Here is a few of the many questions about Longarm Quilting I get in my email. I thought you all might be interested in the answers to ~Lori’s~ questions.
I’m thinking of getting a Long-Arm and have begun researching the various machines. Recently I’ve found LongArm University online, they provide a list of 11 different manufacturers and the websites. It’s still confusing!
It’s great to hear that you are doing the research. This is a huge decision for you, like it is for most quilters thinking about taking that giant leap into the unknown. What I like about LongArm University, at least what I hope is that they are not affiliated with any one machine manufacturer. That makes it the perfect starting place for your research. I see that you are already on to step two which is contacting someone knowledgeable with each specific brand. As an APQS sales rep, I have to admit that I can only answer specifics about that brand of machine. I strongly advise you to seek reps for other longarm companies to ask specific questions about their machines.
What kind of computerized program is available for the APQS, like the Statler Stitcher for Gammill?
The two most popular brands of computer for APQS Machines are CQ (Compuquilter) and IQ (Intelliquilter). I have seen in a few online forums that Statler Stitchers(normally for Gammill Machines) have been retro-fitted to run on an APQS Millennium. My opinion is that you are best to buy the computer that has the most tried and tested users with your particular brand of long arm quilting machine. That way the trouble shooting that has been done relates directly to your machine. Check out their websites for user forums to get a better idea of problems that owners have encountered and more importantly how the company responds to and resolves said problems.
Do you use it?
I am a die-hard hand-guided or freehand quilter. I enjoy the freedom to create designs on the fly and work best creatively from the front of the machine. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with computerized quilting, in fact I have to admit to feeling intimidated by the ‘perfect stitching’ and the ‘intricate designs’ on many occasions that only a computer guided system can consistently turn out. I often tell potential buyers to ask themselves a few important questions before making the decision of ‘Computer’ or ‘Not’.
1. Do you have any machine embroidery experience? And do you enjoy it?
If they answer ‘yes’ it’s an indication that they would be very happy and more importantly very comfortable using a computerized quilting system. You see, The skill set involved with operating a computer guided longarm quilting machine is very similar to that of machine embroidery. It’s a similar CAD system and plotting the design on your quilt will be much easier and familiar to an embroiderer than someone who has never touched an embroidery machine. An important thing to consider is the learning curve involved in becoming competent with a new skill. The quicker you become comfortable with your machine (computerized or not), the faster you will be able to start taking customer quilts and recouping your investment. If you already have years of experience with machine embroidery, that’s some pretty valuable time under your belt that will drastically decrease the learning curve involved with owning and operating a computerized long arm quilting system.
2. Does your market require or will it allow another Computerized Quilter?
When making any investment of this size, it’s so important to evaluate your local market to be sure that you can squeeze in with ‘your niche’.
It’s ultimately all about how you are comfortable quilting. You will need to try out every machine you can get your hands on. Spend as many hours on them as you can. Either find a local rep and go and try their machine, visit the local dealer and get some hands on time or better yet travel to a big quilt expo that has all the brands available in one convenient place. The last thing you want to do is regret your decision shortly after making it. Get your hands on as many long arm quilting machines as humanly possible. Try them from the front doing hand-guided designs, get behind and try the laser on on a panto, and fire up the computer and stitch out a few designs. Find out where you feel most comfortable because you will be spending a lot of time there.
What was the reason you decided to go with the APQS?
I owned an HQ-16 Mid-Arm Quilting Machine for a year and a half and quilted over 200 quilts on it (probably closer to 300). In that time I out grew the stitch regulator and it simply couldn’t keep up with my fast quilting style. In April of ’08 I flew down to MQX(Machine Quilters Exposition) for the debut of Handi-Quilters new 24″ Fusion. I was very excited to get my hands on this larger machine and return home to make my purchase. While I was in Manchester, NH at the expo, I had the opportunity to try the Fusion as well as a number of other long-arm quilting machines.
Long story short, I fell in love with the APQS Millennium. I made so many little comparisons between the longarm machines while I was there and the Millie out performed in every way. First I looked at the reaction time of the stitch regulator. I admit that almost every machine I tried out performed my HQ-16 and had less trouble keeping up with me. But upon closer examination to the stitches, everywhere I changed directions most of the machines showed a small variation in stitch length both going into and coming out of the point. The smallest variation was found on the APQS Freedom SR. Next was the Millennium then the Nolting. The Fusion came in a distant fourth and still couldn’t keep up to me in those direction changes.
