When I started sewing I learned on a very basic Bernina. It was very well built and wonderful to sew on. It belonged to my mother, so when I moved out of the house I borrowed her machine until my father took pity on the situation and he purchased a Bernette. I got the Bernette. Ugh! What a lesson learned. A Bernette is a good machine, don't get me wrong, but it's not anywhere near the quality of a Bernina. The lesson learned was that the higher quality machines are expensive because they're worth it. A good quality machine makes sewing enjoyable. Instead of fighting with the machine, the machine should work with you.
The same logic applies to longarms. If you are constantly fighting with your machine then you will not use it. It won't be enjoyable. So I decided to purchase the best quality machine I could that was within my budget.
So let's talk budget. If you've never looked at the prices of these machines, sit down first. You can purchase a really nice vehicle for the price of these babies! Most companies provide financing for a brand new machine if that's your cup of tea. It wasn't for me. I hate going into debt and I hate monthly payments. Whenever I've financed something and paid for it monthly, I find myself resenting that item until it's paid off. Yes, there is even some resentment toward my house that comes right at the beginning of every month. But I've chosen to deal with it. I did NOT want to resent my longarm. So I made the decision to not finance the machine. That meant I needed to buy used or a lesser quality machine.
So once the budget decision was made, it was time to decide which brand to go with. I live in Montana. Not exactly a hub of commerce. However, there are some really nice quilting shops in my city of Billings that have longarms. I decided to take a longarm quilting class from my favorite shop, Fiberworks.
This class was great because I got to have my hands on a Gammill Optimum for a full day under the direction of Laura Heine, an incredible quilt artist. She does some absolutely beautiful work. She's never had a stitch regulated machine. During the class she said that she just learned to regulate her own stitches. I found that with all the time I put in under the domestic machine, I was able to regulate mine too. This is important because stitch regulated machines cost more than non-stitch regulated. I did find it difficult to control the Optimum. It has a big machine head and is heavy. This was also good because the Optimum is more expensive than the other Gammill models. I loved the table and the way it worked and overall, I was impressed with the Gammill.
The other option for me was APQS. Unfortunately, APQS machines are not popular in Billings. Most people in our quilt guild have Gammills. So I was unable to try out any APQS. But my research into the machines was impressive. I had decided to add APQS to my list of acceptable machines. I had my list narrowed down to Gammill and APQS. Service reputation was a big part of why they were on my list. I'm fairly mechanical and know that things go wrong with machines. Just a part of life. The ability to get someone on the phone to help you trouble shoot and fix a problem is just as important as the price of the machine. Both companies are excellent in this category.
So now it was time to start watching for a machine. I googled "used longarm quilting machines" and put them in my favorites folder. One of the best was a forum at APQS. They advertise all sorts of brands. Mostly APQS and Gammill. Then, right before Christmas, there it was. A newer Ultimate I with the adjustable handles I wanted. 12 foot table and overhead power cord. And, drumroll please....... only $4000!!! Well within my budget. PERFECT!!! Of course I hemmed and hawwed. I was sitting on the couch with my husband and showed him the ad. Understand that I checked the used machines websites EVERY DAY for 6 months getting up the nerve to spend the money. He just said, "Call her and buy it already!" So I did! The owner was a really sweet lady in Florida. Yes, Florida. I don't think it could have been further away from Montana. We made a deal and paid her the money. The machine head was shipped by UPS and the table was shipped through a trucking company. Within a month I had all the pieces. Unfortunately, UPS dropped the head and bent the aluminum cross bars the head sits on while on the table. APQS sent me new pieces and I had the table all put together by myself the day the table came. I added track lighting to the overhead power bar and I couldn't be more thrilled.
In a nutshell:
- Buy the best quality you can within your set budget.
- Do your research. You are the one that is going to use the machine and therefore it needs to fit your skill and comfort level for features.
- Don't be afraid of used machines. Professional machines are built to last. You will find that the majority of people selling longarms are really nice ladies just like you.
- The machines can be shipped relatively inexpensively (mine was about $200). Things can go wrong during shipping, so insure the items and make sure the brand you purchase has excellent service help.
I hope this inspires you to consider a longarm quilting machine. I'm glad I took the jump into the longarm world!