Shopping For a LongArm

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!

Diane’s Innova

You could literally move the machine with a fingertip.  It was that smooth.

Here’s Vanessa stitching on JoAnn’s Innova.

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:

APQS Millennium

HandiQuilter Avante`

A-1 Elite

ABM Innova

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.

Wonderful Michael

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.  🙂

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25 Comments

  1. Can I tell you that there were times I wanted to reach through the computer and shake you to get your attention??? LOL You never did tell us what size Innova you got! Welcome to the Innova family – I’ve had mine for 4 years and love it!!!

    Reply
  2. GMAIL

     /  September 25, 2012

    Thanks for the timely info on longarms. I am going to be purchasing a 22″ Innova very soon and it basically reassured me about my decision. I’m only 5’1″ so decided to go with the 22 also. Do you have the panto setup with the computer screen? I like to freehand with my current short arm and it seems a bit tedious to do those repetitive pantos but I do plan to quilt for others some ( but not non-stop). My general impression is, get what you need or want when you order your frame right off the bat ( or the batting). What’s your take on the panto set-up? Wait and see or go for it because you’ll love it? I’m getting the lightning stitch so that has hiked the price some for me….

    Sent from my iPad

    Reply
    • If you can swing PantoVision, I say go for it. It’s not just panto’s that you can use it for. You can put specific designs in different blocks. If you’re going to be doing customer quilts, you’ll probably be doing some panto work. The advantage to PV is the ability to pause and check your work without having to walk around the machine. You’re already on the front! Congrats on your decision to get an Innova.

      Reply
  3. Lisa

     /  September 25, 2012

    I want to thank you so very much for this info, this has really opened my eyes to what all to look for, and check out. I never would have thought of a lot the things you have listed.
    I’ve been thinking about wanting one for several years, but that’s as far as it went. DH & I don’t see eye-to-eye on this subject. You are so lucky to have a man like yours. Not very many husbands would do all that crawling around to check things out.
    I had been thinking about the Millennem, and I was glad to see you rated it in your top choices. This has really given me something to go on, if my time ever comes.
    Thanks Again,
    Lisa in Alabama
    P.S. Loving the CTS.

    Reply
    • Hi Lisa. I’m glad you’re enjoying CTS. The final blocks are coming up next weekend!
      My DH is a keeper for sure. He has all sorts of stuff so he was in favor of me getting a long arm.

      Reply
  4. Congratulations on your new purchase! I hope you have many happy quilting hours.

    Reply
  5. quiltapillow

     /  September 25, 2012

    Thanks for the spread sheets and info!

    Reply
  6. Laura

     /  September 25, 2012

    I am thrilled to read your post.
    I just had my 26″ with 12′ frame delivered and installed in July. I am on the west coast in Canada and ABM gave me a fantastic deal at MQX West in Portland last year. They sent Keith to my house for 2 1/2 days to set it all up and give me a lesson. I am totally new at longarming and am in total love with my Innova. I was close to purchasing a Millenium until I test drove the Innova.
    ABM also paid for 3 days of hands on training which I chose to fly to St George, Utah to Let’s Quilt to spend the days with Teryl who is a superb teacher. I also got a 4th day of training paid for just to get training on Auto Pilot (computerized system).
    ABM truly provides 24/7 service.
    Laura

    Reply
    • Hi Laura. Don’t you just love your Innova? Teryl and John are fabulous at Let’s Quilt. That’s where I got my training also.

      Reply
  7. Welcome to the family. I, too, test drove every machine they allowed me to touch. once I drove an Innova the decision was made. one advantage you didn’t mention is that it will use any thread you put on it.
    maggie

    Reply
  8. Sheryl — kudo’s to you for all the investigative work — and for sharing it with us! I’ve downloaded the spreadsheet for a day in the future when I might have the room for a long arm machine. For now, I’ll keep working on my 18″ Janome Horizon DSM — I do love it!.

    Karen

    Reply
    • Hi Karen. I hope it helps you gather all the info you need. Your Janome is large enough to serve you pretty well!

      Reply
  9. Marla Southers

     /  September 25, 2012

    Wonderful article Sheryl. This should be printed in a magazine for everyone to read! I am so proud to know you!

    Reply
  10. cjones9258@comcast.net

     /  September 28, 2012

    I cannot afford a longarm at this time,but was considering getting a grace frame for my brother 1500q to see if I like it. Are you saying that there is a problem using a grace frame because they are piece? thanks for the info!

    Reply
    • My grace frame is the GMQ which was the original Grace frame for machines. The track that the machine carriage rides on was in sections rather than being a continuous piece. Any time you move the machine over those junctions, there is a bump. It’s just inevitable. When an upgrade continuous track was available, I bought it only to have problems with the machine making dents in the track….so same problem.

      I don’t know anything about the frames that Grace now makes & sells. I would hope they’re better. There’s a post somewhere on the blog about my experience.

