Depending on quilting a person expects to do and how much time you'd like to spend, an appropriate machine can cost less than $200 all the way up to $10,000 and more. Relax - most quilters are near the low end of this range. At the lowest end, you don't even need a machine at all. Despite the many tedious hours, some people still prefer traditional hand quilting for true pride in workmanship. At the next step, conventional sewing machines are fine for most, if not all, of the stages of making a quilt. Then there's a big step up to long-arm quilting machines, typically costing $1,000 to $2,000. Frames that move the machine and quilt can easily cost just as much. Finally, there are computerized and mechanized machines that can complete a quilt almost by themselves.
Essential stages of quilt making and the demands they place on quilting sewing machines.
The first step is making the individual squares. These can be almost any shape, and many people consider this to be the most creative step. Quilters can select various materials, colors, and fabric patterns, add embroidery and more.
This stage of quilting makes the least demands on the machine. Just about any good quality sewing machine will be fine. And if you're especially creative you might even do this by hand. Some people enjoy machines that can do embroidery patterns. Although more expensive than a basic machine, nowadays the added cost is relatively small, and the machines are quite easy to use. Quilting Machine
The next stage is putting all the pieces (squares) together. This is also quite creative as you combine colors and textures into patterns for the overall quilt. Here hand quilting can become quite tedious, but low-cost sewing machines are just fine. A table extension accessory can be handy, making it easier to maneuver things as the pieced quilt grows bigger and bigger. A long-arm machine is a bit more convenient here, but not a huge advantage.
The final stage is the quilting itself - combining the beautiful top layer with batting and a bottom layer. This involves a huge number of fairly regular stitches, so it's truly tedious to do this by hand. Almost everyone does some machine quilting here. It's this stage that puts the greatest demands on a quilting sewing machine. Most, but not all sewing machines can handle final quilting. The must have at least one quilting stitch and a quilting foot (which can often be added as a separate accessory). Sewing Cabinet
But with regular sewing machines, it can be time-consuming and a bit frustrating to manage the huge quilt under the small reach of the sewing head. Here's where long-arm machines shine, making this stage a whole lot easier. Having a frame that slides the machine one way and rolls the quilt the other way can make this final stage a breeze. But at thousands of dollars (and more), you need to be doing a lot of quilts to justify the cost. Many people do the squares and piecing themselves than pay someone a couple of hundred dollars to do the final quilting for them.
Choosing Your Machine
As you might expect, most people go for the lower-cost machines. It's important to choose a brand and model that's reliable, rugged, and has the stitches and feet you'll need. The singer is, of course, the best know brand. Other brands with good models for quilting include Brother, Janome, Juki, and Pfaff. A quilting sewing machine also needs to have enough power to handle the thick stack of front fabric, batting, and back fabric. If the model can handle denim and other heavy sewing tasks it should be fine. But make it a point to look for customer reviews with an eye out for those that mention quilting.