Have you ever heard of a midarm quilting machine? It’s a hybrid between a domestic sewing machine and a longarm quilting machine. These seem to be growing in popularity, and the variety of machines available is staggering.
Here’s a little overview of what I’ve learned about midarms so far. First, you typically sit down to quilt on a mid-arm (just like a home sewing machine). Depending on the manufacturer, the machine is either oriented to the side of the needle (also like a home machine), or behind the needle (which sits you in front, just like on a longarm). You move the quilt around a table, and need to baste the quilt before starting to quilt. (Unlike longarms, where you move the machine, and the quilt is set up on a frame without basting first.)
Midarm quilting machines have two bobbin options. The first is an L-size bobbin, same as a domestic machine, and apparently better suited to detail work. The second is an M-size bobbin, which holds three times more thread than the L-size (and is commonly found on longarm machines). Because of the larger size, M-size bobbins tend to have varying tension depending upon the amount of thread left on the bobbin as you sew. One of the COOLEST things I’ve learned about midarm machines is that the bobbin holder is UNDER the table. That means you don’t have to take your quilt off the table and lose your place to change a bobbin. (If I had the money, I’d buy a midarm for that alone!)
At Quilt Market, I tried out four different midarms. The first was the Gammill Charm. This is the priciest of the midarms on my list (around $8-$10,000) , but it was a beautiful, quiet machine. Sewing on it was very intuitive, as it’s set up just like a domestic machine. The Charm comes in two sizes, 18″ or 22″ of throat space. It also has a ton of features, like a mounted tablet, an attached laser pointer, and stitch regulation.
The second machine I tried was the APQS George. No bells and frills, 20″ of throat space, and very easy to use. It retails for about $6,500. I really, really liked the simplicity of this machine, and every review I’ve read about it online has glowed. It seems like the only reason people get rid of their George is to upgrade to a full-fledged longarm. When you purchase a George, you have the option to configure it for L or M sized bobbins.
I did stop by the HandiQuilter booth and sat at a Sweet Sixteen for a few minutes, but I didn’t get to really experience the machine. This one has 16″ of throat space (thus the name). The friendly salesman was trying to explain to me why I should go for a longarm instead. Having the machine perpendicular to the traditional domestic set-up was a little disorienting to me, as was the stitch regulator. This machine has M-sized bobbins.
Finally, I tried out the Pfaff Powerquilter 16.0. This one is also perpendicular like the HQ, ad has 16″ throat space. What I really liked about this set-up was that the table was completely adjustable. As in, I test drove it standing up! And it was surprisingly comfortable. I really liked the idea of being able to vary your position easily when quilting for days on end. The Powerquilter uses M-size bobbins.
Neither the Handiquilter nor the Powerquilter list prices on their website, and the salespeople weren’t very forthcoming on prices either, but I think they each run somewhere around $5,000.
Now that I’ve tried a couple of machines, and learned a TON, I want to go back and try out all four again. I’ve decided I’m not crazy about the stitch regulators. After free-motion quilting on my home machine for years, I’ve learned to “quilt by ear”, and I vary my hand speed based on the sound of the motor speed. So the machines with the stitch regulation kind of rev up unpredictably, and that threw me off when I was trying to sew on them. I’m sure I could get used to that with a lot of practice, but it seems simpler to skip the stitch regulation (especially since it costs about $1000 extra!)
I’m also trying to get more information on the Martelli Bella Sedere, and the Innova sitdown machine. So I’ll definitely be keeping you posted as I learn more about the incredibly diverse world of midarms.
How about you? Do you quilt on a midarm? Longarm? Or are you shaking your head at the pure insanity of spending a small fortune on a sewing machine?