I first saw long arm machines at a quilt show outside Philadelphia. I thought they were large, ugly, and expensive, and just didn’t make sense for me as a hobby. But, having pushed a number of quilts, including a queen sized, through my domestic machine, I knew I wanted something better. My first foray was to buy a machine from a 4 inch ad in a magazine, because it seemed like it would work, I could afford it not knowing if I’d like it, and it wasn’t too ugly. It was “basic”, and did a nice job, and taught me the things I really wanted: needle up/down, bigger bobbin, easy movement, and computer driven stitching. That “starter” machine also taught me that I liked machine quilting, and that this would be a long term passion. With my first system, including the computerized robotic quilting system I added, while I could get quilting done, I spent significantly more time fiddling with the system to get it to work on any given day than actually quilting. I also had to physically lift my machine between carriages to switch from computerized to manual – so that didn’t happen a lot. So, what next? I learned about Yahoo groups, and lurked/participated in a lot of them. I learned about what machines people seemed to be always re-timing or dealing with other issues, and what machines seemed to just keep running like the Energizer Bunny. I also learned which manufacturers had a loyal customer base, and some that were not held in high esteem or had “grouchy” customer service.
I first really looked at the HQ Sixteen in use at a friend’s house, when I visited to share information on the digitized quilting system we both had. I fell in love with the HQ Sixteen on the spot, and knew I had to try one and hopefully upgrade to it at some point. I scheduled a trip to attend MQX in 2007, and signed up for a half-day class specifically where students would use the HQ Sixteen in the classroom to “try one out”. Having bought untried once, I thought I’d use a different plan this time. Though in denial that I would buy one on the trip (I kept telling my husband I was just looking), I bought accessories, needles, rulers, and three large assortment boxes of the Superior pre-wound M bobbins before I bought the machine or took my class – and I didn’t yet have a machine that would use M bobbins or support a ruler base! Every time I called home, my husband would ask “did you buy it yet”? Well, as expected, I took the class, confirmed my love for the machine, and ordered one before I left the show. I did look briefly at other options – but they continued to be ugly to me and the problems I saw the professionals having using them in classes where I was a Teacher’s Angel left me convinced that the HQ was the reliable, easy to use and the ready to go machine I wanted. Think about it – if HQ can fill a classroom with the machines and turn 16 people loose on them 3 times a day for 4 hour classes during the quilt show, (with barely an hour between classes) the machines need to be sturdy, reliable, easy to use, and hard to mess up!
I first set up my HQ Sixteen with my old digitized computer system (with the help of a dealer and a custom carriage modification). That digitized system continued to be as finicky as ever for me, and when the HQ Pro-Stitcher came out, once again I was “looking”. The next MQX (2008) had breakfast classes, and I signed up for the HQ Pro-Stitcher class just to see what it had. As usual I was not planning to buy – just look, even though I had started a comparison spreadsheet of the old system I had and the HQ Pro-Stitcher the previous winter. After all, I did have a “working” system. Vicki did a great job showing us all the features, and every spare moment I had during the show (I had a really full class schedule), I kept going to look at the system. I loved the idea that the system was integrated by the manufacturer and all the parts would work together without ongoing adjustments. I knew coming from HQ that it would work so I could spending my time actually quilting (well, once I decide how to quilt the top). As usual, when I called home, my husband kept asking “did you buy it yet”? I think he knows me better than I know myself. No surprise, I decided to buy the HQ Pro-Stitcher, and ordered my current frame – a QuilTable – to make it all work together (and look pretty). Of course, I had carefully measured before the trip where the new frame needed to go and knew exactly how to make it fit. Mark (the President) loaded my HQ Pro-Stitcher into my rental car, and it flew home with me. TSA left a note in the box since they opened it to inspect it – I’m not sure what they thought it might be! The whole flight and waiting for baggage claim was tense - I couldn’t wait to have my HQ Pro-Stitcher safely back in my hands, and then finally set up when my QuilTable arrived! The local regional representative, Gina came to my house for training since the local dealer wasn’t carrying HQ Pro-Stitcher at the time, and from the first, I loved the functions. As HQ has released new and improved versions of the software, I’ve found that things just keep getting better, and I feel that I haven’t even tapped all the functionality that is there! I hope to get to go to a HQ Retreat – it would be awesome to have a week with the experts!
I quilt as a passion – cutting, piecing, and quilting, all bring me a lot of joy and relaxation. Binding isn’t as much fun, even though I do it all by machine. I love being able to mix hand guided/free motion with the computerized patterns at will, and have made several quilts that are a combination of the two. I make quilts for myself, and to give away – to family or charity for causes such as for babies, hospitals and the Ronald McDonald house. I’ve lost count of how many quilts I’ve made since getting my HQ Sixteen – somewhere over 30. My husband keeps asking when our house will be full of quilts, since I seem to give so many away as gifts and to charity... This past year I made a quilt for the local Harley-Davidson dealers that was raffled off for Muscular Dystrophy. To make it as appealing as possible, it had a t-shirt from each dealer, each framed by orange batik and set in black on the “front”, and a pieced black and white pattern on the other side (for anyone who got tired of the t-shirts). It was “heavy” as a quilt sandwich: had t-shirts with wash away stabilizer over the entire t-shirt area, the pieced back, and of course the batting – and was queen sized. The HQ handled it like a dream! I put the pieced back down, the t-shirts side up, and did an all over motorcycle pattern with my HQ Pro-Stitcher. It came out wonderfully (if I do say so myself), without a hiccup, and to my great amazement raised $1100 at the benefit auction. The ease of the HQ in switching modes, switching thread, balancing tension, and overall reliability make the quilting a lot of fun for me!
As by now you may have guessed, the word that comes to mind when I think of my HQ is “JOY” – that’s the feeling it brings to me, and the feeling I hope my quilts bring to others. Just writing this story has put a big smile on my face. I have no particular quilt style – unless maybe it is bright – but even that doesn’t always apply. I use every color in the book, with lots of bright colors and wild prints, and just have fun!
Looking at everything, the things I love the most about my HQ include:
• Knowing I can turn it on and quilt: it is ready when I am
• The great variety of threads it runs, without complaint. I took a thread bar style class one year at MQX and learned even more threads I could run without issue – HOORAY!
• The ease of use switching from computerized to hand guided, and regulated or manual stitch control
• How it looks (it sits off of my living room)
• The upgrades over the years that have added features and functionality, such as the Tilt handles, Micro Handles and HQ Pro-Stitcher
• Great support and the HQ people – especially those I’ve gotten to know at the MQX like Debbie and other shows where they are every year, and all the help and support/extras they provide, like taking 15 minutes of their break to go over a question or help you with a problem
• The online community support through the Yahoo groups and the HQ forums, as well as videos and other instruction that are available there
• The handlebar controls – needle up/down, basting stitches, speed, and the start/stop are just easy and intuitive
If you are wondering – “Is this the machine for me?” – my answer would be simple: yes! Whether the HQ Sixteen, the HQ18 Avante, or the HQ24 Fusion is the best fit, you have to decide for your budget and goals. I quilt for fun, and know that my HQ can easily be used for business if I ever get so inspired. I love my HQ, and wouldn’t trade it for anything – but another HQ model!
I own the following HQ machines: