I’ve discussed a variety of aspects of the quilting industry. A list of links is below. One part of the industry I’ve mentioned but not explored is longarm quilting.
While the longarm industry has exploded over the last few years, it is not new. In fact, quilters have used sewing machines to quilt since sewing machines were invented. (Note: “quilting” is the process of stitching through the top layer, stuffing/batting/wadding, and back layer.) Soon after, inventors were developing various methods for moving the layers under the needle, having secured the layers to a frame. As now, two different options were to move the frame with a stationary stitching machine, and to move the machine with a stationary frame.
This post from Hart Cottage Quilts (this link is no longer active) is worth reading in its entirety. Within it she explains:
By the end of the Civil War, sewing machines were entering homes at the rate of 20,000 per year; in 1871 Singer sold an amazing 180,000 machines. Mrs. Augusta Hoover received the first U.S. patent for a machine quilting frame. Its description as an “improvement” suggests that it was not the first of its kind. Like most of the systems that followed, it consisted of a two-bar, ratchet-geared roller frame that held the quilt taut. (A comparable modern example would be the John Flynn system.) The frame then slid along tracks attached to the bed of the sewing machine like the carriage of a typewriter. As the user operated the sewing machine, the frame would move along the track, allowing perfectly straight, parallel lines to be quilted.
By 1877 J.J. Crall decided it should be the machine, not the frame, that moved; his system will be recognized by modern quilters as the precursor to today’s longarm quilting system. Just as today, the machine sits on a platform which moves along a track underneath the quilt.
The origins of the modern longarm quilting machine began with Fred Nolting, a tinkerer, repairman, and inventor. In the early 1960s he rebuilt his first sewing machine, increasing its throat length to 24″. After several years of rebuilding machines for various employers, he was asked to build a machine from scratch in 1972. According to Nolting, “This machine was the first long arm, similar to the ones today, without the hopping foot.” Over the next few years he continued to improve the machine, adding a hopping foot, stitch regulation, and other things. He also built the first longarm machines sold under the Gammill name, before striking out and selling machines under the Nolting brand in 1984.
When I began quilting in 2003, longarm quilting services were few and far between. I first had quilts professionally done in about 2006. That quilter also had a machine in her shop, for which quilters could rent time after taking and passing a day-long class. I did the class, and I rented time to create a couple of quilts. When my sister purchased a longarm in 2009, I visited her and her machine a number of times, before buying my own in 2010. I never intended to quilt for others as a business, and I still have no interest in doing so.
Home ownership of longarms is much more common now, despite the price tag of the machine and frame. Depending on the size of the machine and its capabilities, as well as the frame, systems can run from about $10,000 to $30,000.
For some, quilting for others is their business and pleasure. In order to make it a business, quilters charge for their services. Depending on their offerings, quilters might use pantographs, computerized design, or custom free-motion quilting. This link and this link describe the differences in some of the possibilities.
How much do quilters charge? It depends on many factors including the style of quilting (see above,) the size of the quilt and/or the time required, the batting used if the quilter supplies it, the threads used as well as how many different colors, and if other services such as repairs are needed.
I’ve read a lot of informative posts over the years about longarm quilting. This recent post by andi of andicrafts explains her pricing. As a business owner, she is responsible for creating a high-quality product/service; paying for her own space, equipment, supplies, utilities, web access and website; paying her own salary and benefits; and advertising and performing all other administrative and marketing tasks. As a highly skilled worker, she should earn, after all those other costs, much more than minimum wage. (It’s a terrific post and I encourage you to read it, including the comments following.)
This is the same argument I’ve given before in some of the posts linked below. If a quilter is selling her quilts, she puts a lot of resources into them. Once she has created her quilts, paid for her direct and indirect costs, and paid her own wage and benefits, she should make more than the wage of a low-skilled worker. (And yes, I’m using the feminine pronoun here as a shorthand for members of a group that also includes men.)
Do you quilt for others as a business? How do you choose to charge? Do you send your tops to someone else to quilt? Do you quilt for yourself? Have you had either great or terrible experiences with customers or with longarm quilters? Tell us in comments what you think about longarm quilting.
If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary