Longarm – The Machine is Here

The Machine is Here!

What do you do now? If the machine was purchased new, you probably were offered free lessons. Take advantage of those. No matter how much you learn, once you’re alone with the machine, it’s a scary place to be! I can remember wishing there was some way to get rid of that first machine. One day I sat on the stairs going to the basement and cried. I thought . . if I could dismantle that rascal, I could get it out to the curb before the trash man gets here. If I could’ve done just that, I would’ve. It would have been gone by the time Vince got home! I’m very glad I couldn’t dismantle it and I’m glad I stuck with it but most longarmers do have this “what was I thinking” moment (or day or week) after seeing how big and intimidating the machine looks and realizing that it takes lots of practice to be a good longarmer.

A word about practicing – Many longarmers will offer to practice on donation quilts or give hefty discounts when they’re first starting out. This is not something I would recommend because not everyone who sees those quilts will know that you were just beginning and that those quilts were done for free or for little cost. Imagine I am just starting out and I do a quilt for practice. It’s for our guild’s charity project. I quilt the top and donate it. Someone is going to see that quilt and ask who quilted it. No one is going to say “oh, she was just practicing when she first got her machine!” They’re going to say “Judy did it. She’s a new longarmer in town.” Those who see it will see that the work probably isn’t perfect and that reputation may never be overcome.

Be very careful with the quilting you let out of your control. Make sure it is representative of your work.

One of the first hurdles each new longarmer faces is determining pricing. Some charge by the square inch, the square foot or yard and probably other methods. I prefer square inch because that seems the easiest to me. Width (in inches) x length (in inches) = square inches. There are very wide price variances in different parts of the country. I recently saw a quilt that had been quilted locally. It was a fairly large quilt with a fairly panto; larger than anything I do, but not so large as to be ugly or seem too sparsely quilted. The lady told me she paid $45, including the batting. There’s a lot of talk on the longarm groups about charging what you’re worth; different formulas used. Some say they will not quilt for less than $20/hour; some say they will not quilt for less than $30/hour, etc. The bottom line is . . you can charge anything you want. It’s your business. But, the customers don’t have to use your services. If quilters in your area are accustomed to paying $45 to get a queen size top quilted, including batting and you would charge $80 for that same quilt, not including batting, chances are slim you’re going to get much business.

Know your market! If your area isn’t going to pay what you think you can get, there’s always the internet or the next town over.

Other things you will need to experiment with:

  • Batting – We all have our favorites. Mine currently is Mountain Mist Rose. Some battings tear easily when tugged to straighten on the longarm. Some battings get quite stiff when heavily quilted. Learn which battings work for you and your clients. You may want to start with a few packaged batts before ordering batting on the roll. A roll of batting is a lot to have to use if you find you don’t like it. Many quilt shops carry batting. If you do not want to compete with the quilt shop (and my guess is you do not — they can send business your way or they can make sure they steer customers to other longarmers), you may want to check with the LQS owner. See if she minds if you carry batting. Does she seem to feel that would be competing with her . . even if you carry a brand she doesn’t carry? Whatever you do, do not charge less for your batting than does the quilt shop. Forget JoAnn’s, forget Hobby Lobby, forget coupons .. do NOT charge less for your batting than does the LQS unless you will never, ever hope for any promotion from that shop.
  • Thread – There are so many thread choices and again, you’ll have to figure out what works for you and your clients. I mostly use 100% cotton thread. Signature Cotton is a good, fairly inexpensive choice. Superior’s King Tut is an excellent thread but it’s a bit pricey. I do not use Superior Masterpiece for quilting except when I’m doing a ton of micro stippling or really dense background fill. My personal feeling is that it isn’t strong enough to be used solely for the quilting. Another thread that is poly/cotton that has been discussed negatively in the longarm community is Maxi-Lock thread. This thread is typically considered a surger thread but there was a quilter in Kentucky who used it exclusively. One of my customers used this lady for quite a bit of her quilting and I asked her how the Maxi-Lock thread held up. She told me that this particular quilter had used it on quilts that had been used by her grandkids and washed and used for 10+ years and the thread had not worn through the fabric, nor had the thread broken. I rarely use it but I don’t think it deserves the bad rap it’s gotten.
  • Marking Quilts – You probably will not be quilting long when you have the need to mark a quilt. Before using the blue markers I (1) make sure the client has washed all the fabrics so I don’t get any runs when I spritz the marks with water and (2) get the customer to read a list of possible problems and then have them sign my “Blue Marker Waiver”.

