Best Long Arm Quilting Machine 2018: Comparison Reviews for Top Rated Brands and Models

Long-arm quilting machines are the passionate quilter’s dream machine! While they’re too expensive and space-consuming for us to recommend to most quilters, no traditional quilting machine can give you the speed, power, and workspace that one of these can.

In this guide, we’ll examine the pros and cons of working with a long-arm quilting machine, and introduce you to the models we think are the best on the market. We’ve written in-depth, comprehensive reviews for each of our favorites. Then, in our buying guide, we’ll help you decide which (if any) is the right choice for you!

Here’s a quick look at our recommendations, to get you started:

Best Long Arm Quilting Machine Reviews

best for long arm quilting
  • Tin Lizzie 18
  • Q’nique
  • Juki TL-2000QVP

1. Tin Lizzie 18 Sit-down Long-arm Quilting Machine

most affordable choice for a long-arm quilting

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The Tin Lizzie is a our most affordable choice for a long-arm quilting machine. It’s a sit-down model, so it essentially works like a souped-up tabletop quilting machine. You could compare it to a tricked-out version of the Brother PQ series model that we recommend in our Quilting guide.

We think this is a great long-arm choice for anyone who likes to do things the old-school way. It’s an all-manual machine that gives you lots of quilting bang for your buck. It’s as spacious as many machines twice the price, and built like a tank!

If you’re on a budget, or simply prefer something basic with no elaborate features, we suggest the Tin Lizzie 18!

Pros:

It’s a seated format, which is ideal for folks with bad backs or other issues which make standing for long periods painful. This one gives you the same workspace and throat clearance as much larger machines without the standing requirement!

Going for a sit-down model is also an easy way to save money. Good quilting stands aren’t cheap by any measure, so you’re saving at least $1000 by going with a sit-down model. For many buyers, that’s a big reason to stick with the seated format.

The table has been specifically designed for the machine. With a lot of less expensive sit-down models, you’re just given a generic table that doesn’t really complement the machine. This one is 30” H x 47″ W x 30″ D. It’s foldable, and also has a removable leaf (gives you an extra 2 feet).

On the whole, we think it’s super sturdy for a folding model, and the folding mechanism is dead simple to use. The leaf is hinged, too, making the whole assembly easier to store away. A very smooth worktop keeps things moving along without awkward snags or bunches

While it’s spacious, it’s still compact enough for the average home. You don’t need an exorbitant amount of space to set this up.

The machine has a very spacious 18” throat with 6” vertical clearance. An 18” throat is a lot larger than other sit-down models, and it’s the same length as our priciest pick! Realistically, that gives you about 15” of “actual” quilting area, which is fantastic.

It’s a heavy-duty workhorse! Inside the machine, you’re looking at an all gear-driven power transfer system. It’s a basic manual machine, but it’s built extremely well.

The Tin Lizzie has a cast aluminum sewing head, and nearly all metal construction except for a plastic cover over the gears. It also sports heavy-duty top shaft bearings and oil-impregnated bushings, as well as automatic hook lubrication.

While older oiled quilting machines like this could get quite messy, the Tin Lizzie is a closed system that won’t get oil on you or your quilts. It only needs occasional maintenance. Since you’re just topping up a tank, there’s no need to take the machine apart!

It has dual thread capability, just like the larger standing models.

It has an automatic needle-positioner, which will go up or down as you want, depending on the pedal position. It’s a terrific feature for ruler work. Adjusting the needle position can be done either on the machine or on the foot pedal, so you have lots of ergonomic flexibility.

The Tin Lizzie has a handy bobbin-winder which winds as you quilt, so you don’t have to build in any extra winding time. Since it uses the largest standard-size bobbin (M-class), you have plenty to get through between changes, too!

The variable-speed foot control makes the pedal as speedy or slow as you like. Speed levels from 1-15 give you lots of variety, and leave something for all skill levels.

The Tin Lizzie’s precise speed control leaves neat, even stitches, however fast you take it. It’s really impressive for a relatively inexpensive machine!

There’s also a setting for a basting stitch, for when you want to work on the edges of a piece.

