This page was last updated: Saturday, March 23, 2013
The Computer Assisted Longarm FAQ Page
In case you have arrived here from for the first time, I keep this individual web page online because it has a lot of good information. Jackie passed away in 2006, and I no longer longarm. It was a team thing for us. So keep in mind the time difference between 2006 and today as you read this. As you find information that should be corrected or included, please feel free to email me at the bottom of the page, and I can make changes to this page. This web page is public but I rely on feedback from the public to keep it current. Jeff as of March 2013
We computerized our Gammill Optimum longarm quilting machine with the Statler Stitcher computerized add-on system. This has precipitated many emails and discussions on the hanson email list and among its membership directly. For this reason we offer this web page as an introduction to the computerized longarm. For information on the hanson email list please visit http://www.houseofhanson.com/hanson.html If you have questions or comments about this article please feel free to contact us via email using the links at the bottom of this web page.
Here are a few of the common myths about computer assisted machines
As most of you know, when you first got your quilting machine, many of your friends and customers thought all you had to do was press a button and the machine would sew a pattern all by itself. They seemed shocked to learn that YOU actually controlled the sewing direction and speed as well as the pattern. Well, many of our friends and customers NOW think we can do just that.
Myth #1 You can press a button and walk
away and come back to a finished quilt.
This just isn't true. The time from start to finish of a quilt will be unchanged whether one uses the computer or does it by hand guiding. The computer will not sew any faster than a human guiding the machine. It might be a little more certain of itself while doing feathers or other complex patterns, but the actual sewing speed for the sewing motor is basically unchanged .
One cannot really walk away from a quilt in progress that is being done by computer. The operator needs to be there to catch the bobbin running out of thread or the thread breaking (if you don't use the Thread Break feature) or other malfunctions such as the sewing foot catching an open seam or a clamp that is getting too close to the sewing for comfort or any number of normal occurrences. However, we have visited fellow computer assisted machine owners and found them at the curb getting their snail mail and chatting with neighbors. When we went inside to the studio there was the computerized machine sewing its little heart out. So it can be done without monitoring if you trust your quilt (whole cloth without seams let's say, know your bobbin is full, etc.).
There are commercial quilting machine with multiple needles......say 300 needles. These ARE able to do a quilt at the push of a single button. However, these machine also are limited to simpler patterns and they use entire bolts of fabric and batting at a time. They finish the entire quilt in minutes and roll right on to do another identical quilt. Just imagine what happens when one thread breaks or you run out of bobbin thread on one needle. These machines are stationery..........it's the bolts of fabric that are moved to make the pattern. These machines are extremely noisy as you can imagine. These are the machines that make bedspreads and comforters you see in many hotels and department stores.
Myth #2 You can do more quilts in a given
period of time because you can sew faster; therefore, the machine will pay for itself
faster and you will make more profit. Myth #2a You can turn yourself into a production
line and just crank those quilts out one right after the other.
The machine doesn't actually sew any faster while under computer control than when an operator controls the sewing speed and direction by hand guiding. While it is true the speed can be adjusted, generally the machine will want to sew the same speed as the operator for the same reasons. The machine WILL change sewing speed throughout the pattern (much like a driver changes speed while driving a curvy mountain road), but the stitch length WILL remain the same from start to finish.
A better explanation might be remotely driven automobiles. Just because they are being driven remotely by camera and electronics doesn't mean they can take a corner any faster than a real person would driving from the driver's seat of the same automobile.
What are the 3 Modes of operation of a
computer-assisted quilting machine?
Mode 1 It does one thing. It sews. Standard hand guided mode with no computer assistance. Feels, sews, handles, and operates just like any non-computerized machine.
Mode 2 It does two things. It sews and it regulates the stitch length automatically. Computer assisted but hand-guided with stitch length automatically controlled by the computer to give you the exact number of stitches per inch that you desire.........regardless of how fast or slowly you hand-guide the machine. The new APQS Millennium also has stitch regulation. Nolting calls this their IntelliStitch feature. Check out http://www.intellistitch.com Gammill is working on theirs and it is rumored to be named the Auto-Stitch. This is the mode that is particularly handy for Stitch-in-the-Ditch. You can slow down near turns and speed up on straight stretches. Marcia Stevens has written an excellent article about her experiences with the IntelliStitch. You can read it by visiting http://www.intellistitch.com/mstevens.htm on the IntelliStitch web site.
