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What is a Free Arm Sewing Machine (and When to Use It! 2024)

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free arm sewing machineYou know the frustration of trying to hem sleeves or skinny pants on your sewing machine’s flatbed. Even with lots of precautions, it’s hard not to get unwanted tucks in the fabric. But a free arm sewing machine makes hemming tubular pieces a breeze. You’ve likely wondered if you need this feature.

Rest assured, a free arm expands what you can sew and how you can serve others with your creations. Once you try a free arm, you’ll gain freedom to tackle projects requiring circular sewing. With the right techniques, like supporting the fabric or matching seams, you’ll accomplish smooth hems in no time with your free arm sewing machine.

This essential feature offers belonging to a community of sewists unlocking their potential through specialized tools.

Key Takeaways

  • An open arm exposes the machine to easily feed sleeves, pants, collars, and other tubular fabrics.
  • It provides freedom to sew circles and tubes without wrestling the fabric.
  • Enabling smooth hemming and fast circular sewing in small spaces.
  • Weighing under 20 lbs makes it portable, with an arm space ranging from 5-10 inches.

What is a Free Arm Sewing Machine?

What is a Free Arm Sewing Machine
You’re gonna love how easily tubes feed over the open arm when ya ditch the flatbed attachment. No more wrestling with pant legs or sleeves tryin’ to cram ’em under the needle on a flat bed. Just slide those smaller items right over the exposed arm and you’ll be whippin’ up cuffs and hems in no time.

That tubular piece of fabric slides smooth as butter from the front, around the knee of the pants, and out the back. It’s like the machine was made for sewing circles with no awkward corners or edges to maneuver around.

Once you try an old fashioned open arm, you’ll never go back to fighting your flat bed to stitch up sleeves and pant legs again. Trust me, I’ve fixed and reviewed hundreds of sewing machines, and nothing beats a free arm for sewing smaller tubes with ease.

Benefits of a Free Arm

Benefits of a Free Arm
Believe me, y’all are gonna love sewin’ up a storm once ya start usin’ that handy free arm. It whips those little circles around lickety-split thanks to the exposed arm that lets your fabric tubes slide on smooth as butter.

That free arm opens up a whole new world of sewin’ possibilities in just a fraction of the space. Smaller work surface means less fabric draggin’ all over the place. And you can pump out projects twice as fast with the freedom to stitch circles to your heart’s content.

Take it from me, free arms beat flat beds for circular sewin’ and small spaces hands down.

Circular Sewing

Sew any old tube faster than a jackrabbit on a jet plane with that handy arm swinging free. Hemming sleeves, attaching cuffs, finishing pant legs – they all slide right over the open knee like magic.

  1. No struggling under the flatbed.
  2. Perfect for sleeves and pants.
  3. So easy even kids can do it.

With that free arm whirling, you’ll be cranking out professional hems and perfect tubing without breaking a sweat. The exposed arm is a sewing savior for all your circular tasks. Trust me, once you try it, you’ll be sewing tubes all day long.

Small Work Area

Expand your creativity in tight corners with the handy little workspace. Hem sleeves, sew cuffs, and stitch pant legs with ease, thanks to a mini sewing station that fits in the palm of your hand. Maneuver small tubes of fabric and tiny trinkets without pinching fingers or contorting like a circus acrobat.

The exposed arm excels at detailing delicate dresses, dainty doll clothes, and itty-bitty accessories in a snap. No need for a massive workspace! This lean machine powers through fiddly bits in a fraction of the time.

Using a Free Arm Sewing Machine

Using a Free Arm Sewing Machine
Here are some tips for using a free arm sewing machine. Support the fabric in front of and behind the needle as you stitch to keep it from shifting around. When hemming pants or sleeves, match the side seams to the garment’s existing seams for a more polished look.

Supporting Fabric

You all have to hold that fabric steady now when sewing circles on the open arm. Let those sleeves slide right on through while keeping a gentle grip behind the needle. It’s a tricky task, getting those sleeves just right. Choosing a flattering length and neatly joining at the seams takes practice.

Start off easy on scrap material until you get the hang of it. Soon you’ll be pumping out professional long sleeve blouses on that free arm in no time.