All the adjustments are manual. If you’re an experienced, confident quilter, that can be a blessing. This machine is as good as your technique, and you never have to think about working against a computer.

If you’re frustrated by computerized machines, or just like to keep things simple, this is a great model for you!

It comes with a flexible worklamp. The arm can be bent any way you want it. So, you can get right up close for things like micro-stipples, or move it farther away to achieve pantographs.

It’s relatively light for a long-arm machine, at 43 pounds. That’s a good 10 pounds lighter than our most expensive pick. You probably won’t be picking this up often, but it makes for easier setup, particularly for older quilters!

This is by far the most affordable long-arm machine we’ve recommended, and it’s the least expensive machine that makes our grade for quality and ergonomics! You get a lot for your money, too. While you can’t stand and work at this machine, the throat space and workspace are outstanding. It’s also built extremely well, so it should last for years of daily use.

Cons:

Even though this is relatively affordable compared to other long-arm machines, $3000+ is still a heck of a lot of money to drop. We don’t recommend this to anyone who doesn’t quilt every day or every other day. It’s overkill for casual quilters.

It’s all manual, which can be either a plus or a minus depending on your skill level and workflow. There aren’t any frills at all, and while the gear system keeps things neat, you can’t even add a stitch regulator.

That requires good technique, and will force anyone with so-so technique to learn relatively quickly. On the other hand, it’ll do wonders for your intuition.

If you’re already good at manual adjustments and quilting without a computer, you should find this extremely enjoyable to use. If you’re a relative newcomer or used to having the machine help you out with technique, you might want to avoid the Tin Lizzie or plan on having a sizable learning curve.

The bobbin tray is an older design, with a sideways loading mechanism under the table. It’s not quite as ergonomic as the more modern Q’nique or Juki, even though we hardly consider it a deal-breaker!

You can’t do push-button sewing control. You have to keep the pedal pressed the whole time you sew. Some folks might find that annoying.

There’s no automatic thread-cutter or manual thread-cutter on the machine, so you’ll need to keep shears handy.

Being a sit-down model, it’s not as good for very large projects as a stand-up model.

2. Q’nique Long Arm Quilting Machine

automatic with full features quilting machine

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The Q’nique is our primary recommendation for quilters looking for a model to stand at. It’s a full-size long-arm quilting machine that comes with a frame so that you can hang your entire workpiece as you go.

The Q’nique is the absolute opposite of the Tin Lizzie: it’s packed full of automatic and convenient features which take a lot of the manual aspects out of quilting. That means you can work faster and more accurately without as much technique and finesse.

This is a great choice for people who prefer computerized sewing machines and want one on a large scale.

Pros:

It sews up to 1800 stitches per minute! There isn’t actually a top speed listed for the Tin Lizzie 18, but we’d say they’re about even.

It has a lot more in the way of amenities than the Tin Lizzie, given that the two machines cost roughly the same amount:

Of course, the most prominent difference is the fact that the Q’nique has an onboard computer. Its OLED screen is bright and legible. It displays sewing settings for your current project, as well as a user-friendly menu system.

It has stitch regulation built in. That’s a major advantage over the Tin Lizzie, since you can lean a bit on the computer instead of relying completely on your own instincts and skills. The regulator keeps stitches consistent as you change speeds!

It produces extremely neat, even stitches–without as much dependence on your own abilities as the Tin Lizzie.

There are four different sewing modes which you can choose from:

The first mode is “Precise”, and it’s the setting that kicks in your stitch regulation. It makes sure you get exact stitches per inch no matter how quickly you move along the quilt. It’ll also stop stitching when you stop moving the machine along.

The “Cruise” mode keeps the stitches per inch setting, and also adds a minimum stitch speed. It works in much the same way, always keeping your stitches consistent, but it lets you stop or slow your movement without stopping or going below the minimum stitch speed you’ve set.

The “Baste” mode is exactly what you’d expect. It’s for doing long basting stitches around your quilt’s edges. There are three stitch length options, and that’s that! It’s simple but convenient.