Mode 3 It does three things. It sews. It regulates the stitch length automatically. And, it steers the machine to sew a pattern. This is computer-assisted, but in a pattern guided mode. The stitch length is regulated and the X and Y axis motors guide the machine to follow a digitized pattern from inside the computer. The pattern is scalable to any size, the stitches per inch, the repetitions of the pattern, and the offset of the pattern is all computer controlled. Patterns can be singles like inside a quilt block. They can be rotated so you don't have to turn the quilt top. They can be continuous edge-to-edge. And they can be staggered from one row to the next for edge to edge such as the common "cloud" pattern.
What are the equipment components of a
computer assisted machine?
A computer (desktop usually because a servo computer card is installed inside the computer case; however, it is rumored that future systems coming out will not use a servo card), keyboard, mouse, monitor, etc.
A X axis motor and a Y axis motor for Mode 3.
A X axis encoder and a Y axis encoder for Mode 2. The encoders sense the motion of the machine about each axis when the operator guides it by hand. This allows the computer to speed up or slow down sewing to keep the stitches the length the operator has set.
A power supply (often in a computer case so it looks like another computer) that powers the motors.
How is a computer assisted longarm quilting
machine different from a non-computerized longarm quilting machine?
The computer assisted machine will have a computer connected to the machine via cables. There will be two additional motors (the X and the Y motors besides the sewing motor now known as the Z motor) also connected by cables to the power supply. These motors are mounted on the machine and/or table for moving the machine in the left/right (or X axis) and the up [forward]/down [backward] (or Y axis) directions; instead of the operator moving the handles at all times. The power supply will also have a cable going to the sewing motor or Z motor. Most computerized machines have the ability to sew in computer driven mode Mode 3 or in computer stitch regulated (but still hand-guided) quilting machine mode Mode 2. We have an additional switch on our personal machine. This switch we have named the Marcia Stevens Switch so that when she teaches classes at our location she can change the machine between computerized or a non-computerized stock standard machine to accommodate the make-up of the class she will be teaching that day.
Who makes them? How much do they cost?
As of this writing Nolting makes a $30,000 computer assisted quilting machine and Paul Statler makes an after-market modification that will work on most any quilting machine to turn it into a computer assisted quilting machine for roughly $12,000. For information on these two companies as well as all other quilting machine companies, that we are aware of, please visit the Longarm Resources Web Page http://www.houseofhanson.com/longarm.html
What can a computer assisted machine do
that a non-computerized machine CAN'T do?
An automatic thread break (if you want to use it) that shuts the machine off when the thread breaks. Patterns can be adjusted to fit the quilt top, the quilt block, and the entire quilt top for edge-to-edge patterns. Operators can change and the quilting of a particular quilt will not suffer the telltale signs of a change in "handwriting". So one person can start the quilt. If a phone call comes in another person can finish the quilt. Stitch size can be adjusted to suit the operator, and it WILL be consistent from start to finish even in V's or tight direction changes. The total number of stitches in a quilt can be recorded or the total amount of thread used can be estimated (for next time). This helps give you other options to charge by besides hourly if you are so inclined.
The software allows you to enter the length and width of the quilt top. If doing edge to edge continuous line patterns it determines the number of rows of the pattern, the height and width of each row is adjusted (or can be fixed), and the space between rows can be adjusted (or can be fixed). It takes a lot of the math out of setting up the quilt. When doing individual blocks you don't have any math to contend with anyway, but you can adjust the size with the click of a mouse.
What are the advantages?
Stitch regulation makes frog stitching easier (rip-it, rip-it or un-sewing). No piling up of stitches in one spot which happens when one gets lost in a pattern and hesitates for a second or when one sews a tight "V" in a direction change for instance. There is also the human denial factor that happens when one bumps into a clamp for example. The mind takes a second or two for it to register and have the operator turn the sewing off. Computer assisted machines are setup with limits that shut the machine off should your sewing foot touch a clamp, pin, etc.
Another big advantage is the decrease of operator fatigue, repetitive motion injuries etc. Many of us who quilt for a living know what I'm talking about particularly around Christmas time, our industry's peak time. A lot of time and money is spent on back supports, comfortable supportive shoes, special floor mats to stand on, some operators use rolling chairs to quilt from, some have upgraded to machines with an up/down needle positioner specifically because of hand/finger problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome. While computerization will NOT eliminate these job risks it certainly helps tremendously and can make the difference between quilting for a living or quitting .
On our particular machine, since the computer needs to control the sewing motor anyway, we were able to eliminate the black curly cord coming out of the back of the machine. So no more tripping over cords. As our machine sits today there are no cords on the floor that people can walk or trip on.
