Monday 9 June 2014

My new Juki TL-98P and Swiftquilter

A couple of months ago I bought a Juki TL-98P sewing machine and Swiftquilter quilting frame from Sew Frisco.  In the interests of full disclosure, I'll tell you now that I negotiated a discount on the purchase price in exchange for blog advertising and a couple of blog post reviews.  This is the first one and I'll do another review at around the 6 month mark.  As with all my reviews, I agreed to this on the basis that my review would be completely honest and mention any cons as well as pros.

So, how did I decide to buy the Juki?  I decided I needed a new sewing machine and narrowed my choice of brands down to Bernina (because that's what I had already and what I've sewn on most before), Janome (because that's what most of my real life quilting friends have, and what lots of bloggers have and recommend) and Juki (because lots of bloggers have been raving about their Jukis and I really liked the idea of a fully mechanical sewing machine because I thrash my sewing machine and I don't want it to break down).

Then I started using my Mum's Bernina 440QE, which has a stitch regulator (BSR), for free motion quilting.  BSR is really nice - it means that your stitches are a consistent length and it definitely helps when you're learning to free motion quilt.  I got hooked, and started using Mum's sewing machine every time I needed to free motion quilt something.  I decided that the BSR was so great that I HAD to get a Bernina, even though they are significantly more expensive than any other brand of machine.

To get the throat space I wanted with a Bernina, I needed to go up to the 700 series, so I started saving up for the Bernina 750QE, which retails in New Zealand for $6,999 (by comparison, a Janome 8900 QC retails in New Zealand for $5,499).  (Yes, I cry a little bit inside every time I read American sewing machine prices). And then, I needed to do some free motion quilting and I didn't have time to go around and use Mum's sewing machine.  So I used my little, basic, 25 year old Bernina which definitely does not have BSR.  And do you know what?  My stitches were still pretty consistent.  I quilted a woodgrain pattern, which I hadn't done before,  and I didn't have any issues with the quilting.  My tension was perfect.  All these things which I thought the BSR was doing for me, I was capable of doing myself.  I didn't NEED BSR.  I had just needed practice and the BSR gave me the ability do a nice job while I was still practising.  (By the way, I don't think this is something unique to me.  If you have BSR and always use it, try turning it off, just for a test.  I think you might be surprised.)

That opened up the sewing machine options for me again.  I was still interested in the Juki but unwilling to buy one sight unseen, and the only Juki dealer (Sew Frisco) is in Auckland.  When I got sent to work in Auckland for a few weeks, I decided to take the opportunity to check out a Juki for myself.  It was really really nice, and with a price of $1,995, seemed like great value for money compared to the other options.

Now, I will say in defence of the Bernina and Janome machines that they do much more than the Juki.  The Juki is straight stitch only and the Bernina and Janome machines have all kinds of stitches, and you can do embroidery, and they are computerised and basically a whole bunch more sophisticated than the Juki.  BUT, I don't use almost any of that stuff now and I couldn't see that I would use it in the future.  Basically, to get the large throat space, you have to pay for a whole lot of other stuff that you may or may not use.

Now I've had the Juki for a few weeks, and I love it.  I've used it on the quilting frame, for free motion quilting off the frame, for piecing, for straight line quilting, and to make a small bag (including installing a zip).  It has handled all of those tasks really well and is basically a joy to use.  By the way, as far as I can tell, the Juki TL-98P is exactly the same as the TL-98Q available in the US, except that it runs on New Zealand voltage.  An equivalent to the Juki TL-2010Q isn't available here, but I think the only difference is that the TL-2010Q has a speed control and the TL-98 does not.

So I thought it would be interesting to go back to my post on the sewing machine I've been using for most of my quilting life, my Bernina 802 Sport.  I made a bit of a shopping list of features I was looking for in my next machine:

- large throat space.  Check - the Juki TL-98P has 9" of space between the needle and the right hand upright.

- automatic needle down.  This is pretty much a given on all modern sewing machines, so of course the Juki has it. It's sooooo nice though!

- more speed.  The Juki definitely delivers on this.  I spent most of the time pedal to the metal on my Bernina, but I haven't even touched the top speed on the Juki yet.  From a technical perspective, it does 1500 stitches per minute.  I can confirm that it is FAST.

- knee lift. The Juki has a knee lift which works really well and even clips into the extension table when you're not using it.

