Saturday, March 11, 2006

About that longarm dream...















Several of you have asked if I send all my quilt tops out to be quilted or if I ever quilted some of them on my own. I think that the answer deserves an entire post all of its own. So here goes... (said with a deep breathe and no offense meant to anyone - these are just my thoughts and feelings for where I am right now in life)...

I very occassionally will free motion quilt a small top on my sewing machine. Small being the important word here - nothing larger than small toddler size! I am actually fairly decent at it and the results are always well loved by - say - 2 year olds! A small quilt really doesn't take too much time at all. I stick with an easy small meander (free hand), put on some music and away I go! I might even try free motion quilting some pieced fabrics to make purses over the summer. But, I have no plans for anything larger on my current sewing machine.

Which brings up the subject of - a bigger machine! Over the past few years there has been a huge increase in the amount of long arm quilting ads in quilt magazines. Just as an example, my recent issue of Country Quilts (which is all of 68 pages including the covers) has ads for commercial long arm machines from Gammill (full page), Nolting (full page), NuStyle (full page), Prodigy (full page), plus in the home quilting set-ups - 1/4 page from Grace and 1/4 page from Hinterberg. As a side note, there is a 1/4 page ad for a hand quilting frame from Pleasant Mountain Woodworks too. I have other magazines that feature ads from long arms, mid-arms and short arms including APQS, A-1, Handi-Quilter, Hobby Quilter, John Watts, Viking Mega Quilter, Ken Quilt Princess, the list goes on and on and it is daunting!

With so much advertising, the purchase of a long arm machine must be the answer to a pile of unfinished tops, right? Ah, the power of advertising! All of a sudden, I am thinking about a huge machine that I didn't even know existed not so long ago in my quilting past. Think how much money I could save by having my own machine, make some money on the side, live the quilting dream. A dream come true, right? And truthfully, I have seriously considered the long arm route. Really! Except for a few small details...

1-2. Money and time. A top of the line APQS Millenium costs $16,800 and then I can add some extra goodies for additional. Circle Lord kit is over $700. Pantos run about $18 each. Do I want to quilt all my tops with the same panto? Nope, so figure more than 1 panto here! And I need to learn how to use the machine. Practice, practice, practice, and practice free-hand too. Plus, lots of other supplies, rulers, threads, books, dvd's, classes, what have you. There are other top of the line machines too and every long arm quilter will swear by their own brand and prices vary depending upon the machine and options you get. If I were in the market for a machine today, I think APQS would be my first choice, so I started there. And since we are talking dreams here, why not start at the top model?

3. A new business. So, if I spend this much money on a machine and all that time learning how to use it, do I really have $16,000 plus dollars worth of my own quilts to quilt? Am I going to start piecing huge 9-patches just to have something to quilt - this might be something like owning a Bently car and driving it to the corner store just to buy milk so you can say you drive it! Which leads to - quilting for money! Don't be fooled. Most businesses take at least 2 YEARS before they start generating any kind of substantial income - so don't quit your day job just yet! And quilting for the public can really complicate your life unless you are in the mind-set and really prepared for what lies ahead. You are now a business! You need a business license, extra insurance, get to fill out special tax forms, all kinds of stuff! You are going to get quilts you might not like, quilts that smell like smoke, quilts that aren't flat, quilts where the customer is just an all around P.I.T.A. I am used to running my own businesses so have lots of experience with that aspect, but for some people, this is a whole new learning experience. And that isn't to say that you wouldn't get some really wonderful customers, really wonderful quilts and have a really good time doing it. I am just the type of person who likes to look at both sides of the coin.

4. Space. And I haven't even gotten to the space issue - you need a BIG room. Just imagine a 14' table sitting in your living room and now you still need room to walk around it. Some people have extra bedrooms or convert a garage into a studio or rent office space. Whatever. I don't think I would want one of these machines in my living room though! Dust, noise... I mean really, would you want your DH to have a Harley Davidson in your living room (which happens to be a bit smaller than a long arm)? So, additional space, in my instance, would be needed.

