What is longarm quilting?

What is a longarm machine, what does it do, and how does it compare to other types of quilting?

What is a Longarm Quilting Machine?

My Handi Quilter HQ16 – 16” throat space on a 10’ table

For anyone new to the quilting world, a longarm quilting machine 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 fabric is then stitched together to turn the quilt top into a usable, lovable, snuggleable quilt!

They are very large, and 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 to home this massive machine.

Storing my giant roll of batting under my longarm. The kids still think it’s a toy.

There are some sit-down options for longarm machines, but these types of machines are more like your domestic sewing machine. They are mounted to a table instead of moving the machine on wheels. To quilt with a sit down machine, you move the quilt sandwich under the stationary machine.

Quilting with a stand up machine means moving the machine over the fabric. So for a sit down machine, the machine is stationary. With a stand up machine, the quilt top/fabric is stationary.

The sit down machine requires a different type of muscle movement. Because I have been quilting with a stand up longarm, I really struggle with trying the sit-down method! For all you quilters out there that use your domestic machine to do free motion quilting – I’m so impressed by your skills!

The Purpose of Longarm Quilting

Swirls – machine quilted onto a customer quilt.

After quilters quilt a quilt top, they quilt it to make it a finished quilt. Make sense? ?

What I mean is, a quilter or seamstress sews small squares or triangles of fabric together to make a larger quilt top. In order to turn the quilt top into a completed blanket (or quilt), the top must be layered together with batting and another large piece of fabric to make the back of the quilt. Once the quilt top is sandwiched with the other layers, it can be stitched together, or “quilted”.

There are many options for stitching together a quilt sandwich. Before we all had these fancy machines, seamstresses hand quilted everything!

Hand quilting requires a hoop to hold the fabric secure. (Photo credit: Sheridan Call of Meraki Cotton )

Weaving the needle back and forth through the fabric makes hand quilting go a bit faster.

Hand quilting is *much* slower than machine quilting, but it is a great option if you like hand work or if you are low on funds and can’t pay to have your quilt machine quilted.

People will also hand tie quilts too! We did this for a Bridal Shower I hosted a few months ago!

Hand tying a queen size quilt in my living room for a Bridal Shower activity.

When hand tying a quilt, you can either stretch the quilt sandwich between wood frames and use giant thumb tacks to keep the fabric in place while you work. Or you can put the quilt sandwich on the floor and pin baste it.

This means you take safety pins and pin through all three layers (backing fabric, batting, and quilt top) throughout the whole quilt. This keeps the fabric stable and prevents shifting as you hand tie the quilt.

Pin basting

Most often with hand tying, people use yarn or thick thread to tie the quilt. It leaves little tassels all over the quilt when finished. I’ve heard friends say “Oh! Just like my grandma used to make!” If you have a quilt with little tassels of yarn tied all over it, then you have a hand tied quilt!

Hand tied quilt I got for my wedding! Giving quilts for weddings is a family tradition for us!

When it comes to machine quilting, people will often pin baste, then take the quilt to their domestic machine and quilt it! But it is very difficult to fit ALL of that fabric under the tiny throat space of a regular (meaning domestic) sewing machine.

That is why the LONGARM was invented! It allows quilts to be finished much quicker, with a lot more ease, and you can sew larger sections of the quilt. This allows for more intricate stitch designs and gives you the space for ruler work!

This was quilted on my longarm machine. The pattern is by KimberBell and is called “Make Yourself at Home”

If you want to see what it looks like to load a quilt back, batting, and top onto the frame, check out my saved Instagram stories called “What is LAQ”.

The designs are limitless! Anything you can draw, you can quilt! That is why I love the longarm so much. Any design I see that I love, I can recreate it with my own little twist! Hopefully this has made sense for you. Drop a comment or send me a question if you want to know more!

Here I combined flowers with waves. Happy quilting!