This is part 5 of the Longarm Quilting Demystified series –read part 4 here!
The longarm industry offers a variety of options to consumers. Two of the most popular are hand-guided and computer-guided machines. In this article I will explore some of the more important options available to you when purchasing a longarm machine.
Hand-guided machines are the mainstay of the industry. With this type of longarm, the machine quilts and you guide it manually.
The machine runs in constant mode. This means the needle is moving constantly at a set speed. You cannot set a stitch length with this type of machine. The stitch length will be determined strictly by the speed you move the machine across the quilt. If you move the machine quickly you will have longer stitches; if you move the machine slowly, you will have shorter stitches. Your ability to maintain a constant speed of movement determines the consistency of the stitch length. This is similar to how you free-motion quilt on a domestic machine.
Stitch regulation is an available option on hand-guided machines. This allows you to set the number of stitches per inch, similar to selecting the stitch length on a sewing machine. In this mode, the stitch length remains consistent and is not impacted by the speed of your movement (photo 3). A hand-guided machine may or may not have the option to be upgraded for stitch regulation. If available, this option can be added at the time of purchase or at a later time. It is important to consider whether you might want a stitch regulator at the time of purchase.
Chanel locks are another important feature to consider for hand-guided machines. This allows you to stitch perfectly straight lines by locking the machine’s ability to move either horizontally or vertically. Some machines may only come with horizontal channel locks. Typically on a hand-guided machine, the channel lock is a mechanical or magnetic device that attaches to the carriage or frame. This feature is invaluable when you load the quilt to ensure it is perfectly straight.
A laser or stylus can be a helpful addition to a hand-guided machine. Lasers can be used to trace a paper pattern while the machine quilts the design onto a quilt. With a stylus you can trace patterns on grooved, acrylic templates. Check with the manufacturer to see which options are available on the machines you are considering. With a laser or stylus you will have to purchase either the templates or rolled paper patterns. A drawback to this feature is the need to find patterns in the exact sizes you will need. Without a laser or stylus, your machine is limited to free-motion quilting.
Computer-guided machines can really expand your quilting options. You will be able to quilt in either constant mode or stitch regulated mode. Instead of tracing patterns computer-guided machines allow you to select digitized patterns from the screen and modify them to your specific project. You can resize, rotate, mirror, combine, move and manipulate patterns on a screen. These features allow you to see how the design will look on your quilt before you start. Channel locks are often engaged via the software. Once your inputs are complete, the computer will guide the machine for you and stitch the designs consistently every time. You will still have the option to do hand-guided quilting as well.
When deciding which machine is right for you, price and how your machine will be used are important considerations. Computerized machines are more expensive. If you plan on quilting for others, the computer-guided machine will make life a lot easier, save time and reduce wear and tear on your body. Being comfortable with technology will come in handy when learning the software needed for a computer-guided machine. On the other hand, if you’re only doing a few quilts a year or this is your first longarm machine, a hand-guided machine may be just the ticket. Do your research and test drive a variety of machines. It won’t take long to find the perfect one for you.