Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Grace machine quilting frame

Many of you know that when I moved from Houston to San Antonio last year I had to sell my beloved "Piglet", the A1 longarm quilting machine.  I really thought I'd "get over it" after a while, but I found myself missing the longarming experience more and more.

After months and months of researching on-line (and not wanting to wait until the next Houston Quilt Festival to try some mid-arm arrangements) I finally took the plunge and bought the Grace Start-Right frame, to use with my Juki TL-98E sewing machine, which has a 9" harp (or "throat", as it's sometimes called).

Not only was I concerned about which frame was the best for me, but also which dealer to buy from.  After much sturm und drang, I finally settled on Kathy Quilts, on-line.  There are no local dealers for the Grace frame in San Antonio, and this one seemed to have the best service.

back view of Juki on Grace frame.
I called and spoke to Lynn, co-owner of Kathy Quilts, and he answered all my questions to my satisfaction, so I placed the order through their on-line ordering page.  In very short order, stuff started arriving on my doorstep!

Sharon to the rescue!
Now, who among us can boast the kind of friend who will travel 3 hours from Houston to San Antonio, just to help you set up your new quilting frame?  Me, that's who!  My dear friend Sharon Dixon made the drive last week, and we spent a whole hilarious day setting up the frame.  Of course, then we had to reward ourselves with Mexican food and wine that night, and a whole day of just goofing off the next.

How about a little review of the Grace Start-Right frame?  First of all, I purchased the 5' long frame ("crib size"), because I really don't quilt bed quilts anymore (I have my buddy Sharon to do that for me!), plus I don't have the space for the queen-sized frame, which is the only other size the Start-Right frame comes in.

I wanted this model over the other Grace machine quilting frames, because it is steel instead of wood or aluminum.  It also came with a Power/Speed Control, which works quite well with my Juki.

Tongue firmly clamped between teeth, I started quilting.
A couple of things ... some of the table parts arrived bent, and so were hard to put together with the supplied nuts and bolts.  It's kind of amazing to me how this can have happened, because the steel is impossible to bend with bare hands and a hammer.  Nevertheless, with some elbow grease and some ingenuity, we finally got it done.

The back "table" part of the setup is evidently being manufactured in a different place than their original, so it was actually defective in some aspects.  Nevertheless, once again we were able to overcome these little obstacles and get everything together and working properly.

The only other drawback ... actually the major one ... is that the Power/Speed Control does not have a "needle up/down" capability, which I consider to be of supreme importance when longarming.  (I keep using that phrase ... longarming ... because this is essentially a "short" longarm setup.  The machine head moves over the quilt sandwich, instead of moving the quilt underneath a stationary machine head.)

Now for the good points.  This thing is made like a tank, and is not going anywhere!  Once it is set up, it's still light-weight enough to shift around a bit if I want to, but it is extremely stable, with no bounce.  Each foot has a leveler on it which is very easy to use with a small hand-held wrench.  My machine is perfectly balanced on the frame, which I never seemed able to quite achieve with my longarm!

And the movement of the machine on the frame is truly incredible.  It is as smooth and floaty over the quilt top as my A1 ever was ... and that's saying a lot.  The wheels are set up differently on the tracks, which seems to make a big difference ... take a look at the website if you're curious.

All set up and actually quilting (well, "scribbling" is more like it.)
(Note: I ultimately moved the Power/Speed Control to the right handle.)
I did not want or need the "extras", such as the Sure Stitch Regulator, Quilt CAD program, or laser lights for following pantographs, so I basically got the "bare bones" unit, saving quite a bit of money in the process.

And here's the BEST part of all:  my dealer, Kathy Quilts, was extremely responsive to all my questions and concerns (even my complaints) AFTER the sale, as well as before.  These days, that seems to be almost unheard of.  Lynn was especially concerned about the issues I had with the back half of the table being properly fitted.  He forwarded my detailed letter directly to the Grace Company, so hopefully they will be making corrections right away.