Stock Gammill machines have switches on the ends of the control yoke handles. The standard configuration is a start/stop switch on the right and the up/down needle positioner (optional factory item) on the left yoke handle. The Statler Stitcher system doesn't use ANY of those switches in Mode 2 or Mode 3 operation. The Statler Stitcher uses a keypad mounted on the front-left above the control yoke on the needle end. The stock Gammill speed control knob (1-100 on most Gammills or 1-10 on most APQS, etc) is used only for Mode 1 operation.
If you chose to computerize your machine you automatically end up with an "up/down needle positioner" if you didn't have one before. So if you purchase a machine to upgrade to a computerized machine you can purchase it without an "up/down needle positioner" and save some money. Also, the switches on the Gammill machines that are prone to failure on the control handles are not used except for mode 1. Therefore this is a way around the Gammill Switch problem indirectly.<G>
If you choose to computerize your machine you also automatically end up with an electronic "Gam-Guide", "Circle Ease", and "Hartley Fence". The software allows straight lines to be sewn in all 360 degrees of direction. And a perfect circle is one of the first patterns you learn to digitize. We still use our channel lock and ironically use it more for when we are not sewing than when we are sewing. We use it to move the length of the table with our laser light on a seam to make sure the quilt is still square with the rollers.
If the telephone rings you can stop everything at the touch of a button. If in Mode 2 you just stop moving the controls and the machine stops sewing. After your telephone call you touch a button to continue or if in Mode 2 you start moving the machine slowly at first to get your rhythm back in sync.
If you are sewing in Mode 2 and you have a temporary loss of direction because of a busy pattern or busy fabric or well blended color of thread; you simply stop, get your bearings, then continue. There will be NO telltale signs of this because there will be no stacking up of stitches.
If you use one of your hands to smooth or finesse the quilt as you sew you will love the computer-assisted machine. In this case you have two hands to work the fabric. This can be extremely helpful with certain problem quilts and is very helpful also since most of us are a single operator. If you have ever watched a puppy or kitten knead its mom during feeding this is the same sort of motion you can use. To explain this for those not familiar with the concept. Visualize a boat going in a straight line. Notice how the water builds up in front of the bow of the bow in the form of a wave. So it is with the needle pushing the fabric as the machine sews in certain instances.
What can a non-computerized machine do that
computerized machine can't?
A bobbin winder that winds only when the machine is sewing cannot be used to wind bobbins while the machine is sewing in Mode 2 or Mode 3. The sewing motor (Z motor) is constantly changing speed while sewing in Mode 2 and Mode 3. This results in the bobbin being wound tight then loose then tight then loose. This will cause subtle stitch tension problems if one is not aware of this peculiarity of a computerized machine vs. a non-computerized machine. So if you have a computerized machine you will need a separate freestanding bobbin winder. You can see our personal bobbin winder by visiting http://www.houseofhanson.com/hanson.html .
Also, there are sashings or borders that are not straight or that are tapered. These cannot be done by using the computer to guide the sewing. The operator needs to modify the pattern through hand guiding as the sewing progresses to compensate for non-parallel, tapered, flared, or crooked seams. So to be able to say computerized machines can do anything that a non-computerized machine can assumes we can get the computerized machine out of Mode 3 sewing. And, that means we MUST be able to turn the computerized machines into either Mode 1 operation or Mode 2 operation or preferably be able to have both Mode 1 and Mode 2 operations available to the operator.
I do see where in the future the software can be written to let the operator hand-move the machine to preset each of four (or more) corners and have the computer modify the pattern to fit that shape whether it be a trapezoid, parallelogram, rhombus, or a polygon.
What are the disadvantages?
The cost of the investment of a computerized machine is steep at this point in time. Non-computerized quilting machines have just started earning the respect of the hand quilting community. The computerized machines will have to earn that respect over time as well. It will take time, patience and education. Folks tend to be fearful of what they don't understand.
Because of the accuracy of the computer, the inaccuracy of any human piecer becomes more evident. It becomes more of a concern when sewing in Mode 3. The operator must learn to use the accuracy of the computer to compliment the human piecing. This is a new skill you will develop very quickly on a computerized machine.
What are some things the computer
assisted machines need to really take advantage of their abilities?
As of this writing the longarm industry does not have a low bobbin warning light/buzzer/etc. It would be even more of an advantage on a computerized longarm to have such a device than on a regular sewing machine. Once the computerized longarm machine is set up for edge to edge continuous line the operator only needs to keep an eye on the machine for thread breaks, running out of bobbin, and advancing of the fabric. In fact, running out of bobbin is such a big deal on the computerized machines that most of us change bobbins early rather that dealing with running out of bobbin thread and having to go back to the same spot where we left off.
