I’m a Dedicated Quilter. Are You?

Do you keep track of your quilting expenses? Fabric, batting, thread, tools, machine maintenance, guild dues, books, patterns, show entry fees, travel expenses — these are just some of the things we spend money on! If you quilt as a business, you might track all these costs and more. (Check my post on direct and indirect costs for more on this.)

Last year for the first time I tracked some of my expenses. My intention at the beginning of 2015 was to keep receipts on everything. Oh, I have receipts. I’m not that great at organizing paperwork. Can do it, but not very inclined… Fortunately, my credit card company saves a lot of that data for me. They don’t capture my cash expenses, of course. And not everything is plopped in convenient categories for me. But I can pull out all my purchases at quilt shops, fabric stores, and for my on-line thread buys. If I make reasonable assumptions for a couple of other things, for 2015 spending, I estimate between $1500 and

Capture

This is fabric, thread, batting, machine service, a new ruler, an iron, supplies, and shipping a quilt to friends.

Four things I know about this:
1. It’s cheaper than therapy.
2. My stash is a little smaller than it was a year ago, meaning I used somewhat more fabric than I bought. (Thinking through the 20 projects I made last year and their average fabric use backs this up.)
3. It doesn’t account for my earnings from teaching, presenting, and publishing.
4. The dollar value puts me in the category of a “dedicated quilter.”

I’ve written about the dedicated quilter before. Every four years, the quilting industry conducts a survey to assess the demographics of quilters, as well as how much they spend. My earlier post says this:

The survey is conducted in two phases. First, households are questioned about their quilting activities to get a sense of the scope of the quilting industry in the U.S. Next, “Dedicated Quilters” are surveyed to understand their buying habits, and how they use and contribute to the industry. According to the summary linked above,

Each Dedicated Quilter is defined as one who spends more than $500 a year on quilting-related purchases, which include sewing machines, fabric, notions, tools, patterns, books, computer programs, batting, and thread. In fact, the Dedicated Quilter actually spent an average of $3,296 per year on quilting.

Demographics of the Dedicated Quilter indicate she is female; about 64; is well-educated (79% attended college); has a household income in excess of $100,000; and has been quilting an average of 20.3 years. Among Dedicated Quilters, 81% are traditionalists, while 38% embrace art quilting, and 35% enjoy modern quilting styles. Some enjoy multiple types of quilting.

The Dedicated Quilter owns, on average, almost $13,000 worth of tools and supplies and has a stash of fabric worth nearly $6,000, which the majority (88%) store in a studio or room dedicated solely to sewing and quilting activities.

***

My first thought when I read that was I couldn’t possibly spend more than $500 a year on quilting. On reflection, I realized it would be easy to do so. And on looking at proof on the credit card summary, uh, yeah.

But the phrase “dedicated quilter” still bothers me. (Labels!!) The amount of money spent isn’t a good indicator of dedication. Perhaps time spent is a better measure. How much time one quilt takes is not very important to this issue. Getting from one end of a project to the other is, I suppose. Or maybe not… Can you be a dedicated quilter if you don’t finish projects? What defines dedication?

But if you call yourself a quilter (do you?), is it because you have made a couple of quilts? Because you make a dozen quilts a year? Because you spend many hours a week on projects? Because you spend money on fabrics or notions or classes? Because you think like a quilter relative to the interaction of fabric and design?

Do you think of yourself as a quilter? Are you a dedicated quilter? What does that mean to you? I’d love to hear about it in comments. 

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45 thoughts on “I’m a Dedicated Quilter. Are You?

