Best long arm quilting machines 2023: expert insight from Lorna Slessor
Learn all about long arm quilting machines from quilting expert Lorna Slessor. 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.
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!
6 of the best long arm sewing machines in 2023
1. The Grace Company Q'nique 15R Mid arm Quilting Machine & Frame
Best entry-level quilting machine
- Six quick-access handle buttons
- Full-colour OLED screen
- Built-in bobbin winder, easy-access bobbin and large M-class bobbin
- No-baste two-rail system with smooth gliding track system
- Height-adjustable legs
- Quilt clips for easy fabric loading and tension control
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!
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Pros: Stitch regulation for easy and efficient stitching, great for beginners.
Cons: Might not be large enough for some users.
2. Handi Quilter 16" Simply Sixteen Longarm Quilting Machine
Best compact longarm quilting machine
- Buy now in the UK from Pinhole Quilting (£7,495.00).
- Buy now in the US from SewingMachinesPlus ($7,895.00)
- Ergonomic front handlebars with touchscreen control
- Two modes of HQ stitch regulation: Precision and Cruise
- Manual mode with two customizable preset speeds
- High-speed rotary hook with large capacity M-class bobbin
- Five bobbins, 20 needles, sample thread
- Innovative quilt clamp management system: 6 Easy-Grasp Quilt Clamps, 1 HQ Super Quilt Clamp, and 6 Hold-Tight clamps
- Adjustable legs for easy customization from 33" to 44" in height
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 inches.
Pros: Great for beginner to immediate levels on a budget.
Cons: Might not be large enough for some users.
3. The Grace Company Q-Zone Hoop Quilt Frame Q'nique 15R Quilting Machine & QCT
Best home quilting setup
- 1,800 stitches-per-minute and adjustable thread tension
- Stitch regulation and speed adjustment
- 15" throat space, when paired with the Q-Zone Hoop frame creates an ideal space-saving setup
- Smooth quilting experience with high-quality steel wheels and ball bearings
- QCT5 automated system offers essential computerized quilting features
The Q'nique 15R is an entry-level longarm quilting machine with a 15" throat space for larger projects. Paired with the Q-Zone Hoop Frame, it's a compact and versatile setup for quilting in any room. Upgrade your quilting experience with the QCT5 automated system, offering stitch regulation and a library of patterns for precise and creative quilting.
Pros: Excellent choice for beginners or those on a budget.
Cons: May lack some of the advanced features and capabilities found in more expensive longarm quilting machines.
4. Bernina Q24 Classic Frame
Best high-end longarm quilting machine
- Buy now in the US from SewingMachinesPlus ($21,999.00).
- BERNINA Stitch Regulator ensures precise stitching at variable speeds
- Adjustable handles for comfort and visibility
- Forward thread stand and integrated bobbin winder
- Intuitive touch screen and user-friendly built-in tutorials
- Numeric tension control and thread type adjustment
- 2,200 stitches per minute
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!
Pros: Consistent stitch length even at varying speeds, allowing for precise quilting results across various styles and designs.
Cons: The machine offers numerous advanced features and settings, which might be overwhelming for beginners who are new to longarm quilting.
5. Handi Quilter Forte 24” Longarm Quilting Machine
Best large format longarm quilting machine
- 24" of brightly-lit throat space
- Pinpoint needle laser
- 7-inch colour touch screen (add the Pro-Stitcher and use that tablet for your machine display instead)
- QuiltMaster servo-controlled stitch regulation (perfect stitches, every time)
- Stitching speeds up to 2,500 stitches per minute
- Five convenient built-in tie-off stitches
- Pro-Stitcher ready! All necessary cabling is pre-installed inside
- Included 10-foot or 12-foot HQ Gallery2 Frame sizes
- On-screen hand wheel
- Magnetic Tool Minder Collar
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!
Pros: Packed full of features for a technologically advanced quilting experience, this longarm quilting machine is great for larger projects.
Cons: May be overwhelming/expensive for the beginner quilter.
6. APQS Lenni
Best mid-range longarm quilting machine
- Buy now in the US from APQS ($14,800).
- LED Lighting
- Quick-change hopping foot
- Single stitch function
- Laser light stylus
- Auto needle positioner
- Synchronous belt drive system
- FREE beginner class
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.
Pros: There's lifetime warranty on this simple, easy to use high quality machine.
Cons: May be out of budget for some quilters, although they do offer a payment plan.
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.
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.
Size and space
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.
Customer service and warranty
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.
Wrap it up with long arm quilting
We hope you enjoyed Lorna's guide to long arm quilting and found the machine of your dreams so you can give long arm quilting a go. When making a large investment in your craft, its essential to make an informed decision!
Quilt smaller projects
Still a beginner or on a budget? For smaller quilting projects, don't miss our guide on how to choose the best sewing machine for quilting.
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
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