Finally, the “Manual” model puts you in charge of everything. You’ll control the stitch speed via the buttons on the handles, and the speed will remain constant no matter how fast or slow you move. It’s ideal for any sections where you want to make intricate patterns or fine details without being hampered by a computer system that thinks it knows best!

It places a big premium on ergonomics. You definitely pay more for this than the Tin Lizzie, for comparable performance and specs, but this is a lot easier to use. You can see all the settings on the front of the machine at a glance, and all the adjustments are front-facing and located right on the handles.

The comfort grip handles are a pleasure to use, too. We love how many of the controls have dedicated buttons right on the grips!

As with the Tin Lizzie, you can raise or lower the needle without touching the machine. Instead of using the footpedal, though, the Q’nique allows you to use buttons on the handles to raise and lower the needle. You can also hold them down to set your preferred needle stop position for when you’re done quilting.

Other buttons on the handles allow you to adjust your stitching speed via up and down buttons. If you enable the stitch regulation mode, they’ll also control your stitch length!

That’s done by adjusting the speed to ensure consistent stitches once you’ve set the stitches per inch you want. It works up to the the machine’s maximum speed, and can adjust automatically to your movements. It’s a very different way of working than the Tin Lizzie!

There’s also a very well thought-out feature that allows you to swap the control alignments for either right or left-handed configurations!

Like the Tin Lizzie, the Q’nique can wind bobbins as you work. It’ll also wind without the machine running, which is a great feature! You can stock up beforehand.

Also like the Tin Lizzie, this machine uses the oversized M-class bobbins. You can get lots of mileage out of each one, and wind a fresh bobbin while you quilt through your next.

It has an easy-access bobbin mechanism which is infinitely more convenient than the Tin Lizzie’s. The Q’nique’s is much more modern and ergonomic, even if this isn’t a make-or-break feature.

This one has dual-cone thread towers like the Tin Lizzie.

LED worklights are included, and they do a good job covering your main work area.

It’s very expandable! The Tin Lizzie is a heck of a workhorse, but it’s bare-bones and you can’t expand it much. The Q’nique is something that you can build off of as you go along. If you like to use different accessories, this one’s much more up your alley.

The biggest difference between this one and the Tin Lizzie is the format. The Q’nique is a standing model, so it comes with a stand out of the box instead of a table.

The Q’nique Quilting Frame is a carriage and track, dual-wheel system which makes for a super smooth experience. It comes with bungee clamps for the frame so that you can get perfect side tension for your quilts.

It’s also adjustable to fit quilts from king to crib sizes, so you can tweak your frame for each specific project!

The frame is made very sturdily, with a welded steel table and frame ends. It also has cast aluminum rail mounts, which make for easy assembly and fabric motion. The frame components are solid metal, and the only plastic is on the track (for smoother movement)

This system is compatible with the company’s QuiltMotion/Creative Touch software packages. If you want to be able to plan out your quilt projects digitally, you can do so on tablets or PC’s (Windows only).

The software is elaborate, but it’s relatively easy to use and has a massive pattern library to work with. It lets you make pantographs, add texts and fonts, and virtual patterns. You can even trace photographs and save the traced lines as stitch patterns! The machine will do all the hard work to achieve your planned design for you!

It comes with spare bobbins, needles, and ditties.

Cons:

While the Q’nique costs about the same as the Tin Lizzie when you look at the machine by itself, it adds another $1500-$2000 when you include the frame (which you absolutely need). That’s not especially high for a standing model, but it’s certainly a hefty chunk of change.

It has a smaller throat than the Tin Lizzie. That’s disappointing when you consider the fact that it’s a more expensive machine. The throat on this one is just 14”, compared to 18” on the Tin Lizzie.

It’s harder to set up than the Tin Lizzie. Some people had issues with the tensioning system. The Grace company (Q’nique’s parent) has great troubleshooting support, but it’s still a bit of a process to get up and running.

Even though it has lots of conveniences and amenities, thread-cutting isn’t one of them.

Since you have to use it with the frame, it takes up a lot of space. The frame takes up 126” at its longest setting, so be sure to measure your space before buying. Unless you have a dedicated crafting room, this one might be hard to find room for.

