8 Things I Learned After I Bought a Longarm

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Well it’s five or six months since we bought our longarm and I figured I should write down the things I’ve learned that I didn’t know ahead of time.

It really is as physical as they say.

I read up all I could find ahead of time, and everything more than a snippet talked about physical limitations and pacing yourself and more things that I just glossed over, because this was written with a senior audience in mind, right? I didn’t have to worry about mobility issues or anything, right? Not like I sit at a desk all day and type or anything.

Let me tell you Internet, working on a longarm all day is WORK. That machine may be on the most engineered ball bearings rail system known to man and woman kind but you’re still moving a 40 pound machine with your arms and standing for hours to do it.

And ruler work? I did a queen sized with a diagonal grid across the background, all over two days. The third day I got out of bed, raised my arms and… ow. I’m secretly hoping this helps with the aging biceps flaps though. I’ll let you know when I’m done icing my knees from standing (yes, with a mat). Heed those warning of frequent breaks and alternate tasks between sitting and standing. Stretch a lot more than you think you need. Hydrate. Remember to blink.

Sometimes it’s intimidating.

So you spent all this money, you have all the new tools, visions of complicated custom quilting in your head, a stack of quilt tops ready to go and… nothing.

One morning I walked in, saw the big hulking machine and started breathing faster. My pulse raced. Not in a good way. What have I done? Who did I think I was, Judi Madsen???

If you’re also doing this for a business, then you have all the regular business headaches on top. If you’re never run a business before, then you have the pressure of wanting to be successful as a business person too.

No pressure, right?

I work in tech for my day job, and we often reference this thing called Imposter Syndrome. Turns out it happens for quilters too.

You have to just suck up and move forward. Keep going. Shut that little voice up. Like diving into the lake on the first weekend of summer, you know it’s gonna be super cold but you have to jump in and get over it.

Also remind me to come back and read this bit again in a month.

You really are only as good as your tools.

So yeah – you’re Pinterested up, you’re on fire and you just KNOW once you get that longarm you will finally be on the road to being an awesome quilter!

Well. Yes. Eventually. It’s re-learning all over again, some days. So many more steps to remember! So many differences! But one day it comes together for you and you lean back and go… that’s not too bad. And you keep going. So much sucking at it until you don’t suck.

This was the same when we got our first digital camera. We took decent photos but then we had ideas and wanted to take better photos. So we got a new camera -and took mediocre photos. Then we took more photos and tried some things and one day there were a few really good photos.

Quilting is the same. You see all this fantastic quilting but what you don’t see is the tools used, and the practise. You also don’t see the mistakes! That’s why some days I share my mistakes too – so people know it’s not just them.

The ideas won’t stop.

So now you have the tools, you’re rested up, you’re ready to roll and there’s a hundred and two ideas. There aren’t enough hours in the day. You’ll be in the middle of one project and another will pop in your head. You’ll be in line at the DMV and the tiles will make you think. You have to unfollow people on social media because you tried to keep a list of “someday” quilts and now you’re up to two freaking pages…

Don’t ask about the notes I make myself at 3am. I can’t even read them at 8am. “But what if we just..” Shut up muse, stop!

It can take over your life.

My longarm lives in what is supposed to be the master bedroom. It’s a HUGE room. Hubby and I like small bedrooms, all we do is sleep in there. So the longarm room is the sewing room but now there’s no floor space for laying things out.

But there is floor space in our great room, if we move the dining room table off to the side… and the extra front small sitting room is only storing items so let’s put our batting rolls out there and we can use that floor space to roll out batting, and we can stash these finished quilts here and there. You can come over, but you might need to move a quilt to find a place to sit.

Since we live in the country, we try and group our errands. A lot of these wind up on times when the fabric stores in town are also open.

You’ll learn how to do maintenance whether you want to or not.

When your sewing machine makes a noise or skips stitches, you can just bring it into your local repair guy. Not so much with these beasts. They literally take up a room, it’s not gonna fit in the back of your car. This is an industrial machine so the good thing is they make these easy to access what you need, and most companies provide very detailed manuals and great support – even when you buy secondhand! That’s one reason we went with APQS.

I know many people skip regular sewing machine maintenance like cleaning and oiling, but with a longarm it’s super important. Don’t wait till the needle breaks to change it. This was most surprising to me, having used needles on a regular machine until I noticed issues. With a longarm, you get through maybe two large quilts and you can literally hear the difference with the needle getting dull. A dull needle will also start poking the batting though the backing fabric. (ask me how I found out).

It also needs regular oiling – same oil, but more of it, more often.

The up side is, since the machines are built really well and you have to work so closely with them, even the slightest change is noticeable. We had a wheel that would loosen up over time and we figured out eventually it was worse if we (I mean ME) went super fast. I could feel even a 1/4″ turn the wrong way on the bolt just by how curves went. Ron kept at it until he narrowed it down to a burr on a washer on the wheel. A teeny tiny burr! We replaced the washer and it’s been great ever since.

Since the machine goes a LOT faster there’s a lot more dust. I don’t think I even clean my bathroom as often as I dust and swiffer the sewing room. It seems constant. Or at least after every other quilt. (Also I keep my bathroom pretty clean, don’t judge me internet. I have white tiles. I get antsy after 4 days.)

If you thought the longarm was expensive, wait’ll you see the accessories.

So the machine itself is a big chunk of change. First thing you need is thread. Then you find out the huge range of colors they come in. So pretty! So shiny! I want one of everything! Wait, there’s a thread of the month club?

Speaking of thread – I have white piecing thread, white serger thread, regular white quilting thread and extra fine 60w white thread for super detailed custom work. That’s just in white.  There’s a lot of other colors too.

And the ruler work – so you need a ruler BASE for the machine, And rulers. You want circles? They come in SIZES. There’s straight lines and curves and things for working around applique and specialty shapes. Don’t even get me started on stencils.

Good thing my mom got me floor mats for my birthday. It was hard to wrap, but one less thing to buy.

Then if you’re quilting you need batting. We buy it by the roll now and our last order was 5 rolls. We have 3 left. Good thing we get a price break at this level!

Your spouse may join in.

I admit, I had a plan. I was chipping away, wearing down the husband. I thought I was masterful. Just try the beginner class, I said. It’ll be fun, I said, we can make it a date.


Well now we have a longarm but we have to organize our schedule based on whose turn it is to use the thing. Which one of us has a deadline to meet? Who had a quilt on the frame last and who has to use the sewing machine?

On the up side, Ron is a quick learner and also enjoys quilting. He’s been making patterns and working on improving his skills. It’s a learning process for me since his mind is very different than my freewheeling anything goes. I’m learning how to teach to an analytical mind, and to give measurements instead of “what looks good”. And also when to walk away and not watch.  We had to learn to work together when we were freelancers so we have worked out the major communication issues, which is good. Now we’re working on working together creatively.

Last week I had deadlines, and while I was busy with my day job, he cut out, assembled, and pressed binding for a quilt I needed to finish. When I was next able to work on the quilt, the binding was all ready to go for me to sew it on.

Maybe my plan was a good one after all.

Final thought:

So there you have it – all  the extra things you need to think about before taking that final step. It’s a doozy but.. the water’s fine. 😉

1 thought on “8 Things I Learned After I Bought a Longarm

  1. Great article! Remember to blink, remember to breathe and enjoy the whole process 🙂

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