For those of you who are not quilters, or not familiar with a long arm, it is a quilting machine. It looks like a sewing machine, but it is on rails on a track. The operator moves the machine over the quilt, instead of doing what I do now – maneuvering the quilt through the machine. A long arm is pretty much the Holy Grail of quilting equipment.
I super love quilting. Well, I’ve been sewing for 30+ years, quilting off and on, but when the modern quilting movement hit and free motion quilting became popular, it was something that really struck me. I wanted to try it so I did.
And I LOVED it.
Eventually I upgraded my trusty 25 year old machine to a shiny new Bernina QE 440. Holy wowzers. Any struggles I had learning to FMQ were solved. All I needed then was practise. And boy howdy have I been practising!
For the past two or three years I have been treating my quilting hobby as if it were a business. The volume of quilts being finished is pretty good – around 25 a year. Some of them have hours and hours of quilting time. On one (not gonna say which one) I’m sure there were 16 hours put in. (No, I didn’t charge enough and the price I did charge made me gulp anyway.)
I have a full time job too. That’s not going to change. I’m perfectly happy right now being a part time quilter. And as in any kind of manufacturing business, one of the biggest ways to increase your business if you can’t increase the time, is to produce things faster.
That’s the other thing you can do with a longarm. It’s just *faster*. Even with the custom quilting work. If you ever wonder why I’m so hard on my on work, it’s because the people I look up to are not only long arm quilters, but leaders in the field. You know, people like Angela Walters, Karen McTavish, Judi Madsen, Karlee Porter.
So, what’s stopping me? Well for starters – the price. YES I know I have a Bernina, which is like the Ferraris of sewing machines. But we got a deal on it (shop model) and … my mom bought it for me. In return, I do all her quilting. Fair enough.
A longarm starts at $5,000 US dollars for the most basics of models, for small quilts. They also come in sizes. So that 5K model? It only does baby and lap size quilts – no larger. You want one that will let you do up to king size? Now you’re looking at 12K. You want computerized controls? Shoot up to $20k.
If you’ve ever sent your quilts out to a longarmer to quilt for you – now you know why they charge what they do.
Longarm machines also take up a LOT of room. The largest have 12 foot tracks. Plus you need to put them somewhere you can walk all around them.
Those of you who don’t follow me anywhere else may not know we bought a house last year. well, a year ago last November. We are still renovating and haven’t moved in yet. Renovations are expensive! Plus my new sewing room currently looks like this:
It will not be finished before we move in.
Another challenge is you can’t just go to your local quilt shop or fabric chain and pick one up. They are sold via dealers. The closest to me are Halifax or Montreal. Minimum 6 hour drive in either direction. And what happens if I get one and it needs maintenance or repairs?
Plus there’s so many different features and add-ons, I don’t even know what I want or need yet. I need more exposure. While there are 3-4 people locally (within 100kms) who offer longarm services, none of them (to my knowledge) rent time on the machine to other quilters or give lessons.
So yeah – for now this is on my dream list. I know that “someday” it may be possible, but realistically it will be 2 to 5 years before I can even seriously look at some.
And take for a test drive.
And do the quilting I dream about.
Until then I’ll just drool and doodle and be the best domestic machine quilter I can.