Longarm – Is it for You?

Is a Longarm for Me?

My first “longarm”, which was actually a shortarm machine, was purchased almost 10 years ago. That’s my actual first machine in the picture. During my next few blog posts, when I talk about “longarm” machines, I’m throwing in shortarms, midarms and longarms. Things have changed so much in this industry since I first did my research so I’ll just refer to all machines in this discussion as “longarms”.
Let’s get a few things out of the way first:
  • I do not know everything there is to know about longarming – whether it concerns buying the machine, using the machine, running a longarm business — I just know what has worked quite well for me for the past 10 years and that experience is what I will share here.
  • I am not trying to get longarm business by writing these posts. Yes, I still do longarm quilting for others but so do many other excellent longarmers. I love seeing what other longarmers have done and I’m never offended, even when good friends have other longarmers quilt their tops.
  • Everything I say in these posts is just my own thoughts. If you’re a longarmer and you do things totally differently, or if your longarmer does everything completely differently from how I’m saying I do things . . if it works for you, that’s great! Don’t change a thing. Like I said, I do not know everything there is to know.

I’m assuming everyone reading my blog is a quilter. If not, you seriously need to get a life! :)

It’s probably safe to say that all quilters have at one time or another entertained the idea of owning a longarm, whether you want it just to do your own quilts, to supplement family income, to provide enough income to support yourself or just because they’re so darned much fun!

Considerations when shopping for a longarm:

  • Price – How much can you reasonably afford to spend? I will not give financial advice here but we don’t do debt if we can help it. That’s why I started with a very used short arm, then went to a used non-regulated longarm, then to the Millennium. Used machines have held their value in the past. With the two used machines I bought, I used one for a little over two years and one for a little over three years and sold each for the same or more than I had originally paid for it.
  • Brands – I’m more familiar with Gammil, A-1, Nolting and APQS. I’ve always been an APQS type quilter but I have friends who run Gammils, A-1′s and Noltings. I consider these companies the top four in the “longarm” industry and while there are some who refuse to consider one brand or the other for various reasons, I think all four make excellent machines and are good companies. I’ve always been happy with APQS and if I were in the market for a new machine today, I’d go straight to APQS without shopping around but it’s just like a car – some are a better fit than others. APQS is a good fit for me but that doesn’t mean another brand wouldn’t be a better fit for you.
  • Extras – After the cost of the machine, the “extras” are minimal. You’ll need thread but you can buy a cone here and a cone there. You don’t have to start off with every color by every manufacturer. You’ll need batting. You can buy that on sale, wholesale or your customers can supply their own. You’ll need some amount of rulers, stencils, books of designs, etc. Again, you don’t have to buy every thing there is out there. You can start small. Another good thing about buying a used machine from an individual is that they will sometimes throw in all these extras.
  • Room – These rascals take up a lot of room. The machines typically come with a 12 or 14 foot table. You can have 9 or 10 or 11 foot tables custom made by most of the companies. You do need room to walk around. I have a 12 foot table and while you would think that gives you 12 feet on which to quilt, the leaders are only about 124″ wide which means the largest top I can comfortably do is about 116″. That means that one direction needs to be 116″ or less. The other direction can be as large as you want. Say your quilt is 116″ x 200″ – that works on my table. Another consideration is storage – batting, thread, stencils, marking tools. If you’re going to quilt for others, where will you store their quilts?
  • Customers – Are you going to be dependent on making a certain amount of money each month from quilting for others? If so, what will happen if there’s a lull in business and you don’t bring in the requisite amount of dollars? I’ve heard about saturation of the market for years but I still haven’t personally felt it. I still get plenty of business and I’m still of the opinion that there’s enough business out there for everyone who wants it.

That’s probably enough bullet points for today. I will say that I’ve never regretted my longarm decisions. While I’d hate to think I had to support myself on my quilting income, it has been more than sufficient for my stash building, quilt show trips, retreats, etc. While earning spending money, I’ve been home and available for my family, and have made some great quilting contacts.

Comments

  1. 3

    Jane Ann says

    I’m not thinking about a longarm, but this is a wonderful post–simple and extremely informative.

  2. 5

    Yvonne says

    Keep them coming….you always give such good info. You were very helpful to me when I got mine….bet you didn’t know that, did ya. :)

  3. 7

    Mrs. Goodneedle says

    Fantastic timing, I’m attending an APQS “road show” today, just to look. You’ve provided much food for thought.

  4. 8

    Sharon says

    Hi Judy,
    Your timing couldn’t be better. I’m excited to read what you have to say about all this. Thank you so much for doing this. Very helpful.
    Sharon

  5. 9

    Anonymous says

    I recently purchased an older used shortarm quilting machine. It looks exactly like the one on your main page. Could you tell me the brand this machine is? It has serial numbers on it, but no name. Also interested in how you installed the front handles. Mine does not have the handles, but I sure wish it did. Can you give me any helpful hints about the machine, since you said it was your first one? Thanks Kathy

  6. 10

    Kathy says

    Great blog Judy ~ the previous comment was made by me, requesting information about your first machine. I hope you can find time out of your busy schedule to respond. I already have gotten to the point where I am ready to “put it out on the curb” as you were. Thanks for the informative site.

  7. 11

    says

    loved your article. You are the first person ever gave permission to buy a short arm. Taking my duaghter in law today and she will be the proud owner of a pfaff grand quilter9″ machine, very excited… So thanks for permission. Lets hope we will be good. Practice practice