I wanted to do a more in-depth explanation of what prompted me to upgrade my machine and why I picked my new one: an Innova 22″ with Lightning Stitch. It probably goes without saying but just for clarity’s sake: I bought my machine myself, I am not in any way affiliated with Innova, or anyone else for that matter. I wanted to definitely make that clear because this post may kind of come off like a sales pitch since I’m talking about why I purchased a new machine that I’m enthusiastic about, but it’s not. 😛
And for shout-out’s sake, my dealer is Hunter Heirloom Quilting in Missouri. I highly recommend them. They have been an absolute pleasure to do business with, and are just great, great people. Amy, thank you for everything!!
I bought my first longarm in pretty much the opposite way of how it’s widely recommended to make that kind of a purchase. If you go browse forums where people have asked any questions about how to pick a machine, you’ll see a lot of the same advice given over and over: go test drive as many models as you can! dealer support! manufacturer support! warranty! find what fits!
I bought my Gammill Premier off of eBay from a girl who was selling it for her grandmother about 4 hours away from me. I didn’t see it or touch it for the first time until after I had paid for it. The young woman I bought it from was very nice, but not a quilter, so she was no help for me at all. I had to figure everything out on my own entirely. For me at that time, having absolutely zero longarm experience, my biggest concern was cost. We had just purchased a house. I had to find a machine I could afford to pay for in cash.
I don’t regret that purchase one bit. I quilted away happily with that machine for years. It’s a great machine. The benefit of upgrading with experience under your belt is that you aren’t taking a shot in the dark. I know how I quilt. I know the kind of work I do, the kind of work I’d like to do… I have a frame of reference.
Without further ado, these are the things that are important to me, the things that prompted me to upgrade, and what I looked for in my search for a new machine:
Visibility. I stand in front of my machine 100% of the time and do everything freehand. I am also a pretty tall person (5’8″, for the curious), and I quickly discovered that at my height and the height of my table, I was looking down at the light bar on the handles of my machine. Sure, I could see what I was stitching around the needle area, but I couldn’t really see what I was stitching up to. I never thought to take a picture of my perspective looking down, but here’s a couple that I think give you the idea:
I ended up compensating for this by hunching over, and it killed my back. I couldn’t quilt for long periods at a time without a lot of back strain, which slowed me down quite a bit. So, visibility was a huge factor for me in my decision-making, and #1 on my list.
Stitch regulator. I do custom work and ruler work very frequently. Not having a stitch regulator when you’re doing a lot of ruler work is kind of a major pain. And it’s hard to get a nice, even stitch length if you’re turning your machine on at the start of each line and turning it off at the end… you have to take off quickly and slow down just right. So a stitch regulator was a must. At the same time, I learned how to quilt without a regulator. I quilt fast. I didn’t want to buy a machine with a regulator that would slow me down, or that I would rarely use because of its speed and/or responsiveness. I just wanted a regulator that does its job without extra effort from me. I’ve spent years quilting without thinking of a regulator and I don’t want to start now.
Channel lock was another. If you’re doing a lot of horizontal or vertical lines, the ability to lock your wheels in either direction makes that fantastically easy. I wanted it.
Increased throat space. This was on my list in last place, which might seem weird, but it’s true. My Gammill Premier had an 18″ throat, and of all the things that I felt were holding me back as a longarmer, the throat size really wasn’t one of them. Sure, a bigger throat is always nice because you don’t have to roll as often and it’s easier to do large blocks, but in longarm machines, inches cost you thousands. I definitely did not want to go smaller, but if I had to stay the same to get everything else that I wanted affordably, I was willing to make that trade.
So, that was my list. There are a LOT of bells and whistles out there. Hydraulic table lift. Power fabric advance. Cameras mounted below so you can see the bobbin tension without crawling under your table. I mean, some seriously cool, cool stuff. Again, the benefit of having a frame of reference is that it helped me whittle down the available options to the “must haves” vs the “cool, but don’t needs”.
I think it can get really easy when you start to shop around to see all of these things and sort of internalize that you HAVE to have this stuff to be able to quilt, to be successful, to do good work, etc. There are two things I have come to believe to be true that might seem contradictory, but I think are not when balanced with each other:
1. Your machine is a tool. It will only ever be as good as you are. If you don’t put in the time to practice and the effort to improve your skills, it doesn’t matter if you have the absolute best, top-of-the-line longarm machine in existence. They aren’t magical.
2. That said, it is possible to be limited by your machine, so buy the best you can afford. If you spend most of your time compensating for your machine, or it really isn’t the best tool for you, the friction you’ll encounter can be really frustrating. And there’s nothing like frustration to stifle your creativity and desire to quilt. Think of it this way: you can paint a wall with a paintbrush instead of a roller, but it’s not going to be as efficient or do as good of a job.
So! I purchased an Innova 22″ with Lightning Stitch. Here’s why I felt it matched my list of wants better than anything else, and other pros that sold me:
Check out this visibility, man!! My field of vision is wide, wide open. There is nothing more valuable to me than that.
Lightning Stitch. There is no other stitch regulator like it. It can keep up with me no matter how fast or (equally as important) slow I go. No funky long stitches coming out of points. Just smooth, even stitches without me bending over backwards to accommodate equipment that should be accommodating me.
Larger throat and channel lock. Check, and check.
Modular machine. This means that there is no difference between the models besides throat size. You don’t have to make hard choices and compromises. If there is a feature you want after you’ve purchased your machine, you can have it. Anything Innova offers can be retrofitted to the machine that you have. This is huge to me. I don’t want some amazing new feature to come out in five years and have to trade in my machine to buy a new one to get it. I just want to get it. Once you get used to the feel of a machine and how it moves and you know it like the back of your hand… it’s rough to switch to another.
Pro frame. Relatedly, all Innova machines come with the Pro frame. I found over and over in my searching instances where I was looking at Machine X, but I didn’t like X Frame, I liked Y Frame… but I didn’t want Machine Y, if that makes sense. What I like about the Pro frame is that it has a gas-assisted lifting top fabric bar, so you can straighten the batting, a continuous track, and after hand-cranking the take-up bar to raise and lower it, I’m delighted to be moving to a four bar system. I also like that the table legs are adjustable up to 13″, so my table can definitely be as high as I need it to be.
Another thing I noticed as I was searching around is that there are virtually no used Innovas for sale. They’re almost like unicorns. When one does pop up, it gets snatched up immediately, and they’re super, super hard to find. That says something to me as a buyer. And sure- you would expect to see more used machines for sale from brands that have been around for a long time simply because mathematically speaking, there’s more of them out there. But even accounting for that, it seemed to me that people who buy their Innovas love them and keep them. That’s a pretty huge endorsement of their product.
Beyond that, so many quilters that I admire, who quilt how I like to quilt, have made the switch to Innova. I’ve never been someone who has felt the need to buy something just because someone else has it, but it’s hard not to notice this and consider why that would be.
I had a lot of fun with my Gammill, and it will always have a place in my heart as my first machine… the machine I started my business with and learned how to longarm with. It was a great purchase. However, for the kind of quilting I do, and the workload that comes with quilting for others, it wasn’t meeting my needs anymore.
I’m looking forward to many, many years of quilting with my new machine!