My first quilt was pieced and quilted entirely by hand. I don't know that it's an exercise I will ever repeat, but I did learn a lot. Next I moved on to an old singer that my mom gave me. I had a very brief relationship with the singer before my mom upgraded her machine and gave me her (very simplistic) New Home. It was only a few years old, but she was upgrading to a machine with more capabilities. I sewed on the New Home for probably a year before I invested in a Bernina 145s. At this point I felt that I had become forever friends with quilting and sewing, and buying a nicer machine was an easy decision for me. Most of the quilting that I'd done to this point was straight line quilting on the New Home. I started dabbling in free motion quilting, and didn't like the stitch quality of the New Home. One of my first projects on the Bernina was a lap quilt for Matt with some free motion quilting-wow, what a difference! The tension was great, and the stitches looked beautiful. So on I quilted for a year or so, until I started looking into short arm quilting systems. I have always done all of my own quilting, and that's something that is important to me. I like to look at my finished projects and know that all of the work was done by me-but that's just my little quirk. :) So, during my short arm quilting system research, the sister of one of my work friends bought the exact machine and frame that I was considering. After seeing a few quilts that my friend's sister had completed, I was sold! And so I bought a Juki TL98Q and a Grace GMQ Pro frame. This machine and frame became my primary quilting system for the next 5 years, and I probably completed 30 or so quilts with it. A few years ago I upgraded my regular sewing machine to a Bernina 640E for piecing and continued to quilt with the short arm.
And that brings us to a few weeks ago! As we prepare for the move to Seattle, it became more and more evident that I wasn't going to have room for my quilting system. At approximately 108" long and 36" wide, it wasn't something I could stick in the closet for storage. I also started to feel that I had outgrown the system, and was considering an upgrade. A few months back a friend of mine mentioned that she was interested in buying the machine and frame from me, which turned out so well for everyone!
Since I've sold my machine and frame, I have finished 2 60"x80" lap quilts on my Bernina. Both of the quilts were done in a small meandering design.
When I started researching quilt frames and also now that I'm back to quilting without a frame, I have turned to the internet for information. There is a lot of information about fmq on a standard machine, but not a lot about using a frame or comparing the two. There are benefits and drawbacks to both ways of fmq, so let's talk about those.
FMQ with a standard sewing machine:
Basting on the floor makes it very easy to center piecing on the back
Better control over stitches
Potentially better stitch quality-depending on the machine that you quilt on
Basting on the floor is hard on the back and knees
Quilting is time consuming (*my lap quilts each took me about 2.5 hours, I think)
Wrestling a quilt through a machine can be quite the battle!
FMQ on a short arm quilt system:
Basting is fast, no extra equipment (pins, spray, etc) needed
Quilting is fast (*I could have quilted my lap quilts in less than an hour each)
Easy to learn and control for simple quilting like meandering
Control is limited and not quite as smooth
Very limited by the throat depth of the machine-for the Juki, I could quilt about a 7" x width of quilt section before I had to roll the quilt
*This isn't a true comparison, because I tend to quilt in a much more dense pattern when using my standard machine than with a short arm.
I am very grateful that my ever supportive husband was on board with my crazy quilting machine trials. I was able to complete a lot of projects with my short arm, and it gave me the time to work on more projects. The short arm certainly had an important part in my quilting, and in a lot of ways I think that it gave me more confidence in my work. Now that I am back to quilting on a standard machine, I have a bit of a learning curve. But I'm enjoying the change of pace, too! I actually like to baste my quilts on the floor, because I'm able to place the quilt top wherever I need it in relation to the piecing on the back. I also love the increased control that I have over my quilting design. The biggest drawback for me is probably the increased time commitment involved.
As I'm readjusting to life without a short arm, I'm debating another machine upgrade. I was considering the Bernina 820, but I'm just not convinced that it's worth the hefty price tag. I think I've settled on a Janome Horizon after test driving the machine twice now. First I'd like to sell my current Bernina, though. In the mean time, I'm having fun relearning and playing with different fmq designs!
For a tutorial on how to quilt straight lines on a short arm system, visit this post on my blog.
If you are looking for quilt basting and quilting tips and techniques, check out oh fransson! Her tutorial section is full of great stuff!