Why I am writing this post;
Longarmers work in isolation, we cannot pack our machines up, put them on the backseat of the car and go hang out with the girls to do some stitching (and talking) for the day. This also leads to opportunistic vendors relying on the lack of networking to silence our complaints. There are unscrupulous vendors out there who are interested in sales only, not service and support for their clients. A friend who panicked at my original post and begged me to withdraw it in case “someone” could identify her, has been left unsupported by her vendor and treated in a completely unacceptable manner, in short; she spent her money and has been shut out completely.
What to look for and avoid when buying a new or used longarm machine.
Longarms are much different to domestic sewing or embroidery machines.
Back in 2007 my longarm business almost came to a standstill before I got started. We need to go right back to the beginning to get the big picture on a sequence of events that were a huge learning curve on a newbie longarmer = me.
I bought a brand new machine from a disreputable dealer (I didn’t known back then?) who has since been stripped of their distributorship. Delivery day came and my beautiful new machine arrived at my door, the vendor/technician never showed up to assemble and install the machine at my house. We unpacked it, photographing every step of the process and making sure they pictures clearly showed the state it arrived in, it was heartbreaking to see my considerable investment arrive in a damaged state.
My husband is a heavy machinery man that engineers and manufactures his own equipment so we assembled it ourselves going by a few photographs that I had taken when test driving a similar machine. It turned out that the table had been damaged during shipping, so Bill fixed that, An electronics cable was damaged, being a qualified IT tech, I managed to make a workaround that I still use to this day, it looks a little different, but works great. Problem solved and all was well in my world after much anxiety and disappointment. The original vendor didn’t respond to my emails, phone calls or messages about the damage, and refused to provide technical support, even sending me a quote of $860 to come out and assess the damage. I was on my own and when I broke something mechanical, I called the USA and they talked Bill through the fix which turned out to be a 35cent part. I had to learn to maintain my machine and fix anything that I broke along the learning curve. A sad story, my quilt mission is to help others avoid that heartbreak.
Your dealer is your business partner, they keep your business working.
That disgraceful original dealer has been replaced by a very well qualified dealer/technician who travels to my place to service and maintain my machine avoiding downtime by not having to send your precious machine off site for servicing. They are available 24/7 and if I call up on a Sunday afternoon because I need advice right then to finish a job, they are always at the other end of the phone. They also keep me informed about new tools and technical developments of their machinery. This is great service after being out in the wilderness with the first vendor.
What to look for when buying a new machine, or a pre-loved one.
Technical support; are they available 24/7?
Service and maintenance; will they come to you to service your machine on site, and do they have an annual maintenance schedule?
What is covered under warranty and how long is it covered?
Will they set up your machine for you?
Will they provide training to get you started?
Can someone near you let you test drive the one you want to buy? Go to the trade shows and test them all and ask if there is someone near you with the machine you want, they will often let you test run theirs.
If your machine is pre-loved, will the previous owner provide mentoring to help you get started? Most quilters are delighted to help a new owner get started.
Pre-loved can save you money; check to see if it’s been fully serviced and given the tick of approval from the dealer.
Will your machine go the distance?, most of them are industrial grade machines with an expected life span of 20+ years, so check out how long the company has been trading for and stick with the proven brandnames.
Has the brand been in production long enough to have a solid history or is it a flash-in-the-pan that may not be around in 10 years?
What about the table?
The table should be strong enough to stand on and walk around, my distributor uses his table to stand on when setting up his storefront at shows, he’s a big man and he has a helper standing up there with him. A quality table will be strong enough not to start vibrating when stitching at full speed, and stable enough not be able to be pushed over by leaning on the front roller bars when quilting from the front.
Avoid nylon or plastic fittings on your rollers or table, we all know they won’t last.
Are the rollers strong enough not to bend when you lean against them, any distortion of your rollers when a quilt is loaded will be reflected in your quilting, your patterns will run off line or will not line up on the next row.
The leaders are fabric that attach the quilt to the rollers by pins or other attaching tools. The leaders need to be heavy weight canvas, not light weight drill or plain cotton that will distort quickly leaving you with a quilt that has sagging areas giving pleats, puckers and heartache when you are finished quilting to find out the back is a mess and needs to be completely unpicked and redone.
Tracks are what your machine glides up and down the length of the table on. The track system is critical to the performance of your machine. Tracks should be perfectly smooth the entire length and you should not be able to derail your machine. Glide is the key word, any drag or heavy spots will cause fatigue and shoulder pain.
Can you sit down in front of your machine to quilt without banging the table legs or supports? If you can sit down you will increase your work time by avoiding fatigue. I have an architects chair, it has a circular foot rest and I scoot up and down the length of the table, I love it.
Are upgrades available for your machine?
If you want to trade up and buy a longer machine or one with different features in the future, can the same table be used? the best brands use one table for several machine lengths, this will save you thousands of dollars.
Can your machine support a computerised system?
The answer should be yes it can, if not, think hard before you spend your money as you may not want a computer system now, but might want it later on. Computerised systems are something we will not discuss in detail here, maybe in another post.
Get to know your local charities, they are very willing to provide tops for you to practice on without the anxiety of “real” customer quilts until you are confident to be open for business. They won’t mind if they aren’t perfect as someone will love them regardless. It’s win/win for all involved.