More Lessons Learned – Buying a Longarm from a .com
Those who’ve been following my blog for awhile know I bought a longarm quilt machine, Grace frame, and the Quilt Butler robotics system from #SewingMachinesPlus.com last November. My friends, what a ride this has been. Today, JUST TODAY, April 9, 2017, I’ve got it running properly and I’m happy with the robotic quilting results.
I’m a firm believer now that in order to make something work right, you have to almost be as much of an expert as the seller or possibly even more of one. That’s kind of hard if you are new to the game. I’ve never owned a longarm on a frame before. Typical of my personality, I jumped in head first without knowing if there’s water in the pool. Well, maybe that’s not a good analogy, but I certainly should have worked on a longarm by renting time on a machine somewhere before purchasing one which would have helped me know what’s right in order to know when it’s wrong. Of course, that wouldn’t have helped with Problem #1.
Problem #1 – The sales associate at #SewingMachinesPlus sold me the wrong frame that works with my robotics. Today, their website is very specific about the frame type that can work with the Quilt Butler but last November, it wasn’t. I wanted the Grace GQ vs. the Phoenix that was recommended on the page of their website that sells my King Quilter (made by Tin Lizzie) because the GQ came with free overhead lights and the Phoenix frame didn’t. The sales associate should have let me know that the Butler doesn’t work with the GQ (yet). My husband had to do some fabrication to the frame to make it work and QuiltEZ was impressed and asked me if they could use my images of his fix as a prototype. I must say, the folks at #QuiltEZ who make the Butler have been fabulous this entire time. The guy who owns the company actually called me personally and spent nearly an hour on the phone troubleshooting my issues. Turns out: 1) I had the wrong frame style; and 2) the Y-axis belt was on inside out. Apparently that’s kind of a thing. The Y-axis belt makes the machine go front-to-back. And during this troubleshooting, I pointed out how their tech manuals were wrong. It was a win for both of us. Also I must add, SewingMachinesPlus.com made everything right by sending me an entirely new machine and tablet. And they sent a free box of 84 spools of Madiera Rayon embroidery thread as compensation for my troubles. Steve from their technical customer service has been exceptional.
Problem #2. Putting the frame together correctly is key. And when it is a DIY job, there’s always room for user error. I’ve been dealing with this…
It’s difficult to see but there are long, dragging, skipped, horizontal stitches which accompany a gazillion thread breaks. You cannot begin to imagine my frustration. On the bright side, I’m a master at resetting the start spot if the thread breaks. 🙂 These long, dragging stitches always seem to happen on the horizontal plane (X-axis) on the frame’s left side. Odd. I searched and searched on the internet and all that was out there were posts and articles about tension issues. It’s definitely not a tension issue. So last week while I was in my favorite quilt shop, a lady who is an experienced longarmer was there and I asked her about it. After I described the problem, she said, “it’s probably the frame and/or carriage” (carriage = the platform the machine sits on that travels on the frame). Huh… Really… She said to look for lint balls around the wheels and to make sure the frame is level. That’s legit because I am guilty of shoving the frame around lately while getting the quilt studio set up. She said the horizontal issue is something between the carriage on the frame and the stitch regulator in the Quilt Butler. The robotics unit knows what it’s supposed to do, but it can’t get the carriage to go along with the plan. OK, so then what is going on? And how do I fix it?
Well, first make sure the frame is level. It wasn’t. You cannot do this with a small level like on your phone or one the size of your finger. You need one that will stretch across both sides of the frame front-to-back and you have to level it left, right, and middle. I had to lower the right front foot and the rear center foot. Once that was done, it still didn’t work right (more thread breaks). Wait, maybe if the frame was put together properly it might help. This sounds like a ‘no duh’ concept, but I didn’t put it together so I blindly accepted the premise when I got home that day from work that hubs had put it together correctly. (He was so proud!) Hey, stuff happens right? I mean, he’s good with construction and mechanics so why would I question it? Well, it turns out, the left and right front brackets that allow the height of the belly bar to change were on the wrong sides. Now, I only discovered this today so I’m totally taking the hit for this myself too. How long have I been staring at the L on the right front bracket (since November) and not noticing the one behind and below it was an R? Again, ‘duh’. Not to hurt hubs’ feelings, I took it apart myself and swapped them. Now they look like this. I started stitching again, and more thread breaks. (See? I’m REAL good at those.)
