How To Choose Your Short Arm Quilting Machines?

If you have been using your regular sewing machine for your quilting projects and now find yourself considering a dedicated quilting machine, here are a few things you should consider.

First, are you going short arm or long arm? You may be wondering what the difference is. Other than money, the big difference is the size of the arm of the machine. A short arm machine looks more like your typical home sewing machine. The long arm machine stretches out to allow for more of the quilt to be stitched without having to roll quite as much.

If the price is a big consideration, you will probably choose the short arm version. Lots of quilters use them and you can do a lot of projects on them.  But with so many affordable short arm machines available, how do you pick one that is right for you?

First of all, look for one with a harp space of nine inches or more. The harp space is the area under the arm, between the machine  base and the needle.

Also, look for a machine that allows you to drop the feed dogs. Otherwise, you will not be able to use the machine for any free motion quilting.

Another feature you need on a short arm machine is a needle up and down button. Some machines might expect you to do this manually by turning the hand wheel, but not all machines have a hand wheel that is easily turned.

Instead, opt for a button that is conveniently reached. The up/down button is an important feature because you will have to raise and lower your needle from time to time if you quilt on a frame.

If you plan to use your short arm machine with a quilting frame system, be sure to get one with an industrial motor. These motors can take a lot of abuse, not that we consider our carefully planned quilting projects to be abusive. But if you quilt with a frame, the machine is doing a lot of hard work.

Look for a short arm machine that is compatible with a stitch regulator.  This little attachment will adjust the speed at which you sew with the movements you make.  The result is uniform stitching! Find a stitch regulator that has sensors on the frame carriage wheels. These are optional purchases, so be sure to ask if the machine is compatible and if so, which brands the dealer recommends for it.

If at all possible, use your short arm machine solely for quilting even though many offer other options for other sewing and even embroidery. While, yes, it is nice to get an added feature like an embroidery machine, it is really best if you dedicate the machine to one purpose. So, don’t spend a lot of money on features like decorative stitches or embroidery.

Quite frankly, you will use only the straight stitch if you use your machine on a framing system. So all other stitches are unnecessary.

Save the money you would spend on all the extra stitching features on more “toys” for your machine. There are products specifically for short arm machines, like templates, rulers, and pattern boards.

Shop around to see all the features that short arm machines have to offer. Look for a dealer that not only services after the sale, but can also give instruction on how to properly use the machine.  Lots of times, these lessons are free.

They may even offer group instruction or quilting “clubs” that would give you a chance to interact with other short arm quilters. Buying from an authorized dealer can really help give you more quilting bang for your buck.

By Penny Halgren of

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