Thursday, June 6, 2013

DSM, Table-top LA, LA on Frame: a comparison

My dear friend Phyllis, asked me which I preferred for quilting: my domestic sewing machine (DSM), a sit-down long-arm (the HQ Sweet 16 I test-sewed) or a long-arm on a frame. I replied, in a perfect world, ALL 3!

So how about a comparison? I will start with the DSM.
PROS: Well, I already own 2 Viking Sapphires, which have a large throat for FMQ. They are portable (while really heavy) can be used anywhere, and stored away (as if I would do that!). Needles and threads can be easily purchased. The DSM can be used for a variety of sewing. I am very accustomed to these machines!
CONS: Even with a larger than normal throat, the area around the needle is short, and visibility is not great, I have a variety of tables arranged to hold my quilt as I work on it, but the quilts can still be heavy to move. Quilts need to be basted.
STILL: I like the ease of moving my fabric to create my stitch paths.

On to the Sit-Down long arm. These are the new "it" machines in the Quilting world. Gammill is bringing theirs out this year. Handi Quilter makes the Sweet 16, and Baby Lock has the Tiara (which are actually the same machines with different name badges). Bailey, Tin Lizzie and APQS have sit down machines as well. I have used both the HQSS and the Baby Lock versions. And WOW! I love the visibility!
PROS: The LED light ring around the needle, coupled with the height of the arm means you can see very well. That additional height and the width of the arm mean there is plenty of space for your quilts. These machines come with a custom table and do not take up a tremendous amount of space. For me, the quilting is the same as on my DSM: I move the fabric under the needle, so the learning curve of quilting on this is minimal.
CONS: table extensions (which are needed to hold your quilt) cost extra; these are specialized machines and the learning curve can be steep. You have to learn how to maintain the machine as well as learning how to operate it. Some can be adapted for use on a frame, others can not. Quilts need to be basted.
STILL: the movement of fabric is the same as with the DSM, so that is a plus!

The long arm on a frame. My line is: I will have a long arm when I grow up!
PROS: quilts are pinned to the frame, so any size quilt (depending on the length of frame rails) can be quilted easily, longer and higher throat to accommodate quilt bulk and enhanced viewing. Most come with optional stitch-regulator which can keep your stitches even as you learn. CAN use pantographs (pre-marked stitch paths)
Quilts can be basted on frame if needed.
CONS: Take up a lot of space, NOT cheap (although prices range from maker to maker and with or without bells and whistles), completely different from free-motion with a DSM or Sit-Down machine as you move the machine over the quilt. Learning curve for pinning on frame, tension, moving machine is steep, not impossible, but it does take practice. Needles, threads and supplies may not be easily and/or locally available.

The stitching on a long-arm on a frame vs. the stitching on a sit-down machine are distinctive, while they accomplish the same goal, the appearances are different. As a quilter, I really enjoy the quilting as well as the piecing, but it has taken years to feel confident with my FMQ. I know that going to a long-arm will frustrate me as I work to master the movement of the machine over the fabric, however, I still want one. We have a king-sized bed, and although I have FMQed king-sized quilts, they are heavy and basting on the floor is hard on my body.

I am planning on attending a quilt show in a few weeks to test drive as many as possible. Hope I will be adding a long-arm to my stable in the near future!

Please share your thoughts and experiences! I really appreciate the information!


Sheri said...

Great summation Kelly. Choosing a machine, weather It be a domestic machine used for free motion quilting, a sit down longarm machine to the stand up longarm, is not a decision to be made on impulse. Research on reliability, warranties, service and education are all things to be considered. Have fun "driving" different machines and finding the perfect fit for you.


Quiltingranny said...

Thanks for the summation. I will be taking a class for the long arm at my local quilt shop. Initial costs cover the instruction and materials and the cost after that is a bit steep, but like you, I can no longer be on the floor it is to hard on my body!

Phyllis said...

Thanks, Kelli. Very interesting. I really don't have the space for anything larger than my DSM, but a girl can dream!

Laura Davies said...

Can't wait to go to the show with you. The new Gammil sitdown will be there. Looking forward to testing al the machines as well. Get to try out the APQS one the week after:)

bambi said...

I have done FMQ on my DSM for a couple of years and have done FMQ and pantos on a LA that I rent at my local quilt store. Last Nov I taught myself how to use the HQSS (with the TruStitch regulator)at the same quilt store and started teaching classes to customers who will then be able to rent it. I love the SS so much that I bought one of my own. I will never have the budget or the space for a LA but easily fit the SS into my studio and my husband made some "lips" for the sides of the table to keep quilts contained since I don't have room for the extension tables. I just think that it is an awesome machine and I love the TruStitch.

Jen said...

Those sit down long arms are awesome! Seems like the best of both worlds :)