Buyer’s Guide to Quilting Machines – How to Pick The Best
There are many factors to consider when one is researching quilting machines from the vast number of manufacturers out there. Each manufacturer produces different types of models in various sizes and features. Factors such as budget, types of projects, the weight of the machine, and the use of the machine should be taken into consideration when buying a quilting machine. And by use of the machine, I mean whether you are buying the machine for crafts for the home and as gifts for friends or whether you intend to use the machine for commercial purposes.
When doing your research, ask yourself the following questions to help you decide on your needs:
- How many quilting projects do I expect to finish in a year?
- Will I be doing basic quilting or do I want ornate and complicated designs?
- What will the average size of projects? Will you be quilting a large bed quilt or table runners?
- Where will I primarily use the machine? Is it going to be set up in one place or will I need to transport it to other places such as classes?
- Will I only be doing just quilting or do I need an applique feature?
- What are my space requirements? Do I have enough space for the machine, an extension table or a frame?
Your answers to the questions above will go a long way to determining whether you need a short-arm, mid-arm or long-arm quilting sewing machine.
What is all this “arm” talk?
On a sewing machine, the arm is the top slender horizontal part of the machine. The arm length is typically measured as the distance from the sewing needle on the left to the vertical part of the machine on the right. Machines are classified into long-arm, mid-arm or short-arm depending on the length of the arm. The space underneath the arm is critical because it determines how much space you have for quilting. This workspace underneath the arm is often called the throat space or harp. This is usually specified as the arm length and the distance between the base of the machine and the machine arm. See the image below
The guide below should be used to determine whether a quilting machine is long-arm, short-arm or mid-arm.
- Long-arm — throat space of 18 inches or greater
- Mid-arm — throat space of 12 – 17 inches
- Short-arm — throat space less than 12 inches
When quilting, you’ll often need to roll the item when quilting as shown in the image below.
If you work on large projects, you need a machine with a big enough throat space to accommodate the large fabric. A large throat space also means you are able to quilt on a larger area before needing to roll up the item to quilt another area. This is why throat space is an important factor if you will be working on large projects.
Long Arm Quilting Machines
These are often the most expensive type of quilting machines. They are the best quilting machines for commercial sewers. They usually mount this type of machine on a frame and mount the quilting top, batting and backing fabric on roller bars. Longarm machines are typically made with industrial-strength parts because of their frequent usage. This makes them very strong and long-lasting. This type of machine is often mounted on tracks that run along the frame. As you sew, the fabric stays in one place while the sewing head moves along the track. This gives you greater control and allows you to make more accurate stitches. If you are going to make intricate designs, a longarm quilting machine is your best choice.
The longarm machine can either be computer-guided or hand-guided. A computer-guided machine will make sewing much more comfortable for you and help prevent repetitive injury that arises from long periods of hand-guiding or feeding fabric through the machine. The price for a computer-guided quilting machine can be very high and out of the reach of the average buyer.
Consumer longarm machines are ideal for sewers for whom sewing is more than just a hobby. You’ll buy a longarm machine is you are going to work on large projects such as quilting queen or king-size bedspreads. It gives you a smooth quilting experience without the frustration of trying to squeeze your project under the arm. The throat space on a consumer longarm quilting machine can go up to 27 inches by 12 inches. With this, you can quilt 21-inch by 17-inch blocks of fabric without rolling them.
Midarm Quilting Machines
This type of machine has less throat space than long arms and cost less. However, they are more expensive than short arm machines. Despite having a bit more throat space than short arms, they are still not the best quilting machine when working on large projects. You’d struggle to roll a queen or king-size item underneath the arms. Most people will forego a midarm and go for a longarm machine instead.
Short arm Machines
This type of machine costs the least but is also the machine with the least throat space. Most are home sewing machines with a quilting capability. If you buy a home sewing machine with a quilting feature, expect to get a throat space of about 7 inches. If you buy a dedicated short arm quilting machine, you can get a throat space of up to 12 inches. It is possible to complete quilts of all sizes on a short-arm quilting machine. However, this requires that you continuously reposition the material as you quilt.
If you intend to use a home sewing machine as a quilting machine, you’ll need a few accessories to make it work. One requirement is a walking foot attachment for straight line quilting. If you want to quilt curved or meandering designs, you need a free motion or darning foot attachment. If you want to do free-motion quilting, you manually move the fabric through the machine and, therefore, do not need the feed dog. So you need a sewing machine with a drop feed mechanism that allows you to disengage the feed dog for free-motion quilting.
Common Features to Look For on The Best Quilting Machines
Standard features that you must have on any quilting machine include easy to swap needles and presser feet, stitch length adjuster, easy bobbin winding system, reverse sewing capability, and a strong motor that can withstand prolonged use.
Additional features to look for in the best sewing machines for quilting include;
- Open toe applique presser foot
- Needle up/down control with position memory. This means that you set the needle to always stop in the up or down position when you reach the end of a stitch. For quilters, you want the needle to always stop in the down position so you can turn the fabric without weakening your latest stitch.
- A machine with speed control to give you better control of your quilting.
- To accommodate various batting thickness, you need a machine with an adjustable hopping foot.
- A knee lift. This allows you to lift the presser feet with your knee.
- A 1/4-inch quilting stitch. For machines with adjustable needle positions, you need an edge stitching foot which is sometimes referred to as a patchwork foot. For machines with a fixed position needle, you need a 1/4-inch presser foot.
- An extension table. This extends the working space on the machine and allows you to quilt large projects. Look for a machine that comes with an extension table or one that will enable you to attach an extension table to it.
There are some features of a quilting machine that are not required but make quilting more convenient. These features include workspace light, a bobbin-thread-low warning beep, automatic threading, thread cutter, micro handles, ability to adjust the machine for quilting whiles standing or sitting.
Hand-quilting is alright, however, if you want to make professional-looking quilts, you need the best sewing machine for quilting to achieve that look. Using a machine allows you to make uniform and strong stitches, which results in beautiful looking projects.
What Are The Best Sewing Machines For Quilting?
I have selected the machines below as my recommendation for the best sewing machines for quilting. The machines include models purposely built for quilting and regular sewing machines with quilting capabilities. I have chosen these machines carefully after spending hours researching them and talking to some of my sewing friends. Any of the machines below are very capable, and you should expect high-quality quilting from each of them.