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What Is A Free Arm Sewing Machine? (Complete Guide)

What Is A Free Arm Sewing Machine

A free arm sewing machine is a type of sewing machine that has a removable extension table, exposing the machine’s arm, allowing for easier sewing of cylindrical pieces like pant legs and sleeves. Free arm sewing machines offer more flexibility and maneuverability compared to flatbed sewing machines.

In this complete guide, we will cover everything you need to know about free arm sewing machines including:

  • What is a free arm sewing machine?
  • Benefits of a free arm sewing machine
  • Features to look for when buying one
  • How to use a free arm sewing machine
  • Maintenance tips
  • Top free arm sewing machine recommendations
  • Frequently asked questions

So whether you’re an experienced sewer looking to upgrade or a beginner wanting to learn more about free arm sewing machines, read on to find out if this versatile machine is right for you!

What Is A Free Arm Sewing Machine?

A free arm sewing machine is distinguished by its removable extension table that covers the arm, or harp, of the machine. When you remove this extension table, it exposes the arm, allowing tubular items like sleeves, pant legs, and cuffs to be maneuvered around it easily for sewing.

On a regular flatbed sewing machine, the harp is fixed underneath the sewing bed so cylindrical pieces can be difficult to manipulate under the needle. With the free arm exposed, the fabric can wrap around the narrower arm opening giving you the freedom to sew in a continuous circle.

The free arm design makes tasks like hemming, sewing cuffs and plackets, attaching collars and binding, and other detail work much easier. For sewing larger pieces and quilting, the extension table can be reattached to provide a flat surface.

Many computerized and mechanical sewing machines offer free arm capabilities. Older machines might require removing screws or panels to access the free arm while newer models have extension tables that snap or slide off easily.

Benefits Of A Free Arm Sewing Machine

There are many advantages to using a free arm sewing machine:

Easier Sewing of Tubular Items – The key benefit is the ability to easily manipulate cylindrical pieces to sew sleeves, pant legs, necklines, etc in a circular motion.

Access to Hard-to-Reach Areas – A free arm allows you to maneuver the fabric under the needle in tighter areas that a flat bed does not permit. This is useful for sewing areas like armpits or cuffs.

Greater Control and Precision – With fabric wrapped around the narrow free arm, you can achieve more control and uniform stitches in small or difficult to reach spots.

Portability – Free arm sewing machines tend to be lighter and more compact. The exposed harp takes up less space making them easy to store and transport.

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Quilting Capabilities – Removing the extension table creates a larger throat space to accommodate bulky quilts and makes it easier to sew big pieces, especially if you have a machine with a specialty quilting foot.

Versatility – Being able to convert from a flatbed to free arm configuration gives you the flexibility to handle all types of sewing projects.

So in summary, opting for a free arm sewing machine will provide you with much more freedom and functionality compared to a flatbed-only machine.

Features To Look For When Buying A Free Arm Sewing Machine

When shopping for a quality free arm sewing machine, keep an eye out for these handy features:

  • Removable Extension Table – Make sure the machine has an extension table that easily slides off or pops off to expose the free arm. Some tables might take more effort to remove and attach.
  • Easy-to-Remove Cover Plate – There should be a cover plate around the feed dogs that you can easily remove to access the bobbin and use the free arm. Avoid machines where accessing the free arm requires unscrewing panels.
  • Drop Feed Dogs – This allows you to drop or lower the feed dogs so you can free motion quilt more easily with thicker fabrics or when using specialty quilting feet on the free arm.
  • Automatic Needle Threader – Look for this time-saving feature to make your sewing experience quicker and hassle-free.
  • Built-in Stitches – Check that the machine comes with utility stitches and decorative stitches to handle any project. Ideal number is 100+ stitches.
  • Adjustable Stitch Length and Width – This gives you precise control over your stitching for different fabric types and applications.
  • Automatic Thread Cutter – This is a convenient function that automatically trims your top and bobbin threads with the touch of a button after sewing.
  • LED Light – An integrated light brightly illuminates the sewing area for more visibility.

How To Use A Free Arm Sewing Machine

How To Use A Free Arm Sewing Machine

Using a free arm sewing machine opens up a world of ease and convenience for your circular sewing tasks. Here are some tips for utilizing it effectively:

Expose the Free Arm

  • To access the free arm, locate the removable extension table. There is usually a release lever or button to press that will allow the extension table to slide off or detach completely. This exposes the harp or free arm of the machine.

Remove the Cover Plate

  • You will also need to remove the cover plate around the feed dogs to allow for free motion sewing. There is typically a release lever that will pop open the plate. Some machines have easy drop-in bobbin systems that eliminate the need for removing a cover plate.

Use the Correct Presser Foot

  • Choose the appropriate presser foot for your project – a zigzag foot or quilting foot work well for free motion work. Disengage the feed dogs so the fabric moves freely.

Wrap Fabric Around the Free Arm

  • Take your tubular fabric like a sleeve or pant leg and wrap it around the exposed harp with the area you want to sew facing up. The fabric should wrap smoothly, allowing the needle to easily sew continuous circles.

Adjust Sewing Speed

  • When navigating tricky parts like curves and corners, slow down your sewing speed for more control. Increase speed when working on longer straight portions of fabric.
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Reattach Extension Table

  • When finished with free arm tasks, reattach the extension table. Line up the slide or attachment mechanism securely until it clicks back into place.

With some practice, you’ll find that free arm sewing makes hemming circles, sewing cuffs, and other cylindrical tasks a breeze!