So, I added all these things up. I looked at the price that I pay my long arm quilter to quilt almost all my tops. An added bonus - she even has a BINDING machine (ummm - those run a couple thousand dollars) and I happily pay her the extra money to bind my quilts. I know some people like their bindings done by hand, but the machine method works just fine for me. Do I really care that her turn around time is on the long side? Maybe a little, but it isn't the end of the world. When I get them back - they are beautiful and wonderful and finished (except a label). She has experience. She is good. She doesn't just meander a simple design on my top (but she would if I asked her to). It is her business. I am thankful that I ever found her (ah, but that is another post)... and for all of this, no I don't think she charges too much. And have I mentioned lately... I have a very lovely little 2.9 year old who likes lots of Momma attention? Shocking, I just realized today he is no longer 2.5, he is actually 2.9! Time is flying by so fast. Wasn't he just learning how to walk yesterday?

Right now my sewing time is limited, so I will stick with piecing tops. I enjoy it, it relaxes me and hey! I am even fairly good at it! I love to look at patterns, buy fabric, piece a top and see it coming altogether. I might try my hand at handquilting this summer -but that too is a topic for another post. I will continue to buy quilting magazines and books and try out new patterns. I might even buy a super-sonic fast sewing machine so I can piece my tops even faster. The smaller quilts I will keep pushing through my sewing machine and the bigger quilts I will keep sending out. My goal here is to get my hard work to a usable stage - not an unfinished top sitting on the shelf! And I will continue to be thankful that someone else has the spent the time to learn, has the space for a machine, and is my long arm quilter! Down the road, things may change. Little Boys grow up. But right now, I am clinging to every sticky baby hug and kiss while I marvel at how much he has changed in a mere 2 years, 9 months.

So, here's a toast to my long-arm quilter and the next time I see an ad for a long-arm quilting machine, quick! I am going to turn the page. But, I will still enjoy wondering about it for some day...

It is nice to have a dream. It is also nice to be able to realize that something is a dream and that the reality might not be a dream at all (I think the reality would be more like a nightmare for me right now)! That's my story and I am sticking to it, but it is subject to change without notice! .... Maybe a long-arm quilting machine IS a nice addition to the living room? -grin-






19 comments:

Samantha said...

Oh my goodness, the hubby and I were just having this conversation yesterday, after I put down the quilting deposit on my two medium sized tops... He had never realized long-arm machines were available to the general public, and I could see him wondering, how much could we save if I did my tops myself? Well, once I explained that we could buy a new car, practically, for the price of a long arm machine, he stopped being excited and agreed- I'll keep sending my larger tops out as well!

What a lovely, insightful post here- you've summed up ALL my feelings about the actual quilting process. I often feel embararssed to admit that I don't enjoy quilting my own tops, but then, someone has to keep the wonderful and amazing long-armers in business, right?

Jeanne said...

Very nicely put, Evelyn! The whole longarm experience is not for everyone! Cost, space, time are all HUGE considerations. I can't imagine myself ever getting a longarm, but I guess I should never say never ...
Isn't it great that we can all be unique in our own approach to quilting, and yet appreciate and enjoy each other's work?
Jeanne :)

Laurie Ann said...

Well said! Well said!

The Calico Cat said...

I agree 100+%! BTW I Pay someone to change the oil in my car and someone else to pull my teeth as needed too! Not to mention that I am supporting a small woman owned business at the same time.

I still want one, but I know that it won't be happening any time soon!

Finn said...

What a great post Evelyn!! I think you have thought it through, and come to sound conclusions.
Long arm machine and quilting isn't for everyone, and I'm glad to pay to have them done. After years and years of hand quilting, I don't feel compromised at all. I still hand quilt the ones I choose to, and it's great to have a couple finished while i'm doing that..LOL
Cheers, my friend..here, here! I salute you...*VBS* Hugs, Finn

Nancy said...

I have wanted a long arm for years. But when I had the space I didn't have the $$$ and now I can swing the $$$ I don't have the space.

We're building a big shop/studio/storage building this year. My part will be 15'X 25'. Not a huge room but MUCH more spacious than my current 8-1/2'X13' room! I've thought long and hard about whether I'll really get my money's worth out of a machine for personal use only. And do I want to quilt for the public? I've decided I'll probably get one of the really fast straight stitch only machines with a little extra arm space and one of the home frames. This will be an investment of around $2000. That I can justify for myself and use it for some practise. THEN if I do well enough and find I like it enough to want to quilt for the public I might entertain the idea of a commercial machine.

debby said...

Wow! All I can say is 'thank you'.

Signed,
Debby
a professional longarm quilter

Jan Mac said...

All very valid points as well as the fact that quilting well with a long arm is harder than it looks. As for the feathers etc they take more practise to do them well and by paying someone you're getting the full benefit of their expertise. I have a shortarm machine because I got it second hand at a great price so I could quilt more charity quilts. I love it but don't want the stress of quilting for others. Long armers' abilities are underestimated!

