I hope these posts aren’t sounding negative. I love my longarm and have never regretted one minute that I bought it. Well, maybe that first one that I was afraid to use but once I got the hang of it, I love it. I wouldn’t want to talk anyone out of getting one. I’ve always said that every quilter who wants a longarm (including shortarm and midarm here), should have one.
Longarming has been very good to me. I know without a doubt that had I not had my own machine, my quilt would not have won Best of Category at the Nashville Expo in 2004. (Not that someone else wouldn’t have quilted it better than I did but I would not have paid what it would have cost to have had that much quilting done.) Had my quilt not won, no one at AQS would ever have known me and the book deal would never have happened. You just never know where anything will lead you. Please follow your dreams but do it in an educated manner. All I’m trying to do with these posts is answer questions that have arisen from time to time and share experiences I’ve learned or seen others learn though the past 10 years.
Now . . on to the scheduled post . .
Since I’ve been longarming right at 10 years and on longarm groups online for most of that time, I’ve heard about lots of problems. It’s usually the same problems over and over though. Like most other things, we don’t pay attention when someone else is having a problem but when WE have a problem, it’s earth shattering. And, all too often, we don’t post about the good things that happen . . like days and weeks and months with not a single problem with the machine.
What can go wrong? There’s honestly not much that can go wrong. I can only speak for APQS but I haven’t heard any horror stories about Nolting, Gammill or A-1 machines. APQS has an online message board type setup and it is monitored by APQS dealers and technical staff and there is almost always (24/7) someone there to help with a problem. Honestly, something going wrong with the machine would be the last thing I would worry about.
My Millennium is edging up on 3-1/2 years old and there hasn’t been a single day that I couldn’t use it due to a problem. I’ve changed a few parts out but when I knew they were going bad, I ordered the new parts which arrived way before I actually HAD to change them.
Know the potential problems and be ready to solve them. These are in no particular order as to how often they happen or how devastating they may be . . I’m just writing them as I think of them.
I’ll first discuss machine problems.
- Tension Problems – This has probably happened to every longarmer, and yes .. it’s happened to me on occasion. I usually have problems when I’m switching between threads. If I’m doing SID (stitch in the ditch) with Signature cotton but then switching to Superior Masterpiece for background fill, I’ll forget to adjust the top tension and will not notice it til I roll the top. Stitches should be perfect! If the bobbin stitching seems to be laying on top of the fabric and not “sinking in”, chances are the bobbin tension is too tight. If you feel “nubbies” on the bottom, they’re from the top thread and the top thread wasn’t tight enough. If I’m stitching and I see a little dot of bobbin thread on top, my bobbin tension is probably too loose. You’ll learn the perfect tension on your machine and with just a little practice, getting perfect tension should be a piece of cake! Different threads, top fabrics, backing fabrics and battings all can affect your tension settings. Superior Threads has some very good information on tension problems and adjustments. Click on “education” and scroll down to find the tension area. A mirror and flashlight works great to see the underneath side of your work without having to physically crawl under the machine. Crawling under there isn’t so bad but getting back up is hell for an old woman!
- Different Color Threads – I rarely will use vastly different colored thread in the top and bobbin. In my eyes, it’s impossible to get the tension so that either the top thread isn’t showing on the backing or the bobbin thread isn’t showing on top. I once had a lady who had waited about 8 months to have me quilt some Christmas top. The backing was white muslin and she wanted white thread in the bobbin and red or green or navy on top . . whatever matched the fabric. I told her I would not do that. She got really frustrated with me and told me that she didn’t mind if “dots” showed through on the backing from the top thread. But, if she showed that quilt to others, no one would know that I explained to her that all those red and green and navy dots were going to show through. They would think I was a horrible longarmer. She left with her top unquilted and angry with me but I was much happier to have one customer angry than to have an entire town seeing a quilt that appeared to have been quilted with bad top tension.
- Broken Needles – If you are going lickety split and you hit a very thick seam allowance, you may break a needle. When you do, chances are . . it will make a hole (or two) in the top and the backing. This has happened to me once and I thought I would die!! Change your needle often and pray the needle doesn’t break. Slow down when coming in contact with very thick seams. Some change their needle with every quilt. Honestly, if I change mine once every 2 or 3 weeks, I’m doing good.
- Spart Parts – Keep these on hand. I keep motor brushes (Millennium was not quite three years old when I had to change the brushes), spare pig tails, screws, anything you might lose or break.
- Know your Machine – If your company offers a maintenance class or maintenance video, familiarize yourself with what can go wrong and with how to fix it. Maintenance includes timing, blown fuses, wheels not rolling properly, table being unlevel, etc.
Potential problems with the customers and/or their quilts:
- Payment – As in any business or personal relationship for that matter, money can cause problems more quickly than anything else. Make sure your customer knows exactly what you’re going to charge for everything before you begin doing work. I require payment before I send the quilt back mainly because I’m a quilter, not a bookkeeper. If I have to stop and remind someone to send payment, then that’s time I’m not able to quilt. The quilt does not leave my house until payment has been received . . simple as that!
- Scheduling – For a while I had people scheduling quilting and then not sending quilts. I began charging a deposit when they wanted a quilt scheduled. If it’s October and they’re scheduling a quilt to be done in March, they had to send me $20 which was applied to the quilting total but if the quilt didn’t arrive, the $20 was not returned. I’m not doing that any more as I haven’t had any problems lately with “no-shows”.
- Rush Jobs – I rarely do them! Some longarmers will charge a “rush fee”. I do not because I figure it isn’t fair to those who have been waiting for 6 months to get their quilt done for me to take extra $$ to put someone ahead of them. If I have a good customer who truly has a rush and it’s legitimate (in my eyes!), I’ll give up my own personal time and do their quilt at my regular rate.
- Batting or Backing too small – I measure everything, usually two or three times, before loading. If it’s too close, I ask for a new batting or backing. It isn’t worth quilting right up to the end and finding you’re out of backing or backing. Remember, it’s your reputation! Sometimes the top maker will swear that it was big enough when I’m looking at it and it is NOT! If I had loaded that and got almost to the end and ran out of backing/batting, you can bet it would have been MY fault and my name would be mud! Check it and be darned sure it’s going to work before you start working.
- Repair Work – If there are seams that are not caught or are so narrow they are going to unravel with the bit of tension placed on the top from the longarm, I send those back. If there’s a gaping whole in a seam because the quilt wasn’t properly sewn together, I’m going to get blamed for it.
- Wavy Borders – I hear a lot about this but I have not experienced a whole lot of problems with it (except on a few of my own tops!). If I do get a quilt with wavy borders or the top isn’t square, i.e., the top may measure 48 across the top and 50 across the bottom, I will discuss it with the quilt maker and if I am pretty sure I can take care of it with the quilting, we go ahead but if it’s such a difference or such a wave that I’m going to need to take a pleat in the border, then top goes back. I could easily quilt in a pleat but again, that’s my reputation on the line with every quilt that leaves my house.
Like most anything we do, there are potential problems but they are so few and far between. If you hear someone complaining loudly about their longarm, you may wonder how loudly they crow when things are going right and you may wonder what they’ve done to minimize their own problems.
Don’t let any talk of problems with these machines or problems with quilting for others deter you from doing something you want to do.