How To Buy A Sewing Machine For Quilting?

With the variety of sewing machines available, making a decision on which sewing machine to purchase is much more complex than it was way back when.

Today’s quilters are presented with some interesting and fun options that can make their quilting more interesting and relaxing.

Many of the more popular brands, including Singer, Simplicity, Janome, Brother, White and Necci sewing machines include features such as an LCD display, dial-a-stitch selector, automatic needle threader, convertible free arm, extension table, electronic speed control, drop in bobbin, and computerized stitch selection, to name just a few.

These machines sew not only straight stitches, but zig zag, button hole, and fancy embroidery stitches.

Several sewing machine companies cater to the quilting market by including speed adjustments to make machine quilting easier.

The White 1740 Quilter’s Machine has an extra wide extension bed to support your work, and reduce pulling and stretching. The Simplicity American Quilter sewing machine features a convertible free-arm and snap-on presser foot. They are also lightweight so you can easily transport your machine to your quilting class.

In addition to regular sewing machines, there are sergers and longarm quilting machines to consider.

Prices for sewing machines range from around $100 up to, well, in the thousands.

All of these choices are wonderful, yet how to decide?

Before making your purchase, you should decide how you will use your machine, and whether you might want more than one machine. Those decisions can be made within the context of your budget and lifestyle, in addition to your commitment to quilting and the type of quilting you will be doing.

If you are going to be using your machine only for machine piecing quilt tops, and not doing any machine quilting or fancy stitching, a fairly simple sewing machine will likely serve your needs.

If you are going to purchase only one machine and are planning to take it to quilting classes with you, weight and bulk may be a consideration.

In addition, it may be important for the machine to come with a carrying case; and possibly space in the carrying case for some sewing supplies.

If you are planning to machine piece your quilt tops and machine quilt the completed project, a heavier duty machine with the power to glide through multiple layers of fabric and batting would be a better choice.

In addition, you may want to look for a machine that offers a “walking foot,” or something similar; possibly even built into the machine. This feature will feed the quilt top, batting and quilt backing evenly through the machine as the quilt is stitched, reducing puckering and unsightly folds.

Another consideration if you will be doing much machine quilting is to purchase a sewing machine that is ideal for machine piecing, and a separate longarm machine just for machine quilting. In the past, these machines were designed and priced for the professional market. As with many things, the technology has improved, demand has increased, and now longarm quilting machines are more of an affordable option for home quilters.

Once you have decided how you will use your machine and what features are important to you, the next step is to ponder the particular brands available. Price is not always a determination of quality, so a visit to a local sewing machine store – whether it is the community Sew and Vac, a Walmart, Sears, or something else – where you can “test drive” the machines might be the next order of business.

Trying several different brands with different features will give you an idea of what you prefer. A conversation with a sewing machine repair person will give you a hint about brands that need a lot of service and those which last years with just an annual tune up.

Once you have narrowed it down to a particular brand or two, and know which features are important to you, the next step is to do some research on price and availability. The internet offers some great choices for saving money – eBay,,, etc. While these sources offer good savings, they may not provide a guarantee or the service you may want for your machine.

If your local Sew and Vac will service the machine once you have it, the price savings may prove worthwhile.

Used sewing machines may also be a consideration. Some of the older machines are in excellent condition and offer features not found on current machines. Singer Featherweight sewing machines from the 40s and 50s are still popular with quilters.

These little machines are like the Energizer Bunny – they just keep going and going. They are lightweight and simple. Some have attachments, many just sew forward and backward and are perfect for machine piecing. Keep them oiled and they will last many lifetimes!

Once you have made your decision about a sewing machine, you may want to consider a cabinet.

When I was growing up, my mom had a cabinet that held only the sewing machine. It was a pretty fancy cabinet, didn’t take up much space and was fine – because she sewed a few clothes and did some mending.

But having a full size cabinet makes your quilting much easier. And, according to professional quilter Pepper Cory, having your machine the same level as your sewing table will increase the accuracy of your stitching.

If you are anything like I am, you’ll go for most anything that will ensure that your quilt blocks end up the right size.Wouldn’t it be nice if the decision were easier, and you could just “call Sears” and order the machine? On the other hand, isn’t it fantastic that the quilting days of 75 years ago are behind us and we can now create quilts using technology that encourages our creativity.

Here Is An Interview With Ricky Tims On Machine Quilting Secrets

Penny:  Do you mark your quilts for machine quilting or do you just have that in your mind?

Ricky:  Yes and no. Here’s something I’ll tell everybody… I never always do anything and I never, never do anything, which is an oxymoron in itself. I do what is required or necessary for each individual project.

I love to do improvisational quilting, even if it’s feathers. I’ve done several quilts where I will do little feather plumes randomly over a border, just letting them do their own thing. This border doesn’t look like that border and this plume will run into that plume.

It doesn’t matter because I can draw them. I tell people, if you can draw them, you can learn to quilt them. If you’re trying to quilt them without learning to draw them, you don’t know where you’re driving.

You have to know where you’re going to drive. By practicing on paper, I’m able to know what I’m doing. Then I start doing it on a quilt.

Penny:   It goes back to that hand-eye coordination.

Ricky:  Absolutely. This is a hard one to describe, but it is on my “Grand Finale Machine Quilting” DVD on my website. When I need to have a perfect mirror image on an L-shaped border and really want that to be symmetrical, I use a polyester tear-away stabilizer.

My brand is called Ricky Tims Stable Stuff. It comes on a roll and also comes in 8.5 x 11 sheets. The reason I have it in sheets now is because I used to take a different product and cut it into 8.5 x 11 sheets. I’ve eliminated that cutting part.

I will usually draw my design on freezer paper templates for large sections. Then I will copy that design as many times as I need it onto this tear-away stabilizer. Then I put that on the back of my quilt top.

That’s important. It’s not on the quilt top. Most people mark their quilt top right on the surface of the quilt top. I put this on the back of the quilt top. Then I use water soluble thread, top and bobbin. I free-motion stitch on top of that copied design.

That design is very faint. I don’t need a big, black design. I just need to be able to see it, so I usually set my copy machine on a faint, light setting.

Then I just stitch on it. It allows me to practice my quilting design before I’m really quilting it. The bobbin is marking my quilt top. That bobbin water soluble thread can be seen on any fabric, including navy, black, prints or whatever you want to do.

I practiced my design and didn’t trace it. I tell people, “You don’t need to learn how to trace. Tracing is not a skill you need to improve.” Most people are looking to improve their quilting skill.

Mark your quilt by quilting it. Then you’ve already practiced the whole quilt. It didn’t take you any longer to do it that way than it would have to trace it all.

Now when you put your sandwich together, you follow those water-soluble thread lines. Then you dunk the quilt in water when it’s done. Those threads go away, and it’s quilted. That’s how I mark it now. If I have to mark, I use this Ricky Tims Stable Stuff product.

Penny:  That’s brilliant.

Ricky:   It doesn’t dissolve. The product is made out of polyester. The substance that makes it feel like paper is what dissolves. When the quilt gets wet and the water soluble thread goes away, this Stable Stuff product turns into a spider web of dusty polyester filling inside the quilt.

You’ll never know it’s there, because it’s way thinner than your batting. You haven’t even added trapunto or extra batting. It’s just inside your quilt and totally soft.

By Ricky Tims & Penny Halgren of

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