A longarm quilt machine sews a quilt top, batting and backing fabric together. It includes a movable, industrial-length sewing machine head, a frame, and rollers to hold the three layers of material that are being stitched together.
Traditional sewing machines require the machine to be stationary while the fabric is moved through it. When using a longarm quilt machine, the fabric is held in place while the sewing machine head, mounted on a track and wheels, moves over the surface of the quilt.
Longarm quilting is much faster than hand quilting and does not require basting. The large machines are expensive, but some shops offer rentals, and many individuals offer longarm quilting services out of their homes and studios.
The two methods for longarm quilting are to use a pantograph or to custom quilt. A pantograph is a long design that rests above a quilt top for the quilter to trace with her hand or a computer. This process effectively quilts the design laid out by the pantograph into the fabric. Custom quilting is a freehand method that allows for more flexibility at the expense of more time, energy and materials.
Without a longarm machine, quilting requires quilters to spray and press down on both sides of a quilt to baste it. This isn't necessary with a quilting machine, as longarms allow quilters to load each layer into the rollers and frames. Avoiding the energy output that quilters spend basting is one of the common reasons for longarm purchases.
Quilters looking to use a longarm have the option to hire a longarm quilter to assist with a project. Another option is to purchase a personal longarm machine for home use.