How Much Are Those Placemats Worth?

On Facebook today, a friend’s page fielded a question about where to find placemats. The person asking wants a set of placemats and a Christmas tree skirt to go with a quilted table runner she bought in 2003. Several people chimed in with help, some of them suggesting she buy fabric and have someone make placemats for her.

The question and the suggestions made me wonder how much a set of four quilted placemats is worth. I broke it down like this:
Assumptions
Four placemats are ordered
Each placemat measures 12″ x 18″
Placemats are made in a 4 x 6 layout of 3″ finish squares

Overhead, administrative, and marketing expenses are negligible
Total overhead cost = $0

Batting and thread are negligible expenses
Fabric is $12/yard
Backing fabric required is 1 yard
Top fabric required (for variety) is at least 6 fat quarters, or 1.5 yards
Binding required (2.5″ wide cut) is .75 yards (due to shrinkage, straightening, etc.)
Total yardage required is 3.25 yards
Total yardage cost is $39
Total cost of materials = $39

Labor cost is $20/hour
Fabric is purchased and washed, but not otherwise prepped by the buyer
Top fabric is pressed and cut into 96 3.5″ squares
Top fabric is arranged into pleasing layouts
Top fabric is stitched into 4 12″ x 18″ finish tops
(Pressing continues throughout stitching process)
Backing fabric is pressed and trimmed into 33″ x Width of Fabric rectangle
Binding fabric is pressed and cut into 2.5″ wide x Width of Fabric strips
Binding fabric is joined to create 280″ long binding strip
Backing fabric is pinned on longarm quilting frame leaders
Batting is cut to size
Batting is loaded on frame, pinned along top edge
Two placemats tops are pinned on to complete sandwich
Thread is wound
Machine is threaded
Machine is tested
Two placemats are basted in place
Two placemats are quilted partway
Two placemats are advanced on the frame (rolled forward)
Two placemats are finished with basting and quilting
Next two placemats are positioned and basted in place
Next two placemats are quilted partway
Placemats are advanced on the frame
Placemats are finished with basting and quilting
Project is removed from the frame
Project is trimmed into 4 separate placemats
Binding is applied to back of each placemat
Binding is machine-finished for each placemat
Total time for 4 placemats is 5 hours
Total labor cost = $100

Total materials and labor = $139
Total cost per placemat = $34.75

Wow. Would you pay $34.75 for simple pieced-squares placemats? I sure wouldn’t. You could argue the time involved or the appropriate labor charge. Let’s take the labor charge to zero. Will you pay $10 each for your placemats? That’s still a lot. But arguably it’s too low. I didn’t include any of the overhead costs, by assumption; I didn’t include the costs of batting or thread; I didn’t include any profit.

A set of handmade quilted placemats is not trivial in value. The notion of “buy a few yards of fabric and find a seamstress … ” as one person suggested, minimizes the value of a maker’s time. I make placemats occasionally, for myself and my children. It is a good gift. But it’s another example of a quilted item with much more value than most people are willing to pay.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
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

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

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20 thoughts on “How Much Are Those Placemats Worth?

  1. jmn111

    Doesn’t surprise me – there’s a lot of work that goes into placemats. You could cut the fabric costs a wee bit by omitting binding and stitching (right sides together) around the outside, leaving a small opening and turning the placemats right side out – but it’s not much of a saving. Aprons are the same thing – people think they’re easy to do but I’ve got a reversible apron I’ve had for years and the amount of fabric in it is considerable, and the time to piece one side is not insignificant. Bottom line – people simply don’t appreciate how much materials and labour are for these kinds of projects!

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  2. katechiconi

    Ban all Chinese and other Far Eastern cheap labour imports and the First World would soon rediscover the true value of sewn goods. But it’ll never happen… It’s also difficult to compete with large companies mass producing items at home, since they can amortize their overheads, materials and labour costs over much larger volumes. You get cheap, but you don’t get the love.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I think there is room for both large-scale and small-scale production. The real issue is the assumption people make that it is cheap/easy/fast to do, and anyone can and would do it for you, because it is cheap/easy/fast. Well, no, not really…

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  3. norma

    We’ve all got used to cheap textile products – fabric as well as labour to make a particular product. It seems to me that there is a lot of exploitation in the sector fuelled by us as buyers wanting a cheap product. Textiles are no longer valuable, are disposible and a price reflecting the work time seems extortionate. Many makers of fabric and textile products are exploited around the world. Mending and taking good care also suffers because these items are cheap to replace.
    Sorry, bit of a thing for me.

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  4. KerryCan

    I think the people who buy handmade items are a special audience–either people who make things themselves and so value handmade or people who see it as a way of supporting the arts or a local economy. So, no, the average person wouldn’t pay $10-20 per placemat but there are un-average people out there!

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      It’s absolutely a different audience and I’m fine with that. But when the audience of mass-produced stuff also expects handmade stuff to be as cheap, there is some teaching we can do…

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  5. Joanna

    Your article reminds me why I mistrust those craft books that blithely promise you can make home accessories in a spare hour for pennies. I have made something like placemats for gifts, but I set up production to make a whole lot at one go, adopting assembly line methods.

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  6. Isabel's Needleworks

    Love this article, Ive always sewn or knit in my spare time and after retiring from work , that was not related to sewing, a lot of people asked me if I was going to start selling my handiwork. Like you I sat down and did the math. The general public is not ready to spend $15.00 + for placemats or $45 for a custom tote bag with machine embroidery on it. And I wondered what price one would put on a simple pillow cover. I sew for leisure and gifts for family. We seem to live in a throw-away world, and I agree with others that have posted , people are looking for cheap and something they don’t mind throwing away when they are finished with it. Sad but true. I hope our heirlooms won’t go to waste
    Izz

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      No matter what we give people (materially,) they will value it somewhat differently and care for it somewhat differently than we do. Some will cherish the quilts we make, to the point of never using them, and others will disregard them in the other direction. I think the only solution is to give carefully but completely. Thanks for reading and commenting today.

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  7. tierneycreates

    Great post! I always struggle on my Etsy shop on what to charge as it seems time and materials out cost what I could charge and actually sell the item. Sometimes I just settle for getting the cost of materials back and knowing one of my handmade items is being enjoyed in someone’s home.

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  8. twallisstone

    This is a great post! Thanks! It is a topic that a lot of artists/crafty-types have to deal with if they want to sell their handiwork. I personally stay away from donating my handmade quilts to any type of fundraising auction.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I don’t even want to “quilt to order” for gifts! If someone thinks they’ve expressed what they want but you don’t make THAT, there is too much room for disappointment or even worse. Of course unless they point to a pattern in the colors they want, they don’t really know what they want. And I don’t make other people’s patterns in their colors!

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