INSIDE: Affordable Longarm Quilting Machines
The minute I saw a longarm quilting machine I was in love. Until I saw the price, then I was aghast.
This happened at Quilt Market eight years ago. In a blink I realized that these machines were for people who desired a longarm quilting business and I was wanting to dabble. The whole idea was dismissed once I saw the prices. Moving along; nothing to see here.
I’m not one to give up quickly and it seemed like there had to be other affordable options for longarm quilting. That thought set me on a years-long journey to find good longarm choices on a budget.
How to Find Affordable Longarm Quilting Machines
This is a likely scenario. A quilter interested in learning more about purchasing a longarm will attend a quilt show hoping to get some questions answered. At the quilt show she sees a lot of longarm options. High-priced models for professionals to sit-down models for home quilters are available in a variety of prices.
Her biggest challenge is not knowing exactly what she needs or if she will use it. The sit-down options are realistically priced but there are limitations. It’s best to be somewhat proficient with free motion quilting on a domestic machine if this is the chosen route.
On the other hand, the longarm machine allows the quilter to see the design as it’s taking place. There is the possibility of creating a business, but price and size present serious obstacles.
To me, both of these situations leave out a lot of people who might want to try a little longarm quilting without purchasing what could become a $10,000 coat rack.
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Budget Sit-Down Options
Budget Option 1:
The least expensive option for sit-down free motion quilting is this DIY setup which I used for two years. Take an inexpensive (or free in my case) table, create a cut-out, and countersink your sewing machine. Countersinking the machine allows you to sortof-kinda mimic the sit-down longarm options. At the very least, you will know how well you manage free motion quilting from a sitting position.
The only costs involved are a few special bolts and screws and the secret to this method is getting your machine level with the table surface. There are several tutorials on Pinterest that have instructions on how to do this. We followed this tutorial and it worked perfectly!
To truly get a free-motion experience you’ll want to use a Supreme Slider (affiliate) on the surface because it helps the quilt move smoothly. Otherwise, the quilt will jerk around and this creates uneven stitches. This method works best with standard-sized machines because the platform that holds the machine might not support a machine that weighs 30+ pounds.
I used this exact set up for two years as I honed my free-motion quilting skills. If you’re on a tight budget, this will work great for a long time.
Budget Option 2:
Another way to simulate a sit-down longarm is an acrylic free-motion table by Sew Steady. The acrylic table places the head of the machine facing you, allowing for a quilting experience similar to a sit-down longarm.
One of the nice things about this option is its portability. If money and space are your biggest limitations, then this table would be a good option to consider.
The extension table can be stored until you’re ready to use it. It doesn’t require a lot of space, an extra table, or new machinery. A slight disadvantage is the placement of machine controls when the table is attached. Having your machine in an alternate position could take a little getting used to, but it’s a small obstacle.
Sew Steady makes a polish for the acrylic surface that allows the quilt to smoothly move over the table. One thing to note: These acrylic tables are custom cut to your specific machine and can be purchased through a local sewing center where it can be demonstrated, possibly with a machine you already own.
If you don’t have a local dealer, they can be ordered through Sew Steady which has excellent customer service and will walk you through the purchase. Check out the Sew Steady resellers show schedule for the US and Canada to see a demonstration.
Either the DIY or acrylic table allows you get the true feel of a sit-down longarm. Once you’re ready for a bigger purchase, you’ll know what’s right for you.
Budget Longarm Options:
How can you know if using a longarm machine is what you want? Before investing in expensive equipment there are a few options available that will allow you to learn longarm quilting without spending a ton of moola.
You can purchase a longarm quilting frame that uses your own sewing machine. This is inexpensive compared to most longarms and will let you practice free-motion quilting without a huge investment. More importantly, you’ll get the feel of having the needle move rapidly over the quilt.
Using your own machine can have some drawbacks. The harp space is not that large. On my Juki, the space is 9″ which doesn’t sound bad. However, as the quilt progresses it gets rolled up and the harp space shrinks by 4″-5″. That small harp space begins shrinking immediately and there is a lot of rolling and adjusting that takes place.
Still, there are significant savings when using this method and it gives you the opportunity to really try your hand at longarm quilting before making a larger purchase.
While looking into options, here’s what I came up with:
As I looked into budget options I found that the Grace Company has the only budget-priced frame. It’s a two-rail metal frame that can be purchased for around $1,000, depending on accessories. This price is for the frame only and you would need to either purchase a machine separately or use one you already own.
I’ve personally owned and used this setup and had great success with it. There is a bit of a learning curve, but not overly challenging. If you’re willing to put in a little practice this is a nice option to try out longarm quilting.
What is the Grace SR2 Frame and How Does it Work? **
**Note: The Grace SR2 Frame has recently been replaced by the Grace Q-Zone Hoop Frame. (affiliate) I’ve seen this new frame in person and it has the best of the SR2. I highly recommend it.
- The Grace SR2 frame (affiliate) is a two-rail frame.
- The batting and quilt top are floated and not attached to a rail.
- It uses clips to hold the quilt top and batting in place.
- Because there only two rails, larger quilts can drag on the floor until they are taken up.
- The SR2 fits domestic sewing machines with a harp space up to 13″. The frame sets up in two different sizes, either 5′ for crib-sized quilts or 8′ for queen-sized quilts. (NOTE: Before purchasing, be sure to match the SR2 frame to your particular machine.)
- Accessories, such as speed control* (usually included) and stitch regulation*, make it function like a conventional longarm. (NOTE: Be sure to match these with your machine.) *affiliate
What the SR2 System Lacks:
- No stitch regulation* which is a $500-ish optional accessory. (*affiliate)
- The quilting area is the size of a domestic machine and shrinks as the quilt advances.
- Channel locks – which make perfectly straight lines across a quilt – aren’t available.
- The frame isn’t height adjustable.
- Smaller bobbin size when using domestic machine.
What the SR2 System Offers:
- No more pin basting quilts.
- The frame size is adjustable and can be set up at 5′ (which fits in a lot of spaces) or 8′ (which needs more space).
- Quilting is faster once the quilt is on the frame. You can finish quilting in about one-fourth the time.
- It allows you to get creative with free motion quilting for a fraction of the cost of a traditional longarm.
- Ability to add Table Inserts then use Pantographs* and a Grace Laser* to trace designs. (*affiliate)
- With a little practice, you will develop a consistent stitch length and may never need to invest in stitch regulation.
- You can’t do anything about bobbin size. Instead, I recommend having 4-5 bobbins wound and ready to pop in when needed.
- Using a laser level* on a tripod will create a straight line to follow. (*affiliate)
Putting it all together:
All in all, the Grace SR2 affords you a budget-friendly option for longarm quilting. Below is a short video that demonstrates how easy it is to use this setup for almost all of your quilting needs.