It’s not built quite as impressively as the Tin Lizzie. We don’t have any serious complaints about the Q-nique, but it’s not as industrial as the Tin Lizzie. You’re paying for features and convenience rather than industrial quality on this one.

3. Juki TL-2200best for long arm quilting

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The Juki is the most expensive machine of the three, but it’s the best all-around. Think of this as a slightly nicer, sit-down version of the Q’nique. It’s a similar format to the Tin Lizzie, but with lots more amenities and smart features.

The Juki is the fastest machine here, and it’s as fast as we think anyone needs. Even the most serious quilters shouldn’t have any issues getting ahead of this thing! It’s versatile, since you can set it up in either sit-down or standing formats. Plus, it offers most of the Q’nique’s features paired with the Tin Lizzie’s build quality!

If you sell your quilts, or enter them in competitions or exhibitions, we think this is the absolute best you can do!

Pros:

This is a relatively similar package to the Tin Lizzie. You get a sit-down, long-arm quilting machine plus a table with extension leaf. The standard table has a 35” width, plus the leaf (which adds another 2 feet).

The table’s height is adjustable between 30” and 34”, so you’re sure to find something comfortable.

The table is adjustable and folds down just like the Tin Lizzie’s. As with the cheaper model, the table is all-metal. It’s sturdy and very user-friendly to set up and take down.

You can add another leaf if you want even more space! So, you can make this even larger than the Tin Lizzie if you’re prepared to spend a few hundred dollars extra.

It has just as much throat space as the Tin Lizzie, at 18”. That’s the kind of workspace you should expect at this price! It puts the Q’nique to shame.

Where the Juki really seals the deal is the height clearance: 10”. That’s lots of maneuvering space for you, and it’s hard to express how much nicer it is to have the arm so far out of the way!

It’s a lot slimmer overall than the Tin Lizzie. The internal direct-drive motor is also super quiet. So, the whole thing is unobtrusive in a way that the industrial Tin Lizzie doesn’t quite match.

It’s the fastest of the three! You can sew up to 2200 stitches per minute on the Juki, which is absurdly fast. There’s no way anybody would describe this as laggardly. We think it’s at least as fast as any quilter could work, so even if you’re planning to get faster over time, you won’t be outgrowing this machine–ever.

It also gives you complete stitch control, much like the Q’nique’s system. It’s all managed by the smart computer system. It has a big, bright LCD touchscreen display that shows you needle position, stitching speed, and more. It’s fairly similar to the Q’nique’s computer, except it’s not as easy to hook up to a tablet or other software.

It has bright LED worklights, also similar to the Q’nique’s.

It has the same oversized M-class bobbins too, plus an independent bobbin winder. It works like the Q’nique’s, in that bobbins can be wound both when the machine is stitching and when it’s idle.

The bobbin case is enlarged, and the latch is redesigned to be user-friendly. It’s certainly easier to use than the Tin Lizzie’s, if not as painless as the Q’nique’s.

There are buttons to move the needle up and down, albeit located on the machine instead of on the handles as you’d find on the Q’nique. That’s the downside of having something designed to work in both sit-down and standing configurations–you end up with more of the controls on the machine.

There’s also a manual knob to move the needle yourself when the machine is off. It’s a nice backup that the Q’nique doesn’t feature.

It’s the only one of the three that has an automatic thread trimmer! This one’s actually the only one on the market right now with that feature.

While it may seem like an unimportant extra, it can be surprisingly efficient over a long project. You’ll find you save lots of time, especially since you don’t need to worry about knotting off your threads. The machine does it all for you!

You can also cut threads manually whenever you want, with a dedicated button on the touchscreen.

It has the best build quality of the three. The Juki is made entirely in Japan, by a brand that has an absolutely stellar reputation for quality and quality control.

It’s a dry-head system, which means there’s no lubrication to worry about. That makes this the least high-maintenance of the three!

You can convert it to a standing format with an additional Juki frame. That makes the cost close to $10K, which is why we haven’t recommended the standing package here. However, if budget isn’t an issue and you prefer to stand, the option is there.

