education, sewing machines, Tools of the Trade

The little machine that behaves like a long arm

story book long armAll sewing machines are not created equal. Most machines are better at some things then they are at others. Some machines are designed for general sewing, they do a little bit of everything. Some sewing machines are lovely and light weight; they’re ideal for taking to classes. Some rather complicated machines were designed for machine embroidery, they can be set to execute intricate designs with a variety of threads.

Long arm quilting machines are becoming more popular and many quilters are looking for a smaller more affordable version of these amazing but expensive machines. Machine Quilting frames can provide the same freedom of movement as their long arm cousins, for a fraction of the cost.

Long arms come with large and powerful industrial sewing machine heads. In contrast, machine quilting frames, are made to work with domestic sewing machines. Today I’d like to tackle the sewing machine. If you’re looking for a sewing machine to go on a quilting frame, do your research. Bear in mind that you are looking for a domestic machine that will behave like a long arm. There are 4 features to look for. Space, Speed, Simplicity and Strength. These 4 features allow a domestic machine to behave like a long arm. The next few posts will explore these 4 features. Today we’ll start with the most important feature; space!


 The space under the arm is super important, especially the height. Notice the fabric pole that goes under the arm of the sewing machine. As you move through your quilt, the fabric layers on the other fabric poles will get quilted together and wound onto this fabric pole that goes under the arm. If your arm is not tall enough it won’t fit. Lots of sewing machine companies are making the arm of the sewing machines longer but they’re not making them taller, and it’s the height that we need. The height allows room for the quilt to roll on the fabric pole.

Get a tape measure and measure the height of the arm on your sewing machine. The domestic machine I use for piecing, applique, binding and general sewing measures 10 1/2 centimetres or 4 inches. That is typical of most domestic sewing machines. If your wondering if your sewing machine will work on a machine quilting frame, get out a tape measure and check the height under the arm of your sewing machine. If the arm of your sewing machine is only 4 inches tall it will not behave like a long arm. It will not give you the under arm space that you need to machine quilt on a quilting frame.

IMG_5216My Juki TL QVP Mini measures 14 1/2 centimetres or nearly 6 inches. Those extra 2 inches of height give me the space I need to roll my quilt on the fabric pole under the arm of the sewing machine. Have a look at the photos below. Most domestic machines will seem fine when you’re starting out. But as you carry on quilting that fabric bar under the arm will grow and grow. In the upper right hand corner you see Emily starting out on her Uni quilt. On the bottom left you’ll see her finishing. Because of the extra 2 inches of height under the arm of the Juki TL QVP Mini, Emily still has the hand’s width of quilting space that she needs to execute her quilting design.

Christmas in July 2017 (4 of 21) ems uni quilt 043
ems uni quilt2 024 IMG_6274

Most long arm machines will give you 2 measurements when they talk about the under arm space. They’ll give you the length AND the height because the space under the arm is proportional. When they make it longer, they also make it taller. We are looking for the same proportions in our smaller machines. Juki machines have this height working for them. Perhaps it comes from their industrial sewing machine experience but Juki sewing machines are often taller than comparable machines made by other companies.

MiniHere’s a fun see-through photo to illustrate the point. Notice the shape of the Juki TL 2200 Long arm in the foreground. See that the arm is long AND tall 18 inches long and 10 inches tall. That’s 2 inches taller than all the other comparable long arms. Now peek through the long arm to view the Juki TL QVP Mini. Notice that the arm of the smaller domestic machine has the same shape, it’s long AND tall, 2 inches taller, just like the long arm. When we’re using a domestic machine those 2 inches make all the difference.

camera dump jan2012 495Space is ACE! That’s what makes the Juki TL QVP Mini the perfect domestic machine to put on a machine quilting frame. The Juki TL QVP Mini has the same proportions as a long arm. She’s only Mini compared to the Big One! We’ll talk about the speed, strength and simplicity in the next post.12643025_10153251996371363_2185991118509252490_n