Long Arm vs Traditional Sewing Machines: Which Is Better for Quilting?

Most people who have been invested in quilting for some time will have their favorite tools and techniques. This includes the type of sewing machine they use. One of the biggest features that sets some sewing machines apart is that of a sit-down long arm quilting machine as compared to a traditional machine made for all types of sewing. Let’s take a look at the most significant differences between long arm vs traditional sewing machines for quilting.

long arm vs traditional sewing machines

Throat Space

The harp or throat space is the space between the needle and the body of the machine. When sewing something as large as a quilt, you often need more space to accommodate the bulk of the project. A traditional sewing machine made for basic sewing usually has between eight and nine inches of horizontal space in the throat. This can make it challenging to maneuver a quilt through the machine and cause you to do a less professional job of stitching.

A long arm sewing machine has a lot more throat space. Some machines have as much as twenty vertical inches to accommodate all types of large projects including quilts. This prevents you from having to reposition the quilt in the needle and sew in awkward positions when the quilt won’t fit through the opening.

It is important to note that there are also personal sewing machines available today that are designed for quilting and traditional sewing. Some of those from the top brands have a throat space that falls in-between that of the specialty long arm machines and traditional sewing machines. These machines may have a throat space of about twelve inches.

Every quilter has their own preference among these machine types. Some can get amazing results quilting on traditional sewing machines while others prefer to invest in a long arm machine that gives them greater flexibility.

Power and Speed

Long arm machines tend to be industrial grade and they are made with a more powerful motor. Most traditional machines have a maximum speed of between 800 and 1400 stitches per minute (SPM).

A long arm machine can go much faster due to its larger motor size. Some of these machines are powerful enough to reach speeds of well over 2000 spm. While this speed may not be needed for quilting, the additional power may be. When you start sewing through multiple layers of fabric, you need something powerful enough to push through the bulk and keep the layers aligned.

Again, there are traditional sewing machines that are commercial or industrial grade. They often have speeds and power that fall somewhere between those of the traditional sewing machines and long arm sewing machines.

long arm vs traditional sewing machines

Long Arm Vs Traditional Sewing Machines: Which Is Right for You?

Like any other quilter, you will need to make the decision about which type of machine is best for you. If you have never sewn on a long arm machine, be sure to try one out before making an investment. They are normally quite a bit more expensive than traditional machines.

You should also think about whether a long arm machine will fit into your existing space. These machines are much larger than regular sewing machines and they can take up a considerable portion of your workroom. If you don’t have a lot of space to start with, it probably isn’t the best choice for you.

Keep in mind that the reason many quilters prefer a traditional sewing machine is that they get great results without the added complication of a long arm. If you are specifically considering upgrading to improve your free-motion quilting, you should save your money and spend more of your time practicing.

Some quilters think that a long arm machine is programmed to the degree that it does almost all of the work. In reality, it doesn’t make it any easier for you to quilt or help you learn to quilt better faster. Instead of buying a machine with the hope that it will do the hard work for you, buy a machine that will do quality stitching so that you can grow your skills and become the quilter you want to be.


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