  1. Cindi Lambert

    I don’t know about dedicated. I hand quilt every single day. Not for the whole day but I get some in. I still work part-time. I made a Quiltworx quilt last year, Flowers for My Wedding Ring. I spent $500 on that quilt alone for pattern, fabric, batting and backing. It took me all winter to hand applique the flowers to the borders (I hate applique) and when finished I sent it to a longarm quilting artist to quilt (same quilter who did the cover quilt for Quiltworx actually). That was $900. It was worth it, she did a fantastic job on it and at least it was quilted in this decade. It is now a masterpiece that I’m very pleased with. I guess I easily spend over $500 a year and have more UFOs to hand quilt than anything else. I’m hoping to live long enough to make all the quilts that are lined up in my head I just keep plugging away at it and I guess it’s my biggest hobby and the one that gets most of my attention. I have people ask me all the time if I sell my quilts. My response is no I don’t because people who do not quilt have no clue what they are worth or what they cost. I give them away to deserving family members and friends and I’m happy with that.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Hi Cindi. Thanks for commenting. Yes, you sound dedicated! Or devoted! Or … certainly involved. 🙂 Yeah, people ask all the time about sales. I’ve written a number of posts about selling quilts. You’re absolutely right, most people have no idea the dollar value of fabric, much less all the other costs including our time. I’m like you. I’d rather give quilts either to people I love or to people I otherwise don’t know at all (with a few donations.) I can’t think I’d be happy selling a quilt for less than it’s worth to me. Thanks again.

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  2. katechiconi

    Yes, I’m dedicated, in the dictionary sense of ‘devoted to a task or purpose’. Like you, I prefer not to be labelled, or even categorised by how much I spend on my purpose, and like you, I don’t sell, but make to give pleasure, both to myself and the recipient. Candidly, I prefer not to keep a tally of what I spend for fear of dismaying both myself and the Husband! It’s probably not quite as much as I fear, but certainly more than I’d like it to be, even with my stash-shrinking efforts. I don’t think of myself as ‘a quilter’, more as a person whose creative medium is fabric and whose end product is a quilt. A small distinction, but it makes a difference to me.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I never did keep track before. The numbers above are dodgy, and I figure the $1800 is a high estimate, while $1500 is probably a tad low. Jim has never questioned my spending, but there was a time (after I left the bank and was earning much less) that I felt self-conscious about it. Now I don’t, because I actually make, and my output requires input. If I simply bought as “retail therapy,” accumulating stash and other goods that weren’t used, neither of us would be very happy about it. And yes, I’m a quilter. 🙂

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  3. TextileRanger

    I do tell people I’m a quilter. I think because when I have time to do an activity of choice, quilting is the one I go to first. Also, people understand what I mean. I am also a weaver, but people just don’t understand that one so much, and if I were to say, “I’m a dyer,” that would really throw them for a loop.

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  4. singingbirdartist

    I’m an artist/maker and allround creative eg I never follow a recipe, I adjust it to be ‘better’ [don’t always win that one!] but just recently I had a realisation that partly because of my chronic illness and partly because I try to follow my joy, I am beginning to think like a quilter. It’s subtly different in some places and a big jump in others!
    Colour blending and inflection is the thread that runs through all my art – garden/space making, oil paintings, fibre art installations, it all starts from colour for me. Lately this urge to put fabrics together has come over me, and I can rise to the challenge of balancing stronger patterns/ readymades instead of making my own elements from scratch all the time. I think that’s a skill established quilters may not know about themselves, as they may not have come from an art background – you are very unusual in being very clear about how you balance and ‘break’ your dominant fabrics/elements, one of the reasons l’m really enjoying working my way through your archives!
    Anyway, I hope this doesn’t sound too high faluting! eek! but your question comes just as I was asking myself, mmm, am I becoming a quilter? Maybe? It’s a title worth embracing, I know, and I am making welcome quilts for refugees arriving in my area with a group I’ve set up, but I now have a list in my head of the next 3 quilts…since xmas! How did that happen? Kidnapped by the quilting fairies 😉

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      hmm… Sounds like you are a quilter! As well as creative and talented in other arenas.

      Thanks for the comments. I was reading a post from art quilter Elizabeth Barton recently. She has two books out, both of which I have, and both of which have contributed to my understanding of design. So even though her genre is different from mine, I know she would understand what I do and why, also. Her post was about taking class from other art teachers, and her frustration with their inability to articulate why they made the choices they do. Too often they claim to rely on instinct, rather than having a sense of it as a decision process. I came to this as a decision-making process, and my instincts grow better as I understand the choices more completely. And I do try to explain, as you say, how and why I make balancing choices. So I appreciate very much the compliment you offer.

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  5. Nann

    I self-identify as “librarian, quiltmaker, volunteer.” I’m retired from my paid library career, but I use my local library, talk and write about books, and advocate for libraries. I think, talk, blog, email, and work on quilts daily. I’m involved with civic and social organizations as a volunteer. I think your $1500-$1800 expenditure is very reasonable. (IMO someone who spends $500 per year isn’t terribly dedicated.)

