Owning a Longarm

Is it the weather?  Is it the economy?  Did the longarm bug bite everyone at the same time?  In the past two weeks, I’ve had more quilters contact me with inquiries about a longarm than in any two week period I can remember.    There are so many questions and rightly so.  Buying a longarm is a huge investment.  Not only does it cost a whole lot of money, it takes a whole lot of room in your house and some amount of time to start producing great results.  Even with a computerized machine, there’s a bit of a learning curve, especially insofar as knowing what threads to use, what designs look best in which areas of a quilt, loading, tension, etc.

The first questions for many involve how much money they can earn quilting for others.  In my opinion, as much as quilting for others, is the fact that you can quilt your own tops.  You can do as much quilting as you’d like without having to pay $300 to $500 or more for the quilting.

These two quilts are the quilts that I feel really got the ball rolling for me, which resulted in two books, several magazine articles, and teaching.


This quilt is the first quilt I dsigned on my own, totally came up with the quilting design and entered in shows.  Bonnie Browning saw this quilt at the AQS Expo in Nashville and asked to use the border design and feather design in her book, Borders & Finishing Touches 2.  That is when I was introduced to the publishers at AQS and you know where that ride has taken me.

This quilt has a ton of quilting on it and it opened a few doors for me too.


Think of how many quilts I make per year.  If I were paying someone to quilt my tops, I doubt I’d make half as many quilts as I make now and I surely wouldn’t be able to donate as many as I donate.

Often when I’m doing a trunk show, it isn’t even the design of the quilt that gets the most attention, but the quilting.  Then that gets a discussion going and then patterns and books are sold, and my card is taken to give to another guild to see if they want me to come and speak there.  I’ll always believe that without a longarm, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today, even though I’m hardly quilting for others at all now.

Yes, when considering an investment in a longarm, you need to consider whether you can earn back the money you’ve invested but you also need to consider that you can quilt your own tops, with as much or as little quilting as you desire, and that may take you much farther than the quilting you do for others.  Please don’t back yourself into a corner trying to figure out how you can earn your money back within 3 years or 5 years or whatever your goal may be.  Yes, you may be able to earn your investment back in 1 year, but don’t forget to look at the big picture.

There are longarms, midarms, shortarms . . something for pretty much everyone.



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    Thanks Judy. This was very insightful. I’ve never considered quilting for others, but I’ve wanted some way to complete my UFO’s. I’ve never had a quilt quilted by anyone else. I see that my other quilting buddies are paying on average $200 per quilt. I just can’t go there, and feel that it’s my quilt. I’ve looked into a midarm (HQ 16) but space is the issue at this time. So until that time comes that I can fit one into my space, I will just keep working on them with my DSM.

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    Rona says

    Thanks. I am in the position to be able to purchase and my husband found a way to allow me to have it in the house and not have to add on to the house. Anxious to move from the shortarm to the longarm to be able to do the quilting in a larger amount of space. Now to commit the dollars and get it delivered!

    Thanks for the hope and insight on how your longarm helps you get things done.

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    Cynthia H., El Cerrito, CA says

    What amuses me are the people (and I met one recently) who purchase the longarm, investing their money and their space, and immediately decide that they are “professional longarm quilters”!

    Yes, the woman I met had quilted one quilt of her own on her LA before having a business card made up. She is still messing with tension, loading quilts square to the frame, etc.–on client quilts! 😯 We (DH and I) recently purchased a “budget” long-arm after I showed DH how much $$$ it would cost to send my UFOs out for quilting at the rates my previous quilts have cost. The new machine wasn’t that much more (but the cost is felt over a much shorter period) than the send-outs would have been, percent-wise, and then there are the quilts I still have planned in my imagination…

    Maybe by then I’ll have the skills needed to do quilts for other people. But, ladies, consider skill-building and finishing your own UFOs as the primary benefits of having a longarm in the house!

    Naturally, as soon as the longarm moved in, my new job (August 3) went off the chart, and I haven’t even had time to mount my learning piece…very frustrating…

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    I agree with Cynthia H. that you do not become a pro overnight. I have had my longarm for just over 3 years now and I still learn every day. It is very rewarding to be able to quilt for other people, but it is at the same time very stressfull too, as you do not always know if you will meet the expectations of the person who trusted you with their top that they spent a lot of work and money on. It is worth joining a longarm group on the internet, where you have moral support of other long arm quilters, especially if you live far away like me (South Africa) and it is also important to check on the back up you will be getting from your dealer afterwards, should you run into a problem, which does occur from time to time. Happy quilting.

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    I agree about the learning curve. I think the best way to think about longarming is to consider it a completely different creative path from quilting. It requires completely different skills than the quilting that you are used to. It’s almost as if a quilter would decide to take up making stained glass and start selling professionally after the first piece she made. Longarming is great and I love every minute on it. After 5 years, I would be very comfortable doing pantos on it professionally, but not custom quilting. It took me months to really get to know my machine and to be able to adjust the tension perfectly. I love it and am still thrilled to have it but I would have never bought it if I had to pay back the cost in a few years.

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    Cynthia H., El Cerrito, CA says

    I forgot to mention that, at PIQF last weekend, there were several long-arm machines being demonstrated–maybe a total of eight?–if you count frames for regular sewing machines guided sideways, short-arm systems, mid-arms, long-arms, and one suspended from its tracks rather than sitting on them.

    I was sitting in a wheelchair due to a recent fall (DH pushed me through the show) and had the time to take a good look at the dealer booths as we cruised by. Well, no. I had the time to take a good look at the booths just *before* we “drove up”! 😀

    We tried every stand-alone machine that was there. I really recommend this, preferably before–rather than after–you make your purchase. It just so happened that the opportunity (for me) was arranged in the wrong direction. 🙁

    Each of these machines, from entry-level to professional quality, has a different “touch.” Each one has slightly differently configured handles / features / prices / sizes. Some will feel absolutely WONDERFUL to you personally, and some others might leave you WONDERING, “Why does everyone think this is such a great machine?”

    When (and with many of us, it’s not If, but When we can purchase) you make The Decision, you’ll want to feel that you’ve made the best decision you can: a company with a long record of performance, a company with national (even international) service representatives, a company whose machines are regularly represented among the winners at high-level shows, a company whose local dealer–the one YOU work with–is reliable and can help you through the many questions a new owner is faced with.

    Hmmm…sounds a lot like Judy, doesn’t it? 😉

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    Alot of good points have been mentioned about why to own a long arm…….for me the deciding factor to purchase was……….I enjoyed the quilting process, I loved taking the quilt top and adding the quilting to make the quilt sing…..as the old saying goes….quilting makes the quilt…I think you need to have that love to be successful and happy at what you do.


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    It’s good that you are telling people about the learning curve!! Man oh man is there a learning curve!! You think you can put a wonderous quilt on the frame and whallah! it will turn out beautiful but the truth of the matter is that it takes time for you and your machine to get to know one another. Can I also say that it is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooo worth it and what a sense of accomplishment you feel after each and every one!

    I love coming here and learning something new. Whether it be about chickens (hahahahaha) or stash busting or using colors together you’ve never thought of before. 🙂

    hugs Judy!!!

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    I’ve always been thankful that I could afford to get my longarm without having to earn money from it. Like you said, quilting my own tops and donation quilts were my main reasons for buying it.

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    Eileen Keane says

    Your green quilt was the first one of yours that I saw at a show. I think I emailed you the day I got home because it struck such a chord in me.
    I can’t thank you enough for all the advice and wisdom you given me over the years.