I’ve been asked several times why I bought an Innova, and what I think about the machine, so thought I’d post my thoughts on that subject.
I love my Innova!
Yes, it's the first system I've had, I only did a couple of other small projects on my DSM, then I rented a machine at my LQS. I loved being able to quilt them myself and decided after having done 2 baby quilts that in order to get as good as I want to get, that would require a lot of practice, as with anything that you get good at. Since it is $15/hour to rent a machine, and it takes me about 3 hours to do a baby quilt, I decided that if I could afford that kind of money each month to practice (way more than those 3 hours!), then I could afford my own system at home. Not only that, I'd have the convenience of working on it when the quilt shop was closed instead of feeling pressured to get it done. The only time I could rent their machine was on Saturday, since I work a regular 8-5 job. The shop is about 30 minutes from my house, too. The big task was to convince my husband!
I started shopping around. I had a bit of trouble with the stitch regulator on the major brand machine at the LQS, getting it to respond when I wanted to start up again after stopping and thinking about where I wanted to go next, so that machine wasn’t at the top of my list. I had heard good things about another machine that was much less expensive, but not a short arm, that was in the right price range. When I saw it, though, it didn't have a regular hopping foot, and I had to buy the poles at my local hardware store, etc. So, the advertised price wasn't the actual price and that put me off a bit, although money doesn't grow on trees, either, and even getting a machine was a luxury.
That dealer lives about 2 hours away from me, the Innova dealer lives 8 hours away. I was on my way back from visiting my family and decided to add an extra day to my trip to see the Innova, and after I test drove it, the other brand just wasn't an option for me anymore, even though the 18" version of the Innova was $1500 more at the time. I decided that as bad as I wanted one right then and there, it would be worth waiting and saving that extra money to get the one I really wanted than to settle for one I was only sort of interested in.
Eventually, I decided to get the 26" machine, even though IT was an additional $1500 for the larger throat and subsequently wider frame. I knew I wanted to be able to do large quilts, as we have a king sized bed, I already have a quilt in progress with 12" blocks on point, which needs 17" of quilting space, and I knew I wanted to be able to do customer quilts. If I had only been able to get the 18" machine, though, I would not have been sorry.
It was so smooth, and it has a great sound to my ear and feel in my hand, the stitches are great, it handles all kinds of threads, it's heavy duty, and it has a servo motor; no others on the market have that, that I know of! My engineer brother will tell you that a servo motor is the King of Beers in electronics. Having the servo motor means there is so much power that hasn't even been tapped yet for what I'm doing, and also allows for expandability of the machine, which the company has added since I bought mine, and it's easily retro-fitted if I want those upgrades. Also, as you are comparison shopping, you'll see the maximum number of stitches a machine will go to is 1200 - 1500, but the Innova will go to 3000. That's also an indication of the kind of motor it has. The way the tension works is independent from the hopping foot, which is different than other brands. I have a post here, if you want to read more about it.
OK, so can you tell that I love my machine? ;-)
When I need help with something, I call their tech support line which is available 24/7. They have been in business with the industrial side of quilting machines for 70 years, and many of those machines operate overseas, so they have to be available for them and they are available for us, too. I like that it's made in the USA! I always talk to Michael, the "M" in ABM. Yes, I have them on speed dial. I always play with my machine to see what it will do and that takes adjusting the machine. For example, I bought a kit that had an extra throat plate so I can use heavy decorative threads. Those threads require a very large needle, a size 21. Michael calls them nails, they are so big! Well, the timing on the machine is set for the "normal" sized needle, a 16 or an 18. It does not work the same for a 21, and the tension will not be the same for that thread, either. The next project requires different thread so we go through it again. I KNOW this machine will work properly with dark thread on the bottom and light thread on the top, I've SEEN it, I've DONE it! And when I can't get it working correctly it drives me crazy so I fiddle with it. I have another 2 bobbin cases on order so I can set them with one type of thread and leave it, and that will minimize my having to play with the tension settings in the future.
I am very independent, and stubborn, too. S o, I want to do things myself and not ask for help. I have made things worse by doing that, then I have to call and Michael asks me why I didn't call right away. I understand what he means by that, and I have started calling more easily when I have a question or want to change something so I spend less time tinkering with the machine and more time on my project.
My hubby and I set up the frame ourselves. It wasn't hard, it was just involved. Setting it up with one person would have been difficult but only for those times when you want to put the long beam in the middle to connect the two ends. None of the individual pieces are heavy, except the machine itself. I have pictures of the setup process here: http://picasaweb.google.com/cjloves2quilt/InnovaSetup#
Don't worry if you don’t have a dealer in your area. ABM is literally a phone call away. If you are shopping for a long arm, I would suggest that you do a lot of hands on comparisons between the models you are interested in. It's a very personal choice, not only how much it impacts your wallet, but as a tool, and your mental state of mind while you are creating. My husband is a drywaller, and I want him to have good tools that won't wear his body out, or cause him difficulty by making a job harder, just because he was trying to save money on a tool. Quilting is the same way, as you know. It's very tactile, and the interaction with the tools, thinking of who you are creating this gift for, steeping yourself in the colors and the patterns, and the challenge of learning something new is so rewarding. Having a tool that doesn't interfere with that process is really important, and if it enhances it, all the better. And I think the Innova enhances the experience!