Matching Seams

You’ll look so stylish when you match those sleeve seams to the bodice on your homemade blouse. Aligning the seams gives a polished, professional finish. As you feed pants legs onto the free arm, match side seams and inseams perfectly.

For hems or sleeves, line up any seams to corresponding garment seams. Take care with small items to keep seams matched. Practice first and check alignment frequently. Your attention to detail creates garments with impeccable seams and hems.

Choosing a Free Arm Sewing Machine

Choosing a Free Arm Sewing Machine
When choosing a free arm sewing machine, two key factors are the diameter and length of the exposed arm. You’ll want one wide and short enough to easily feed your project’s fabric tubes, but not so wide or short that it hampers your sewing.

An arm too skinny or too stubby can make maneuvering sleeves, pant legs, and other cylindrical pieces frustrating. Carefully measure vintage free arms, as they tend to run narrower than modern machines.

Even some current models may have arms that are inconveniently fat or short for certain sewing tasks.

Select one that allows your most common tube-shaped projects to glide smoothly over the opening. With the right arm dimensions, you’ll have the flexibility to seam and hem circles with ease.

Arm Diameter

You can go smaller with vintage arms for tighter turns. When sewing small circles like doll clothes or miniature projects, a narrower free arm lets you pivot around tighter corners. Modern machine arms tend to be shorter and fatter, built for strength over nimbleness.

With a vintage free arm, you’ll gain more wiggle room for navigating tricky spots on tiny hems or doll-sized sleeves. The compromise is stability, so proceed slowly and support the fabric when sewing fiddly bits on a narrow free arm.

Arm Length

A short free arm limits how far you can slide fabric for tricky spots, so seek ample length to maneuver sleeves and tricky seams without bunching. Look for at least 5 inches of exposed arm to feed sleeves, pant legs, and circle skirts smoothly.

A longer free arm gives you margin to finesse tricky bits without fighting your machine. Consider adding an extension table for better support on a longer arm. Choose a length that empowers your creativity through any fabric tube project.

Free Arm Vs Flatbed Sewing Machines

Free Arm Vs Flatbed Sewing Machines
Moving between the previous tips for picking the ideal free arm and comparing them with flatbeds, let’s explore the key differences. Flatbeds, found on most modern machines, offer a large exposed area to support fabric.

This makes them great for quilting and sewing larger items. Free arms shine for smaller pieces like sleeves, allowing you to easily slide the cylindrical fabric over the open space. Older machines tended to have free arms only, while newer models give you the flexibility of both in one.

Choose flatbed for big swaths of fabric that need stability. Opt for free arm if you’ll frequently sew tubes like pant legs. With the right machine, you can get the best of both worlds. Seamlessly switch from hemming circles to quilting king-sized blankets.

Free Arm Vs Long Arm Machines

Free Arm Vs Long Arm Machines
Whoa—guess long arms ain’t just for quilting no more! As your trusty sewing instructor, let me break down the key differences between free arm and long arm machines.

While a free arm is built into a standard home sewing machine for sleeves and circles, long arms are specialty systems designed just for quilting.

  1. Workspace – Free arms expose just 6-10 inches, while long arms offer up to 10 feet!
  2. Mobility – Free arms are part of portable machines under 20 pounds. Long arms can weigh over 100 pounds!
  3. Purpose – Free arms excel at smaller pieces, but long arms quilt king-size with ease.

Though long arms once monopolized quilting, a free arm’s purpose serves most home sewers just fine. With the right techniques, you can quilt on a free arm too. Smaller portable sewing machines with free arms provide plenty of space for clothing, crafts and decorative work.

Recommended Free Arm Sewing Machines
Greetings! Let’s dive right into discussing two of the most recommended free arm sewing machines for beginners and intermediate sewing enthusiasts—the value-packed Brother XR3774 and the durable Singer 4432.

With automatic threading, varied stitches, and useful accessories, these user-friendly models offer quality construction to empower your creativity through all fabric types, whether you’re hemming pants or stitching sleeves.

Brother XR3774

Let’s dive into the Brother XR3774, a lightweight electric model that’ll have you stitching up a storm in no time. With 37 built-in stitches and a free arm perfect for sleeves, this user-friendly machine excels at sewing small items.