Like the Q’nique, it’s expandable with several accessory ports.

Cons:

The work lights aren’t as flexible as the Tin Lizzie’s bendable lamp, but they do stay out of the way better. The illumination will either be a pro or con depending on your individual preference.

It doesn’t come with a physical manual. You’ll have to download and print it to get started, if you want a paper copy.

It’s extremely pricey, especially if you plan to buy the standing conversion kit. This isn’t something we’d recommend to anyone who’s not going to use it daily and do so for years.

It’s not as high-tech as the Q’nique, even though it costs more. This one isn’t going to help you use computerized patterns, or do any of the fun things you can do with a tablet hooked up to the Q’nique.

It’s very heavy, at 56 pounds.

Conclusion

Which of our recommendations should you buy?

The Tin Lizzie is the clear choice for manually-minded quilters who like to keep things simple. It’s also the most accessible of the three for people who don’t have a lot of income to devote to their quilting. Best of all, it’s built like a tank.

While it might not have as many features or conveniences as the computerized models, it’s extremely reliable and will perform as well as your technique and skill can command. Don’t buy it if you like to have some help from a computer, though. It’s all about you with this machine!

The Q’nique is a good mid-range choice for those who like the most computerized features and conveniences. It’s the opposite of the Tin Lizzie in that regard. It’s not the most industrial thing on the market, and it’s not as fast as the Juki, but it’s a relatively affordable standing model with a hell of a lot of features.

This one has an automatic trick up its sleeve for everything except thread-cutting. It’s best for folks who don’t like doing everything themselves. Get it if you want a standing model with conveniences but don’t want to or can’t afford to pay for the premium Juki.

If you want the best of the best, go for the Juki. It’s the fastest of the three, and the only one that offers the conveniences of automatic thread-cutting. The Juki combines the versatility of the Q’nique with the sturdiness of the Tin Lizzie. It also wins lots of points for working in both standing and seated configurations.

However, it’s so expensive that we can’t reasonably recommend it to very many people. It also doesn’t offer any extra computer features over the Q’nique, even though it costs more. In fact, it drops a few. This is something that you shouldn’t buy unless you either make money from quilting or have plenty of disposable income.

See also:

Having second thoughts about whether you really need a long-arm quilting machine? That’s totally reasonable. These are massive, expensive machines, and they’re overkill for most quilters. If you want something at a more palatable price bracket that still leaves you with a decent amount of power and workspace, try this Brother!

Brother PQ1500SL

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While it’s not totally fair to compare the Brother to a true long-arm machine, it’s certainly the next-best thing. It offers stitching speeds up to 1500spm, and heavy-duty build quality. It’s a straight-stitcher, just like these recommendations, and it’s an all-manual design. If you like the idea of having more workspace and power than you can get on a traditional sewing machine, but don’t want to shell out several thousand dollars, you should give this a look!

You can find our full review of the PQ1500SL in our guide to Quilting machines. That’s also a good place to find the rest of our recommendations in this category!

Buying Guide

As you’ll know by now, long-arm quilting machines are massive investments. You want to make sure you’re getting your ideal machine before you buy, because these aren’t exactly easy to return.

Here are a few areas to focus your attention as you’re making your decision:

Format

There are two main formats you’ll find long-arm quilting machines in.

Some models are configured as sit-down machines that you’d use on a table with a chair. In this setup, the machine stays in place, and you move the quilt around the worktop.

Sit-down models tend to be the cheapest, mostly because a table costs less to make than an elaborate quilting stand. They’re the best choice for folks with bad backs or leg pain, too.

Other long-arm machines are configured for standing use. They’re mounted on long stands, which have rollers which you use to set your quilt up. Standing models usually move along a track stretching the length of the stand, which allows you to sew across your quilt.

The rollers also make it easy to move your quilt around as you work. These are generally the best choices for very large quilts, and for elaborate patterns.

The very best long-arm quilting machines are designed to work in either format. However, conversion kits are very pricey, and often cost several thousand dollars on top of the cost of the machine.