Problem #3. Make sure all the wheels on the lower carriage are rolling on the tracks and connecting with the frame. Again, a ‘no duh’ concept. But hey, I’m new. Apparently, if all the wheels aren’t touching the frame, the carriage doesn’t do what the stitch regulator tells it to do. As my mom would say, “No sh*t Sherlock.” When we built the frame initially, all the wheels touched the tracks and it was all good. But when we put the weight of the machine on the frame, there were times that that poor carriage was only on 5 wheels vs. the required 8…with two of them spinning freely on the left side of the frame. Eureka! One must loosen all 4 wheel screws on the lower carriage to get them to balance properly on the tracks, WHILE the weight of the machine is on the carriage. I did this one-quarter turn at a time on all four wheel set screws. That right back wheel below was spinning freely before the adjustment, as was the left front wheel on the other side and the left rear inside wheel as well. NO FREAKING WONDER!! And I did all these adjustments with a quilt on the frame. Genius. I’m not entirely sure this single issue would have resolved my problems because if the frame was torqued or not level, the wheels won’t level out. Leveling order is frame, carriage, wheels.
Once I got these issues fixed…Zen. This beauty is so good I’m even using a different lighter color in the bobbin thread in the border and the stitches are perfectly balanced so you can’t see it. The bobbin thread in the blue border is the same as what’s in the lighter-colored 1st border below. I started this blue border after all the adjustments were made and I didn’t have a single issue. It worked perfectly. I’m absolutely tickled!
Last Lesson: Read ALL the Instructions, not just the ones you think you should. Again, a ‘no duh’ moment but since hubs put the frame together, why would I read the instructions for the frame? In a previous post, I lamented that there’s not a thing out there to tell me how to load the leaders or which way the rails should rotate. In my defense, I did look at the instructions on how to load the little ratchet wheels on the ends of the frame rails, but it didn’t specify one way or the other. So then today, while going through the instructions to reverse the previously mentioned backwards brackets, lo and behold, what do I come across? In the back of the booklet, there are instructions on how to load a quilt onto the frame and they tell me which way the rails should turn! YAY! It should be noted that this frame does not use the ‘biblical scroll’ method like a Handi-Quilter frame does. Not all frames are the same so that is a lesson learned as well. And now that the brackets are on correctly, the frame rolls and advances the way it should.
I’m a junkie of this YouTuber, Jennifer Alexander, who publishes detailed vids on how to work the Butler. And this lovely lady from #SederQuilts shows how to fix oopsies that happen on a longarm. I be using these techniques on this quilt to fix the long stitch issue I had throughout the body of the quilt…on the left side.
So in summary, I think I have all the kinks worked out and now I know enough about the mechanics of this thing to troubleshoot any future issues. It’s been frustrating, it’s been painful, and at times it’s been the War of the Roses here at home. But by buying online, I saved over $14,000 which is a TON of cash y’all. My final cost was $13,365 compared to my friend who bought an APQS and a Quilt Path last year that she got from a dealer for over $27,000. Believe me, buying from a dealer isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. There are plenty of horror stories out there about crappy customer service, training, delivery, installation, etc., etc., etc. Looking back, my experience was totally worth it. Would I do it again? You bet. But I wish I’d of read this post in my blog first. To anyone who is considering it, I say go for it. Any troubles are worth the money saved.
NOTE: The quilt on the frame is for hubs’ birthday so I can’t show the whole thing until it’s finished. Sorry!