Longarm Lessons

Or things I have learned since owning a longarm quilting machine. Or, adventures in learning to longarm. Or all the things I never thought of about longarms.

I’ve owned my new-to-me HQ Simply Sixteen machine and table for just over 4 months now, and there are some lessons that I should write down to remember, and maybe help someone else. Mostly, because we all need a good laugh these days, and some of them are funny.

1. Longarm machines take different thread than domestic machines. To all you experts out there, I’m sure you’re going, “Uh, duh?” But it’s just not something I realized or thought of before. Now, I’m sure longarm thread would probably work in a domestic machine, but so far, in my albeit limited experiments, the same thread doesn’t play nicely on both machines. But, hey, maybe now I can join the Aurifil fan club? It never did work out for my Juki….

2. Check the tension discs. No seriously. Domestic machines open up the tension discs when you lift the foot up… you can’t lift the foot up on the longarm, so you have to make sure you really pull the thread into the tension discs. I wish I could forget how many times I’ve forgotten this, or (gulp) quilted nearly an entire quilt only to rip it all out.


3. Pinning the quilt back isn’t that much of a time saver over floor basting. But – it is interruptible. No worries about the dog “helping” or tape residue (or spray residue!) on the floor. No un-safety pins (as my husband calls them) to go scattering across the floor when you tip over the jar. Or the dog tips over the jar. So overall, still a plus!

4. You have to think about quilting designs differently. You can’t just wind you’re way willy nilly through the quilting. All over designs can look very linear if you’re not careful. Also, big giant feathers at a weird angle through the middle of the quilt? Umm, not without some serious gymnastics and mental fortitude.


5. You can’t start another project until you’re done. Seriously, I underestimated my attention span. On the one hand, quilting goes faster (no stopping to remove pins), but you can’t just pull a project off the sewing machine, change the thread, and move onto the next one. Well, I suppose you could, but then you’d have to redo all that pinning and rolling, so it falls into that “Only if you absolutely HAVE to” camp. Bonus though — more quilts can linger in the To-Bind pile!

6. Check the tension discs. Nope, seriously, it bears repeating. Even now, after only two months, this has entered my (and my husband’s) vernacular as a “Did you check the most basic assumption?”. Did you check the tension discs?

7. Youtube is my friend. Yes, yes, I know, I’m late on this bandwagon (is it even a bandwagon anymore? Or just a concrete aspect of our culture?). Before owning the longarm, I never really saw the point of youtube… I don’t like watching crazy science experiment videos, or whatever else normal people watch on youtube. But, a video of how to thread the HQ Sixteen was invaluable. As was the video on pinning the quilt to the leaders (I choose to do it my lazier way, but it’s close)

8. Standing and quilting takes a whole different set of muscles than sitting and quilting. My shoulders almost never hurt, but my hips and triceps, man. According to observers (husband, Hardie still doesn’t speak), I keep all my weight on one leg while quilting, occassionally shifting to the other. Might explain the hip pain.

9. Lighting is crucial. On a domestic machine, you’re about 3-5″ away from what you’re quilting. Well, if you hunch like I do. With a longarm, you could try hunching (no, really don’t. It hurts), or you’re about 12-15″ away. Much, much harder to see white thread on white fabric. Or really anything but super contrasting. Light gray on navy blue? No problem. Cream on a busy, light colored print? Heaven help me. I actually at one point, took my headlamp and wrapped it around one of the  handles so it was shining at about 45 degrees. Worked great. Though, I felt too silly to take a picture. I should probably figure out something less hokey, but it worked. As did changing out normal light bulbs for daylight LED bulbs in the basement light fixtures. (The basement being the only place long enough to fit the machine. Well, easily. I probably could have squeezed it in the master. Ha!) (Since first writing this, Hubby has installed a giant daylight LED fixture right above the machine! Works brilliantly!!)

10. I don’t actually have a tenth. So — check the tension discs! It bears repeating, thrice.

Any questions you’d like to ask an extreme longarm newbie? Any tidbits to share with me?

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5 thoughts on “Longarm Lessons

  1. Sarah, your post made me giggle because these are all lessons I’ve learned the last few months too. I can relate to so many things you list here. The thing that surprised me the most was how physical longarming is – all that standing for hours! But my biggest lesson was in choosing thread. I’ve used thread that blends so well I’ve had to stitch in the dark, holding a flashlight in one hand while driving the machine with the other, just so I could see where I’ve already stitched! Won’t be doing that again! 🙂

  2. Check the tension discs. Sadly, after owning my longarm for almost 3 years now, I can vouch for saying it bears repeating even more frequently than thrice. Hmmm, don’t forget to change your needle. You are going faster and it might seem like you don’t need to, but it really does make a difference. I keep a paintbrush for removing lint every time I put in a new bobbin, and I use a business card to clean out the bobbin case arm where the thread slips through. And sometimes the best thing is to turn off the machine and give things a rest. I’ve really been enjoying seeing your progress!!

  3. All good tips and information and humor. Gotta have humor. I chose a sitdown because of all the standing that would be required on a traditional long arm machine. You are getting some good tricep exercises so you can avoid flabby under arms! LOL Also, I am not sure I have the mentality to figure out quilting in rows like that. That is a lot of thinking for some designs! Enjoy!

  4. These are great tips! I’m renting time on a longarm for the first time tomorrow and I’m a little nervous! For your hip pain, I’ve seen people using those anti-fatigue mats while longarming. It works nicely for my standing desk at work, so I’m guessing if you got one that is long enough, it would probably help as well!

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