How I Became an Accidental Longarm Quilter

An origin story in which I am gifted a longarm quilting machine and how it became my magic wand.

Before 2015 I had absolutely no idea what longarm quilting was.

I had no clue there was such a huge community of Instagram quilters and Facebook sewers.

(Yes, that’s a word. Pronounced “soh-er”, not “sue -er”. I still prefer the outdated term “seamstress,” or even “sewist” but there has been a whole debate about the subject, so I defer to their preferences.)

This longarm journey started when my darling Aunt Kathy was chatting with me at a family reunion and she nonchalantly asked me if I had room for a longarm quilting machine. “Of course I do!”

A longarm machine literally takes up a whole room!

Except I didn’t really know why she asked me “if I had the room”.

I knew that if Aunt Kathy was offering this machine, it was bound to be a good one and worth the effort to preserve it. It took almost two years to coordinate our schedules to make the trip to pick up the machine.

In the space of those two years, I slowly realized a few things about this type of machine.

I realized that her question was totally valid: Do I have the space for a long arm machine???

 

It really is a big machine!

What is a Longarm Quilting Machine?

For those that don’t know what a longarm is, they are HUGE. They take up an entire room, and there are even commercial size flat bed longarms that are three times as big!

It is essentially a very grown up sewing machine, but it comes on it’s own set of wheels (called a carriage) and a very large table with poles (the frame) for mounting a quilt, batting, and backing fabric.


The sewing machine part of a longarm machine. It basically just looks like a very large sewing machine but on the table.

They are very large, as the tables come in sizes from 8 feet up to 12 feet. That means that serious quilters looking to “up their game” usually need a completely unoccupied room in their house for this massive machine.

At the time that I inherited this machine, I had three small kids and the basement of our spacious (to me) rambler was largely unused. So luckily, I really did have the space for it.

 

My quilt studio! The longarm is along the back wall with a quilt loaded on the frames.

Many times quilters won’t upgrade to such an awesome machine because they don’t have the space. I already had a room for my sewing and quilting, but again, luckily, my fabric stash was pretty small and I *only* had two sewing machines.

(One must keep in mind that I grew up in a home where my mother was constantly sewing and by the time I left home she had a total of six machines in her 10’x12’ sewing room. I think there was even a machine being used as a table to hold all her unfinished projects. Lol!)

My mom’s sewing room! Bonus points if you can find all *5* sewing machines!! My mom gave full permission for me to share this photo. ?

My LONGARM has arrived!

 We had to do a little shuffling when the longarm came to live with me, and I have intentionally not allowed one fat quarter of fabric to live outside of my sewing room since!

It has forced me to get a bit creative with organization, but I find so much satisfaction in organizing and cleaning. My four kids are working tirelessly to purge me of this desire. So far I still enjoy it! I’m just learning to accept the areas of my life that are so resistant to organization. ? 

Anyway… When my longarm arrived, I had no idea what Brand/model it even was! I quickly learned that a Handi Quilter is a pretty standard, widely known model in the longarm world. 

My HQ16 is a workhorse!

HQ Sixteen. They don’t even sell this model anymore! But it’s still a workhorse!

My nifty little HQ16 was now a bit older and had less throat space than other models. But I was blind to any other machine. I was just thrilled to have such an amazing machine. Plus, as I began to use this machine I learned what a work horse it truly is!

My HQ16 had been sitting in a storage unit for at least 5 years. It had been stored away from the elements but still accumulated the dirt you’d expect from sitting unused.

As soon as I got everything set up and running, this beauty went right to work! The first quilt I attempted to quilt was a jean and flannel number with star blocks – so TONS of bulky seams and points.

The first “actual” quilt top I quilted after several practice pieces.

I hadn’t even attempted any maintenance or repairs and she stitched like a dream! She went through all those bulky seams and never broke a needle.

My first customer quilt pieced by Jaime Alexander.

I soon learned what type of cleaning and upkeep was involved with maintaining my machine and I have been dutiful every since.

(Except I’m a bit skeptical about doing a yearly maintenance as suggested by manufacturers. If it can sit in a shed for 5 years and work perfectly when turned on, why do I need to get it cleaned every year? ??‍♀️??‍♀️??‍♀️)

Now that I’ve had this beauty up and running for three years, I’m actually looking into upgrading my machine. It won’t be happening anytime soon, and my HQ16 has a lot of life left in it. But at some point it may be nice to have a computer driven machine for edge-to-edge designs.

Over the years I have often thanked Aunt Kathy for her selfless contribution to my small business. I have tried to attribute my success in quilting, the growing interest and hobbies I have gained, and the new skills I have to her.

She won’t hear any of it. She downplays her part in any of this, but she has commented that it seems this machine was meant for me.

Much like in Harry Potter and how the wand chooses the wizard. We both feel there were other powers in play that led me to owning this longarm and learning the valuable skill of quilting.

It was this conversation that led to the car decal I custom made!

Harry Potter car decal.
“This is my magic wand”

Thanks to Aunt Kathy, I really do feel like my longarm is my magic wand!

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Shauna Westergard - Longarm Quilter