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 several 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 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.
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 longarm options, here’s what I came up with:
As I looked into budget options I found that the Grace Company has the best budget-priced frames that allow you to scale up as your budget allows.
One very simple option is the Cutie Tabletop Fabric Frame. For those who are space and budget constrained, this is a great solution. The Cutie is lightweight, portable, storable, adaptable, and affordable!
Below are a few of my favorite features:
- Works with almost any home sewing machine.
- Any size quilting or sewing project is a possible.
- Easily portable and can be stored in a closet between projects.
- It works on most sturdy flat surfaces – such as a dining table.
- It has a dual-track system built in so it easily glides across the quilt top like a regular longarm frame.
- You can purchase optional legs that can turn it into a free-standing frame.
A couple of things to consider before buying the Cutie Tabletop Frame:
- Do you want to quilt sitting down or standing up? This will determine the surface you choose for your frame to sit on.
- What sewing machine do you plan to use? Will it work with the Cutie Frame?
- Will the foot pedal reach the floor? If not, you’ll need to consider purchasing the Speed Control accessory?
Learn more about the Cutie Tabletop Frame and be sure to watch the short video.
The Grace Q-Zone Hoop Frame is a great option that is an in-between option between the Cutie Tabletop Frame and the larger Q-Zone Queen Frame (see below). It’s a free-standing frame, but it only takes 4.5′ of space. That makes it ideal for someone with limited space to have a free-standing longarm setup.
The Q-Zone Hoop Frame is made to work with many quilting machines, from domestics to longarms with up to a 19-inch throat space.
Below are a few of my favorite features:
- Works with many sewing and quilting machines that can have up to a 19″ throat
- Work sitting or standing
- Space-saving size
- Can quilt queen, king, or larger quilts
This option is the closest to a longarm experience and allows you to quilt across without shifting the quilt as long as the quilt is no larger than queen size.
It also gives you the opportunity to experiment with different longarm quilt patterns.
Note: The Grace Q-Zone Queen Frame replaces the Grace SR2 Frame (shown below) which is what I own. It’s basically an upgrade to the SR2 and I highly recommend it.
- The Grace Q-Zone Queen Frame is a two-rail frame.
- Like the Cutie and Q-Zone Hoop frames, the batting and quilt top are floated and not attached to a rail.
- Like the Cutie and Q-Zone Hoop frame, 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 Q-Zone Queen Frame fits domestic sewing machines with a harp space up to 13″. It can be broken down into a 4′ frame and is height adjustable and front-to-back adjustable.
NOTE: Before purchasing, be sure to match the Q-Zone Queen Frame to your particular machine.
- Like the Cutie and Q-Zone Hoop frame, accessories, such as speed control and stitch regulation, make it function like a conventional longarm.
NOTE: Be sure to match these with your machine.
What These Different Option Offer:
- No more pin basting quilts.
- The frame sizes are adjustable and can fit in a lot of spaces.
- 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.
- The Q-Zone Queen has the ability to add Table Inserts then use Pantographs and a Grace Laser to trace designs.
- 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.
What These Options Lack:
- No stitch regulation which is a $500-ish optional accessory.
- 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.
- Smaller bobbin size when using domestic machine.
Putting it all together:
All in all, the Grace Company offers all types of budget-friendly options for longarm quilting.
Below is a short video that demonstrates the older version Grace SR2 Frame. Notice how easy it is to use this setup for almost all of your quilting needs. Note: The Q-Zone Queen will be very similar with only some minor differences.
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