I admit that I was moving the machines faster than I would if I was working on a quilt and there are many other factors that play a role in the variation in stitch length. I’m no scientist but I know that for me to make n accurate comparison of stitch regulation, I would have to be sure that a lot of the factors that influenced my little experiment were identical or at the very least similar in each instance. I wasn’t about to wind bobbins all at the same tension, use the same needle thread combo on every machine or ensure that I was moving the heads at the exact speed. Now that I look back, an perfectly accurate comparison would be nearly impossible. So instead of trying to talk myself out of the machine that I saw with my own eyes perform to my high expectations, I instead looked for the reasons that might have made the difference in my little experiment.
It didn’t take long to learn about all the little things that APQS does to their machines to ensure a better ride and therefore a better experience altogether for the longarm quilter. What I learned explained perfectly the three major reasons I was blown away by the superior experience of using the APQS machines.
- As opposed to the digital stitch-regulators commonly used in our competitors machines and limited to only yes-no decisions, APQS’s PerfectStitch uses “fuzzy logic” to create a range of values, producing stitches of consistent length – even as you change quilting speed or direction – and makes perfect star points and squares with crisply defined corners… Read more about APQS Stitch Regulators
- The Smart Bobbin – In summary – during high speed longarm quilting, APQS’s SmartBobbin has the advantage of less mass. Less mass means less tension is required to overcome and control the inertia. Herein lies the secret to our beautiful stitch.
- APQS’s horizontal wheels and track system are another example of the superior design found on APQS long arm quilting machines. Their innovative guiding system absorbs residual vibration while allowing the head to move effortlessly.
How long was your learning curve until you were ready to work on customer quilts? Was that working on quilts everyday?
These two questions truly belong together and I’m glad you asked them in the same breath. It took me about six months to develop the confidence and skill to brave a customer quilt. Luckily, I learned right out gate that if I took even one day off of practicing that my skills seemed to disappear and I found myself right back at square one. After a couple weeks of this I found that I had made very little progress. I decided there and then If I was going to make a go of this I had to improve by leaps and bounds to stand a chance in my local market. I devoted 10-14 hrs a day/ 7 days a week to practicing. A few short months of dedication and I was feeling very confident.
Was it important to have a Dealer nearby?
Yes! Or at least I thought. The number one reason I bought the HQ-16 was because the dealer was 10 minutes from my house and I knew that if anything went wrong with my machine it could be serviced locally. OK maybe I’m lying a little, me being the CHEAP guy that I am maybe POOR was a more accurate description. LOL! The number one reason was actually price. The HandiQuilter was by far the cheapest option for me at that time. Back to the second reason, the dealer was local. It turned out that I blew my needle bushings and the part needed to be shipped to Utah anyway for servicing for which I had to pay the shipping and service charge to have the part removed and re-installed. Turned out to be no advantage to have a local dealer.
As I considered upgrading to a bigger long-arm quilting machine, I felt it necessary to go down to NH to talk with actual quilters about their machines as another problem I was having with the local dealer was that none of them were quilters. They were all salespeople. I had questions that only a quilter could answer. I’ll admit that the fact that the APQS booth was manned by actual quilters, Sue Patten, Karen McTavish and Dawn Cavanaugh to be exact played a big part in my decision to buy from American Professional Quilting Systems.
What about repairs?
As a longarm quilter, you will want to learn to time your own machine and that is the most common service you will encounter. Other than that, you will receive a manual with complete maintenance instructions that will help you get to know your machine inside and out. This is another opportunity for you to go to the owner forums of each machine and see first hand how many problems each machine has on average. I found far less complaints about APQS machines than any other brand.
Is that why you became a dealer?
My now sales manager Heidi Kaisand emailed me about a week after my machine arrived and offered to waive the year of ownership usually required to become a rep and to tell you the truth until that very moment I had never even considered becoming an APQS sales representative. It was for many reasons too good of deal to turn down but more than anything I loved the product and it’s not hard to sell something you love.
Thank you for sharing you experiences and insight.
You are very welcome, that is by far the best part of my job. Thank you for allowing me to post your question on my blog to answer.