What is Long Arm Quilting?: A Quick Guide To Long Arm Quilting

We’ve all heard of quilting, but maybe you’ve wondered exactly how people can create such awe-inducing pieces.

Well, they’re usually created with a sewing machine; this could be a mid arm or longarm machine.

Long Arm Quilting

Today, we’re going to explore what exactly a longarm machine is and how to use it.

Long arm quilting is a type of quilting where an extra large sewing machine is used to accommodate quilts of all sizes.

As the name suggests, the machine literally has a long arm, which is the space between the needle to the arm.

Parts

HQ Moxie Quilting Machine Inside a Home
HQ Moxie Quilting Machine Inside a Home

Longarm quilting machines are made up of a frame and the machine component.

A longarm machine can be around two meters in size, and the table space and frames can reach 5 – 14ft in length.

Frames consist of rolling bars, which will either direct the fabric or offer a stationary surface where you can set the quilt top and backing.

NOTE

Using a specific machine for long arm quilting projects gives you more freedom in terms of project size and ease of use.

A brief history

While we don’t know exactly when quilting began, we do know it originated years ago in Europe during medieval times.

The earliest quilts were used as bedcovers and passed through generations, commonly known as heirloom quilts.

Usage

Quilting textile for warmth and protection is an age old process, accomplished worldwide for centuries with time-consuming and painstaking hand sewing.

The quilting technique was also used to make clothes for soldiers to wear underneath their armor during battle!

Invention

Old Image Of Quilters
Old Image Of Quilters

When the sewing machine was introduced in the mid-nineteenth century, seamstresses realised that using a machine to quilt could save hours of time.

The first longarm machines were introduced in 1871, with a simple frame consisting of two bars to hold the fabric taut and the machine element.

Reports show most of the quilted materials from after 1860 were machine pieced, and that the edge of the appliqué and the binding were still commonly finished by hand.

Evolution

During 1877, an evolved longarm machine was engineered, which allowed the user to turn a crank to operate the machine sans electricity.

Luxury

The high costs of sewing machines when initially manufactured meant that owning a sewing and quilting machine was a luxury item.

However, at the end of the nineteenth century it was hand quilting – not machine work, that was seen as a status symbol, as traditional handmade stitches implied an abundance of leisure time and experience with the needle.

Development

Kentucky Historical Society - Quilting Frame On Treadle Sewing Machine
Kentucky Historical Society – Quilting Frame On Treadle Sewing Machine

Despite this, sewing and quilting machinery continued to evolve, and the first computerized longarm was introduced in 1990 called the Statler Stitcher.

It was built with a stitch regulator and laser pointers for pantographs to facilitate easier sewing.

How does a longarm work?

Longarm machines are made up of a frame, table, and industrial length sewing machine.

The machine sits on wheels, and will move across the tracks or rails on the frame during the quilting process.

The quilt layers – top, batting, and backing, are loaded onto different rollers to keep the quilt wrinkle-free.

Hand Guided

Hand guided machines have handles on the machine, allowing you to move the machine along the fabric.

Computer guide

A computer guided machine connects to a software system, letting one upload designs to be sewn.

Then, the machine will do the work by itself at just the press of a button!

How is longarm quilting different from regular quilting?

Woman Hand Quilting Purple and Green Fabric
Woman Hand Quilting Purple and Green Fabric

Regular

Regular quilting involves pinning the layers onto each other and then laboriously feeding the quilt through a domestic sewing machine.

Alternatively, a regular quilting method can be done manually, where the quilt top and other layers are sewn by hand.

Long Arm

When using long arms, the quilt top, batting, and backing of a quilt are attached onto a frame to create a “fabric sandwich” and eased through the machine at a controlled speed.

The large machine head moves over the layers that are held still with the rollers to provide smooth machine quilting.

Longarm quilting types

Longarm quilting offers two main quilting techniques: pantograph or custom.

Pantograph

Free Motion Quilting on Pink Fabric
Free Motion Quilting on Pink Fabric

A pantograph is a design that runs the length of the table which is attached to the frame.

The design is then traced using the laser on the machine head and then sewn with the needle.

This is repeated over and over again on the quilt layers, providing a consistent pattern.

Pantographs are popular since they don’t require as much work from the sewist and are simple – they sew at a quick press of a button!

Custom

Custom work is where different designs are sewn on different areas of the quilt. It’s a more intricate and time consuming process, but has a beautiful aesthetic and is my favorite way to quilt.

It is typically more expensive if you would like to get a customized project quilted by a professional.

Check out the process of making a beautiful custom longarm quilt below…

Pretty Orange Peel Quilt Longarm Custom Quilting No Rulers Freehand

Benefits of a long arm machine

A long arm allows a user to manipulate a fabric of all sizes through a machine with ease.

Using a long arm quilting machine with a large throat space takes the pressure off your body (it can take a toll!) and opens up your creativity.

Pros and Cons of having a long arm machine

Pros:

  • Long arm quilting machines are powerful and durable.
  • Computer advances mean you can upload a design of your own and bring it to life.
  • Because the machine, table space, and frame have been specifically designed for larger projects, it means you can sew and construct a large finished project with ease.

Cons:

  • The sheer size of a long arm could be an issue if you are limited in room.
  • They can be intimidating for beginners.
  • If you have trouble with back or neck problems, this can be damaging to you over time as you typically have to stand when using a long arm.
  • This can be an expensive purchase.

How much is a long arm?

Long arm quilt machines are on the higher end on the price scale in the stitching world.

The average cost is around $10,000 (plus insurance!) but you can find them cheaper and much more expensive.

How long does it take to quilt using a long arm?

Operating a Long Arm Machine
Operating a Long Arm Machine

The time it takes to create a long arm quilt varies on the size and the speed at which the needle is moving.

The average stitch per minute is around 1400, but can go over 2000 depending on the brand model.

Stitch Regulator

Most long arm sewing machines are built with a stitch regulator, meaning when you use the machine head for free-motion quilting, it will speed up or slow down depending on how fast the machine is being moved.

Pretty cool, huh?

Conclusion

So, there you have just a brief introduction to longarm quilting.

What you mainly need to know is they’re powerhouse machines and if you do decide to buy one, you’ll hopefully be nothing short of amazed!

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Kris Daub
Kris Daub
[email protected] byCurated I'm a maker at heart! I love to create and tech others to create. I particularly sewing and hand crafts like ebroidery. I also love larger home decorating projects. ✂️ 🧵