What Machine do you use? Part 1

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Question: What machine do you use?

Answer: Its not what machine but Why do I quilt on a regular size domestic machine?

Today I am beginning to answer the question that I am asked more than any other when viewers are looking at my quilts at guilds or shows; “What machine do you use?”  I am so happy to have this opportunity to address this topic at length that I have planned at least three blog posts in the upcoming weeks.  

Sweet Dreams by Joanie Zeier Poole, 2005

Fais de beaux reves! or Sweet Dreams by Joanie Zeier Poole, 2005

Often viewers assume that a large quilt can only be quilted on a large longarm machine. I have solved the issues related to the size and weight of the quilt bundle when working on a smaller machine and will write about that in a later post. Today I will focus on why I use a regular machine not a longarm and why that has been the best choice for me. As you read it will become apparent that I surely hold no ill will for people who quilt on a longarm or for those who hire a longarm quilter to complete their quilts. There is plenty of room in the industry for both choices. What follows are the reasons I choose to use a regular size domestic machine.


In 2000, I had the good fortune of taking three days of machine quilting classes from master quilter, Diane Gaudynski. Because of that experience I made changes to my life that have lead to the career that I built around this knowledge. (READ ABOUT JOANIE) In those 3 uninterrupted days, I learned the basic operation for straight-line and free-motion quilting. (I feel so strongly that the three day format was  so instrumental to “getting it” that I offer my own 3-day comprehensive Seminar)

Joanie Zeier Poole with hteacher, Diane Gaudynski

Diane Gaudynski with Joanie Zeier Poole, 2006

My motivation for learning refined-free-motion quilting and dedicating my creativity to it has always been about stitching beautiful, elegant quilting designs. My goal was never to finish a stack of patchwork tops. Don’t get me wrong, that is a fantastic goal, it just was not my goal. Even as a hand quilter I was drawing my own quilting designs. The problem was I liked such an elaborate, sophisticated style that took too much time to quilt by hand. With machine quilting I can produce much more in much less time.

I have spent the past 15 years experimenting and perfecting techniques for all aspects of machine quilting; preparing the bundle, basting, machine set-up and practicing machine skills  (all topics for future blog posts). I have trained my brain to be thinking of how to navigate the design as I draw then to be stitches easily, with as few starts and stops possible. All of my creative energy (I have a lot of that!) has focused on drawing quilting designs collections to fill all areas of your quilts with coordinating motifs and developing really imaginative patterns to teach specific techniques for my classes. I hope that you will take the time to read the descriptions of the patterns of the techniques I teach (available for you to download).

Lea design

But lets get back on topic, what you want to know about why I have chosen to use a domestic machine and how you can learn to be successful using one too.

Accessibility to the entire top.

I can plan quilting designs that are any size I want, place them anywhere I want and travel anywhere on the quilt top that I desire without limitations. If I was using a machine with the quilt rolled on a frame, only a portion of the quilt is exposed so the work area is limited to working from side to side. I enjoy the freedom to access the entire top at anytime and planning a quilting layout that is not restricted to a specific strip of space.

Extending my capability using a machine I already own

I own several machines that all are used for machine quilting. For the first 8 years I machine quilted on machines built in the 1960’s when machine quilting was not considered a priority when designing the performance of a machine. However, these machines have strong, steady motors with adjustable speed that performs equally well when I choose to stitch slowly for the intricate designs or stitch at high speeds on the open road.

These older machines have all of the adjustments I need for refined machine quilting. I can use the small needles and thread needed to make tiny stitches and still maintain beautiful tension because the bobbin rotation is calibrated to form perfect stitches as small as .05mm in length.

These machine have the capability to have the tension adjusted to run very lightweight thread. There may be manual adjustments for both top and bobbin thread which BOTH need to be adjusted when using differing weights of thread. Note: one of my newer computerized machines has a broken top thread sensor that needed to be disengaged because it was constantly alerting me and interrupting the stitching when I used lightweight thread. I needed to go into the computer (in the tools menu) to turn it off.

Dedicated Space in my house

I do not need to dedicate a huge room of my house for a large machine. My machine and I can fit just about anywhere. I can sit in the house with my family, or in a sunny window on the porch and stitch to my hearts content as long as I have a large table. If the goal is to stitch the layers together to make a quilt, a longarmer still needs to dedicate additional space for the piecing on regular machine,  I can do both operations in one space.

Do you move your machine around your house? There are times it is great to have the solitude of a quiet bedroom. But when I have a long term project, I like to be right in the family room with my Netflix and surround sound.

Cost of the machine and related expenditures

This is not judgement, just comparison. If the goal is to stitch pieced tops into quilts, that can be accomplished with both longarm and domestic machines. Even though I make my living in the quilting industry and have the justification that may expenditures relate directly, I am uncomfortable at the investment of a longarm and the numerous related expenses.  When you add up the machine, the computer, the room addition to have space for it, and a myriad of wonderfully designed sundries, Holy Smoly! Personally, for me, I cannot justify the expense when I can I produce the same results on equipment I already own.

I will mention what I think is the big advantage to a longarm is that with the rolling system basting is not necessary as it is when using a domestic. That was another challenge I had to learn to control, (see later post or attend a lecture on basting for success).

Well, that is it for now. I will probably think of other reasons I like to use my domestic, but I have to get back to quilting. I am working on a new quilt with Pam. It is the fourth collaboration and  I will be posting in-progress photos on my Facebook Page.

Up Next Week: Become a partner with you machine.

sidebar-linePlease share this post with your quilting friends and guild.

Dashed-line-99CC99Read more About Joanie, her Career Highlights, or print Joanie’s Short Bio.
Can’t wait for a blog post of all of this advice? Explore helpful info already on the website: Glossary of Frequently used Machine Quilting Terms, How to Prepare for a Class, Quick Start Guide to Marking and Resizing Quilting Designs, Printable Charts for Quilting Facts, The Tips Page, and announcements of  Upcoming Events.

Dashed-line-99CC99Never miss an issue of this free e-zine, Joanie’s Life Changing Machine Quilting Lessons. Just watch for reminders from Joanie on her Facebook page or to receive a reminder sent to your inbox, use the sign-up form at the top of the sidebar on this page. 

The information, illustrations and photographs on this blog copyright Joanie Zeier Poole unless otherwise noted. No reproduction in any form is permitted without permission. All rights reserved. Please ask permission for using any content and give credit when sharing what you have learned. Heirloom Quilting Designs was founded by Joanie Zeier Poole in 2000, a new millennium with a new dream for the future!


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  1. Joanie, I will never forget your quilt, Fais de beaux reves! or Sweet Dreams! When I went to the NQA show many years ago, it took my breath away. I thought it was amazing and wondered why it hadn’t won Best of Show. It was my favorite quilt in the show. I loved it then and I still love it now.

  2. What a great post! Those are the very same reasons why I stitch all my quilts on a DSM…..next time I am asked “why”…..I will just refer them to your post. I want to add that stitching a large quilt on the machines from the 60s is impressive since the DSM s of that time had very small tight throat space. At least the machines made today to afford a bit more room to the right of the needle. I am really looking forward to your future posts on this subject……there are many misconceptions about quilting large quilts on small machines….I just know you will dispel those ideas and switch on the light bulb for many who will soon be convinced to give it a go.

    • Hi QR, Thank you for taking the time to write. I was hoping to hear that people feel this information is worthwhile. Please mentions it to anyone you feel would benefit. Your generosity has been an inspiration to me.

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