The hopping foot provides more visibility for stitching sideways or backwards eliminating most blind spots.
3. A sit-down, mid-arm machine will take up much less space than a long-arm machine. A long-arm machine requires an area up to 10' x 20'; a sit-down, mid-arm machine can be tucked into an area 2' x 5'. You can probably use one side of the table to set your home sewing machine on to do your piecing.
4. Strength and stature no longer become a factor to consider with a sit-down, mid-arm machine. The only strength required is to slide the quilt sandwich on the table surface. This is going to be much easier for you than trying to muscle 30 to 50 pounds around for long periods of time. Another advantage to the sit down set-up is that you do not have to stand up to operate the machine. This could eliminate much of the strain on your legs, knees and back that is an inherent problem of using a stand-up, long-arm machine. Potential wrist problems may be greatly reduced because of having to maneuver less weight.
5. The cost of a sit-down, mid-arm machine is likely half the cost of a traditional stand-up, long-arm machine. Realistically, a sit-down, mid-arm machine could provide even more savings over purchasing a long-arm with all of the "bells and whistles."
You are probably asking yourself why I went through all of this just to tell you my feelings regarding quilting machines.
I did this because I have been there and have worked my way through many of the machine quilting problems. I now use a sit-down, mid-arm machine to do most of my machine quilting because I believe it is the optimal solution.
I am pleased to say that I am a dealer for a sit-down, mid-arm quilting machine. I started my machine quilting adventure with the purchase of an American Professional Quilting Systems (APQS) and have used that same machine for over 15 years. I believe that machines made by APQS are the finest on the market.
The APQS sit-down machine is called the George. I am not sure where the name came from, but what I am sure of is that this is a great quilting machine. The machine is a dream to use with a very short learning curve -- especially when in conjunction with my book on free-motion machine quilting. Another plus is that it is American made.
I have to say that I used a brand "X" machine for a period of time before the George was marketed, but am happy to say that I have returned to my roots with APQS. For me - there is no real comparison.
I hope you will take the time to review the section devoted specifically to the George machine which provides greater machine detail. This section will also give you information on purchasing the George directly from me.
I encourage you to visit the APQS website as additional information is available on that site. You may ask yourself why buy from me rather than directly from the APQS factory since the price is the same.
Purchasing from me will provide an extra layer of support not available from the factory. If you have a question, you can first present it to me for resolution. I am a quilter; not a widget salesman. I actually use these machines on a daily basis. If I am unable to resolve your problem(s), you still have the factory for back-up support. Because I want you to succeed, I will do everything possible to assist you with your problem(s).
As part of your purchase package from me, you will receive my three previously mentioned books as a gift. In addition, if you come to my home in Redding - CA, I will give you a one day, six hour private lesson on the George at no additiional charge. At the end of the day, you will have experienced the hands-on techniques of many simple quilting designs, as well as complicated heirloom feathers. Granted, there would be travel expenses involved on your part .... however, what a great excuse for a Road Trip. I live in a beautiful area with lots of recreation nearby so you could make a vacation of it.
If you have any questions regarding the George or any information provided on my site, please do not hesitate to contact me.