There’s so much more and I could go on and and but my bet is . . you’ve all gone off to quilt and no one is with me any more! 🙂

Whatever you do, practice, practice, practice before letting those quilts be viewed by potential customers.

Judy L.


  1. 1

    Vicky says

    I stayed with you to the end! I will never be a longarmer, but your info is really helpful to those of us send our quilts out to be quilted. Maybe I’ll learn what to say next time when you ask me what I want on my quilts! LOL.

    I will say, however, that I had two quilts done by someone I ran across on the internet, and who came with a recommendation from another person. On both quilts she used the most awful poly thread. Plus there was a looping problem on the back of the quilts. One I completely unquilted. The other is now with a local quilter who was at first going to just add some quilting to it, but told me last week that she decided to take out that awful thread and start over. I have no objection to poly, or a poly/cotton blend, as long as it’s good thread. I learned a big lesson from that one! KNOW YOUR QUILTER!!

    Again, thanks for all the wonderful info. Can’t wait for the next segment! Oh, and feel free to mention the mistakes I made on the quilts I’ve sent you. It might be helpful to others!


  2. 2

    Randi says

    I am really enjoying reading your Longarm Rambles. Great information you are sharing. I believe that many mistakenly believe, before they get a longarm, that it’s “just going to be so easy”. They don’t realize how much hard work, practice, patience, and perseverance are involved to really become successful. Of course, there are those rare few that just drop that needle and take off…but I think that is the exception, rather than the norm.

  3. 3

    Yvonne says

    I’m still here too. I think I’m still at the “what did I do” stage. I think I’m gonna just have to suck it up and get to quilting on Fiona. Thanks for all you info…I always enjoy reading it and find it very helpful. 🙂

  4. 4

    Murphy's world says

    I’m coming out of lurk mode to let you know I’m still here also. I’m enjoying your rambles. I recently purchased a smaller home machine a handiquilter, and I am loving being able to quilt my own quilts. I don’t intend to go into business, but I am still getting some great pointers from your blog. Thanks, Colene

  5. 6

    Marianne says

    Read to the end also. This was a very informative post. I have been thinking of getting one of those handiquilter longarm machines just for my own use. Judy, could you talk about tension and problems, etc. I have had only a few small quilts done by longarmers and haven’t been satisfied. The first came back with little bumps on the back of all the stitches. I am assuming this means the tension was out of whack? Thanks again for a great post!br0wn1e

  6. 7

    Anonymous says

    I am here as well, at the end. I’m really enjoying reading about all the ins and outs of owning a longarm. I always thought I’d want one, but I don’t have that creative sparkle/vision that a lot of longarmers have. I’ve never ever been dissatisfied with what a longarmer has done for me. The only thing I try to stipulate in advance is the batting and the thread.

    So, if you’re up to taking suggestions, one thing I’d like to read about is how you decide what you’re going to quilt, when someone like me says “do whatever you think is best… if I could decide that, I’d quilt it myself.” LOL

    Sheila in Ohio

  7. 8

    The Calico Cat says

    In your oil, camera, egg post, you mentioned that you did not buy anything at the quilt shop… Don’t you feel obligated to buy something – so that she feels fine with sending business your way? (Keeping the fact that you are supporting her so that she can support you in her mind…)

    The LQS where I don’t spend money anymore noticed when I did not buy a piece of cat fabric that came in… (The creepy Elizabethan print, that I only got because I was so darn close to 1050…)

  8. 9

    carolyn says

    It’s great to be able to learn from the voice of experience and, as a newbie, I’m sure I’ll experience some of these situations at one time or another.

    What’s equally nice, and very much appreciated, is your willingness to take the time to share your experience and advice with us. So, a big Thank you!