WARNING—-LONG—LONG—LONG POST AHEAD!
A few days ago someone on one of the machine quilting groups began a discussion about looking to buy a first longarm. An analogy was made in regard to the Gammill supposedly being the Cadillac of longarms. There are a lot of us non-Gammill owners who would strongly disagree with that position. I think we all realize that no one machine is going to be the perfect fit for everyone and what one person thinks is the cream of the crop is not going to be the same opinion for someone else. —–ADDENDUM: I got a private message that said if Gammill is the Cadillac of longarms, then our Innova machines must be the Ferrari. I think that must be true!——————-
Please don’t think I’m talking down about this person because I’m not. It got me to thinking about my quest for a longarm and I thought maybe someone looking might benefit from my experience….so here we are. I hope no one buys a longarm based on name recognition alone. Reputation is important but there are other things that come into play.
Last year about this time, I was seriously in the market for a longarm. I had been looking at them and trying them out in Houston for years. These purchases are best done after taking some time to do a lot of research because a lot of money is involved.
Over the years, I’ve looked at all kinds of machines. For myself, Gammill isn’t a good fit. I don’t like the weight of the machine and I’ve heard that a certain company (who I’ve sworn off of) now makes the frames for Gammill. I considered a Voyager a long time ago but they’re no longer made. I wasn’t in love with the Nolting. I haven’t tested a Prodigy and because of the terrible tornado in Missouri, they were not in Houston last year. Each of these brands have their own following and every quilter who owns one of these will love it. That’s as it should be.
I was convinced that I wanted a HandiQuilter Avante`. Kimmy Brunner went from a larger longarm to an Avante` and I thought if it was good enough for her, then it surely would be good enough for me. I had gone all the way to Lafayette, LA to see one and try it out in person. I was so impressed with it….until I found that the track is not a single piece. Remember my unhappiness with the pieced track on my Grace frame? Even knowing that, I still really liked the Avante`.
I belong to a group on yahoo that I dearly love called “HomeQuiltingSystems” and frequently there is talk about choosing a longarm. I mentioned my infatuation with the Avante` and I got replies from 2 very nice women in my area who own an Innova. So I made appointments with them and visited both to see this machine I had never heard about. Oh My Goodness! I was in love!
You could literally move the machine with a fingertip. It was that smooth.
Here’s Vanessa stitching on JoAnn’s Innova.
Even though I was now craving an Innova, I knew I still had to do more research and testing to make sure I would be happy with my purchase. I checked websites of as many systems as I could. I printed off tons of pictures and information and started folders for each company that I looked at (lots and lots of folders!) I ordered brochures, DVD’s, etc. I created a monster spread sheet that included all the questions I thought I needed answers to and things that were important to me to know.
I’m vertically challenged so I thought an 18″ would be the perfect size. I have vision issues also and I knew that I would not be able to see the back of a long reach very well. DH was in favor of me getting a 24-26 inch machine so that topic was discussed a lot at our house.
The brochures and DVD’s starting arriving and I intensely got into my research. I checked the message archives of the yahoo group for as many comments as I could find. I checked their files for information and the photo albums to see how different people customized their systems in their homes.
I narrowed my choices down to:
It didn’t take long for the Millennium to get marked off the list. It beeps when in stitch regulated mode. That would drive me stark raving mad. It might not bother others but I very quickly get annoyed at little noises like that. Although I really like the machine and my friend Judy could have been my dealer, I know I would take a hammer to that beeper thingy in short order. 😦
I replaced it’s spot on the spread sheet with the HandiQuilter Fusion. The size would make DH happy so I would check it out while at the HQ booth.
I dragged DH to the Houston show with me to help me in my selection. We started at the ABM booth and I got out my trusty spreadsheet. We started asking questions and testing the machine. DH checked the frame up one side and down the other. He works with equipment/machinery every day so he knows quality and function-ability when he see’s it. I strongly encourage you to take your DH with you to check out systems. They look at things from a whole different perspective than most of us and can offer really good advice (if we let them).
After thoroughly grilling Neil & Michael and anyone else who would talk to us about the Innova, we left the booth to check out the HandiQuilter machines. They were very nice and answered all my questions while I worked with that big ole spread sheet. They never tried to hurry me along. I tested the Avante` again. DH checked out the frame. I still liked the Avante` but the track still was pieced and not continuous. I tested the Fusion. I hated the way it felt and DH wasn’t so crazy about it either but we didn’t totally mark them off the list because the price was pretty competitive.
We headed to the A-1 booth and this is where the hunting got serious. I loved the machine. I loved the stitches it made I loved the frame. I loved the way the machine moved on the frame. I liked the lift system that came with the frame. I loved the fabric advance system that came with the frame. I just loved this system. DH liked it also. He crawled on the floor underneath it. I went through my spread sheet questions with them. The price was really enticing. There were some things we really didn’t like though. We didn’t like the motor being mounted on the outside. We didn’t like the toggle type switches. And DH didn’t like that hydraulics were used in the lift system because he says they’re very prone to leaking.
So…..back to the ABM booth and I pulled that spread sheet out again. I tested the stitching more. I checked out the newest thing for longarming…PantoVision…and DH crawled on the floor some more. I filled in the answers to more questions and then we started talking prices. Somewhere in the middle of all this testing, we took a lunch break to go over what we had seen so far. I was pretty much down to either the Innova or the A-1 but DH thought we should look at the HandiQuilters again just to be sure. I mean…we were already in Houston so why not?
After lunch….another trip to the ABM booth where Neal asked what he had to do sell me a machine. Lol. We were practically old friends by now. I played some more and then we made another trip to the HandiQuilter booth to ask just a few more questions and look at the frames again. I finally marked them off the list.
Another trip to the A-1 booth with more questions….more stitching….more of DH crawling on the floor watching the machine move..the tensionology fabric advance system work…more….more…more. We found a quiet place to sit and talk for a few minutes so we could share opinions.
A final trip to the ABM booth and Neal was gone for the day but Heidi answered more questions…..Sherry Rogers Harrison showed me more about PantoVision….and we finally sat down to order my system.
Buying an Innova is almost like getting a new family. They pretty much all know me as the lady with the gigantic spread sheet. They’re almost like the postal service in that wind, rain, etc. doesn’t stop their deliveries.
No one can top ABM’s customer service policy. There is 24/7 customer service. Michael is almost always the one taking calls. He’ll walk you through every conceivable problem until he’s satisfied that the issue is resolved. This is a family owned business that has 70 years experience in the commercial quilting machine business. The systems are built in the Houston area. They take pride in their product.
I had a problem with my machine that started right after Joe & Chuck installed it. I talked to Michael and he drove from Houston to my house that weekend to replace a module. That machine is spot on ever since.
Now, I know this has been a long story, but if you’re seriously thinking about buying a longarm….then you need to know that it takes time for research. It takes time to look at the systems and thoroughly check them out.
If you’ve read this far and you would like to use my spread sheet for your own research, here’s the link. It’s 9 legal paper sized sheets so it’s pretty lengthy but there’s room to write your info. If you can think of anything that should be added, let me know and I’ll do an updated version to post for anyone who wants it.
Renae Haddadin wrote an excellent article about shopping for a longarm. I strongly encourage you to visit her site and read it carefully. She offers very good advice on the subject. You’ll need to add the free article to the shopping cart but you don’t have to buy anything else.
Ok….that’s enough for now. I’ll be happy to try to answer any questions and just remember that I wrote this from my own perspective and have no issues with other companies (except one) so if you choose a different machine than an Innova….I might think you could have done better, but I’ll respect your right to buy what you think is best for you and I won’t talk bad about your machine. 🙂