And, that is why if you are an inventor, or know someone who is, and you, or they, can develop a bobbin-less system for a longarm that uses an entire cone of thread for the bottom thread and eliminates the bobbin YOU could become extremely wealthy. It's time has come as the need has arrived with the advent of the computer assisted quilting machines. Somebody is going to do it. And, we can't wait.<G>
What are the minimum computer requirements
for a computerized machine?
The computer now comes with the computerized machine as part of the package. The reason is that the computer needs special requirements that are best met by building a computer to fit the particular quilting machine. Many of our computers at home might not meet the specific requirements of a particular installation. A polite way of saying not all computers are equal. And, by the time you modify the computer to work for your installation you have more time and money in it than if you purchased a new computer to go with the quilting machine. Besides, doing email from your quilting room is not my idea of a good home/office computer setup.
Kathy Olson wrote us that Melinda at Bluebonnet Quilts has the Statler system on her Legacy machine...and she recommended a wireless mouse. We have added one as it save trips back and forth between the computer and the quilting machine. It is the Logitech Live "radio" Trackball with 30 foot range. You can check it out at http://www.logitech.com/cf/products/trackballs.cfm It's kind of funny in that we can get so far from the computer that the limiting distance is our ability to see the mouse cursor on the monitor. <g>
Is this an add-on to an existing quilting
machine or does this require an entirely new quilting machine that is built specifically
for the computer assist?
Your options are many. You might already have a quilting machine or want to convert one or want to buy one to convert or buy one already converted or made that way from scratch. And, the company, that you choose to do business with, you select for all the usual reasons such as cost, distance, support, etc.
We personally own a Gammill Optimum with a 30 inch arm. It is a probably on the larger side for detailed hand guided work. The Classic is has a shorter 26 inch arm and is more easily controlled for finer detail. However, once our machine was computerized we wished we had a longer arm (the 36 inch Gammill Supreme) as it gives more pattern area to sew before having to advance the fabric. This means more rows of pantographs before advancing the fabric or even more importantly the ability to do a larger pattern period. When you go computerized the size/weight of the arm/sewing head no longer becomes a factor because you are no longer moving it physically yourself.
Do you have to be a computer wizard to
operate a computerized machine?
No more than a driver of an automobile needs to be a mechanic to drive a car. A better example might be our own situation. When we got into machine quilting we personally didn't sew quilt tops or piece fabric even though both of us sew. But, in order to better serve our customers we felt it would help us if we knew some of what they had to knew. Now, Jackie is piecing for the fun of it and even Jeff has a quilt top under construction. So you might learn a little bit about computers in the process to better serve your customers.
What about patterns?
What exactly is a CADD pattern?
Initially, any pattern that is put into a computer in the form of a file is computerized. You can scan a paper pattern into a computer and this is considered digitizing. However, a CADD pattern is drawn into the computer using a mouse, trackball, engineering pad/tablet, and CADD (computer-aided design & drafting) software. You could trace a paper hardcopy of the pattern while using CADD software and an engineering tablet (or some other input device less desirable for this particular task such as a mouse or trackball). However, with the advent of the scanner, tracing isn't used much because it is more precise to "draw" over the top of a scanned-in pattern's image. While the pattern is displayed on the monitor you use a mouse, trackball, engineering pad/tablet and CADD software to draw the pattern. This freehand drawing is done on your desk/table using input devices while watching the resulting drawing going up on your monitor's screen (so it is NOT tracing). The finished product looks like a pattern in the classic sense, but the CADD program has defined the pattern's lines and curves mathematically. And, therein lies the subtle difference. <G> This is not unlike the difference between letters and a novel, or notes and a symphony. They are both the same.......just presented differently. How's that for an understatement?
What exactly are graphics pads, digitizing pads, engineering pads, graphics
tablets, digitizing tablets and engineering pads (these are all the same just
called by different names)?