If you decide the Grace frame (of any size) is for you, I can't recommend Kathy Quilts highly enough.  Their main goal and focus seems to be customer service, and that goes a long way with me.  Check out their videos on their website and on YouTube.   (WARNING!  Turn your volume way down before starting the videos, then you can turn it back up ... there seems to be a big discrepancy in volume from the intro to the body of the video.)

This is a commercial picture of the Grace Start-Right frame,
lifted directly from the Kathy Quilts website.
And ... holy cow! ... I just looked at their list of 6 videos on YouTube, and see that Lynn wasn't kidding when he said he would make a new video of how to install the lamp on the frame.  I had asked him about it, and he said he would go ahead and get one going.  (This was just a few days ago!)  Looking at their videos made a huge difference to Sharon and me in getting set up.

I'm looking forward to quilting more, now that I have my "longarming" experience back in my grasp.  (I don't do big, looping designs anyway ... all my freehand quilting tends to be tiny and detailed, so this is perfect for me.  Plus, I have the option of upgrading my machine to a deeper harp, one of these days!)

23 comments:

  1. Hi Linda,

    This is Lynn from KathyQuilts.com. We have several more videos we shot the other day that we are still editing. They should be up on YouTube.com in the next few days. We are also working on our new web site which should be easier to use, I hope, and much faster. Thanks for the kind words! Keep quilting!

    -Lynn
    www.kathyquilts.com

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  2. We really had a good time putting the frame together, but then we always have fun no matter what we're doing. I was most impressed with the sturdiness of the table and the ease of movement of the sewing machine on the table. It's really a neat system and a good option for those who can't afford or don't have room for a big frame.

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  3. Congratulations on getting your new frame. Now that you have it, I know you'll start churning out the work. Yea, for you!!!

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  4. Hi Linda

    I to purchased from Kathh Quilts. I live in SC. Folks said I was out of my mind to purchase a set up from across the country. Well Lynn was always there to help and to make whatever situation work. He was the only one who could answer the million silly questions. About 4 months after I purchased my system I sprung for Quilt Motion. Well QuiltMotion was not made to work with the Start Right Frame. However, Lynn worked with the guys at Grace and it works. Lynn assured me if they could not get it to go, they would replace my frame with another that would work with Quilt Motion.

    Needless to say I am a very happy customer!. Service has been top notch.

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  5. Hi Linda, Today I purchased the Start-Right queen frame and Juki 2000Qi from Canada! Can't wait to get it, thank you for your encouraging review!

    Cheers,

    Tabatha @ BendingPins.com

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  6. Hi Linda;
    It was a relief to find this blog entry and see that someone I've heard of is satisfied with the Start-Right. Do the legs fold so that it can be stored? (Albeit with some muttering and heaving, since it probably isn't exactly light.) Many thanks -

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  7. Oops! Never mind ... I watched the video you referenced and it answered my question. Thank you anyhow -

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    Replies
    1. Tanya, I'm glad you found what you needed!

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  8. Hi Linda,
    I have been looking for a small frame to use with my old sewing machine. I am free motion quilting and decided I would like to try with a frame. I have heard of Kathy's quilts and now I will consider them. Can one person set this up? I do not have help. Are you still happy after all this time? I too need a small frame as my room is small and I have many sewing items in it. The 5 ft frame will work fine for me. What is the largest size quilt you can fit into it?
    THANKS for this fantastic review!
    Kathy

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    1. Hi Kathy, first I have to say that I sold my Grace frame to a friend and purchased an A-1 longarm machine with a 5' table. I was always very happy with the Grace frame, but was never happy with the depth-of-reach (throat depth) of my sewing machine on the frame. To answer your question about set-up, I would personally not have been able to set it up all by myself, but with the help of my handy friend, we got it done. I really don't think it could easily be done by one person, unless you were very experienced in assembly. Maybe Kathy's Quilts will have a suggestion or someone you could hire. They were certainly extraordinarily helpful in every other factor. Good luck!

