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Everything You Need To Know About Longarm Quilting And Why It’s So Popular!

Before you begin the long and careful quilting process, we now have several ways to complete a project in a skilled and timely manner.

Doing everything by hand is no longer your only option!

Now you can use a longarm sewing machine to stitch together your finished quilting tops.

What is Longarm Quilting?

Longarm quilting is the method by which a longarm sewing machine is used to join

  1. quilt top
  2. quilt batting 
  3. and quilt backing into a finished quilt.

More About The Machine

The longarm sewing machine frame typically ranges from 10 feet (about 3m) to 14 feet (about 4.25m) in length.

A complete longarming system typically consists of

  • an industrial sewing machine head length (19 inches – 30 inches)
  • a 10 to 14-foot frame
  • a table with a layer of plastic under to place a pantograph
  • rollers to attach the fabric layers and batting

Quilting using a longarm machine takes less time than more traditional machine quilting or hand quilting or more traditional machine quilting. This time saving is a large reason longarm quilting has become so popular among hobbyists.

There are only two bars on the first quilting machine from the year 1800s, these allows the user to move the quilt and the frame underneath the quilting machine to quilt straight, parallel lines on the fabric. By roughly 1877, the design had been updated and began to look similar to the design quilters now known as a longarm quilting machine.

Earlier, prior to electricity, the quilter uses a hand crank to move the machine along rails and over the fabric. Thankfully, modern machines no longer require such effort!

Longarm quilting machines only require the push of a button and supervision to get the job done!

Why Bother with a Longarm Machine?

  • THE SPEED AND EASE with which a quilter can have a quilt top finished by a longarm quilter has caused an increase in recent years for quilting.

    These machines allow quilters to have their quilts finished without going through the time-consuming process associated with standard machine quilting or hand quilting.

    On average, using a longarm machine, a quilt can be put together in under 2 hours!

    While some like having a long project to keep busy with, some don’t, and thanks to these machines, hand sewing doesn’t have to be the only option.

    The average time for a queen-sized quilt top, using a super easy loopy-loop all over pattern takes between 90 minutes and 2 hours.

    This is the quickest quilting technique. Anything more complicated, like a smallish stipple, or ruler work, is very time-consuming.

  • ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS TAKE YOUR FINISHED QUILT TOPS TO A QUILTING BUSINESS and pay a fee to have your quilting done by a longarm quilter.

    The availability of relatively quick and reasonably affordable quilting services has helped to cause a surge in the quilting business and an overall growth in interest in quilting as an art form.

What Types of Longarm Quilting are there?

The two significant styles of quilting typically done by longarm quilting machines are pantograph designs including “edge-to-edge” and custom work.

Longarm machines can also come equipped with computers that will create a pantograph style design on the quilt top with the quilter resetting the needle for every section of the design.

Pantograph Designs

A pantograph is a long design that spans the length of the longarm table.

The longarm quilter will take the pantograph design and place it beneath the plastic layer on the table and then trace this design using the laser or stylus found on their machine head.

The design typically spans the length of the quilt and can be repeated in rows to produce an all-over design on the quilt top.

This method of longarm machine quilting is popular due to the minimal amount of work required by the longarm quilter themselves.

Custom Work

Custom work is done when the sewer wishes for the quilt blocks to contain individual designs in each block or area of the quilt.

This method is typically MORE TIME-CONSUMING for the longarm quilter and is a MORE EXPENSIVE method for having a piece quilted.

Depending on the type of quilting work desired by the customer, the process can require additional time and resources for the longarm quilter.

***Some sewing styles, like meandering, which entails an all over fill-in design, require less attention to detail and can be done quickly.

Other styles and designs, like feathers and motifs , require the longarm quilter to pay more attention to details and alignment and, therefore, can be time-consuming and costly.

Quarter-inch acrylic rulers or templates can be used to create designs that are consistent throughout the quilt.

How Much Does Longarm Quilting Cost?

Owning a Longarm quilting machine is typically more expensive than traditional quilters sewing machines. They can be found for anywhere between $5,000 and $40,000.

Which is not in every hobbyist’s budget! Therefore taking your finished quilt tops to a local quilting business would be a cheaper solution.

Different companies will have different rates for their machines and labor.

Below links are example of prices for quilting services 

More Information On The Machine Itself And How It Works

The longarm quilting machine comes equipped with a 

  1. sewing machine head
  2. a worktable
  3. several fabric rollers
  4. and a metal frame

The overall dimensions of the frame can range from 10 to 14 feet in length by 2 ½ to 4 feet in depth. So, it is a big piece of machinery!

The machine comes equipped with a table region.

  • The table size ranges in lengths like the machine. 
  • Larger table sizes can accommodate up to king-sized quilts.
  • Typically, the table contains a flat region on which a layer of thin, clear plastic lies, on which patterns and other designs to follow can be placed. 

The sewing machine head is large and made of industrial-strength metal.

  • It can be either hand-guided or computer-guided, with controls at both the front and back ends to guide the head.

  • The sewing machine head is placed on wheels that run on metal tracks along the frame of the machine. These tracks allow for a full range of motion for the machine.

  • The sewing machine head can also come with a laser pointer, which can be used to guide the quilter along patterns called pantographs.

  • Pantographs are placed underneath the clear plastic region of the table.

  • The hand-guided machine head contains handles by which the quilter can guide the machine along the fabric to sew the design of choice.

  • A computer-guided machine head is hooked up to a computer system that allows the quilter to select the chosen design to be sewn onto the fabrics.

  • With the push of a button on the computer’s keyboard, the longarm sewing machine will sew the design onto the quilt with minimal physical assistance.

The frame of the machine consists of several rolling bars onto which layers of the ‘quilt sandwich’ are placed.

  • On one side of the machine, two rollers, known as ‘the feeder bars’, are connected to a muslin leader. The backing and the quilt top can be attached to these bars and muslin leader.

  • Material is attached by sewing pins, a snap system, or sewing zippers to the muslin leaders.

  • Then the material is stretched tight over the belly bar, which ensures that the layered material is smooth and taut according to the sewers’ desires.

How Does The Machine Work?

  1. The backing of the quilt is attached by sewing pins, a snap system, or zippers to a third roller, known as the “take-up” roller.

  2. The take-up roller is the part where the quilted layers can be moved onto to allow the quilter to gain access to a new area of quilt top.

  3. The backing, quilt top, and batting are commonly basted (temporarily sewn together) by a single row of stitching.

  4. These sections can also be pinned together onto the muslin leader on the take-up roller.

  5. The stretched region of fabric that spans between the take-up roller and the feeder rollers is the area over which the fabric layers are actually sewn together into the finished product.

  6. The longarm quilting machine typically comes with electronic controls that allow the user to adjust the fabric that spans the area over which the machine runs.

Quilting is an enjoyable and fun project for hobbyists, but it can be time-consuming for some. Longarm quilting machines and quilting businesses that use them can save you lots of time for minimal service costs.

Jessie Holloway

Friday 1st of July 2022

I love how you talk in so much detail about a long arm sewing machine and how it creates the patterns it does. My aunt really loves the look of quilting and would love to own some professionally done ones. We're looking into finding a place that sells what she's looking for.