Friday, March 20, 2015

#84 Something is Missing.....forever or for now?? Long Arm Trials and Errors....

This is going to be my wordiest post to date, sorry! I put a few pictures in to help!! ( a few of the projects I was able to get quilted before the long arm was sold)

The Story

So, some of you will know that when I got into quilting a little over 3 years ago, I jumped in with both feet, into over my head waters, lol. I bought a new sewing machine and then a computerized long arm. For many reasons, that I won't go into, I didn't do much research. That was a big, gigantic, colossal mistake. I no longer have the sewing machine or the long arm, as of yesterday.

The Long Arm:
I was so excited to make a quilt from beginning to end that  I neglected to think it through. I had no quilting experience, and was told it was straight forward, but let me tell you, for me, that was not the case. Even the manual said on one of the first pages, this is all you need to get

I don't want to bash any brand, this is only my experience, and not all was the fault of the actual machine, so I will be a bit general,  but if by sharing my frustrations I can help someone else avoid some, I am glad to share.

I had some electrical problems with the machine right from the start, and was told after the purchase that I would probably need to buy a UPS (uninterrupted power source, an additional expense of about $300.00) because of the rural power grid we are on. This seemed to help though and got rid of one issue, so at least the something. The machine continued with other issues though, so to the credit of the distributor, they replaced my machine.

So here is the tricky part and really the most important part...... I still was having problems. The dealer was frustrated with me, I took videos of the machine acting up, tried to talk to the tech guys at the distributors, and nothing was helping, they didn't know what to do. No one could give me an answer to my problems. I temporarily switched machines with the dealer, it ran fine for her. Her machine ran fine here and then started having some of the same issues. No one was willing to  come to my home to see if there was an issue here, which is what I kept saying, but  I  was given  the name of another dealer to call who I would have to pay for a service call, not cool.

At some point during this frustration I decided to start researching other long arm machines, and had asked for a Gammill brochure online. About a week later I got a call from the new Gammill dealer in Ontario, a really nice and friendly man. I told him I couldn't even think about buying another machine until I could sell this one, and he amazed me by offering me help. He gave me information about my machine that I didn't even know, mainly that my machine was made by another longarm manufacture to the specs of the company I purchased from, he also gave me the name of a man that might be able to help me. I was so impressed and thankful. Finally, friendly, helpful service!!!

Well it took about a week to get in contact with the technician, but when I did....again a wonderful friendly amazingly helpful man!! He had me explain what the issue was and immediately, and I mean immediately he knew exactly what the issue was. He had me change some of the settings in the touch screen and gave me advice on setting the quilt area and pattern box, and amazingly the problem that was occurring went away.

There have been some minor issues since, and through trial and error I think I have determined the issues on my own (check out #4), but needless to say the whole experience has left a nasty taste in my mouth, as they say. So I put the machine up for sale awhile ago, and yesterday a very nice woman came and purchased it! She and her sisters and their mother are going to share the machine, I hope they get years of enjoyment out of it!!

The CheckList  

I am going to assume that your have already decided that quilting is something you love to do, or want to learn, and want to invest in. If not, that is where you need to start. Go and take a long arm quilting class, rent some time on one and quilt one of your tops or just doodle on some fabric. There is no point investing so much money if you don't enjoy the quilting process, pay someone else to do it for you and do the parts of the quilting that make you happy!!

If you decide you want to invest and you've measured your space so you know how much room you have available here is a check list, edit and add any of your own thoughts and questions.....

1. I can not stress this enough..........Do Your Research!! 
  • check out the different brands and what they offer
  • make a list of what you think you need or want in a machine
  • talk to long armers, see what they like or want in a machine
  • make a budget, there are so many bells and whistles that can suck you in, make sure you need them
  • who actually makes the machine
  • what is the warranty
  • what about customer service? 
  • Does the company have online help, videos, teaching 
  • Does the long arm require any additional items not included, ei: UPS (uninterupted power supply) (for sure I would buy a very good surge protector!!ask about that too ) a ruler tray, if you plan on doing any ruler work
  • Set up costs, if you don't want to tackle that on your own
  • are there warrantied used machines available, that may fit your budget better, 

