Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Renting a Longarm: Part I: The Why

I recently was asked by a blog reader if I had any advice for someone about to rent a longarm quilting machine for the first time.  I started renting a longarm regularly in 2010.  I was a regular at Laurena's Longarm Quilting in Burlington, MA and since moving to CO, I found JukeBox Quilts in Ft. Collins.  In this post, I am going to address why you might want to rent a longarm and what to look for when you are making your decision of where to go.  In my next post, I will explain what to expect and how to be prepared.

Renting a longarm is a great option for people who:
  • Actually have that service available nearby for an affordable cost
  • Want to be involved in every step of completing their quilts
  • Want to learn about long-arm quilting and gain experience
  • Want to save money quilting their quilts
  • Would like to avoiding the frustrations that often accompany quilting (big) quilts on their domestic machine
  • Are considering buying a longarm and would like to try it out first.

(Many people do not even know what a longarm quilting machine it is: here's a picture of my mom using one.  How-to-quilt.com defines it as, "a special sewing machine that is used for machine quilting a quilt. The quilt is held taut on a large frame while the machine arm moves freely allowing the operator to create a quilting design on the quilt using free motion.")

I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I stopped by Laurena's years ago.  I had my infant son with me and had driven by Laurena's studio several times- I finally got the courage to drop in.  Laurena kindly gave my son empty thread cones to play with while we talked and it wasn't long before I took her class, quilted lots of quilts at her studio, and invited her to host the Boston Modern Quilt Guild at her studio for a meeting.  Now I am addicted to making big quilts and I dream of owning a longarm someday.

I decided I wanted to rent a longarm because I do not enjoy quilting large quilts on my domestic machine.  I know that many people do it and don't complain, but I find it very unpleasant and I am not thrilled with the results.  I also do not want to pay other people to quilt my quilts for me: the first (and last time) I did that, it cost nearly $300 for a queen-sized quilt.  Although I was happy with the results, it was too expensive for our budget to do regularly.  I tend to make an average of 20 quilts per year, at least half of them are twin sized or bigger, and if I paid someone to quilt them all for me, it would be seriously costly.  I want to stay married :)  I do have a friend who is not a serious quilter but she spent several years to make a queen sized quilt top and she doesn't intend to make any more quilts.  I repeatedly urged her to just pay someone to finish it for her and start enjoying it!  If you only finish a big quilt occasionally and don't want to go through all of the hassle of finding a rental place and taking a class... just let someone else do it for you and get it done!

When I lived in MA, there were three local places where I could rent a longarm.  Two of those places were quilt/fabric stores.  I had a few friends use those locations for quilting their quilts.  For the most part, they had positive experiences and the rental costs were similar to what Laurena charged.  I preferred to frequent a longarm studio because Laurena is a full-time longarm quilter and has many years of experience.  Her focus is helping the renters with quilting their quilt.  She is not trying to answer the phone, manage employees, and cut and sell fabric.  Of course Laurena's studio had occasional distractions, but it was relatively quiet.  I have a friend that told me she once waited two hours to receive help from the owner in a shop where the longarm was having trouble.  I can't imagine!  Laurena worked so well with me: she knew getting to her shop was a struggle for me because I had to coordinate childcare- she always let me come early and stay late if I needed to.  

Anyway, finding a longarm rental place can be a challenge: these types of businesses are not extremely common.  You may not have the luxury of being able to choose between someone who is a dedicated longarmer and someone who has a machine in their fabric shop.  I actually decided to drive two hours north to Ft. Collins rather than rent within a store 10 minutes from me mainly because that shop charges $150 for a class to even be able to rent the machine.  They won't consider opting me out of the class despite my having logged 50+ hours on a machine previously.  

So I think it might be helpful to explain why renting a longarm is more affordable than paying someone else to quilt your quilt for you.  I was pretty frank with Laurena that sometimes I just wanted to get the three layers of a quilt together and I wanted the most affordable method to accomplish this.  She sat down with a calculator and we did the math: if I spent 4 hours in her studio quilting a quilt, it would cost $70, if I had her quilt it for me, based on the square inches (width x height), it would cost $140.  To be fair, there is an obvious difference here, and it's not just in price.  I may have been happier with Laurena's quilting, than my own- you are paying for someone's expertise.  You definitely have to weigh your options and decide what's most important to you.

Just as an FYI, as I know this information can be hard to find, here are the approximations of costs for renting longarms that I have encountered:

  • At Laurena's, she required that you take a 3 hour, $50 class to be able to rent her machines.  Rental time was $17.50 per hour and later changed to $20.  She also offered a frequent rental program where you would get 4 free hours of quilting for every 20 hours you completed.  She also used to discount $2.50 per hour if you stayed more than 4 hours.  She did not charge for thread.  She was also generous enough to purchase Statler (computerized patterns) with a modern appeal if I couldn't find something I liked from what she already had.  (I have heard some of her policies have changed since I moved).
  • At JukeBox, they do not require customers to take a class.  They charge $15 per hour to do free-motion or pantograph work, and $25 per hour for the computerized machines.  They charge a nominal thread fee- mine was $3.  They also gave out coupons periodically and I received 20% off on the quilt I quilted there.  
  • Most of the queen-king sized quilts I have quilted on my own have cost me about $80 a piece.
In my next post on this topic, I will discuss the different types of longarm quilting you can do and how to be prepared for your visit.  If you have anything to add or questions for me, please comment!  I hope this topic has been interesting/helpful.  


wonderlandbyalyce said...

I really appreciate this information as I H-A-T-E quilting larger quilts on my little domestic machine, but can't afford for someone else to quilt them for me. Thank you!

Havplenty said...

Thanks for this information as I was considering doing this myself. your information will be very helpful.


Fran said...

Great post, thank you, lots to think about!

Sarah Fredette said...

Thank you for posting all this information for us! I'm one of those weird people who have no problems quilting larger quilts. Of course, I don't think I've made one as big as one of yours -- yet!

MalinisQuilts said...

Wonderful post and extremely useful insights for anyone thinking of renting a longarm.

I totally agree its faster to get the big quilt finished on longarm.

Unknown said...

Thank you for mentioning my studio on your blog. It was very interesting to read about your experience from a renter's point of view. My goal has always been to offer a meaningful service at a reasonable price in a pleasant environment. Trying to balance giving a good service at a good price with paying the bills and making a living is always the challenge. I am always thinking of ways to adapt the business to make it work better for both my customers and myself. This year I've begun a subscription service for my regular rental customers. It offers these customers a level monthly fee and a lower hourly rate while giving me a longer minumum daily number of hours and a level income. Its a winning idea for all of us!

I look forward to future posts and your readers comments for ideas I can use to improve the rental experience.

I wish you continued success as you continue to quilt in your new location.

Laurena McDermott; Laurena's Longarm Quilting, LLC

Melissa said...

Cool that you found a place in Ft Collins! That's a great price. :) And I am not one bit surprised about your decision to not go to the one here. I have horror stories...and they usually ended with me crying in the parking lot...