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Well, if they have amassed an incredible stash and are “spending what they already have banked,” they may be quite busy, of course. But yeah, I think my spending is pretty reasonable considering what I get out of it.

      And I love this discussion, not entirely intended, of how we identify ourselves. I’ve talked about this before. Thanks much for continuing with it.

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  6. allisonreidnem

    Following on from how we identify ourselves, for convenience sake I’d call myself a ‘quilter’ but I actually get far more pleasure out of designing and putting together patchwork tops than I do out of quilting them.
    Here in the UK patchwork fabrics retail for around £10 a metre so that’s got to translate to around £100 spent on the front and back of a quilt before wadding, thread and all the other costs are added. 500 dollars doesn’t go far in the world of patchwork quilting in terms of materials and equipment but as has been said it can translate into a lot of dedicated time and effort. Thankfully money can only be one part of the measure of dedication.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, money is only one resource needed to make quilts. And money is only needed insofar as it can buy other resources. If you already have them (a giant stash and all the batting and thread, etc.) you don’t necessarily need to spend much. Regardless of that, any quilt requires time and effort, and there are no substitutes. Thanks, Allison.

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  7. seamstobesewarian

    I should not have read this post… If the average quilter spends only $3500.00, then I am obsessed. I’m not even going to say how much I spent last year, and even tho I did buy a new machine, that doesn’t even cover 1/4 of my fabric costs alone. So… I am obsessed. I admit it. 🙂

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      That’s a lot, but I’m in no position to say what is “too much.” If you are happy with what you’re doing and you can afford it in all the ways that’s important, it’s all okay! Thanks for reading, against your better instincts, and for commenting today. 🙂

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  8. norma

    Am I a quilter? Not if money spent is the only qualification. I have tried to work out what I spend and don’t think it amounts to much.
    I buy quilting fabric etc if I have a quilt to make as a present. I also buy dressmaking fabrics occasionally (for myself and others) and use the leftovers over several quilts and I work out how to recycle our old clothes into quilts. I buy new thread. People give me fabric (I have come home to find a black plastic sack of fabric on my doorstep) and I buy from charity shops – fabric, blankets for filling. I spend a lot of time quilting but very little money.
    I suppose I don’t really do the industry much good so I don’t count?

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      That is correct. By industry standards you don’t count. 😦 BUT by the standards that matter, what you do has tremendous effect. Keep on doing what you love, how you want to, adding good things back into the world. That’s what counts.

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  9. Polly

    I consider myself a quilter — it runs in the family. Grandmother, mother, two sisters and I all quilt.

    My output isn’t great, or noteworthy, but it brings me great pleasure. I have a chronic illness which leaves me exhausted much of the time, so I quilt when I can. I love the whole process, including quilting my big quilts on my home machine. I have quite a stash of fabric and supplies so only the most wonderful fabric gets added to my collections. I’m not only a quilter but a collector of fabrics. 🙂

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  10. quiltiferous

    According to the math, I’m a dedicated quilter. Although I’ve been quilting for 20 plus years, I don’t check all the demographic boxes, and I’m good with that! Also, I’m glad skill level isn’t a factor in whether or not I call myself a quilter!

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  11. jennrodriguez1

    I consider myself a dedicated quilter because of the time I spend thinking, reading and doing it. I began thinking of myself that way when I started participating in QDAD group on Facebook – I may only spend time actively making quilts on the weekend, but I can take 15-20 minutes during the week to make a design. I have also discovered that if I’m unable to spend time quilting for more than a week I get really cranky. Or maybe that’s more a sign of addiction 🙂

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, sometimes I am not working on a quilt for days or even weeks at a time. But even when not cutting, sewing, quilting, I still am a quilter because that’s how I think. Thanks for reading and commenting today.

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  12. KerryCan

    $500 a year seems like a very low bar to set for the label of “dedicated”! Labels are funny things. I recently read another blog post on this same subject, and she called the post “I am NOT a quilter.” Both her post and yours have given me some things to ponder . . .

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      If she was NOT a quilter, what was she? 🙂 Labels are funny things. They can expand our notion of something, including ourselves, or they can restrict it. Both have their place, but either way, best to use them correctly.

