Long-arm Quilting: What Is It and How to Quilt Long-arm?

Jean Chaney
Jean Chaney
Research Writer
Jean is the brains behind her fashion label. She's a whiz with a needle and thread, and has been sewing since she was old enough to hold a pair of scissors. Jean has always read more
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Isabel Misner
Isabel Misner
Expert Consultant
A professional seamstress. Isabel has her own video blog where she shares her experience about all the aspects of sewing – from choosing suitable materials to step-by-step read more
Last updated: September 10, 2023
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The quilting field has transitioned from what it was in the 1920s. Today, you have the option to quilt using your hands or a machine. The long-arm quilting machine has helped many people start the beautiful art of quilting. But let us first understand what long-arm quilting is.

What is long-arm quilting?

Long-arm Quilting: What Is It and How to Quilt Long-arm?

Long-arm quilting is the process whereby you use a long-arm quilting machine. By using this machine, you can easily sew the quilt top, the quilt backing, and the batting to make a complete quilt. This type of quilting allows you to set the three layers of fabric on a frame and sew them all at once. It is the machine that rolls either vertically or horizontally hence allowing it to quilt while the fabric remains still. The machine can be operated manually or using a computer.

While hand quilting has been around for thousands of years, it wasn’t until 1871 when the quilting machine was invented. This earlier machine only had two bars that let a quilter move the fabric together with the frame beneath the machine. In the next seven years, though, a lot of modifications were made on this quilting machine to give us what we now know as the long-arm quilting machine. And by the turn of the century, there were plentiful of this machine’s patents and designs. For the longest time now, quilting machines have managed to excite newbies and veteran quilters and thus remaining relevant.

Types of long-arm quilting

Today, there are two major quilting styles you can go for with a long-arm quilting machine. If you are looking to create sophisticated designs and quilts, some machines come equipped with computers that create pantograph style design on a quilt top.

  • The custom work design – This is a time-consuming type of quilting since you will be working on several quilt blocks that each carry unique designs. It can be even more tiring and time-consuming if the customer wishes their quilt to come with unique sewing styles, such as meandering.
  • Pantograph designs – With this style, the design spans the entire length of the long-arm table. You will take the pantograph design and place it beneath the plastic layer. You should then trace the design using the laser. This type of quilting allows you to create a design running the entire length of the quilt and which can be repeated in rows or columns. It requires less concentration and less work hence preferred by many quilters.

Why opt for long-arm quilting

Long-arm Quilting: What Is It and How to Quilt Long-arm?

Hand quilting consumes typically a lot of time. You will find it to be particularly challenging to make large quilts, even if you have a quilting machine. With the help of a long-arm quilting machine, you get to save a lot of time. This is why, in recent years, more and more people are investing in this machine. Moreover, people who love quilts and who have sewing machines get to save some time after they have made their quilts. They can take their quilts to a professional long-arm quilter who then takes a short time to produce some brilliant artwork at a reasonable cost.

What is a long-arm quilting machine?

If you are new to quilting, you may already have heard of a complex machine that makes quilts within minutes. The quilting machine was invented close to the turn of 1900.  Over the years, it has been used by professional quilters to produce excellent designs and patterns. There is a need to understand what a long-arm quilting machine is and what benefits it affords you as a quilter.

A long-arm quilting machine was a plain and straightforward machine when it was invented in 1871. It came with a quilting frame and two bars. Then, users moved the quilting frame together with the quilt under the machine to make straight lines. Today, this quilting machine has an expansive frame measuring about 3 meters (9.8 ft) width by 4.25 meters (13 ft) in length. The table has a plastic part under where a pantograph is placed. The head of the machine boasts of industrial standard and length of at least 19 inches. The machine has several rollers on which you are supposed to attach your fabrics.

A long-arm quilting machine is a piece of large quilting equipment made to help you produce quilts more efficiently, especially if you are thinking of large quilts. It enables you to quilt a particular area before advancing the quilt. They require quite some investment both in money and space. It is a dream machine for many quilters.

How to quilt using long-arm?

Long-arm Quilting: What Is It and How to Quilt Long-arm?

Your long-arm is made up of a machine and the frame. A majority of long-arm frames come with rails or rollers that are meant to serve different functions during the quilting process. Here are easy to follow steps on how to quilt using a long-arm machine:

  1. Start with laying out all of the layers on the rollers. This is to make sure that everything is going to fit. Make sure that your backing fabric is 4” bigger than the top fabric on all sides. You should then confirm that your batting fabric is at least 2” gigger than your top fabric on all sides.
  2. It is also critical to know the different types of rollers on your long-arm. If your machine has four rollers, the one nearest the floor is called the quilt backing roller, and it is right next to the top roller. The pickup roller is the outermost and highest from the ground. The inner roller, which is not covered with canvas, is called the leveler bar.
  3. The backing fabric should have its right-hand side facing down. The batting fabric right-hand side should be facing up as well as the top fabric. There is no need to use pins as the fabrics will lay nicely on top of the rollers.
  4. Pull the dowel of the quilt backing roller below and over the quilt top roller first. You should then place the backing fabric over the rollers and place it about an inch over the dowel. Use leader grips to fasten the fabric to the dowel firmly. You can then drop the joined dowel and fabric into the frame. After which you should loosen up the lever. Roll the quilt backing roller until the fabric is well spread.
  5. It would be best if you then turned the backing roller while making sure the fabric is smooth and even on the roller. After all, the fabric is rolled on the backing roller, fasten the lever and repeat folding the dowel over the leveler bar just like you did with the backing roller.
  6. Pick the loose backing fabric end and attach it to the dowel, just like you did with the backing roller, after which you can drop the fabric into the frame. You should tighten the slack of the fabric over the pickup roller.
  7. Place the batting fabric on to the backing fabric up to the leveler bar. Leave a 2-finger width measurement. Remember, the fabric should pass under the quilt top bar. Repeat the same process with the top quilt but leave a 3-finger width measurement between the edge of the fabric and the leveler bar.
  8. Now you are ready to use the machine header for quilting whatever pattern you want on your well-arranged pieces of fabric.


The long-arm quilting machine is increasingly becoming popular in the quilting world. This is so mainly because the machine is a lot of fun to use, but it also presents you with the incredible ability to make amazing patterns over large pieces of quilts. Even though the machine is a bit expensive and some training is necessary for anyone who wishes to own it, the reward will be reaped for decades to come. For a quilter who is thinking of going professional, there is no other better investment to think of.

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