Longarm quilting does what you can’t do with your own arm – hahahaha! That’s how I like to think of it anyway.
Seriously though, it’s all about throat space. Throat space is the space between the needle of the machine and the mechanics. It’s that bit of space that you want to be able to maneuver the quilt sandwich in, and you really want as much space as possible. Check out my post on buying a sewing machine to understand what to look for in a quilting machine.
A standard sewing machine, also called a domestic sewing machine, has around 7 to 12″ of throat space. That’s a short space, so if you want to you can probably call your domestic machine a short arm – but that’s just me. The more throat space on a sewing machine, the easier it is to maneuver the quilt.
Of late, you also get mid-arm quilting machines. In fact, the first machine that I bought as a “longarm” was in fact classified as a mid-arm machine, the Q’nique 14. A mid-arm machine has a throat space that is midway between a domestic sewing machine and a longarm quilting machine. My machine is a Handiquilter Infinity which gives me 26″ of space. But, the frame with all the bars does take some of this away. That’s actually a big reason why I decided to move on from the Q’nique because even though it has a 14″ throat space, by the time I had it on the frame, I was down to 8″. This is certainly something to think about, and it also brings us to the whole frame thing.
A longarm quilting machine is mounted onto a frame. Anything from a few feet up to 14′ long – these things take up a lot of space. The frame is a heavy structure that has bars to roll your quilt onto. A backing bar, a bar for the quilt top and a take-up bar. There’s also a leveler bar that helps to keep the quilt flat on the machine. The longarm machine has wheels that run on the table of the frame. This is what makes it move and is the beauty of quilting with a longarm quilting machine – no wrestling with a quilt. The quilt is stationary on the frame, while the machine moves to make stitches.
Computerized longarm quilting machines
Most longarm machines have the capability to add computer systems to them. This allows the machine to stitch on its own and it is moved by robotics. Very fancy.
I no longer have a robotics system (I had it on the Q’nique, but for various reasons don’t have it on my Infinity. Not that I don’t want it again, it’s awesome!). I hand guide my machine, and this takes a lot of skill compared to computerized systems as you can imagine. And this is what I looooove doing. I also love teaching others how to quilt with a longarm quilting machine.