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Do You Want to Buy a Quilting Machine?

Longarm vs. Mid-Arm Machines

by Beth Cooper

Hey friends! Let’s chat about longarm quilt machines. Maybe you’ve been piecing quilts for ages and sending them to a longarm quilter but now you’re ready to start quilting them yourself? Are you thinking about purchasing one? Then you’ve got some decisions to make! Let’s talk pros and cons!

An example of an Innova longarm machine and frame.

What is a longarm quilting machine?

A longarm quilting machine is a type of machine that is designed to handle large quilting projects. These machines load the top, batting and back into a metal frame, and sew the three layers at once. The machine head rolls vertically and horizontally, allowing it to quilt while the fabric stays in place. These machines have a throat space of 18-30 inches, making it easy to quilt large sections of the quilt before advancing the quilt to the next section. Longarm machines are set upon a large frame, usually 10 to 12 feet in size, with roller bars. You attach your quilt to the roller bars and are then able to advance the quilt through it, little by little, until the whole thing is quilted. The frame is usually sold separately from the machine.

This is the Baby Lock Regalia longarm machine.
Learn more about it on the Baby Lock website or at your local Baby Lock dealer.

What is a sit-down mid-arm quilting machine?

A sit-down mid-arm quilting machine is similar to a longarm quilting machine, but it does not have a frame. Instead, the machine is placed on a table or stand, and the quilter sits at the table to quilt. These machines typically have a smaller arm that ranges from 9-16 inches, making them ideal for smaller quilting projects. Sit-down mid-arm quilting machines are popular among hobbyists and those who want a more affordable option compared to longarm quilting machines. A sit-down quilting machine is stable and does not move.

This is an example of a mid-arm machine.

My Experience and Personal Opinion 🙂

I have had both types of quilting machines. I started with a mid-arm sit-down machine and I hated it. I chose it because I didn’t want to give up the space that a longarm would occupy. This was a costly mistake. Why did I hate it? The main reason is because it was difficult to use. Let’s stop for a moment and compare learning to quilt with learning to write. Imagine learning to write – you start by moving your pencil. This is comparable to using a longarm machine. The machine moves. You guide it. Now, imagine learning to write by moving your paper and the pencil is stationary. You guide the paper, not the pencil. This is how a mid-arm machine works. This is not how my brain works. Learning to quilt on a mid-arm machine takes much more practice, in my opinion. I’m sure this is not the case for everyone but for me, it was very difficult.

When I first tried out the mid-arm machine in the quilt shop, it seemed pretty simple and I wasn’t half bad at it. I had a small fabric sandwich to practice on (probably 20″ x 20′). It was very easy to glide that around on the table and get decent quilting stitches. The problem was that I never made quilts that small at home. Most of the quilts I made were throw-size or twin-size. Once something that large was laid across the table, it became very difficult to “glide” over the table and it was very heavy. Nothing wanted to glide but some choice words out of my mouth. I researched how to overcome this problem and found pictures of bungee cords and homemade ceiling attachments that helped to hold the weight of the quilt so that it became easier to maneuver. I wasn’t interested in that set-up, so I decided to get rid of that machine. I can’t even imagine trying to quilt something larger than a twin-size on a mid-arm machine. Ugh.

And yes, I know that many of you love your mid-arm machines. That’s great! And I also know that many of you are able to quilt king-size quilts on your own domestic sewing machine. That’s fantastic! I enjoy quilting small projects on my domestic machine. But this article is for those who are trying to decide which type of machine they want to purchase – a mid-arm or a long-arm machine. My recommendation is to spend just a tad more money and invest in a long-arm. You’ll never look back.

What if you don’t have a lot of room for a long-arm though? Did you know that many of the frames are adjustable and will adjust down to 5 feet? This is the same amount of space as a mid-arm machine. These frames support the weight of the fabric and making quilting SO. MUCH. EASIER!

After owning my mid-arm machine for a couple of years, I sold it and invested in a longarm machine. And I love, love, love it. I find quilting so much easier when I am moving the machine and not the fabric. Again, this is just my experience and my opinion. 🙂

The longarm needle glides over the fabric

Comparison between longarm quilting machine and sit-down mid-arm quilting machine:

  1. Size and space requirements

Longarm quilting machines are larger and require more space than sit-down mid-arm quilting machines. They typically come with a frame that can be up to 14 feet long, while sit-down mid-arm quilting machines are attached to a small table and usually take up around 5-6 feet worth of space.

  1. Comfort

Longarm quilting machines require the quilter to stand up and move around the frame, which can be tiring for some. Sit-down mid-arm quilting machines allow the quilter to sit comfortably while quilting, making them a better option for those who prefer to sit while they work.

  1. Speed and efficiency

Longarm quilting machines are faster and more efficient than sit-down mid-arm quilting machines. The larger arm size and frame allow for faster quilting times, and the machine can handle heavier fabrics and thicker batting.

  1. Cost

Longarm quilting machines are more expensive than sit-down mid-arm quilting machines, with prices ranging from $10,000 to $40,000, or more with computerized options. Sit-down mid-arm quilting machines are more affordable, with prices ranging from $2,000 to $8,000.

5. Computerized Options

Something else to think about is whether or not you are interested in adding a computer to your machine. This is an option with longarm machines. They add quite a bit of money to the final cost but they offer endless options on quilting. They are simple to operate and allow you to program how you want the quilt quilted. You press start and off it goes. You are then able to do something else while that section is being quilted. Most longarm machine quilters who run a quilting business find the computer necessary.

Thinking about starting your own quilting business? Check out this fantastic book on getting started. You can find it here.

As you can see, there are several things to consider when you’re shopping for a quilting machine. Do your research. Explore different brands. Spend some time in the shops practicing on the ones you are most interested in. You will find the right match for you. Have fun!

‘Til next time,


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Mary Brower
Mary Brower
8 months ago

Thanks Beth for your honest crtitique of the mid-arm quilter. Perfect timing as I was considering 1 but also wondered about moving a lap quilt around. I could picture how it would go from your description (and the words too 😜). Thanks. I enjoy this website very much.

8 months ago

Although I would have preferred a longarm, price and space made that out of the question. So I got my sit-down machine and persevered at learning it. I love it now, and I’m quite proud of the quality of my quilting without pantographs, stitch regulator, or anything fancy. With a 16” throat I can even quilt a king size quilt. I still would love that longarm but I’ve learned to love and enjoy what I do have!

Jane Sprague
Jane Sprague
8 months ago

Your pros/cons are very much appreciated. I’ve been quilting all of my projects on my home embroidery machine (Brother Luminaire XP-1), but I knew I’d eventually need something that would handle really big quilts (I rarely quilt anything smaller than a large throw) as my latest project was 93″x108″ (yes, you can quilt it on a home embroidery machine, but it can be a challenge).
So, I bought a mid-arm last year (Grace Q’Nique 15R), but I also purchased a 12″ frame to go with it. This gives me the flexibility of being able to trade up to a long-arm someday (maybe), it doesn’t cost nearly the price of a long-arm, I can learn how to use a bigger machine, and I don’t have to sit down. (I don’t much care for sitting to quilt as I feel it’s like you mentioned with your paper/pencil illustration). Of course, this mid-arm has fewer features than a long-arm, but since I don’t know how to use it yet anyway, I think I’m better off with fewer features for the moment.
Now … I just need to set it up so I can learn how to use it!
— Jane

4 months ago

Beth, what is the name of the quilt pattern shown on the longarm, please?

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