If you love quilting, there is a good chance that at some stage you will be tempted to purchase a sewing machine which specializes in all those seemingly difficult stitches which could add a special touch to the labor of love which goes into making a quilt. Many of the newer machines on the market have features which might send you into a quilter’s heaven. The truth is though, that while these features, such as a stitch regulator, can make some quilting tasks easier, they do not necessarily magically turn you into a good quilter. The machines which are laden with technological features are great if you can afford it, but when it comes to quilting, some things are more important than others and many older machines actually already have the necessary features.
The Right Machine for You
If you are going to quilt, you will be spending a lot of time with your machine. You literally need to love it like your best friend. Quilting tasks are repetitive and there are lots of them, so if you don’t like your machine, you are not going to want to sit at it to do those tasks. Nor will you want to spend time practising to improve your skills. You could have the most expensive sewing machine in the world, but if you don’t feel comfortable using it for long periods of time it’s not the best sewing machine for quilting.
Sew a Straight Stitch
This might sound pretty basic, but it’s absolutely essential for piecing and quilting. A lot of small fabric pieces go into making a quilt and they must be pieced perfectly if the overall effect is to be pleasing to the eye. The only way to find out is to go and test the machine. Features always look great in print, but they don’t prove that the stitches will be straight. You should take some small fabric samples, threads and batting which you would normally use for your projects and test them on the machine you are thinking of buying. You should be able to easily adjust the tension to ensure the stiches are straight and not puckered, on all thicknesses of the various materials you have brought to test out.
Techie Must Haves on the Machine
These often come as generic but it is best for quilting if you have a variety of machine feet which have been specially designed for the particular brand of machine you are thinking of buying. The feet you will need as a minimum are a walking foot, a free motion or darning foot, an edge stitching foot, and an open toe applique foot. The edge stitching foot will ensure you produce an accurate ¼ inch seam when piecing. If it isn’t available for your brand, then the ¼ inch foot will also work. The open toe applique foot will be necessary for decorative stitching should you wish to decorate individual fabric pieces before piecing.
Blind Hem and Zig Zag Stitches
These are necessary for any applique work you might want to do and will require you to adjust the tension, length and width of stitches. Most machines will have this feature.
A Sound Motor
When you are quilting, you will be stitching without stopping for long periods. It is imperative that the motor in the machine does not overheat while you are doing this. When you are piecing, you will not be constantly running the machine because you need to trim and press as well as stitch. When quilting, you could be stitching for hours.
The Ability to Disengage the Feed Dogs
You need to do this if you are free motion quilting. On new model machines, you can press a button to lower and raise them. Older machines will generally have a cover which you can put on to keep them out of the way. Either way, you need to be able to have them out of the way for free motion quilting.
Needle Position Control Should be Adjustable
You will need to be able to adjust the height of the needle when stopping the machine and you will need it when piecing, appliqueing and quilting. Ideally, you should be able to choose have the needle in either the up or down position when you stop the machine.
This is excellent for chain piecing. You can raise the presser foot a little while the needle in down in the fabric when you stop the machine.
This is a useful function to have for free motion quilting to aid control. It will allow you to place a limit on the speed of the machine when the pedal is pressed completely down and can save you from making mistakes which could take hours to fix.
Your machine will come with a regular one with an oval hole and the needle will pass through it while you are stitching. You can get a single stitch throat plate which comes with a small round hole instead and it helps to create perfectly straight stitches, especially with free motion machine quilting.
The Bells and Whistles
Yes they are wonderful, but not entirely necessary and if you cannot afford a machine which has them, your quilting will not be any the worse for wear. There are basically three features to consider.
Some sewing machines which are designed for quilting will typically have a larger area than usual to the right of the needle.
This is a biggie. If you buy a machine with one of these, you will be able to do free motion quilting with the feed dogs down and still do even stitching. Sewing machines for quilting are frequently advertised with this feature. It is however, very expensive. If you have the features as per above, you can learn to do free motion quilting with some practice (as well as the dedication and time to do the practice).
If you are going to make crazy quilts and nothing else, this can be a very useful feature. However, if you are doing piecing, applique, free motion and walking foot quilting, it really isn’t necessary.
The best sewing machine for quilting is one you can afford which has the features you need. The only thing to really think about other than this is that you will be using the machine a lot and your skill will increase with practice Saving a couple of hundred dollars today, may cost you in the long run when you find you need a machine with a few more features. On the other hand there is a big difference between useful features and bells and whistles – often a couple of thousand dollars.
The best machine for quilting isn’t necessary top of the range, a big brand name or even new for that matter. It has to has to be a machine you can afford, has the features you want and one you have personally tested out and know you will feel comfortable with.