Pam said...

You go girl!! Here! Here! Yah, what she said....and all that! my thoughts exactly!!! I do have a 10' hand quilting frame, which causes it's own issues in my teeny tiny house...but I do so love handquilting and I do it ONLY for myself.

Mary said...

Good points but on the other side I have a longarm - a Gammill Classic Plus and don't quilt as a business.

I was fortunate to have the space and the money and I'm not working so I have time to quilt. I make a lot of quilts for charity, quilt for myself, and for family members.

So in the future if you can afford it, have the space, and the interest - I say go for it. I love being able to quilt my own quilts!

cher said...

isn't it great to be able to see it from both sides? I wholeheartly agree with you Evelyn-and yet I have bought a home set up as Nancy mentioned-just need to swing the machine I want for it. I would only quilt for myself-I think my longarm quilter is the best and I am happy to pay her for the gorgeous work she does. I want my set up to help crank out the charity quilts I love to do.

Michele said...

Well said, Evelyn. I am so glad you have shared your thoughts on this one. I researched for months and months before I started my quilting business, and still you never know if you will like it or be any good until you actually try it. I feel very sorry for the ladies who buy these machines without thinking about ALL of the good and bad sides of quilting for others. It looks like it would be easy, but it isn't as easy or as profitable as is made out in these ads. That can be a huge bubble to burst if things do not go as planned. I am so very happy to hear of you ladies who love your quilter, I get such a thrill when my customers love their quilts. I work very hard on them.

Passionate Quilter said...

Great post, Evelyn. I'm sure that's an issue a lot of people are wrestling with right now. It hurts to keep on sending tops out, but if you add up the $$ spent, you'd have to make a lot of quilts to justify the long arm investment. I felt the same way, wanted a long arm, but couldn't justify the expense for personal use. And having already been through the arguments in my head about wanting to do it as a business, I decided that wasn't the route I wanted to go. I admire those women that are in business, but they really earn their money by lots of hard work.

So I bought a Handiquilter 16. Lots of $$, but not near the amount of a long arm. And never say never--I have already done a quilt for a customer! LOL Actually, I won't do that on a regular basis. I swore I never would quilt for anyone, and the 5th quilt I had on my machine was for someone else!

But for right now, you need precious Mommy time--those years go by quickly. And who knows, the price of those machines may come down where you could justify it in the future.

Sandra said...

My thoughts exactly! It's nice to dream, but in reality, I'm happy quilting smaller quilts myself, trying out some handquilting and using longarm quilters if I need to. I appreciate the years they've spent learning their craft and am happy to pay for that :-)

Vicky said...

I've thought several times about getting a longarm, but it would be totally for personal use. No desire to quilt for others. Then I thought about how much stash that money could buy, and still pay for a pro to quilt everything made from that stash. Decision made!! LOL!

Great post - thanks for saying what a bunch of us were thinking!

Carolyn said...

As a longarm quilter, I wholeheartedly agree with your reasoning! I do it as a business, but as more people buy them, my business has fallen off. There are others who live closer to the customers and have lower prices (and less experience!)than I do. So, I'm now working part time and quilting less...which gives me some time to work on my own quilts. You have worked everything out perfectly and I think your post is something that everyone who is considering purchasing a long arrm should read! :o) Carolyn

Dawn said...

I loved this post! I"ve thought of all those things and decided owning a long arm was not for me either! In fact I've started hand quilting some of mine! Doesn't help getting more done in a timely manner but I'm enjoying the process!

Bonnie said...

Evelyn, I thought your post was SO brilliant! Most women don't realise, that if they pay say $200 to their quilter for each quilt she quilts for them it would take 84 quilts quilted by someone else to equal the amount to buy the machine...that would be before she broke even on quilting her own quilts! As a machine quilter, I had to go through all of this figuring too before I decided to try my hand at quilting for others. Luckily for me it has worked out wonderfully. Maybe in the future you'd have the space and time to buy a gently used machine. That's a good way to go too!

Bonnie

Joanne said...

You've made many good points here, Evelyn! But I still have my dream! LOL -- I don't want to quilt for other people though -- I'd rather spend all the time and money learning to quilt well just for myself! But let's face it -- it's a dream. Maybe I'll run across a used machine....cheap. Or, maybe I'll win the lottery....vbg!