I think this is an awesome way to solve many issues quilters have with quilting big quilts on small machines and if I could figure out a way of packing the clamps, bungee cords, and handles together, I'd turn it into a Suspended Quilting System and sell it on the site just so more quilters would try it out and start quilting this way.
But quickly I began to receive comments asking why I don't just give it up and buy a longarm already?! Why screw handles to the ceiling and clamp bungee cords to my quilts when I could just buy a big machine to quilt my big quilts so much easier?
I'll be honest - these derisive, eye rolling kind of comments really boil my blood. Nothing makes me madder than one quilter scoffing at the ideas of another quilter or "putting her in her place." And I'm really sick and tired of the snobbery that comes with machine choice. It shouldn't matter what you stitch on so long as you ARE STITCHING!
So allow me a rant on this Saturday afternoon as I explain exactly why I absolutely don't want or need a longarm to quilt my quilts, even the really big ones. Yes, I expect I'll annoy a lot of people with this post, so if you'd rather not get mad at me, feel free to check out videos today instead.
Keep in mind that I'm not attacking quilters who want longarms or who own them.
I'm just sharing my opinion why I absolutely, positively don't want one, and I'm attacking the elitist, snobby attitude that surrounds machine choice.
7 reasons why I don't want or need a longarm machine:
#7 - They're huge - If I installed even a small frame in my basement, I would have to completely rearrange my sewing space to accommodate the large, bulky contraption.
Right now I have several tables set up around my Janome Horizon, but if I needed to, I could work with a much smaller setup. I could even collapse all the tables and quilt in a closet if I absolutely needed to.
But with a longarm, the ability to downsize is essentially impossible. It's going to be huge and it's going to take up a ton of space. There is no way to make a 20" long machine any smaller!
Now let's talk about the attitudes surrounding the size: The general attitude is IF you're serious and IF you're dedicated to quilting, you will spend the money, remodel your house, rearrange your living room, etc. - essentially do whatever you need to do to make a longarm fit.
Quilters that don't have dedicated sewing studios, who quilt when they can with the space they make on the dining room table or laundry room, are they really any less dedicated or interested or skilled in the hobby than those with wide expanses of space? No. Absolutely not.
That kind of snobbery about space really needs to end. Work with what you have, make the best of the space you are given, and when you see opportunities for improvements, such as better lighting or storage, make the changes that need to happen!
#6 - They're expensive - I can stomach shelling out $10,000 for a good used car if we're needing one, but I can't wrap my brain around spending even $4000 on a quilting machine.
When I first got into quilting, $300 was the absolute most I could spend on a machine, and I still remember the look on the dealer's face when I told her my budget. She thought I was a waste of her time.
Again the attitude from the Elitists is IF you're serious and IF you really love quilting, then it should be no problem to take out a loan, refinance your house, sell your kid, etc. in order to get the machine of your dreams.
But the fact is, it really doesn't matter how much money you have to throw into quilting! I've known many quilters who have obviously more money than sense (or skill) and buy hugely expensive machines that just sit and collect dust.
A bigger, better, more complicated machine does NOT make you a better quilter, and it will not instantly improve your free motion quilting skill. Only time and practice can do that!
#5 - I Quilt for Me - This should probably be my slogan. I should put it on t-shirts so everyone knows how selfish I am!
Why is this important? Because in order to afford a longarm quilting system, most quilters will start quilting for other quilters.
This isn't a problem in and of itself. Lord knows, I support anyone wanting to create their own business and make money on their own.
But here's what I do have a problem with - the quilters that DON'T want to turn their hobby and passion into a business feeling pushed and prodded into it due to the high cost of the machine.
As I've written before, finding a balance between a craft you love and your business is an endless battle. I have no idea how quilters who longarm for money can turn off the business aspect of the craft in order to find enjoyment in the quilting for themselves. That is one situation I never want to find myself in and another reason why a longarm is not for me.
#4 - I quilt from the center - I like quilting my quilts from the center of the quilt to the outside edges, filling each section with color and seeing the quilt come to life.
While I have never quilted an entire quilt on a longarm, I know you don't really quilt from the center in the same way. While everyone has a different opinion about this, personally I would dislike having to work from edge to edge from the top to the bottom of a quilt.
