A Comprehensive Guide to Long Arm Quilting

Last updatedLast updated: July 30, 2021
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At some point in human history, quilting by hand was the only way to quilt anything. However, times have surely changed. There is now technology that allows quilters to work more. Today, you can use your sewing machine to sew quilts together, or you could just use a longarm machine.

There is not a lot of information out there about long-arm quilting and long arm quilting machines. However, with this post, you will have all the important information that you need to have about long arm quilting. We will consider its history, the different types there are, what it is, the advantages and drawbacks, and how to use the machine.

Read on to know more.

What is long-arm quilting?

A Comprehensive Guide to Long Arm Quilting

This is perhaps one of the more elusive definitions. However, we have done enough research to put together what this means. Longarm quilting, as the name implies, requires the use of a long arm quilting machine. The long arm machine loads the top of the quilt, the batting, and then back onto a metal frame. Because of its design, it works to sew all these layers at the same time.

The head of the machine rolls right, left, up, and down. This versatile movement means that it will continue quilting without moving the fabric that it is working on. Depending on the model, the machine might either be manually operated or automatically operated.

History of long-arm quilting

Now that we have provided the basic definition of this form of quilting, it is interesting to consider where the machine and overall technique comes from. The history of the machine is long, no pun intended.

When the sewing machine was first invented, there was a parallel thought to invent a machine that only quilts. And in the 18th century, this thought became a reality. The first of its kind was made in 1871.

The first of these machines was pretty simple and straightforward to use. Most of the machines consisted of a quilting frame coupled with a pair of bars and a machine. To use the machine, the user would move the quilt and two frames beneath the machine. If this wasn’t done, there was no way the sewer would achieve straight lines.

While this design was pretty nice, modifications were made in 1877. This new design is much closer to the modern machines that are available today. The major difference was that this new design used a hand crank instead of electricity.

With the introduction of electricity, it became possible to have these machines run on electric power.

Types long-arm quilting

There are two major types of long-arm quilting used today. There are the pantograph and the custom option. Let’s consider each of these types of designs.


This first design is a long design. As such, it extends completely through the length of the table. The design that you want is located under the plastic layer of the table; then, it is traced with a laser or stylus.

It is preferred because of the ease of use. You don’t have to do anything as a quilter to get the best from this type.


There is also custom work. This gives you incredible results; however, it is more stressful. If you are looking to make different types of designs on blocks, then you will particularly find this useful.

Apart from being more tedious, this is more expensive.

There are several companies that make these machines around the world. Reviews indicate that King Quilter II is one of the best longarm options on the market today. You can get them in a wide variety of sizes and with several unique features. However, all their differences boil down to a common feature – they are quite expensive. Some of these might cost as much as $30000 or even more.

Advantages and drawbacks

Considering that these are pretty expensive to purchase, is it worth it to use these machines? Why not stick with doing things the old way? If you already have a sewing machine, an iron for quilting, or a conventional quilt, you might not really need to use this machine.

However, if your work involves a large quilt, the longarm quilt might be the best option for you. If you are used to old ways, you would very likely find it difficult to work with large pieces. One of the best sewing machines that many reviewers recommend is the Q’nique 21 long arm quilting machine.

So one advantage is the ability to use for large projects.

Another thing that makes this a good choice is that it is time-saving. With these machines, you can get your job done in a fraction of the time it’d normally take you. For example, you don’t need to baste anymore when using this machine as you will load all the layers on the machine.

If you don’t have space for basting, this comes in as a very good alternative.

As there are benefits, there are also some reasons why you might think twice about getting these machines.

For one, they are huge machines. With this machine, you might have to dedicate an entire room to the machine.

Another downside of these machines is one that we have considered – the price. It is simply expensive. The least you might get one of these machines is about $4000.

What is a long-arm quilting machine?

A Comprehensive Guide to Long Arm Quilting

This machine, as the name implies, is a machine for longarm quilting. It is either operated manually with a hand crank or powered by electricity.

The hand-guided machines come with handles that let you adjust the machine and move it along the fabric you are working on. With such a mechanism, you can achieve the design that you want.

On the other hand, the electric models are automatic. They are often controlled by a computer system. As with other things operated by computers, these are easy to operate. All you need is to choose the design you want and press a button to begin the sewing of the quilt.

The typical quilting machine has rolling bars along the frame, and this is where you place the layers of the quilt. One side of the machine has a pair of rollers, and these collect the top and backing of the quilt you are working on.

How to use a long-arm quilting machine

This machine is a combination of a sewing machine, rollers for the fabric, a work table, and a metal frame. The size of the metal frame depends on the machine. However, most of them lie between 10 to 14 feet in length.

As with the actual machine, the size of the table also depends on the manufacturer. There are smaller tables and larger models. The larger options can be used to work on large quilts with a minimal amount of fuss. For most of these types, the table comes with a flat area that you place the clear plastic on as well as the patterns that you desire.

It is a big machine that is set on wheels. These wheels are important because it allows the machine to fun along the tracks on the frame. With this design, you get a lot of flexibility and movement.

Here’s a quick intro to the long-arm quilting machines and how they work.

Long-arm quilting tips

If you have finally decided to use this machine, there are some tips that can help you to get the best out of it. This section covers some of the most important tips to consider.

Some of these tips are for those that are using the machine for the first time. However, long-time users can also benefit from the tips.

Plan the design before you begin

The first tip is that you should plan what you want to design before you start using the machine. Just as you would prepare beforehand when creating quilt tops, you should do the same with the machine.

Practice designs on paper first

Before you start quilting, draw out the design. Position the paper as you would the quilt. By drawing the design on the paper this way and imitating how the quilt would move, you are going to get an idea of how you will carry out your project.

Follow the extra-8-inch rule

Experts recommend that you give a clearance of 4″ on each side of the backing and batting of your quilt. When you do, you will have better finishes and enjoy the machine even more.

Begin with free-motion

While the pantograph style is great, you need to master free-motion before you can handle it correctly. It is easier and will pave the way to your becoming an expert.

Don’t reframe the quilt mid-quilt

One mistake rookies make to try to reframe the machine while it is working on a quilt. This is likely going to cause more problems than solutions.

Final thoughts

Are you thinking of getting a long arm quilting machine? Then be prepared to fork out a lot of money. Thankfully, though, you don’t have to spend a lot of money before you can use this machine. There are local craft stores that might allow you to rent some time on the machine.

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