Ruth & I with our two Innovas [and Ruth's lovely quilts hanging on the wall]. It has been six months since we swapped our Gammills for Innovas. We now have two Innova® 26" sewheads with AutoPilot Mach 3™ [AP]. One is on a 12' frame and the other is on a 14'. The 14' is also outfitted with Innova's Grand Format Embroidery™ [GFE].
The question is "how did the decision to change longarms turn out?" After all, we had the 'latest and greatest' in the Gammill line for years of service. We had also upgraded them to the latest software available.
We had been anticipating improvements, or it would have been ridiculous to switch. From what follows, you can see that we are very happy with our decision.
Point of Reference
Although we purchased our first longarm for personal use in 2003, we quickly moved into a business longarming environment in 2004 with the opening of Forever In Stitches, LLC. Since then we have quilted 8,000 customer quilts, hundreds of Ruth's quilts, and many hundreds of veterans/disaster-relief/charity quilts. This equates to about 2.5 customer quilts per day. We take pride in the quality of our longarming, the way we interact with and serve our customers, and our processes.
I say this because I have met a person who spent an entire year free-motion longarming an unbelievable quilt [and she got a well deserved blue ribbon]! Her focus on capabilities and ours differ widely because hers is free-motion and our are automated - although we both own Innovas.
The categories and capabilities listed here are a combination of what we were looking for in the Innovas and what the Innovas were able to do better and/or easier in the real world the way we use them. This is not a list of Innova's AP features, but those that we really like. I'm sure that there are capabilities not listed here that we have not yet tested and therefore express no opinion.
Improved Features To Protect The Quilt
As a professional longarmer it is imperative that the quilts entrusted to us are more than cared for, they are guarded. Innova features many benefits that we use and have found important. Some of these are:
- Sealed "oil-less" bearings keep the quilt and quilting area clean. It also eliminates a variety of techniques that we employed to keep sewhead oil and grit off the quilts. A side effect of this is that we have cut our paper towel purchases by two-thirds and have two quarts of oil that should last until the next millennium.
- The metal used in the frame and track system does not create the black oxide grit that forms on the wheels. That black grit is similar to oil in that it is very difficult to remove from fabric and is very noticable.
- Breakaway clamps on the sides of the project mean that there is no longer a problem ripping the quilt when the sewhead hits a clamp. This is because the clamps let go of the fabric rather than create undesirable forces on the needle and fabric.
- Needle positioning controls will not allow the sewing to begin as long as the needle is in a dangerous or uncontrolled position.
This is a preamble to the next topic, Better Sewing Functionality. This section deals with the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of sewing. These are important whether you are longarming free-hand, free-motion, or automated.
Innova has many innovations from the bobbin and bobbin case to the thread tension controls and Lightning Stitch which eliminates loops, skipped stitches, bird's nests, and crow's feet. This is further extended with the "Dead Bar" which maintains a flat quilting surface allowing you have easier alignment, tensioning, and consistent stitch quality.This is where Innova's engineering really shines!
Better Sewing Functionality
This section is more focused on automated or automated-assisted longarming. The functions apply to Edge-To-Edge to Custom Quilting and all points in between.
- Fit a pattern into an area is easy.
- Trim external/internal. This is useful around applique or other areas where stitching is not desired. It is also useful to keep patterns from running off the quilt or over the borders.
- Morphing a pattern is needed where the design of the pattern does not match the execution of the piecing. This is important because longarms are very exact while fabric is not and fabric stretches. This also gives better stitch and pattern control when borders or sashing do not have consistent widths.
- I have found that the ability to determining the jump distance to trigger the sewhead to stop is important. Great for custom quilting without repeated interruptions.
- "Push Pins" are great in creating objects, sew-arounds, trim areas and poly-line drawing. Oh, yes, you can draw with the sewhead or mouse.
- The combination of push pins with poly-line creation lets you identify an object on the screen that corresponds exactly with the object on the quilt top. Then one can morph the designs to give the illusion of a straight border.
- You can place text on the quilt and add depth to the stitching with GFE.
- Grouping patterns is important, but Innova's ability to ungroup them into their original components is as important and is a time-saver.
- There is a "mask" capability to allow stitching around applique.
- Edge-To-Edge patterns are kept straight and in-line with the quilt without doing all of the "stuffing" the frames to keep the quilts and the stitching straight.
