Archives

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…

20170409_165458

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.)

20170409_165414

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.

20170409_165443

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!

20170409_164321

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.

20170410_052904

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!

Quilt Butler Install & Spider Man Quilt

The 3-room transition is finally taking shape.  For my new blog followers, we enclosed a back patio to become a quilt studio for my new longarm and frame.  My old sewing room is 90% moved into the studio, hubs is moving his custom fishing rod hobby into my old sewing room, and then we can get our game room back because he has 7-foot fishing poles all over the pool table.  I’m still in the process of moving everything that is not sewing related out of the quilt studio.  Baby steps my friends.  The wagon is full of tools needed to install the windows and doors and put everything all together but we’re getting closer.

20170116_072158

20170116_072522

I purchased my longarm, the King Quilter 18″ Special Edition, the Grace GQ frame, and the QuiltEZ Butler from Sewing Machines Plus .com.  This has been a real experience y’all.  Long story short, they ended up sending me an entire new machine and tablet last week.  It’s been nothing but problems, problems, problems and I still haven’t quilted on it yet.  SMP has done everything they can in a timely fashion to make it right, but it’s just the entire process that’s been a pain.  They are a middle-man between Grace Frames (zero problems with the frame so Grace is still in my… well…good Graces  lol), Tin Lizzie who makes the machine, and QuiltEZ who makes the robotics. 

First QuiltEZ sent the wrong hardware to mount the Quilt Butler robotics unit to my frame so I shipped the wrong hardware back and received new.  Then the tablet died and wouldn’t reboot so we swapped tablets.  Then it was still the wrong bracket for the robotics so a third bracket was sent.  Then the encoders were faulty – they are the little wheels on the carriage that tell the tablet where the machine is on the frame – so I got new encoders.  The new encoders seemed to work, the tablet worked, but the precision stitch (stitch regulator) on the machine wouldn’t work and the machine would freeze.  This was a real issue because the robotics in the Quilt Butler uses the precision stitch.  Fortunately, I’m tech savvy enough to upload videos of the problem to YouTube and SMP could see the problem immediately and determine that it wasn’t user error.  They immediately sent out an entire new machine, tablet (3rd tablet), encoders, and all.  SMP promised me they would test the new machine for two hours before sending it to me.  It got here, I set it all up and it and everything works fine.  Finally, hubs went to install the robotics yesterday and the 3rd mounting bracket is still the wrong one!   Fortunately, he’s got the ability to make it work and asked me if I wanted him to retro-fit the new bracket which would mean drilling additional holes into it.  I told him to go ahead – what do we have to lose at this point.  If it still doesn’t work, then we’ll send it back again but I really want this baby up and running you know?  He did some minor fabrication and the robotics unit is mounted.  That’s as far as we got last night.  Those two silver Phillip’s head screws are in the new holes he made.

20170116_072136

Today he’ll work on installing the belts that move the carriage around on the frame.  So I bought this on Nov 3rd and today is January 16th.  I’m about to make my second payment on my 0% interest 4-year plan and I still haven’t been able to use it.   Actually, at this point, I just shrug my shoulders and laugh at the situation.  It’s that or get pissed enough to raise my blood pressure and it just isn’t worth that.  To SMP’s credit, they are letting me have a clear plastic grid for the pantographs ($79) and a $300 box of Madiera embroidery thread both for $100.  We tried for free, but couldn’t make that happen.

So there you have it.  The only comfort in this for me, is that misery loves company.  I follow another blogger and she just dropped $10k on the Quilt Path for her APQS and still can’t get it to work right either.  So much for a private dealer right?  Still, I don’t know if the Butler works properly yet or not until we get it all hooked up.  I found a video on YouTube where QuiltEZ is going to have 4 live webinars on how to use the Quilt Butler from start to finish to include different patterns in different blocks and how to do the borders.  In the video they recommended we make up a quilt top to use for the class with sectional blocks, sashing, and a border.  I finished a UFO Spider Man quilt from Villa Rosa designs that I’ve had in the works for my oldest grandson (5) for the last year or so.  I have a horrible cold right now and I’m heavily medicated so I wasn’t paying attention to row placement as I put it together.  But hey, “Finished is Better than Perfect” right?  I’m sure my grandson won’t even notice.

20170115_165016