The Free Motion Quilting Project: Renting the Bernina Longarm

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Renting the Bernina Longarm

Yesterday I drove to a local quilt shop to rent time on the Bernina Q24 longarm. What a day! I loaded a piece of plain, black fabric, set up a spool of gray Isacord thread, and quilted for hours trying to learn how to control the machine. Here's a quick glimpse of just how terrible it looked in the beginning:

Honestly I'm really pleased with all of my quilting, even this wobbly mess in the beginning! The great thing about the Bernina Q24 is the stitch regulator which kept the stitches roughly the same size and shape no matter how crazily I moved the machine.

The biggest goal I had for the day was to find more control over the machine's movement. I wanted to be able to quilt wiggly shapes and Stippling by the end of the day and great news! That definitely happened:

Now before you jump to conclusions - no I'm not switching to longarm quilting. Mostly I'm curious to know how a longarm works and how it differs from quilting on a home sewing machine. Yesterday I learned a lot - like why you don't want to tighten the quilt up SUPER tight because that adds more bounce. When the quilt surface bounces around too much the stitch regulator has trouble working.

I also learned that designs like Stippling are much easier to quilt than designs that require travel stitching. While I had enough control to stitch a wiggly design I knew really well, I definitely did NOT have the control to hit points or travel stitch consistently.

So that is going to take a lot more practice and patience to master. Overall I was pleased with my day and how much I accomplished. My quilting was far from perfect, but I learned quite a lot about this different form of machine quilting!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. I would love to know what it is about the differences in the way brains work that creates challenges for people moving from domestic to long arm quilting and vice versa. Aside from learning the differences in the machines, I don't find there to be much difference between the two, and I wonder if that's because my brain has always focused on what the needle is doing instead of the way the machine or quilt moves. I still do a bit of quilting on my treadles, but I much prefer the freedom and ease of moving the machine rather than wrestling the quilt. How people make the transition is very interesting to me.

  2. I switched to longarm quilting because my shoulders could not continue pushing the quilts through. Five years ago, I learned machine quilting from your blog and DVDs. I was surprised how different longarm quilting is and still am not so hot with it after 1 1/2 yrs. Your teaching was valuable to me, I still need to get the longarm work close to my machine quilting work. It is a world of difference.

  3. Very interesting insights. While I don't have room for a longarm in my home, I too have been interested in renting one just to see how it feels. You've inspired me to give it a try this year. I think you did a great job.


    1. I quilt charity quilts on a domestic home machine with a 5 inch throat and a queen size Gracie frame with a lazer light. I use pantographs that I made myself (not many small pantographs available) and I also free motion, depending on the quilt. I also quilt sitting at my other domestic home machine for smaller projects such as baby quilts. I like both methods for separate reasons. I feel that I have much better control while sitting but find maneuvering large quilts cumbersome. I hate to have pleats and pluckers on the backside - something that is eliminated with short arm quilting . Using a frame while standing is much faster once you get used to moving the machine instead of the quilt. Try new methods when you have a chance (quilt show vendors are a good place.) Leah has been an inspiration to me, also. I've taken several classes with her. She is a very skilled quilter.

  4. I have a Bernina Q20 which is the sit down long arm. I've been a Bernina owner since 1980 so I'm died in the wool Bernina person. I am NOT good at stippling. . .I'm such a linear person that I keep backing myself into corners, but I like Leah's helpful hints and projects and I know the key is practice, practice, practice. I previously had a different sit down long arm and was constantly fighting w/ the machine. The Q20 is a BERNINA so it feels and sews like a Bernina and the stitch regulator is very helpful. So w/ Leah's help and lots of practice I hope one day my quilts will look at good as Leah's!!! Thanks for all your help.

  5. Awesome experiment! I've seen their sign from the highway as I go to customer appointments...never have had the time to stop in. Will have to do that soon!

  6. Hi Leah! I have a Bernina 820 (not a longarm) which has the BSR, and a quilt frame (which still needs to be finished being put together). I plan to use the duo for "quicker" machine quilting "easy" designs. I seem to prefer working more of your stitches on my DSM on fabric squares and using the binding method you taught us in the BBQA. It just feels more creative to me. But for speed in finishing a quilt, I see the 820 & frame a quicker way to "get 'er done". Thanks for writing up your thoughts and experiences with the Bernina Q24. Bernina does make an absolutely terrific machine. Say hi to Josh for me! Linda from Harmony ME.

  7. Leah if you try it again, give this a try. I am proficient at free motion quilting and have the Bernina Q20 sit down. I tried a long arm on a frame when in Houston last year and had the same experience you did. Because I did free motion with no regulator for many years, I had no problem with not having a regulator and when someone, for someone reason, took it off regulation, my whole experience changed. "oh my goodness,". I have a friend who just bought a long arm and was having difficulties and she said she started enjoying the learning process when she turned off regulation as well. Then you can turn it on again when you get more comfortable. Most people will tell you it's more difficult but most have not done free motion quilting to the extent you have with no regulator. I was even working on feathers once I took off the regulation!


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