Its plastic body keeps things lightweight yet may limit durability. But for beginners tackling crafts and clothing repairs, the XR3774’s automatic threader and easy bobbin make learning to sew a breeze.

Singer 4432

You’d take on heavier projects with this sturdy, metal-framed Singer. With a powerful 110-volt motor and professional speeds, it powers through thick fabrics like denim and canvas with precision.

  • Stitch width adjusts up to 6mm for decorative stitches
  • Heavy-duty metal interior frame prevents vibration
  • Stainless steel bedplate provides smooth fabric feeding

This affordable workhorse unleashes your creative spirit. From sewing sturdy pants and jacket sleeves to mending clothes or crafting small items, its versatility turns your sewing dreams into reality.

Tips for Free Arm Quilting

Tips for Free Arm Quilting
You’ll find maneuvering fabric tubes and circles over a free arm makes quilting details like concentric patterns a breeze. The exposed arm provides greater control when doing free-motion quilting on smaller areas.

  • Use a free-motion quilting foot to evenly guide fabric. This specialized foot hovers just above material for smooth stitching.
  • Choose a machine with a narrower free arm diameter to quilt smaller tubes like sleeves or knees of pants.
  • Support fabric on both sides of the needle and pin layers to prevent shifting while quilting.
  • Start quilting at seam lines whenever possible to anchor stitches in place.
  • Practice first on fabric scraps to get a good look at stitch spacing and consistency before quilting your project.

With some experience, you’ll find free arm quilting opens up creative possibilities on projects with circular details and smaller tube areas.

When to Use the Free Arm

When to Use the Free Arm
After detailing tips for free arm quilting, let’s shift our focus to deciding when use of the exposed arm is ideal. Any tubular-shaped piece of fabric like pant hems or sleeves is a perfect contender. Slide these tubes over the narrow free arm for precise handling as you join seams or add trim.

For trickier spots like pant knees or cuffs with multiple layers of fabric, the arm allows you to easily rotate and position the tube while joining seams. Small circular pieces like collars or waistbands also benefit from the free arm’s flexibility when attaching or hemming.

Of course flatbed extensions or accessory trays can still support these shapes. But you’ll find the free arm saves time and effort on frequent tubular and circular projects.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I convert my flatbed machine to free arm mode?

To convert your flatbed machine to free arm mode, simply slide off the flat extension bed to access the free arm. Lift the bed straight up and away. Now you can run cylindrical pieces over the narrow arm for easier sewing.

Will using the free arm put more stress on the machine or cause issues?

No need to worry, using your machine’s free arm won’t cause any extra stress or issues.

Is a free arm machine better for sewing knits and stretch fabrics?

You’ll find a free arm ideal for sewing knits and stretchy fabrics. Its open design lets you easily feed tubular areas like sleeves and pant legs onto the arm. With no flat bed obstruction, you can manipulate the fabric as needed while sewing.

Can I sew large or heavy fabrics using the free arm?

You can sew larger or heavier fabrics on a free arm, but it’s not ideal. The small surface makes maneuvering and supporting the fabric difficult. For best results on heavy fabrics like denim or upholstery, a flatbed machine offers more stability and control.

Reserve the free arm for lighter projects like sleeves, pant legs, and small circular items it is designed for.

Does the free arm affect stitch quality compared to the flatbed?

You’ll get the same quality stitches on a free arm as on a flatbed. It’s just an open space, not different mechanics. The key is properly supporting the fabric as it goes under the needle, keeping it flat without pulling or bunching.

As long as you do that, your stitching will be beautiful whether using the free arm or the flatbed.


You’ve learned that free arm sewing machines provide flexibility for sewing small, circular items quicker. While convenient for cuffs, sleeves, and hems, choosing a narrow diameter and longer arm makes working these curves easier.

Flatbeds and long arms have benefits too, but the exposed arm really shines for finishing seams and frequently handling tubes. With a blend of technical knowledge and practical sewing experience, you’ll master wielding the free arm’s focused functions.

Whatever your skill level, an optimized machine like the Brother XR3774 helps release your creativity through fabric.

Avatar for Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a site dedicated to those passionate about crafting. With years of experience and research under his belt, he sought to create a platform where he could share his knowledge and skills with others who shared his interests.