While a mouse or trackball translates each movement of your hand into a similar movement of the mouse pointer on the monitor's screen; a digitizing tablet translates each point on the tablet into a specific point on the screen. It is this ability that allows us to use a digitizing tablet to trace an existing drawing by attaching a paper hardcopy of a pattern to the tablet's surface with tape or by placing it under the clear plastic overlay that most tablets have. Of course the tablet can be used like a mouse or trackball to draw a pattern freehand as well. Most of us seem to be using the WACOM Intuos models of engineering tablets. The Intuos is now available in USB models as well as serial port versions. Check them out at:
What formats are the CADD
This is not an easy question. Each pattern can be composed of four or five different files each in a different format depending on the system. The primary output file from the CADD software is a DXF file. Another file might represent a "snapshot" of the pattern to be sewn or a WMF or Windows Meta File. Another file might control the tie-offs for the starting position and the finish position or the DAT file. Some of the patterns available are encrypted and the format is proprietary such as the QLI file. This part of the business is changing rapidly and some questions need to be answered. Let me use Marcia Stevens as an example, because she is a good friend; and, she knows we will not do anything with her patterns that she doesn't approve of.
If I own a Marcia Stevens paper pattern that I bought from her, can I convert it to a CADD pattern myself and use it to sew customer's quilts the same as I was doing with her patterns when using the laser? And, this question is going to have to be asked of each pattern designer out there. I suspect the answers will vary as they do now with the use of patterns on customer's quilts. One pattern, one quilt at the one extreme or one pattern, unlimited quilts as long as no production line usage at the other end of the spectrum. If we can use a copy machine to enlarge a paper pattern can we use the computer to draw a CADD pattern that we have already purchased if our use of the pattern is unchanged, namely individual customer quilts.
Drawing a CADD pattern is NOT simply clicking a scanner button and having the pattern scanned in and changed over to a ready-to-use digitized pattern. It varies with the complexity of the pattern and the experience of the human CADD operator/designer/artist; but, it generally takes at least as long to draw a CADD pattern as it does for us to make our own original paper patterns for use with the laser. The advantage would be that we can make it larger or smaller from 2 inches to 30 inches for example with the click of a mouse button and that we can rotate it from 1 degree at a time or 90 degree intervals (if ones sewing software supports the rotation feature then you don't have to redraw a CADD pattern to rotate the pattern). And, we don't have to make two rolls of paper patterns so that we don't have to advance the fabric after each pass. The computer can do as many passes as we have room for and THEN we advance the fabric. Also, pattern storage is no longer a physical storage space problem because they are stored on the hard drive and/or on disk as backups. The computer can determine the length of the pattern as a continuous line and express the total number of stitches from the number of stitches per inch that you want to use.
The patterns we use to quilt with are only two dimensional or flat. Therefore any CAD software (computer-aided design) or CADD software (computer-aided design and drafting) capable of saving files in DXF format will work for CADD patterns. (With the possible exception of CorelDraw so far) However, CADD software can go upwards of $1000 or more, and we don't need all that capability for two dimensional pattern drawings. The industry is going with AutoSketch. Version 9.0 sells for about $129 US$ full retail from the Autodesk's web site as well as more information on the AutoSketch software itself.
Autodesk makes AutoCAD, AutoCAD LT, Autodesk, Drafix CAD Professional, QuickCAD, WorkCenter and many, many, more including of course AutoSketch 6. One final word about CAD programs. They are the most resource intensive hogs of anything you can put on your computer. Advanced computer games are second in demanding a powerful computer with music/sound/audio software, speech recognition and graphics programs a little less demanding. So if you are a pattern designer getting into CADD patterns you will want a graphics tablet (most of us use a mid-size 9" by 12" WACOM tablet) and 256 MB of RAM minimum for Windows XP. The good new is the files tend to be under 50 KB so that is not a problem!
Speaking of Patterns
Speaking of patterns, how would you like to be able to hand guide (mode 1 or mode 2) an entire row of pantograph using your laser stylus and a standard 14 foot paper roll pattern and have it recorded by the computer (through the X and Y axis encoders that move as the machine head moves). Then when you move the sewing head back to the start of the next row you just push a button and the entire row you have just sewn is duplicated automatically including all your "human imperfections". Pretty neat. Of course you can do the same thing with a fancy free hand flower template, block, or inset. This is a new feature of the 32 bit Statler Stitcher software and is called the Record Mode.
Or if you are a pattern designer who sells patterns. Try this one. Make a new pattern on roll paper and "sew it" into the computer as talked about above. Then remove your pattern, lay down a fresh blank roll of pattern paper, move the head to the start position, replace the laser stylus with an appropriate marking pen, and press the start button. The machine will draw on roll paper an exact duplicate of your original paper pattern.
Jeff and Jackie
If you have comments or suggestions, email us at:
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This page was last updated:
Saturday, March 23, 2013
Changes: Specific Wacom links removed (no longer current)
version 9 of AutoSketch now current