      I would just suggest that you thoroughly investigate the track on “any” frame you look at before you buy. Hope this helps.

      Reply
  11. Hi Sheryl

    I’m visiting here from homequiltingsystems yahoo group. I live in New Zealand and have just purchased a pre-loved 17″ Nolting Fun Quilter on a Hinterberg stretch frame. It arrives next week.

    You will think I am mad because I have not laid eyes on this machine, but it is being sold to me by the Nolting dealer. The previous owner is upgrading. she lives in the South island and I live in the North Island so it wasn’t possible to go and try it. The dealer lives about 5 hours north of me. She and her husband have driven to the South island to deliver the new machine to its owner and is delivering my machine on their return trip.

    I did try out the Fun Quilter a year ago but I had my heart set on a HQ Avante. In the end it proved too expensive for me so I didn’t buy anything. What I am getting is costing me half of what I would have paid for the HQ and for me it is affordable. I think I can trust the dealer because it is a very small market in New Zealand and word gets around pretty quick if things are not right. So, yes, it is a risk, but one I felt was worth taking as the timing was also suitable for me. The proof of the pudding, as they say . . .

    Thank you for the link to your spreadsheet. A very useful thing to have when shopping. One question, what is the difference between the hopping foot and the stippling foot? (Can you tell I am a newby to LA quilting!!)

    Reply
    • Hi Helen. Sorry for the late reply. I’m not really an expert either but i think a stippling foot is used on a sit-down system. Have you ever used a quilting foot on a regular machine? It has a bar that goes over the needle screw so that every time the needle raises, the foot also raises off the fabric. The hopping foot does that motion and is used on a longarm or other stand-up system. Hope this helps.

      Reply
  12. Pam C

     /  October 13, 2012

    Thanks for this excellent article. I bought my Voyager before testing any other machines. I have had major problems with it and it has major cosmetic defects that I was told were not covered by the warranty. Even though it was on the low end for price, it was a lot of money for me. I feel as though I got a second/defective machine at full price. How wonderful for you that they were no longer making them when you finally decided on your system. I have a friend who sold her Voyager to get an Innova and she loves it.

    Reply
    • I’m so sorry you’ve had so many problems. At the time that I considered it, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money and I wound up with a Grace frame and Juki. The Juki is a wonderful machine but is severely limited in space. I still was able to learn a lot about machine quilting with it.

      I had heard that the “weld” where the Voyager was stretched was a cosmetically challenged area. I wouldn’t like that either.

      I hope you’re able to get a system you really love!

      Reply
  13. Ginny

     /  August 9, 2014

    It’s been a few years since you got your innova. How is it holding up? Do you still like it? Spill the beans! I am in the market for a long arm and came across your very helpful post. I have printed off your comparison sheet and will use it this next weekend at the quilt show. Thank you for your post and sheet.

    Reply
    • farmquilter

       /  August 29, 2014

      Ginny, I have had an Innova for 6 years and LOVE LOVE LOVE it! When I have any kind of problem – even just not being able to get the tension balanced to my standards, I have a 24/7/365 number to call for a free human tech who will walk me through anything, any time, even Christmas day afternoon, yep, I called! I rarely need to call, but I must admit that my Innova is my first (and only) longarm, so usually when I call it is just due to my ignorance or discomfort of doing something to my machine without someone holding my hand – that has dramatically decreased with years of using the machine without harming it. Just last week I was using a ruler to guide my machine and hit the ruler with my hopping foot…took a chunk out of my ruler (first time ever), but did NOTHING to my Innova! I have had to time my machine 4 times – a bit over a year between each timing, which is significantly less than other machines – it is an ordeal for me because my vision isn’t good enough to do it so my hubby has to do it for me. I only have to put oil in my bobbin race, not is several places all over the machine where it will drip down on my quilt, and I only do it every couple of bobbin changes or once a day when I quit for the day. I can use ANY thread made by Superior Threads as a top thread, even the ones they say are for bobbin work only. Other than upgrading to their Lightning Stitch or the computerized quilting, I can add on any upgrade by myself. I did upgrade to the Lightning Stitch and love the way I can go in and out of points at any speed with no short or long stitches – I would highly recommend this upgrade at the time of your purchase. The Innova also has a couching attachment that will actually produce a straight line stitch on the back of your quilt, not a zigzag. Sorry I just got notification of this post today…rather late for your show in early August.

      Reply
  14. Niki grimsley

     /  February 27, 2016

    So happy I found your page!!! I was debating three longarm machines, Gammill, APQS and Innova. This weekend I test drove all three at Mid-Atlantic Quilt Fest and wish I had your spreadsheet with me. Some things I didn’t think of…. I think I need to keep researching a few things but so far the Innova has risen to the top of the list for me. Do you have a new link to the article by Renae Haddadin? This link doesn’t work and I couldn’t find it on her website. I would love to read her thoughts. Thank you again for such a great article.

    Reply

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