Long Arm Sewing Machines

Kate Miller-Wilson
Long Arm Sewing Machine

Since many quilters tire of wrestling an entire quilt through a standard sewing machine or quilting a whole coverlet by hand, long arm sewing machines are a popular option. These room-sized machines will make short work of quilting, and they allow for many beautiful designs. The only real downside, however, is the cost, which can be quite high.

What Is a Long Arm Sewing Machine?

Long arm machines typically consist of several rollers for the quilt and fabric, as well as a sewing machine with a movable head. The entire assembly, which often measures up to 14 feet in length, is supported by a metal frame. Some long arm quilt machines feature a computer system that guides the sewing machine head in the specified quilting pattern. Prices for professional long arm machines range dramatically based on the options, with most running anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000.

Buying a Long Arm Machine

If you're interested in buying a long arm quilting machine, there are several options on the market:

  • Sewing Machines Plus offers a full range of long arm machines, many of which are professional quality. Models range in price from $2,500 to over $12,000.
  • Although Sailrite is a site devoted to sailing enthusiasts, they offer a range of long arm sewing equipment. Most machines cost around $4,000.
  • QuiltFabric.com sells the Inova long arm quilting machine in two different sizes. Prices range from about $9,000 to $12,000.
  • Amazon.com offers several long arm machine models for the casual or professional quilter. Simpler and smaller machines, like the Singer L500 retail for around $1000.

Popular Long Arm Manufacturers

When it comes to long arm quilting machines, several manufacturers are popular with consumers:

  • BabyLock - Sold at many authorized retailers, the Baby Lock Jewel offers a laser light to make it easier to follow patterns.
  • Tin Lizzie - This company specializes in long arm machines which have been designed by quilters. You can find a list of authorized dealers on the company website.
  • Gammill - Specializing in quilting machines, this company offers several professional-quality models that can be purchased from local retailers.
  • Nolting - Another popular manufacturer, Nolting has been in business for more than two decades. They offer several models which can only be purchased from authorized retailers.
  • HandiQuilter - Also designed by professional quilters, Handiquilter machines are popular with quilting enthusiasts. The company website can help you locate a dealer near you.

Influence on the Quilting Art

When it first gained popularity in the 1990s, the long arm machine revolutionized the quilting art. Quilters can piece their quilt tops and then take the fabric to businesses specializing in finishing quilts. These businesses use long arm quilting machines, and the quilting takes far less time than it would by traditional sewing machines. Many quilters attribute the increase in the popularity of quilting to the availability of long arm machines.

In addition, many quilters have developed special custom patterns to use with long arm machines. Quilts made using these custom designs are very popular with consumers, sometimes selling for thousands of dollars.

Should You Buy a Machine?

Since long arm quilting machines are so expensive, many quilters and seamstresses wonder whether it is better to invest in a machine or take quilts to a long arm quilting service. Quilting services typically charge by the size of the quilt, and a standard price would be about 15 cents per square inch.

To decide whether buying a machine is right for you, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How often do you quilt? If you create many quilts each year, you may be better off owning your own machine.
  • How much room do you have to devote to quilting? Long arm machines take up a lot of space, and not everyone has a dedicated area for this type of equipment.
  • What is your budget? Long arm machines are costly. If a machine isn't in your price range, a service may be more practical.

Easier and Faster

Many quilters feel that long arm sewing machines are invaluable tools. These machines allow a great deal of creativity, and they make it easier and faster to produce beautiful quilts.

Long Arm Sewing Machines