2. Get you hands on as many different machines as you can, especially the ones on your short list
  • you have to see how the machines work
  • you need to see if it feels comfortable to you
  • you need to test all the features you want
  • see how the frame works, how the quilt loads, advances
  • is the stitching consistent, smooth, 
  • don't forget about lighting, especially on the machine it is the only direct light, so you want it to be good
3. Get to know the dealers too while you are checking out the machines
  • if at a quilt show when you're looking, where is the nearest dealer to you
  • how much knowledge does your local dealer have on the longarm (is he/she a longarmer,)
  • is there training available at your dealer's or near by
  • are there classes available to continue learning after the basics
  • is there repair service available at the dealers, in home service if needed?
  • if an issue arises who can you talk to to get help? just the dealer, a distributor or can you contact the company
4. Know your space...
  • measure your room and know what space you have available, that will make a difference on length of frame you can buy
  • also if you are going for a machine that does pantographs you need access to the back of the machine, so you will need more depth as well
  • and the other issue I have learned about my space, it is extremely dry. Get a humidistat and make sure your room has enough moisture. Not such a big issue on manual machines, but if you are dealing with electronics, it can cause issues. (how I finally found GoBig! ran on its own without me putting a die cutter near the opening (also why my cutting mats are dying so quickly). Needless to say, I am sure it has been the source of some of my long arm issues too, again because my machine is computerized)
  • on that same vein, ask if different flooring ex:) carpet can cause issues with electronics.....


Know that quilting is really something you want to do and will enjoy
Make sure you feel comfortable with your dealer and they are truly knowledgeable about the longarm they are selling, preferably with practical experience.
Get your hands on the machine before you buy, and I mean for a few hours or better yet days
Know where your long arm is coming from and that the company itself stands behind their product.
Know that there will be customer service and support available to help you get started and move you forward in you long arm journey, including training.
Know that there is service support available.

Most of all when you find the right machine and you get it home and set up......have fun!!!!

*Back (3 projects in two days is a record for me!!!! lol more good from a rough situation!!!)

So that's my story and my list of things I will be asking and looking for in the future if I decide to go swimming again,  I will be wading in and enjoying the slow walk. For now I am just figuring out where to put all the stuff that was stored under the longarm, lol!! And maybe I will start with researching the brands that are available, and their features, and see where that takes me!!

I am so open for any information that you might have and be willing to share, especially if you are a longarmer!! 

If you have anything to add to the above, please share it with me!! I can edit the above list and eventually make a pdf that will be easily printable, for anyone who wants a check list.

Thanks for listening

*(P.S.- I surpassed my goal for this month for A Lovely Year of Finishes!!! Not only did I get the front and back together, I got this one sandwiched and quilted!! just needs its binding!!! whoop whoop!!)


  1. Sandy, I have a friend who had a long-arm, she updated to a bigger? better model, I will phone her and see is she can help.Do you want to get another one? How much more do you want to spend? Or is this the end of a fractious relationship with them? I once tried weaving, sold the table model, and didn't do any more. I tried pottery, didn't do any more, but did enjoy it a lot,Had millinery classes, loved every one, we had a wonderful lady who had trained in London and Paris.I think trial and error and your outlined suggestions are a wonderful idea.And all you need are a few more shelves and all will be OK.

  2. Hi Sandy! The fact that you have quilted both Elephant Parade and Zany ZebraZ from Sew Fresh Quilts drew me in.
    I'm not a long armer at all, but have you ever seen Valerie's website Pumpkin Patch Quilter? She does amazing quilting and talks about her machine in several posts.
    I was curious - you wrote that you also sold your sewing machine, but didn't go into that here. Did you sell it hoping to buy another one that fits your needs better?

    1. PS - I meant to say that the quilts all look wonderful!

  3. This is the side of the long arms that no one talks about! Thanks for enlightening us. Realizing that your experience could be unique to you and your parameters, it still just goes to show everyone the pitfalls that can develop. The advice you gave was so good and I thank you.

  4. Thanks for a lot of really good advice!!! I'm glad you got our "fun"guilts quilted so quickly!!! I just bought my Zebra fabric!!!

  5. Sorry you had to go through all that as a learning experience. Thanks for sharing all those tips! I really just want to say that your floor is gorgeous! Great photo.

  6. Thanks for sharing all the great tips. I have been thinking about getting a longarm machine.

  7. I've had my longarm for 6.5 years now and still totally love it! I would suggest that you join the yahoo groups for each brand of longarm you are considering. It is there that you will learn the good, the bad and the ugly! In my brand of longarm's yahoo group, folks will come asking for help when they have an issue, looking for answers. It is there that you will see the responses the owners have gotten from the company when they turned to them for help. My dealer is 40 miles from me and I have never gone to her for help - I call the man whose initial is in the company name, on his private cell phone, 24/7/365, for free. I can also call the company any time, get a real person who answers the phone and get help if I have any problem at all. I will admit that this is my first and probably only longarm, so 100% of my "problems" are because I was learning how to quilt on a longarm! They definitely quilt differently then using your DSM!! And I am mechanically deficient!

  8. Sorry to hear you had so much trouble with your machine and with getting answers to those questions. Your quilting sure looked fabulous. I never would have guessed! This was a very informative post for me, as I have zero experience with long arms.


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