What if I had a section on my quilt that covered 50 inches of space from the top to the middle? With a domestic machine, I can start in the center and fill that entire space, maintaining the design and fills and thread color throughout.
From what I understand about longarms and how they work, I'd have about 20" of space to work on at a time, then I'd have to break thread and advance the quilt to get to the rest of the area. While yes, I know professional longarmers that can do this perfectly, it just seems a bit counter-intuitive to me.
#3 - I don't want to learn how to quilt all over again - I'm a pretty good quilter on a domestic sewing machine. I can easily stitch on a 1/8" scale and achieve the dense stitches I like to create on a quilt. On a longarm, it might take years for me to achieve this kind of mastery.
While the two are pretty much the same as far as forming and quilting designs, moving the machine rather than moving the quilt is quite a different application of the stitches.
The few times I have touched a longarm, I've been literally pulled around by the inertia of the huge, heavy machine. Yes, I'm sure I could learn how to wrangle it in and eventually learn how to control it, but I don't really want to. If I can quilt on a domestic, why would I ever need a longarm?!
Now for the attitude that really cheeses me off - most people cannot believe I quilt on a domestic! They look at me like I've grown two heads when I explain that I don't own a longarm and don't want one.
It seems that everyone now assumes that longarm = awesome quilting and that is just not true. You can achieve gorgeous stitches on ANY machine you use, so long as you take the time to find them.
#2 - Most quilters start on domestic machines - Most quilters getting into the hobby have a domestic sewing machine, or can easily get one for under $500.
What does this have to do with my choice? It comes down to being an effective teacher. If most beginners start on a domestic sewing machine, that's the machine I should be teaching on.
Yes, I could make YouTube videos of me swinging a longarm around on a frame, but I'd likely loose 80% of the beginners that read this project because that's not the machine you have or the way you quilt.
It's important for me to be a good teacher, even if I'm just teaching online and will likely never see you in person. I want to know I'm reaching the most people and helping them in the clearest way on the machine that most have access to.
#1 - It's NOT any easier - There's this idea that longarm quilting is SO much easier than domestic machine quilting. I sincerely doubt this is true. Yes, longarms involve moving the machine and not the quilt, and for some people that might work better for the way your brain works.
However, just because you have a 20 inch throat, and just because the quilt is wound up on a frame doesn't mean you're going to instantly touch a longarm and be transported into a world of perfect stitches and golden tension.
Check out any forum from yahoo groups to individual forums for each manufacturer and you're going to find hundreds of posts from beginners desperate to understand how to use their machine.
I've spoken to many quilters about their decision to buy a longarm and most stories go something like this:
"I wanted to learn how to free motion, but I just couldn't get the hang of it on the machine I had. And then I met so-and-so and she said I needed a longarm to do that kind of quilting. So I went out and bought one and it was SO expensive, but then I got it home and I still couldn't quilt! But since I've spent all that money I HAVE to learn on this machine!"So rather than spend the time and energy needed to get comfortable quilting on a domestic, most of the quilter's I've spoken to have been seduced by the dark side and purchased a longarm, only to find that, while frame quilting might be different, but it still requires hours of practice to master.
And that is the point of this entire ranting article! YOU HAVE TO PRACTICE!
I don't care whether you're quilting on a $300, $4000, or $30,000 machine, you cannot achieve master of the machine just by turning it on.
You have to stitch on it, play with it, adjust it, adjust your setup around it, keep stitching, and eventually you will find your way through the ugly stitches and into that perfect place where the speed of the machine and the movement of your hands finds a balance.
So please stop blaming your machine for all your problems and fantasizing that a bigger, better, more expensive machine will fix everything. Chances are, it's not the machines fault. Spend more time quilting, less time complaining, and you will find better stitches very quickly.
Staying afraid of it, terrified you'll "ruin" a quilt, that's a place that will keep you treading water for the rest of your life. Look back to the first block you pieced - was it perfect? Stop expecting the first quilts you quilt to be perfect!
Here's another final quick tip - if your tension isn't perfect, please ignore it.
This is the #1 reason why quilters start, and then stop free motion quilting forever. But if you ignore those ugly stitches, if you plow through them like a bulldozer with no brakes, you will find your way through to beautiful stitches eventually.
Quilt every day for the next month - just 30 minutes each day - and I'll bet you'll see an enormous improvement in your quilting stitches.