On the way to CA my husband was super sweet and suggested that we spend a few days in St George, UT to go take a look at the Innova longarm quilting machines at Let's Quilt. As it turns out not that many months ago APQS opened up a showroom in town as well. After spending a year working on the Gammills I wanted to test drive other brands for comparison purposes. Here's my findings, purely my own opinions but it may help you when you're shopping for a longarm quilting machine.
- Industrial frame and machine, very sturdy and strong
- Fantastic stitches
- Great software for their robotics (Statler Stitcher)
- Drawn lines saved as vector points so can modify easily
- The best local dealer with wonderful service!
- 26" machine head available
- Training and assistance from local dealer
- Oil drips from machine head to table (concerned it will get on quilt if not careful)
- 10 oiling points on machine head
- Very heavy machine head for FMQ but not a problem with robotics
- Robotics are on inside of sewing machine head so if something goes wrong the entire head has to go in for service and you're without the use of your machine
- Specialty forum not responsive to users questions
- The wonderful service is from local dealer, what happens if they close or I move?
- Sturdy frame made from airplane grade aluminum with lots of bolt points for adjustments
- Ease of switching frame size down if needed
- One oiling point on machine head
- Great stitches
- Ease of FMQ movement from lighter machine head (about half the weight of Gammill)
- Teflon parts, sealed motor section, no maintenance
- 24/7 customer service telephone year round
- Robotics (Auto Pilot) attach to exterior of machine so even if they have a problem you can still FMQ by hand
- 26" machine head available
- Three days of classes free plus an additional day for the robotics software training
- UI of robotics software wasn't user friendly
- Drawn lines in software saved as bit maps, not vector points
- Can't pause robotics from machine head unless spend extra $ to get tablet interface
- Small hardware for Lightning Stitch regulator is old technology .. if it breaks what happens?
APQS (American Professional Quilting Systems)
- Smoothness of FMQ handling (with and without robotics)
- Beautiful stitches
- Very lightweight machine head when FMQ
- Very friendly UI of robotics software (Quilt Path), almost could figure it out without instruction
- Hardware is tablet based on machine head so controls are at your fingertips
- Can easily replace hardware at store if it breaks down without lost time
- Robotics on exterior of machine head, once again if they have problem still can FMQ
- Self-lubricating bushings
- Fantastic customer service and forum (mentioned I was in St George and an APQS rep replied that she had emailed the St George shop to expect me in the morning ... wow!)
- 26" machine head available
- 1 day of beginner class training included
- Table still sturdy but not as great as Innova
- Exposed motor in back, not sealed system with teflon parts like Innova
- Has 6 oiling points but won't drip on table
- Should have maintenance in 3-5 years with easy to replace parts
- Wheels are made of a hard plastic as opposed to a nylon so they'll need to be replaced when worn out in a few years
So even though I've spent a year with the Gammills (both hand-guided and the robotics) I have decided that for me the APQS is the best machine for my needs. I really want to also use a machine in FMQ with rulers as well as using the robotics for pantographs and E2Es so the weight and ease of movement in the machine head were big factors. If I only wanted to use the robotics then I think that I'd go with the Gammill because I really think that they had the better software of the three systems. When the robot is doing the driving who cares how much the machine head weighs. :-)
APQS has three machines in the 26" size, Millennium, Freedom and Lucey. Immediately I discarded the Lucey from the mix because it doesn't have most of the features that I'd like ... notably the Quilt Glide which is the stitch regulator for small detail work. That left both the Millennium (Millie) and the Freedom (Freddie). The only difference between these two is that Millie has a bobbin thread cutter and electronic channel locks, both horizontal and vertical. While trying out the Millie I kept accidentally cutting my bobbin thread .. that was annoying so I wouldn't want to use that feature. Freddie still has a manual horizontal channel lock and you can set a straight line with the robotics so that made the decision very easy to go with Freddie.
Thank goodness that the new versions of Millie and Freddie have discontinued the constant chirping of the stitch regulator. That would have driven me crazy. They've also simplified their control buttons for needle up/down and on/off switches on all four handles in back and front of the machine. I like to use both hands sometimes so that will be a joy.
Table size would have to be 12' to fit in the rental house in Cheyenne. If we were back in CA then I'd have more than enough room to go with a 14' table. (Actually after really measuring the family room in CA we determined that even though we could squeak by with a 14' table that the 12' table is a much better fit.) I've been told that most king sized quilts will fit on the 12' table so not a worry there.
That's why I'll say that it's a great thing not to rush into any decision while shopping for a longarm quilting machine. Try as many of them as possible. Go back, time and time again. I ended up spending two hours at APQS demoing and asking questions then I went back for another 40 minutes. If you can, rent time on different machines and quilt a baby quilt or lap throw to really get a feel for it. Bottom line is that I think that all three of these brands are fabulous, it's just a matter of personal preference.