Free Arm Sewing Machine Maintenance Tips

To keep your free arm sewing machine running smoothly:

  • Use a lint brush and compressed air to regularly clean under the throat plate and feed dogs. Built-up lint can impede the free arm’s movement.
  • Wipe away any oil and dust that accumulates in the harp with a soft cloth. The free arm should move freely without friction or resistance.
  • When replacing the needle, be sure to match it to the appropriate needle system and install it correctly. This prevents skipped stitches.
  • Change the needle often. A worn, bent or dull needle can damage fabric and thread.
  • Avoid pulling fabric through the machine as this can distort stitches and damage the free arm. Guide it gently.
  • Use high-quality thread that is suited for your fabric type. Poor thread creates snags and breakage.
  • Clean out the bobbin casing and use quality bobbins. Lint accumulation hinders smooth bobbin function.
  • Have the machine professionally serviced annually to keep internal mechanisms properly aligned and functioning.

With proper care and maintenance, a quality free arm machine can deliver years of trouble-free, accessible sewing!

Top Free Arm Sewing Machine Recommendations

Here are some top-rated free arm sewing machines to consider across a range of budgets:

Entry Level

  • Brother CS6000i – User-friendly computerized machine ideal for beginners with 60 built-in stitches, automatic needle threader, and easy to remove extension table.
  • SINGER Start 1304 – Affordable basic model with 6 stitches, adjustable stitch length and width, free arm, and built-in thread cutter.
  • Janome Magnolia 7318 – Mechanical machine with 18 stitches, free arm, top loading bobbin, and easy stitch selection. Good for basic sewing and garment construction.


  • Janome HD3000 – Feature-packed computerized machine with 18 stitches, automatic thread cutter, extension table, speed control, and easy-to-navigate buttons. Smooth, quiet operation.
  • Juki TL-2000Qi – Powerful mid-range model with aluminum body, LED lighting, superior stitch quality, and lots of functionality for garment sewing and quilting.
  • Brother CS7000i – Computerized machine with 70 stitches, LCD display, automatic needle threading, hard case, wide table, and convenience features. Excellent for intermediate sewers.


  • Janome Memory Craft 6300P – High-end computerized machine perfect for garment sewing, quilting and decorative work. 165 stitches, advanced features, 7-piece feed dog, and robust construction.
  • Bernina 330 – Swiss precision engineering provides this advanced model with superior stitch quality, free motion capabilities, 97 stitches, and high sewing speed.
  • Juki 2010Q – Powerful professional-grade machine with extensive features, including: free motion foot, knee lift, 500 stitches per minute, and precise fabric feeding for expert garment and decorative sewing.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the differences between a free arm and flat bed sewing machine?

The main difference is the free arm has a detachable bed that exposes the harp while the flat bed has a fixed extended bed surface. This allows you to maneuver fabric around the free arm for circular sewing. The fixed flat surface is better suited for large or very thick projects.

What types of fabrics and projects benefit most from a free arm?

Tubular items requiring circular sewing like sleeves, pants, cuffs, necklines, and knitwear benefit most. Free arm machines are also great for sewing corners, curves, binding, topstitching, quilting, and reaching into tricky spots like armholes.

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Can you sew large/thick fabrics on a free arm machine?

Thicker fabrics like denim or quilts can be trickier on a free arm. Reattaching the extension table provides more support and surface area for bulky fabrics. Some free arm machines also have specialty wide tables or come with an extension table insert to accommodate large projects.

Can you drop the feed dogs on a free arm machine?

Many computerized and mechanical free arm models allow you to drop or lower the feed dogs for free motion quilting, darning, and embroidery so you can move the fabric manually. Just be sure to check your machine’s specifications for this capability.

Should I oil the free arm mechanism?

It’s not necessary to oil the free arm but be sure to keep it free of dust, lint and thread ends which can impede smooth movement. Wipe with a soft dry cloth. Use compressed air to blow out any debris.

What maintenance does a free arm machine need?

Aside from keeping the free arm clean, general machine maintenance applies: change needle regularly, use quality thread, clean bobbin area and feed dogs, have it professionally serviced annually. Proper upkeep prevents skipped stitches and breakage.

Is a free arm machine good for beginners?

Free arm functionality provides added versatility, making these machines great for beginners and intermediate sewers alike. Just opt for an easy-to-use model with features like automatic needle threader, top loading bobbin, adjustable stitch length/width, etc.

What are the best fabric types to use with a free arm?

Free arm machines can handle all types of fabrics from silks and satins to denim and canvas when the extension table is on. For free arm sewing, medium to lightweight fabrics work best such as cotton, jersey, and flannel.

Can a free arm machine sew as fast as a flat bed?

Free arm machines typically sew at the same speeds as flat bed with the ability to slow down when needed for greater control on curves. Industrial flat bed machines may go faster. For most home sewing, free arm speed is more than sufficient.


We’ve just explored how a free arm sewing machine can open up limitless possibilities for sewing sleeves, pant legs, and any circular or hard-to-reach areas with ease and precision. Key benefits include greater flexibility, portability, and access compared to flatbed-only models.

Be sure to choose a quality machine with features like automatic needle threading, adjustable stitch length/width, built-in stitches, and a removable extension table. Get the best of both worlds by quickly converting your machine from free arm to flatbed configuration.

With the proper use and regular maintenance of your free arm sewing machine, you’ll be able to tackle a full range of fabric types and projects with convenience. So go ahead and access that free arm to discover just how much easier your sewing can be!

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