Digital Machine Quilting - What is it?

Before I bought my long-arm quilting machine 9 years ago, to be honest I really didn't know the difference between, digital/computer guided quilting or free-motion quilting. I really was naive to how it all worked. After buying my long-arm machine I very quickly learned the difference. I will admit that at that time I was a bit of a "snob" about free-motion quilting. I had the attitude that computer guided or digital machine quilting was cheating. Boy have my opinions changed over the years. :)

Six years ago, I was having horrible back and neck pain every day, it actually got so bad that at one point I was going to physical therapy several times a week to help with the pain. The pain was coming as a result of bending over, and using horrible posture while machine quilting for 8+ hours a day at least 5 days a week. At this time I made the decision to invest in the Statler Stitcher. The Statler Stitcher is the version of computer that is used on a Gammill Long Arm Quilting machine. It was a big investment, but I was in my 20's and knew that if I continued to quilt like I was, my machine quilting career was going to be short lived. 

This is a quilt that I used the Statler Stitcher and my "Mist" digital pantograph pattern to quilt.

If you've been following my machine quilting journey you know that this past summer I got a new Gammill quilting machine. My previous machine was a fabulous machine and after 9 years of heavy use it was still working just great. There were just some changes in my life and I was able to upgrade to a slightly bigger machine, before I had an 18" throat space and now I've got a 22" throat space. 

So, how does the digital/computer guided machine quilting work? Well, it's a computer driving the long-arm machine instead of me. The computer and the long-arm machine are hooked to a belt system that the two are communicating and machine quilting. The computer is almost perfect so it's machine quilting is a bit more precise that the human touch. I most often only use the Statler Stitcher when I'm doing edge to edge type quilting. I tell the computer how big my quilt is, how big or small I want the pattern I'm using, and then I can adjust spacing between rows, stitch length, tell it places where it should or should not quilt. Then I tell it to go. The machine will stitch one row across the quilt. I then go and advance the quilt and tell it to start quilting again. 

On machines that do not have the computer you can still quilt edge to edge patterns, called pantograph patterns. These patterns are printed on a big roll and generally the machine operator stands behind the long-arm and with the help of a laser light follows the lines on a pattern. Pantograph patterns are great because you're stitching out a repeating pattern which will create a nice over-all look when complete. 

Occasionally I have customers ask why there is such a big price difference between hand-guided quilting and computerized quilting. For me, there is a big price difference because the computer guided machine quilting is not nearly and physically demanding or time consuming as hand-guided.

I take the days that I'm using the computer as days to rest my back and neck. I do still have to be near the machine, set it up, load/unload the quilt, check on it, advance it, change bobbin threads, but over all it's a fabulous addition to my machine quilting services. 

However, I do still think there is a place for free-motion, for now I'll continue to do my custom quilting hand-guided. I do love the human touch and love that it's a place to be creative.

Occasionally, when the inspiration strikes I play around with some digital design software and create new digital machine quilting patterns. 
These are a few of my most recent designs;

I love creating and machine quilting with both types of machine quilting, digital and free-motion I'm so grateful for the inventors of the digital machine quilting world. They've literally saved me from some major back and neck pain.


  1. Thank you for the insight. I hope to have a long arm someday, and was curious about how advantageous it is to invest in a digital system. Your quilting is beautiful!

  2. Thanks, I've often wondered what was involved with the computer guided version :)


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