- We now have the ability to easily connect different patterns without tie-offs. This allows borders and corners to be easily integrated. This reduces the tie-offs and the need for "Corner-Stones" when border designs don't tie together seamlessly.
- The precision of pattern placement is improved. This allows placement that gives the "heirloom" look.
- There are fewer tie-offs required on quilts. This is important because we bury the ends and don't just let the machine tie-off.
- Patterns can be easily rotated and "cropped" to fit in edge blocks.
- Stitch parameters controlled by lightning stitch and not by the designer of the pattern or the controlling computer in terms of speed and length.
Strong Motor & Power Assist
Strong motors are almost a hall-mark of Innova. It can stitch without effort over the toughest of fabrics and the thickest points maintaining the look of the stitching. It can also sew horizontally at 15 inches per second with Lightning Stitch.
Granted, it is not often that one has a straight-away of that length. But, patterns are composed of straights and curves along with their acceleration and deceleration. So a high performance motor helps immensely.
For example, while we had one Gammill and one Innova we ran table runners for my son's wedding. They were 88" x 12", not your normal-sized table runner. The design I had created had over 25,000 stitches in a single design. The Innova completed the task in 25 minutes at 50% power while the Gammill Optimum/Statler Stitcher completed the same task in 36 minutes at 75% power. Time is money in our business as well as cost to the customer.
When doing automated [not free-motion] quilting motors do create resistance to movement even while idle. Innova has incorporated a Power Assist function that detects your movements and and uses the motors power assists your movements whether you are simply moving the sewhead from one position to another or you are sewing or basting. And, it is controllable at the computer or the sewhead.
"What You See Is What You Get" [WYSIWYG] became popular when personal computers went graphical. You could see the layout of the document you were writing on the screen - exactly as it would be printed [well, for the most part]!
Innova has taken this a few steps further. You see the actual stitches on the screen as they are being stitched! - Cool! So what?! For starters you know exactly where to restart on a thread-break for an easy re-start.
You can actually see the size of the pattern. This goes beyond the percent zoom to include a 100%/Actual Size setting. This is helpful in discussing pattern selection and size with a customer during the quilt check-in process. We often do this while the machine is stitching another quilt and we open a new project and start building patterns, sizes, and placements for approval.
Innova is known as being the state of the art - in everything. These are just a few of the items we have chosen to share as they prove the point:
- Innova's sewhead has been engineered so that the longarmer can focus on longarming. It has an unprecedented field of vision of the quilt for the longarmer in all four directions.
- They use sealed bearings that do not require oiling and therefore their bearings do not oil the quilt projects, either.
- The frame and rollers do not generate aluminum oxide.
- The "Dead Bar" under the "Take-Up Roller" keeps the back flat throughout the longarming process. It also helps in eliminating pinched backs.
- Everything is strong, yet light weight.
- The "Top Roller Bar" has a gas assisted lift so that you can easily assure that the back is flat, there are no threads where they will show through, and the batting is flat.
- The sew area lighting is phenomenal with the articulated sewing lamp and/or the Spectre LED lighting.
- The rotating sewhead is unique. It simplifies the changing of the feet, especially for complex feet for sequins and couching. It also makes it easier to perform maintenance on the sewhead and remove the sewhead from the table.
- The bobbins are light weight and go through Quality Assurance before being sold. The bobbin holder has a place to hook the thread to assure that the pick-up hook properly engages the bobbin-thread. Note: I bring bobbins up as a topic because it shows the length and care to which Innova has gone to bring the best longarming station to the market.
One result of the quality is that Innova puts their toll-free 24/7 technical support phone number on the print head, in front of the longarmer. They can do that because their equipment is so reliable. The Accomplish Quilting Dealer Group also offers 24/7 support.
Grand Format Embroidery
I must say that I was tempted by the sequin and the couching attachment but we did the Grand Format Embroidery. With this we were able to embroider a name onto a quilt. We are looking forward to using it for borders and corners as well as "fancying up" some of those stitches in sashing and similar locations where you have a simple stitch design that needs that "something more."
This is a kick! Who would have thought that roller handles would ever rank high on the list! Well, here you go!
The Innova roller handles can be re-positioned without repositioning the rollers and thereby moving the quilt. I find it incredible that something this simple can be so helpful, but it is amazing how often the handles end up in the way of something that you're trying to get to. Simply change the handle location!
We are very happy we got Innovas - We love them!
As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to give us a call.