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  13. Shasta

    I consider myself to be a dedicated quilter, because I have stuck with it for so long. I think about quilts almost every single day. (The almost is just in case there was one day in the last few of decades that I didn’t.) There were years that I didn’t buy any fabric but used what I had, and other years where I didn’t get much time to quilt, but I still looked at books and magazines and bought fabric. I think I was dedicated in both those types of years. I think I spend less than $500 a year, but then I haven’t done an accounting.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I don’t think money is required. Money just turns into stuff like fabric and needles. If you already have those, or have access to them, you might not need money. As to time, well, there is no substitute! 🙂

      (I put this comment in the wrong place to start with.)

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  14. Steph Lindsay

    Very interesting! I suspected the demogrsphic was domething like this, but that average is ginormous. I think that since quilting has some of its histirical roots in thriftiness, it is easier for me to ignote and/or rationalize what I really spend. I reached this dedicated status last year, since i finally bought a modern sewing machine. But I am still far below their average. So far this year I have purchased a few tools, but will be only shopping my stash and scraps. It is possible I might stay below the threshold in 2016. Hmmmm, unless I count fees for quilt shows and museum exhibits, classes, raffle tickets, etc. Does this definition count those, or only goods sold?

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, I think the average of about $3300 is HUGE! Unless I were buying new equipment, I can’t imagine spending that much. And even then it would average into much smaller $ years for me. So far this year I’ve bought a book, and that was on a gift card. Of course, I don’t expect all year will be as little spending as the first two months… 🙂

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  15. zippyquilts

    Huh. I try hard to be conservative in my quilt purchases. One thing that helps is thinking about something you blogged on a while back–somebody will have to deal with all this when I die. Still, I consider myself a “serious” quilter, whether or not that label fits the marketing research.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Oh, amen! Yes, I always have that in mind, too. I think my “mess” will be relatively easy to deal with. But that is relatively. For my non-quilting family, it still will be tough. No need to make it worse. Thanks.

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  16. Leah

    Very thought provoking. I track all of our household expenses, so I suppose I could look to see how much I spend on quilting in a year (keeps blinders firmly in place). Unless I missed it, it seemed that the tally of annual costs, according to the quilting industry, was classes/workshops. I find some of those costs atronomical. Yes, people’s time and skill are worth paying for (just as the quilts, themselves are worth more than people might expect), but the fees are often beyond my personal scope.

    Lucky for you, you have income to offset some of your expenditures. I’m just in it for the fun. It is an expensive hobby. Cheaper than therapy is right. I say the same about gardening, too.

    I’m not a very dedicated quilter. I don’t quilt while away for the winter months, and I probably don’t even quilt every day while at home! Purely a recreational quilter, I suppose. A social quilter, really. I love my Mondays and Fridays, because those are the days I get together with my friends to create, learn, encourage, and laugh.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Oh, I’m like you — I don’t quilt every day at home, either. My schedule varies a lot from being fully absorbed to doing not much of anything.

      As to cheaper than therapy — when our son was in high school, one year I checked our budget and found we spent more on his music (lessons, reeds, camps, tickets, etc) than on anything except our house payment. I was pretty aware of all our other expenses but that one surprised me a lot. I had to shrug, though. He was a good kid who hung out with good kids, and the music was cheaper than something like rehab!

      Thanks for reading and commenting today.

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      1. Leah

        Well, I’m glad you stopped by to read my post, or I never would have found you. Blogging is so new to me.

        Kids! People ask how we retired so young (44 & 49)… no kids! Finances are not the reason to make the decision either way, but I swear that was our magic ticket. Your story confirms our assumption.

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  17. Thread crazy

    Yes, I do track my expenses each year and wow, the results can be daunting. This past year I thought I was cutting back but my figures didn’t agree!! For the most part I didn’t buy unless I needed something to complete a project. Not sure I’d classify myself as a dedicated quilter, but I’m pretty close. Yep, I’ve got the disease, but must admit I love it.

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        1. Melanie McNeil Post author

          I haven’t spent a penny so far this year, unless you count the buck and change (above my $25 gift card) I spent on that bad Harriet Hargrave Quilter’s Academy book. So yeah, I guess I have spent a penny or so…

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