One feature which wasn't on my wish list but which I really really love is the automatic thread cutter - you either hit a button on the machine or on the foot pedal and it cuts your thread for you.  Awesome.

My Bernina 802 Sport next to my Juki TL-98P

There are a couple of downsides to the Juki:

- the Juki only does one thing, straight stitch, but it does it super well.  If you are looking for a general purpose domestic sewing machine, this is not the one for you.  It doesn't have a zig zag stitch for sewing knits, or a blanket stitch for machine appliqué, or anything like that.  I'd say it's best suited to a quilter who already has one sewing machine and is looking to upgrade and get more throat space.  I was planning to keep my Bernina anyway, and I'll be using it whenever I need a zigzag stitch (I like to finish the inside seams of cushions and bags this way for durability).

- the Juki does not have a free arm.  Apart from the lack of zigzag stitch, this makes it unsuitable for sewing most garments.  It also means you'll be going back to your domestic machine for some tasks, like top-stitching around the edge of a small zipper pouch, for example.

- as far as I've been able to tell, you can't get an open toe foot for the Juki.  It would most commonly be used for non straight stitching anyway, so that makes sense, but there are times when it's nice to have a good view of the needle, like when you're sewing on the line for foundation paper piecing, or sewing on a marked line when you're quilting.  I'm going to investigate whether I can get a generic open toe foot that works on the Juki.

- it's a big heavy (11.5kg/25lb) sewing machine.  That makes it awesome to sew on but not terribly portable.  It also doesn't come with a hard cover or travel case (but of course you could buy a generic sewing machine bag if you wanted).

None of these are things which put me off the Juki or mean that I'm disappointed in it.  I just wanted to be clear that it does what it does, and it does it very well, but it doesn't do everything.


I've used the Juki with Aurifil (it takes a cone, yay) and with Guterman cotton quilting thread and it's handled both of them perfectly.  For free motion quilting I've stuck to the 90/14 and 100/16 Organ needles that came with the machine, but for piecing I've used Schmetz 80/12 Microtex Sharp needles with great success.  I'll continue to experiment with different needles for different applications, but when I'm using the Juki on the Swiftquilter frame, I've discovered that I really do need to stick with the heavier 100/16 needles (after breaking two 90/14 needles in quick succession).

So far I've pretty much stuck to a description of the sewing machine as used in the way that most people would use it - without the Swiftquilter frame.  Even if you're not interested in a frame, it's still a really great machine and I would definitely recommend it.

So, the Swiftquilter frame.  Basically, it's a set up which includes a moving platform that you sit the sewing machine on, a frame with leaders and enders to stretch the quilt out on, so you free motion quilt by moving the sewing machine and not the quilt.  I bought it because I find normal free motion quilting, where you move the quilt under the needle, very hard on my hands, my neck and my shoulders.  I want to do more free motion quilting but I don't because I can't spend too much time doing it or I end up unable to turn my head.

You sit the frame on a table (I had a special extra tall one made so that the controls are at a comfortable height to use when standing and also so I can see where I'm stitching.  The optimal height for your table will depend on your height.)  The basic frame is 72" wide, and the bit that sits on the table is 23" deep.  The frame overhangs the table so in total it is 34" deep.  The highest point of the frame will sit 11" above the table top, and the part which the quilt sits on is 8" above the table top.  Even though the basic frame is 72" wide, really the widest quilt you can quilt on it is 50" wide.  That's because you need extra room at the sides for the platform that the sewing machine sits on.

The Swiftquilter frame, on my extra tall table.

The frame also comes with an extension, which takes its total width out to 108".  I haven't used the extension yet (and to be honest I'll need to measure to check that my sewing room is even 108" wide!) but hopefully I'll have given it a try by the time my next review rolls around.

I really like the way the platform that the sewing machine sits on moves.  It moves smoothly and freely, but it's got a bit of weight to it (mostly the sewing machine, I guess), which makes it easier (for me, anyway), than something which moves really really easily (I've used long-arms which move at the slightest touch and I found them really hard to control).

I found the frame easy to assemble with the help of the assembly video on Sew Frisco's website.  I did it by myself so it's not like its a two person job or anything like that.  I do quite enjoy assembling flat pack furniture though, so if you absolutely hate things like that you may not enjoy putting the frame together but I still don't think you'd find it difficult.  I know some people disassemble their frames and put them away when they're not using them, but I'm leaving mine up all the time.