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    2. Linda, Thanks! You know you may have a point about the throat depth. My old machine is only 9 inches. What is an A-1 longarm? I did look at Baby Lock and HQ sit down quilting machines but they are pricey.
      Kathy

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    3. Kathy, the A-1 is a professional longarm quilting machine that is not cheap, but in my opinion is the best of the longarms (after much research and hands-on testing). Here is their website: www.a1quiltingmachines.com. They will custom-make a table to any size you want ... I chose a 5' table, since I no longer make bed-sized quilts. (In hind-sight, I probably should have chosen a 6' table.) Regardless of size, they will have a sales rep come and set it up for you, and give you preliminary training.

      If you wanted to finance the purchase, I can recommend Red Thread Financial Group, which specializes in quilting and embroidery machines: http://redthreadfinancial.com. They even have a monthly payment calculator where you can see what your payments would be, even before applying. In looking at their site just now, I just noticed that they occasionally have used machines for sale, as well.

      Good luck, Kathy, and have fun!

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    4. Thanks so much Linda for giving me input. Looks like the A1 is a bit pricey for me. I think I will probably stick to the Grace 5' if I can still get it. I only do wall hangings and crib quilts. I saw where the crib size frame was out of stock and a new model is suppose to come out in March. I will continue to look and maybe I can even find a used one. I do appreaciate all you help.
      Kathy

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  9. I have this Grace frame and an Elna 7200 Quilters Pro if anyone is interested.

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  10. I just purchase the same machine and my frame is wooden. The machine carriage flows easily. My problem is ME. I have it all set up and started to sew. Did fine for a few stitches and then I broke a needle. This is my first experience with the Juki 98E and the Grace Frame. Can you give me any helpful tips? I am a little scared to try again.

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    Replies
    1. The usual reason you might break a needle is if you are moving the machine head faster than your needle speed. In other words, you need your needle speed to be fast if you are going to move the machine head fast. The other reason you might break a needle is if your quilt sandwich contains a particularly thick seam or something else that is too thick for the needle to penetrate easily. The best way to practice is to load a whole cloth top, batting, and batting. Do not tighten the quilt sandwich on the frame too tightly, then just practice, practice, practice! Have fun with it, and if you have to change the needle, don't worry about it ... it's just part of the process.

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    2. I was going slow. Maybe to slow? There was no seam. The thread felt a little tight in the tension wheel. The stitches it did stitch did look good. I loosened the tension and it didn't look good on bottom.
      I will try as you suggest. I really want to learn how to use it. I love making quilts. I just have to get the hang of it.
      Thank you so much for your relpy.

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  11. My "rule" for practicing and determining how fast to go is this: Start out STITCHING at a fast speed (needle speed) but moving the MACHINE HEAD at a slow speed. This will give you very tiny stitches when you start out, but you can gradually get a feeling for how fast to move the machine head in relation to how fast your needle is stitching ... and will gradually get a feel for the combination that is right for you. Good luck!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much. I am going to put a plain piece of material and backing in today. Will see what happens.
      What type of thread do you use? I was told to use 40-60 wt. Superior polyester thread.
      Sorry for so many questions. I am new at this. I hope you don't mind.

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    2. I don't mind at all! I use any and all kinds of threads, but my favorites are mostly by Superior. I like polyester threads for strength and less fuzz than cottons; but for a thicker, show-off thread, I love King Tut, which is a long-staple cotton. My favorite bobbin thread is Superior's So Fine (it is a little finer, and works great with most other threads). I highly recommend going to Superior's website at www.superiorthreads.com and click on their Education subheading. Lots of great information there. Mostly, just don't be afraid to try different things, play, and have fun!

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    3. Thank you for the tips. I'll let you know how it goes. You're the best.

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    4. You're very welcome. I know you will have fun with it!

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