Good Morning, Quilters!
I’ve been quilting for more than twenty years!
Most of my free motion quilting has been done on a variety of (BERNINA) domestic sewing machines: B830, B150QE, B770QE.
In 2017, I purchased the BERNINA Q20, a sit-down (stationary) quilting machine and early this year, I purchased a BERNINA Q24 long arm with quilting frame.
Each machine type and way of quilting has advantages and disadvantages.
Domestic, Mid Arm, Long Arm
Before we compare, let’s make sure we understand a few terms.
Domestic Sewing Machine:
Throat space: Less than 9 inches.
Most of us begin quilting on our sewing machines-the machines we use for every day sewing and piecing. The term domestic machine is used to distinguish these machines from commercial sewing machines used in the garment industry. Domestic sewing machines can perform many sewing tasks and usually have a throat space (the distance between the needle and the vertical side of sewing machine) less than 9 inches. Because the domestic sewing machine is so versatile, it is a great machine to learn free motion quilting. The major disadvantage is the small throat space makes quilting large quilts challenging.
Mid Arm Quilting Machine
Throat space: 12-17 inches.
A Mid-arm quilting machine is different from a domestic sewing machine in two ways: It has a larger throat space (12-17 inches) and it is a quilting-only machine. Most mid-arm machines do not have feed dogs and therefore can not perform typical sewing functions.
Mid-arm quilting machines are often set in a cabinet though some are set on a quilt frame. Cabinet style machines require much less space requirements than the frame-based counterparts.
Some mid-arm machines are positioned like a domestic sewing machine, while others are oriented perpendicular.
Mid arm quilting machines make quilting easier with more room for maneuverability. Compared to domestic machines, mid-arm machines usually offer large bobbins and stitch regulators in a moderate price range.
Long Arm Quilting Machine
Throat Space: 20-24 inches
Long arm quilting machines add more throat space. Like the mid-arm quilting machines, long arm machines do not have feed dogs and therefore are quilt-only. Long arm quilting machines are usually positioned perpendicular to sewing machine position which leaves the right and left sides open.
Long arm machines may be in a set in cabinet –the quilt moves not the machine–or on a quilt frame. When the quilt is stretched on the frame, the quilt is stationary and the machine moves.
Long Arm Quilting: Stationary or Movable
When looking to upgrade from quilting on a domestic sewing machine, the biggest decision is whether you want the quilt in a frame (with a movable machine) or you want to move the quilt and have a stationary machine.
Quilt Moves/Stationary Machine Advantages
Similar to FMQ on Domestic Machine-If you’ve been free motion quilting on a domestic sewing machine, the transition to a stationary mid or long arm machine is a delight. Everything is the same-only there’s much more room to move and usually a bigger bobbin to boot! Most quilting machines offer easy built-in stitch regulators.
Sit down quilting-One of the biggest advantages of a stationary machine in a set-in cabinet is it allows you to sit comfortably while quilting. At the end of a long day, you can relax at your machine and quilt away!
Less Expensive-Usually a cabinet is less expensive than the cost of a frame, especially if you need hydraulics on the frame.
Requires A lot Less Space-The space requirements for a cabinet based machine are considerably less than a quilting frame.
Design Review-I often like to quilt a little and then hang or lay out my quilt to evaluate. This is much easier on a stationary machine. When the quilt is rolled on a frame, you can only see a section of the quilt at a time and never get the “big picture”.
Quilt on Frame/Movable Machine Pros/Cons
Stand up quilting-While it is possible to quilt sitting down, most long arm quilting with a movable machine requires the quilter to be standing. I know this sounds like I’m a lazy quilter-but it is a serious consideration.
More Expensive-Long arm quilting machines and the frame are significantly more expensive than other options.
Requires Large Space-A large, dedicated space is required to accommodate a quilt frame.
Faster-Moving the quilting machine over the quilt is much faster than moving the quilt under the needle. I would estimate –4-5x as fast.
No Basting-Instead of spray or pin basting, the quilt is attached to a frame. This set-up only takes 20-30 minutes compared to basting 2 hours?
Computer controlled options-Quilting designs can be automated (with significant babysitting) when the quilt is on a frame.
What about YOU?
Do YOU quilt on a domestic, mid-arm or long arm?
What brand/model do you use?
Are YOU considering an upgrade?
What is the biggest factor in your decision?
We’d LOVE to hear!
YOUR Lucky Multi-machine Owner!