What to look for in a sewing machine
If you are looking for an ideal sewing machine for machine quilting, I’d like to suggest some features to consider:
- length – a longer arm makes a huge difference, because it gives you more room to quilt. Ordinary domestic sewing machines have a 7 inch wide harp. The JUKI TL 98-P and the Janome 6500 and 6600 have a 9 inch wide harp. The new Janome Horizon has an 11 inch wide harp/arm
- height – several machines have gone longer, but once you put the sewing machine on a frame, the height becomes important too. On a frame, with the fabric bar under the arm of the sewing machine, you really need the height also. You can see this in the photo above. It’s a shame that many of the sewing machine companies have not taken this into consideration. On a frame, as you progress though a quilt, the fabric on the bar becomes wider and higher as you roll the quilt. Because the fabric bar is under the arm of the sewing machine, this means that the height of the arm is just as important as the width. If the height of the arm of the sewing machine is only 4 or 5 inches, it is not going to accommodate the size of the roll of a King sized quilt.
- speed– here we’re talking about stitches per minute. The speed helps to create a flowing line of stitching. Machine quilting is a bit like riding a bike, too slow and you’ll fall off. You need a steady fast speed to create a flowing line of stitching. The JUKI TL98-P has a speed of 1500 stitches per minute. The Janome 1600P has a speed of 1600 stitches per minute. The Janome Memory Craft 6600 has a speed of 1200 stitches per minute. The new Janome Horizon has a speed of 1000 stitches per minute. Bear in mind here, the faster the speed, the smoother the line of stitching.
- other features–I find the needle up/down feature really helpful. Being able to leave the needle down and walk away, lets you begin again just where you left off. The thread cutter is very helpful too.
- simplicity– for free-motion quilting, simplicity is the key. The more complicated your sewing machine the more difficult it is to tension. For free-motion machine quilting on a frame, the simpler the better. Once you drop the feed dogs, you loose those special stitches. On a frame, all you need is a good straight stitch. Save the fancy machines with all the ‘whistles and bells’ for off the frame stitching.
- service– lots of people will sell you cheap sewing machines, especially at the shows. But you want someone willing to give you good service even after you make the sale. Wherever you are purchasing your sewing machine from, make sure you have someone local willing to give you good service. All machines break sometime or other. Be sure that you have someone nearby able to give you the service and advice you need.