Trying out long-arm quilting

Don’t you think the idea of owning a long-arm machine is appealing? I often have! I might have purchased one long ago — except that (1) it would be very expensive and (2) you need a big space for one. I haven’t been able to justify the space or the money as yet. Still, I wanted to give long-arming a try. Would it really be easier than trying to quilt on my domestic machine??

loading fabric into the LAQ machineAs it turns out, a woman in my guild named Grier Rennie offers long-arm lessons in her home — with the idea that, afterward, you can rent time on her machine to do your own quilting. I had to try it. I signed up the Mouse and myself for an class. So — here we go! The first thing we had to do was learn how to load a quilt into the frame.

Channel locking the LAQ machineThe backing was easy, as Grier’s machine has zippers for loading the backing fabric. You baste zippers onto either end of your backing, and zip it into the frame! Easy-peasy! Loading the quilt top (or in our case, a sample piece of fabric) and the batting was a little trickier. Got it done, finally. Then, we secured the quilt by channel-locking (basting) along the top and the sides of the quilt.

LAQ MouseThen the fun part started! Mouse really enjoyed the first task — freemotion quilting on the long arm. I liked it, too! It’s still a bit of a struggle to get my hands to move the needle to match the picture in my brain — but so much easier with a stitch regulator! The machine speeds up and slows down to match my movements. Love it. Mouse got going, and didn’t want to stop!

maze LAQ patternHere’s a sample of the Pacman Maze pattern we tried freehand. I’m not sure if this section is from my side or Mouse’s. It was fun to do, and came out reasonably well, all things considered. Obviously, we would improve with practice. But I think it turned out pretty decently. I would definitely considered doing this pattern on a whole quilt top!

pantograph patternNext, we tried doing a Pantograph. I believe the one we chose was called Fantasy Flame. Here’s a sample of our work. Trying to trace the pantograph pattern was very difficult. At first I struggled to keep the laser light on the pantograph line and felt bad when I went off course. Then I decided to relax into it — to see the pantograph line as a guide, but not a “must follow” line. If I went off course, I just looped or curved a little wider, then tried to come back to the pantograph line more smoothly, instead of jerking it back to follow the pattern. That worked better. As Grier pointed out, who’s ever going to know if you followed the pattern exactly? And again, following the line would get easier with practice. So pantographing was okay, but not as fun as FMQ.

template LAQ patternFinally, we tried something else, called Circle Lord. It’s a grooved template you set on the machine, and instead of laser light, you drop a little stylus down into the groove, then just trace the groove to get your pattern. Easier than the pantograph in some ways, though you can jump the track if you “drive” too fast. But also a bit… well, the Mouse would simply say it was boring. You don’t have to use your brain much at all. But I can see how it would work for an inexperienced person who wanted a near-perfect result.

LAQ Mouse 2We were tired by the end! But it was a day well spent. Now I know the basics, I’m definitely inspired to go back to Grier’s with some of my quilt tops! For a large bed quilt, it would definitely be easier to manage the quilting in the long arm machine than my domestic.

Would I buy a long-arm machine myself? Well… I have to say, I would be more likely to consider it now that I’ve tried it. Still, I can now rent time on Grier’s machine for a very reasonable price that would never add up to anything like the cost of buying my own machine. Plus I have four kids to put through college. So I think I’ll leave buying a long-arm machine in the “If I happen to win the lottery” category for now!




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