The frame can conceptually be used with any large throat sewing machine, but it's recommended for use with Juki TL-98P.  As you'll see if you watch the video, it comes with a handle that screws onto the machine which has controls which plug in so you can control the machine from the handle (no foot pedal needed).

With a lot of help from my sister, I made a video which explains how I load a quilt onto the frame and set it up for quilting.  Hopefully it will give you a good sense of how the frame works, because it would be quite hard to describe in a meaningful way in writing.

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for the actions of my eyebrows in this video!

Ok well I hope you enjoyed the video (or at least had a good laugh)!

If there is anything else you want to know about the Juki and/or the Swiftquilter, let me know and I'll try to answer your question.

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Merran said...

Thanks for that! You are really making me wish I'd held out to buy one of these frames and a Juki. Love the handle that scews on, and the control.
Best of all were the cameo appearances by Ivy and Ralph!

Alyce @ Blossom Heart Quilts said...

Thank you!! What an awesome video - even hubby was fascinated (gooood sign!). Definitely adding to the/his pro list of getting a Juki! I have to know now just how tall you are, having seen your IG pic of you and your brother, and now you needed a special extra tall table.

Rachel said...

Love the video Adrianne! I did have a giggle at the manhandling of your machine! What a great setup!

Elmosmate said...

Great video! yes the manhandling was very funny and very real, which we appreciate. Eva-Rose will be very excited you are quilting her panel :-)
Loved the test drive I had on your Juki, what a great machine and gee its FAST!

craftykat said...

Thanks Adrianne! I think I am certainly leaning towards a juki for my frame. Is the attachable handle a juki product or comes with the frame? Cheers!

Serena @ Sewgiving said...

Loved the video! Felt like I was standing in the room with you, with a hot cuppa in my hand, watching your process :) PS does that frame only work for a Juki?

needle and nest said...

Wow! I've never seen one of these home-use frames in action, and your video was great. Makes me wish I had the space for one for myself!

Leanne said...

What a great video and I love listening to your accent. I bet you will love quilting on that frame.

Jeana said...

wow thanks for posting this -- seeing the frame was so cool! I just got a Juki 2010q (I'm in the US) about a month ago and I am loving it. My review of it matches to yours almost exactly, but I didn't splurge for the frame. It was definitely a factor in my considerations though, and I may invest in one in the future. thanks for taking the time to make this video, it was so cool to actually understand how the frame would work!

Cassandra said...

Awesome review and demonstration!! I would love a long arm one day, glad to see how they work and what is available in the "budget friendly" range. I will be interested to see the followup!

Goldogmom said...

Thanks for taking the time to make the video and share it. I love to fmq but I find doing it on my sewing machine, no frame, to be difficult, as you mentioned. So stressful. I have a Janome 6600 which I love and I've heard many good things about the Juki. It is very popular here too.

in Seattle, USA

Karyn said...

It looks much less stressful than trying to get quilts through a regular sewing machine.

Megan said...

Great video! I've been curious for a while about how that whole system works.

Leeanne said...

Cool fun video! I like your 'supervisors'!

Deb said...

Well that was fun to watch Adrianne. Definitely a worthwhile buy.

arncar said...

That video is brilliant, I have been wondering how they were set up and worked. Thanks a lot.

Adrienne said...

This review and video are Brilliant! I am in the market for a new machine and how great is it to have a machine and the option for a long arm as well. So cool. I have been leaning towards a Juki because I have another basic sewing machine that can still be used for Zig Zag stitches etc. This review makes me want it even more!

Adrienne said...

This review and video are Brilliant! I am in the market for a new machine and how great is it to have a machine and the option for a long arm as well. So cool. I have been leaning towards a Juki because I have another basic sewing machine that can still be used for Zig Zag stitches etc. This review makes me want it even more!

Kris said...

Wonderful review. I loved your video as it shows the reality of the set up and just how heavy and awkward something like that can be. I am really interested in that frame set up with the machine. I would probably want the extension as I keep doing bigger and bigger quilts but the it looks doable. I wondered if you compared this frame with like the Gracie frame (not sure who makes it) or any other platform converting frame before buying this one?

Sarah said...

