Monday, November 30, 2015

Shopping for a Longarm-TIPS

Almost a year ago, I was presented with an opportunity to try out a longarm.  I'm not really a traditional quilter, in the sense that my family didn't pass sewing and quilting along through the generations.  I pretty much just jumped in head first and have been mostly figuring things out on my own.  





I had a preconceived notion that I didn't like longarm quilters.  I did all my own quilting on a little domestic machine (even King sized quilt!), and kind of scoffed at the idea of anything else.  My first time on a Sweet Sixteen Handiquilter really opened my eyes.  Here are the perks:
1.  NO MORE BASTING on the floor with safety pins. 
     That should be enough to get anyone's attention.  
2.  And while you do still need to press your tops and backs prior to loading your            quilts, you don't have to press the hell out of them like you would when hand basting,              since the roller bars keep your fabric fairly taut.  
3.  No more quilt wrestling.
     If you are quilting on a domestic machine to take the place of your arm workout, you
     may want to look into lifting weights.  There won't be anymore tugging and rearranging 
     and rolling and re-rolling your quilt to fit under the 11" (or less) throat of your domestic.
4.  SPEED!  
     Since most longarm machines are industrial machines, the stitches per minute is so much
     Faster than a domestic could ever dream of being.  
5.  Ease of quilting
      It's much easier to plan your stitches, use rulers, channel locks, and other quilting
      tools to make your work easier.  Your quilt is flat and easy to work with, as opposed to
      being rolled up and squished.


So why am I writing this post?  
If you don't own a longarm, there are lots of issues with using one.  

If you rent time on a community machine, the tension on the bobbin case may need to be adjusted every time you start to quilt (which could be the case anyway, depending on what thread you use).  

The machine height may not be right for you.  If the frame has adjustable capabilities, then no worries, but most of the time, these machines are set at one height and you have to deal with it.  Every quilt I did made me feel like the Hunchback of Notre Dame when I was finished from stooping over so much.  I was sure that if I didn't purchase my own machine soon that I would develop a hump back!

Then there is the matter of your tools and supplies.  Hauling them around.  Constantly.  I needed a pack mule just to get all my thread, batting, rulers, etc. from point A to point B.  Seriously a pain in the butt.  This highly contributed to me wanting my own machine.

Drive time, machine availability (being at the mercy of open calendar days).  Okay--so if you are just quilting for yourself--no big deal.  But if you start taking client quilts, this is a problem.  If you aren't able to finish a job in the time you reserve the machine for, you have to take your quilt off the frame and re-load it another time.  No me gusta.  

Basically, I wanted to be spoiled and have a machine at my beck and call.  Since I work a full time job aside from sewing and quilting, availability is a high priority for me.  I want to be able to wake up at 5 AM, crank up the longarm and get in 2 hours of quilting before I go to work.  And if I want to, I would like to quilt until midnight, walk to my bed and go to sleep.  And since I have a full time job, I have the financial means to do this.  

So, above are all the reasons I felt made sense to me to get my own machine.  I knew what things I wanted from a machine.  I knew what I liked and what I hated about the machine I quilted on.


Here are considerations you should think about before making the financial commitment of buying your own longarm (in my opinion):
1.  Set a budget and stick to it.
     Know what you can afford and what you can't.  Don't try out a machine you can't afford.
     Be okay with the amount you're going to spend.  If you aren't, keep renting!

2.  Make a list of must haves.
     If you've tried other machines, you'll know what you love and can't live without.  Make 
     Sure the machine you purchase has EVERYTHING you can't live without, or has the
     capability to add it later (which most of them do).  

3.  Find a venue where you can try lots of brands at the same time.
      Quilt market.  Just about every longarm manufacturer is represented at Quilt market.  
     Go.  Play.  Try all the machines.  Try them again.  It will be easy for you to cross some 
     brands off your list immediately, and you can narrow down your search between just a 
     few machines.  Then try them all again.  And again.  

4.  Make notes each time you try a machine.
     Write down your experiences.  If you are having issues with a machine at a huge venue
     like quilt market, chances are the machine is going to be nothing but trouble for you at 
     home.  If the manufacturer doesn't bring a top notch machine to showcase, the product
     you purchase won't be any better.  

5.  Make notes on the frame.
     The frame can be just as important as the machine that sits on it.  Some have hydraulics
     that allow you to adjust the height at the push of a button.  

6.  Ask LOTS of questions.
     Now is the time to ask the vendors.  Ask questions until you are confident that you have 
     all the answers you want and need.

7.  Ask about customer service/upkeep/troubleshooting.
     Will someone be able to come to your house?  Do they have a phone hotline?  What are 
     the hours it's available?  Web chat?  Will you be able to deal with someone local?  How
    much will a service call in person cost you?  What is the amount of time you'll have to 
    wait if you have a serious problem?  Is the customer service phone line outsourced, or will 
     you be able to talk to someone in your country?

8.  Ask for the BEST possible deal. 
     The price may be set, but you won't know unless you try.  Quilt market may be the best 
     place for you to get a show special.  Ask for discounts.  Ask if they sell refurbished machi-
     nes at a discounted rate.  

9.  Training/delivery/setup
     Does the manufacturer provide delivery and installation?  Do you have to pay separately
     for that ?  Is there any kind of training or orientation offered for the machine?

10.  Think about the ability to sell your machine.
     (Should you ever have to...).  You want to have the option to sell your machine.  Even if
     you aren't interested in computerized programs (which can cost as much, if not more,
     than the machine and frame), other people might be.  Try to purchase a machine that
     has the capability to add this later.  Who knows?  You may want it yourself!

11.  Research before you go.
      Do as much online research as you can.  This will save you a lot of time prior to being at         the venue.

12.  Know about space requirements.
       Not just of the machine, but the frame.  Ask about different frame lengths, various 
       throat depths of different models.  

13.  Ask how long before you'll get your machine.
       For some reason, I thought I would be loading my longarm up at quilt market and 
       driving it home.  LOL.  4-6 weeks before potential delivery.  That may just be the time
       it takes for the manufacturer I bought from, but ASK.

I'm sure there are lots of other questions and things to ask, but these were the main considerations that I had.  I went to quilt market knowing exactly what I needed and wanted, and what things were not important to me.  Number 1 on my list was to stick to a budget, which I did not do.  I had every intention of buying a much cheaper machine, but when I tried it out, the thread broke several times, and then the machine froze.  It was worth it to me to spend more after thinking about dealing with those problems constantly.  

I ended up purchasing an Innova-22" machine on a 12' frame.  One thing I didn't quite understand was that most of the people who own Innova's rave about the "Lightning Stitch" stitch regulator (that comes with a whopping $4000 price tag).  I opted to not add that option, but may add it later.  The Innova machines come standard with, from what I understand, a lesser version of this stitch regulator.  I just couldn't justify a 4 grand price tag on an upgraded stitch regulator (I stitch mostly in manual mode--but for those who stitch mostly in regulated...)  I will say...this machine stitches like a dream and I can't wait to get that sucker in my house.  

Best of luck to you on your search for your personal longarm quilting machine!




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