So, we think it makes sense to know what you want up front, and avoid having to pay to convert your machine later.

Cost

Considering your budget when you’re in the market for a long-arm quilting machine is no small thing. These machines are exponentially pricier than your typical home sewing machine, so prepare your wallet!

You should be prepared to spend $2500 minimum for a decent manual, sit-down model, and as much as $10K for a top-notch, computerized, standing model.

With such a big investment, you need to be honest with yourself about whether or not one of these machines is really justifiable. If you quilt daily and are ambitious with your output, you could probably justify one.

However, unless you compete with your quilts or make money from selling them, $10K is an exorbitant amount to spend. Don’t buy one of those models unless cost isn’t an issue for you. In that case, go to town!

Think about how much use you’ll get out of your machine, the caliber of quilt you want to put put, and how much money you can afford to invest right now. Most of these models are available with financing plans as well, as is common for such a large item.

Workspace

As with any quilting machine, you should look for something that gives you lots of room to work! Here, that matter of choosing between the sit-down and standing formats becomes super important.

In general, standing long-arm quilting models give you the most room to spread your quilts out. That’s because you can use the rollers and height to your advantage, and cut the length at least in half by hanging your workpiece up.

With a sit-down model, you’re limited by the table size, and you know that at least some of your project will probably spill over the edge at some point if you’re not very careful.

If you’re looking at a standing model, the key thing to be aware of is the length of the stand. Longer stands accommodate wider quilts. If you work on very big pieces, you might find that a 4-roller stand is necessary to get the whole workpiece off the floor.

For sit-down models, you simply need to find the largest table you can accommodate in your home. Look at the factory-standard table, then see if any expansion leaves are available:

If not, you might consider buying an aftermarket table, or seeing if the table that comes with your machine can be purchased separately. If so, it could be worthwhile to simply buy another of the same table and clamp the two together.

Manual vs. Computerized

As with most types of sewing machine these days, long-arm quilting machines are available as manual models or computerized models. Think about which one suits you best! Computerized models usually cost more, but they offer lots of convenient features. If you use a manual model, you’ll have to do all the tweaking yourself, but you won’t spend as much, and you don’t have to worry about computers getting in your way.

The big difference between long-arm machines and standard home sewing machines is that these models don’t have feed dogs. They’re more like a straight-stitch or free motion sewing machine. That means that if you don’t have a computer, you’re going to be solely responsible for keeping your stitch lengths consistent.

If you’re confident and experienced, that shouldn’t be too difficult. You can always start at a slow speed and then turn things up as you become more comfortable with your machine.

However, if you don’t want to have that much pressure on yourself, a computerized model with a stitch regulator can be a worthwhile investment. One of these will make sure your stitches are always the same length, no matter how fast or slow you go.

While computerized long-arm models don’t have all the built-in stitches and patterns that machines with feed dogs do, they can help in more ways than neatening your stitches. They can help you plan patterns and designs, or allow you to make automatic speed and stitch length adjustments. It’s all a matter of preference!

Expandability

Lastly, you should think about your ability (or not) to expand your long-arm machine over time. If you get an all-manual model, you’re usually stuck with it. However, many computerized machines provide accessory ports or computer/tablet connectivity. These ports will let you add things like laser sites, ruler attachments, or other helpful tools later on.

If you’re a big features person, you should probably consider an expandable system. These are also excellent choices for folks who can’t make as big an investment up front, but eventually want a well-rounded workstation.

What’s Next

Having second thoughts about whether you really want to spring for one of these machines? Don’t worry. You can check out our guide to Quilting options for more models that we suggest to quilters, or aim for one of the nicer picks on our homepage! Both the Juki and Janome from our top three are ideal quilting machines, and we offer guidance on all our recommendations to help you discern how they’ll perform for quilting.

If you definitely want a long-arm machine but aren’t feeling sure about our recommendations, you might also have a look at other long-arm quilting machines from the same brands. There are plenty of models which we haven’t recommended here that you could also be happy with. The models we’ve recommended are also available in other bundles and configurations which could be more up your alley.

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