I bought the Juki 2010q a year ago. I don't use it with a frame. I love it, but the needle threader thingy broke right away, and the bobbin winder broke a few months ago. It does do the best straight stitch ever, though. I got a Janome 1/4 foot with a guide that fits on it, too.

I do use a Bernina as well, for all the fancy stuff, but always use my Juki for piecing.

Camilla said...

Wow great! I too have looked at fancier machines mainly for the throat space and just coudn't do it as I wouldn't use half the features either. So very good to see this review. I hadn't,t seen this frame arrangement before and woudn't have thought I'd be in yeah market for a long arm, so this has got me thinking. Great video! And nice to see you and put you and the kiwi accent together with your blog voice :-) I'm impressed at the very end of the video with what looks to be v fine control of the free motion.

Erica said...

Thank you for sharing your review, it was really interesting to hear your thoughts. While I love my Janome, if I had known more about Juki when I bought my machine I may have gone that route. Though I do really love my machine so maybe not. Loved hearing your cute accent again!

cedacanthus said...

Thank you so much for this review! I'm thinking about getting one of these in the future and this setup and that machine look like they're perfect for what I want. I love that the prices and availability are relevant to me, too; it's not often that you can find really useful information that you don't have to mentally adjust to have it work for NZ!
I'm so glad about the price, that's very reasonable and definitely makes this seem within my reach.
Thank you for keeping the original take of loading the machine into the frame. It was awesome to see something so purely honest!
I'll be keeping a watchful eye out for when you try the extension for the table, I'd love to see how quilting a big quilt would go in this setup.

Thank you for this post!

Lara said...

Loved the post! Awesome video :) I cracked up at the man handling of the machine - nice to keep it honest !! Hehe great job! I can't wait to pop around and see you in action one day!!

LethargicLass said...

wow! Juki ought to give you royalties for life for that... awesome video, especially for someone like me who hasn't seen anything like that before. Thanks!!

Leonie said...

Awesome review and vid! thanks for sharing and pointing out so many details and comparisons! really good to know for one day!

Anne said...

This video is AMAZING. I've always wondered how hard or easy it was to set up a quilt on a frame. It looks kinda like a PITA. How long does it take to do generally?

Since I have a Juki, I was cracking up at the manhandling. I know that look so well! HAhahaah so brilliant!

A few additional notes: EEeeeeee accent! Ivy!!! <3 Oh, ralph. <3

Jessica said...

Thanks for sharing your review and especially the video. Your reasons for choosing the Juki are almost identical to mine, I got mine 2nd hand just over a year ago and love it. I posted a review at the time and it's one of the most popular posts on my blog so I plan on putting some more info together (especially for other Aussies & Kiwis since they're much harder to find here) and would love to include a link to this post if that's ok?

Unknown said...

Love reading your review. I got the same set up a few months ago second hand in Dunedin and I am loving getting used to it.
I have the frame set up in m lounge and it takes me 8 minutes to break it all down and store behind sofa etc and about 12 minutes to get it all set up again.

Catrin Lewis said...

Brilliant review! I got my Juki (same model as yours) about ten months ago and absolutely love it. The only thing I wish it had is a free arm as the extra strength it has would be great for bag making :0(

I use mine on a mid arm too - the New English Quilter - unfortunately it doesn't have the option of controlling it from the front, that's a great bonus to the Swiftquilter.

Just a thought. Have you tried putting the Juki on the frame before loading the quilt? That way you can just thread the pole through the throat space and save yourself the funny manhandling!

Rebekah said...

I'm not sure if my last comment went through, but thanks so much for posting such a thorough review and a well-produced how-to video. I've heard of these frames but never could comprehend how they work. Needless to say, this frame is going on my wish list as I already have a brother straight stitch machine.

We met at the Ann Arbor food truck night at quiltcon. I've been reading your blog for a while which is why your IG name sounded so familiar to me that night.

Unknown said...

I was just about to order this machine - I've had a quick try on it at the Quilt Festival, but then thought maybe I should go and check out some reviews first. I think this is very helpful and enough for me - thank you, loved it and the machine is just what I wanted it for. Cheers, Tiinaxx
Ps. hope to see you at the next X-factor swap xx

Sandyj58 said...

Loved your video, I have purchased a swiftquilter and Judi TL98P second hand and have no idea what to do, your video is definitely helpful. I was hoping you might post a video of how to do pantograph pattern with it .... please