Best long arm quilting machines: a buyer’s guide
Learn all about long arm quilting machines from quilting expert Lorna Sclessor. She'll show you how to use a long arm quilting machine and where you can buy them!
There’s nothing more irresistible than a beautifully finished quilt. Whether your quilt sandwich is stitched together with perfectly straight lines or swirling circles, a striking geometric grid or a soft dappled effect, the quilting design can really help to make your piecing pop and create that stroke-worthy texture every quilter wants.
One thing that can make all the difference with quilting is a long arm quilting machine. You can send your patchwork quilt top off to a professional long arm quilter or buy your own long arm quilting machine to do it yourself. While sending quilts off to a professional is a great way to give your back and shoulders a break from wrestling your quilt sandwich through your domestic sewing machine, if you make a lot of quilts then a long arm machine could be a wise investment. It may take a bit of practice to get used to, but once you’ve got the knack you’ll be finishing each and every quilt like a true pro.
If you’ve never experienced a long arm quilting machine before then you may be wondering if they live up to the hype or are worth investing in yourself. We’re here to explain how they work and give some insight into the best ones on the market!
What is a long arm quilting machine?
A long arm quilting machine is different from a domestic sewing machine in many ways. A long arm machine loads the patchwork quilt top, batting and backing fabric into a metal frame to sew the three layers together flat. Instead of moving the quilt sandwich through the machine like you would on a domestic version, the head of the long arm machine moves vertically and horizontally to add the quilting stitches whilst the quilt sandwich stays still. A long arm quilting machine can be run manually or computerized, either giving you full control or allowing you to pick designs that the machine will quilt automatically.
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How to choose a long arm quilting machine
It may be tempting to choose a machine with all the bells and whistles, but sometimes you’re better off keeping it simple. The last thing you want to be doing after you’ve loaded up your quilt sandwich is hunting around for a complicated user manual, so choose a machine that has easy controls, simple maintenance, and a table that will make loading and quilting straightforward.
Bear the size of your sewing space in mind when selecting a long arm quilting machine. They’re not small! With that said, also bear the size of your quilts in mind. A small long arm quilting machine can limit the size of the project that you can quilt on, so consider the size of the table when making your choice.
Long arm quilting machines are big investments, so it goes without saying that you should take both the customer service and warranty details of the machine you’ve chosen into consideration! If you’re able to, it’s always best to ‘test drive’ a long arm quilting machine before you buy one. It may take a while to get used to before you have perfect stitches, but it’ll help you get a feel of the stitch regulation and the quality of the machine before you take the dive and make a commitment. That way you can always talk through any questions or concerns with someone who knows what they’re talking about too.
How to use a long arm quilting machine
A long arm quilting machine generally consists of four different parts: a sewing machine head, fabric rollers, a work table, and a large metal frame – this is usually between 10 or 14 feet long but will depend on the machine. To use the machine you will need to first load your backing fabric and quilt top onto the rollers, and then clamp them and the batting into position. Depending on whether you’ll be quilting your own design freehand or are using a pre-selected design on a computerised machine, you’ll then start your quilting. If you’re quilting freehand, the long arm quilting machine will have handles for you to grip onto, so you can move the sewing machine head around the quilt as you sew the stitches. Quilt an all-over design, highlight details of your patchwork or use handy quilting rulers to create something perfectly symmetrical (that’s something for another post!) – there’s no limit with a long arm quilting machine.
6 of the best long arm sewing machines to buy
1. The Grace Company Q'nique 15R Mid arm Quilting Machine & Frame
Get perfectly neat stitches each and every time with The Gracey Company’s Q’nique 15R quilting machine. The stitch regulation means that the machine slows down when you slow down, so you don’t need to worry about inconsistent quilting lines – result!
2. Handi Quilter 16" Simply Sixteen Longarm Quilting Machine
No matter your ability or size of sewing space, the Simply Sixteen Longarm machine from Handi Quilter will help you finish your quilts to a professional standard. It comes with a Little Foot frame as standard for those short on space, with the option to set it up with a Studio 2 Frame up to 12’.
3. Bernina Q24 Classic Frame
With even more space for large quilts, the Q24 from Bernina can be used with all three of Bernina’s available frames. Use the BERNINA Q-matic software for computerized aided quilting… it’s a breeze to quilt even the most complex of designs!
4. Gamill Long Arm Quilting Machine – used
If you’re looking for a machine to get to grips with long arm quilting that doesn’t break the bank, why not look for a second-hand model? This Gamill Long Arm Quilting Machine from eBay can be used with or without stitch regulation and is still in great condition! Find more like this on eBay.
5. Handi Quilter Forte 24” Longarm Quilting Machine
With a choice of 10-foot and 12-foot frame, the Forte 24” machine from Handi Quilter is ideal for any style of quilting. Everything you need is available right out of the box, so you can get going the second your machine arrives home!
6. APQS Lenni
APQS has transferred the know-how of their bigger models onto a compact size with their Lenni machine. It’s designed to be fun, approachable, and simple to use, making it an ideal choice for anyone new to long arm quilting.
We hope you enjoyed Lorna's guide to long arm quilting and it's inspired you to give long arm quilting a go. We have loads of free quilting patterns here on Gathered for you to try. There's everything from how to make a patchwork quilt by hand to modern quilt patterns to have you feeling inspired.
Quilt pro and wordsmith Lorna has worked for Love Patchwork & Quilting for 4 years. She commissions the beautiful quilts inside the magazine, working with international leading quilt designers and makers to select the hottest quilt trends and modern quilts to share with her readers. If she’s not at work, she’s probably still covered in threads, designing quilt patterns for her small indie biz Cloth & Crescent with a scary film on in the background. Lorna can’t resist a curved quilt block and a solid fabric, and recently discovered the joys of snuggling under a cosy quilt sandwich to hand stitch the layers together the old fashioned way. Her designs and words have been featured in Love Patchwork & Quilting, Mollie Makes, Simply Sewing and In The Moment magazine. Find her on Instagram @clothandcrescent