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Larger Quilting Area For Small Quilting Systems

A review of
Hobby Quilter

from Nolting Manufacturing

Hobby Quilter Medium-Arm Quilting Machine
Click the picture to visit the Hobby Quilter Web site

The Hobby Quilter is a medium-arm quilting machine designed to be used with short-arm machine quilting systems like the SuperQuilter or the Grace Machine Quilter. The Hobby Quilter looks and acts more like a long-arm quilting machine than a home sewing machine, but is priced more like a home sewing machine than a complete long-arm system.

Read my reviews of several short-arm systems

Like a home sewing machine, the Hobby Quilter is very easy to use. It should pretty much work as soon as you get it out of the box. This is in stark contrast to another medium-arm quilting machine that I reviewed, the WowQuilts Model I.

Read my review of the WowQuilts Model I

With a 16″ wide harp (the area between the area and the bed), the 31-pound Hobby Quilter is for quilters who have a short-arm machine quilting frame and want a larger quilting area than they can get with their home sewing machines.

The Hobby Quilter will also appeal to long-arm quilters who want to sell their big machines and get out of the business but still want the convenience of a long-arm machine for doing their own quilts.

To cover both perspectives, I took my friend Suzanne Cady with me to our local Hobby Quilter dealer, The Moses House. Suzanne is a seven-year veteran of a large Gammill long-arm quilting machine, but sold her machine several months ago. Now she is looking for something with long-arm capabilities, but more compact.

Long-Arm Features

Most long-arm quilting machines have harp widths between 18″ and 36″ and use very large quilting frames, requiring much more room than the average quilter has at home. The Hobby Quilter’s harp is 16″ wide and 8″ high, slightly narrower than the narrowest long-arm quilting machine harps, but more than twice the width of most home sewing machine harps.

The Hobby Quilter shares other features with its larger cousins. It has handles with cushioned grips at the needle-end, so you can drive the machine with an unobstructed view of your stitches. It also has handles on the opposite end of the machine, so you can follow a pattern called a pantograph using a metal stylus attached to the machine.

The Hobby Quilter has a hand wheel on each end of the machine, so it is easy to pull up the bobbin thread to the top of the work. This is a very nice feature, especially if you are “vertically challenged” (short) and have trouble reaching across the rails of your short-arm quilting system.

The start/stop button on the right grip of each set of handles let me turn on the machine and start quilting without any fussing around. And I could stop just as easily.

Speed Control

Rather than having precise speed settings, the Hobby Quilter has a speed control knob that works like a dimmer switch. I started slow, then speeded up as I got used to the way the Hobby Quilter handles. Once I found the speed I liked, I didn’t have to change the setting again.

Suzanne didn’t need to experiment with the speed as much as I did, since she has so much more long-arm experience. After several inches of quilting, she was cruising along at her usual speedy pace, with evenly-spaced stitches of exact length. (But even Suzanne didn’t run the machine at it’s top speed of 2,000 stitches per minute.)

After several minutes of quilting, Suzanne remarked that she had forgotten how much she really likes machine quilting and couldn’t wait to get started again with a home-sized machine quilting system.

Adapting To Short-Arm Quilting Systems

With its significantly wider harp, the Hobby Quilter won’t work on most short-arm machine quilting systems as they come out of the box. You’ll need to contact the manufacturer of whatever short-arm machine quilting system you have or are considering buying to learn what kind of modifications or adapter kits are required to handle the Hobby Quilter.

The Hobby Quilter that Suzanne and I tested was set up on a Grace Machine Quilter system that had been modified with an optional expansion kit to handle a large-harp machine. Russ Moline, the owner of The Moses House, told me that the expansion kit we used may turn out to be just a prototype, or it could be the final product.

I found two drawbacks to the modifications to the Grace Machine Quilter. Widely-spaced tracks attach to the bed of the Grace Machine Quilter over its regular tracks, which wouldn’t leave enough room on the bed for a pantograph if you wanted to use one.

The second disadvantage was that the carriage moved toward me and away from me more easily than it moved side to side. In the beginning, I had trouble getting my stitches to be the same size when I changed quilting direction, but with practice I got used to the movement. Hopefully, this side-to-side drag will be worked out in later versions of the Grace Machine Quilter adapter.

This Is Not A Sewing Machine

The Hobby Quilter sews, but it is not a sewing machine. It doesn’t have feed dogs, so it can’t sew straight seams like a home sewing machine.

Thankfully, the Hobby Quilter has much better lighting than a sewing machine. It sports a 12″ fluorescent light that provides lots of light to see your work both at the needle end and at the back end of the machine.

Also, the Hobby Quilter doesn’t use the spring darning foot that most home sewing machines use for machine quilting. It uses a hopping foot that can be adjusted easily to handle different batt thicknesses.

Like home sewing machines, the Hobby Quilter uses standard bobbins, so I could buy pre-wound bobbins. However, there is no way to wind bobbins on the Hobby Quilter. To wind bobbins, you’ll need to use your regular sewing machine or purchase a separate bobbin winder.

Unlike home sewing machines, the Hobby Quilter uses a commercial embroidery needle with a round shaft. This means that the fancy needles with a flat part on the shaft won’t work in the Hobby Quilter. That could limit your use of creative threads and techniques.

But the biggest drawback to the Hobby Quilter is the price. The suggested retail price of the Hobby Quilter is $3,500, almost four times the price of the WowQuilts Model I and more than twice the price of the Juki TL-98E, another bigger-than-normal-harp alternative you might consider.

Read my review of the Juki TL-98E

But the Hobby Quilter is the right product, if not the right price. If Nolting could find a way to produce and sell the Hobby Quilter for less, this machine would be on every short-arm quilting system in the country.

A big Quilter’s Review “Thank you!” to Russ Moline, who let Suzanne and me test the Hobby Quilter on a modified Grace Machine Quilter system at his store. Russ is an owner of The Moses House quilt shop at 423 Winchester St. in Keene, New Hampshire. You can call The Moses House at 603-352-2312.

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