How Much Does It Cost?

Two things quilters often hear are “how long did it take you?” and “you should sell those!” Of course, the two thoughts are related, as we often place value on things (consciously or not) based on how long they take. What is the value of having your furnace repaired? Do you determine that based on how long it took the furnace tech to fix it, or on whether or not your home gets increasingly colder?

Time has value, and expertise has value.

I’m in a Facebook group focused on longarm quilting. The members range from experienced professionals to raw rookies, quilting for their own pleasure. From both ends of the spectrum, questions arise about how to value their work. Recently a member asked how to price a queen-sized quilt, which someone had asked her to make as a commission. Another member suggested using a simple formula of charging three times the cost of materials. In other words, if materials cost \$100, you should charge \$300 for the quilt.

Let’s do that math and see how that works out.

The member was requested to make a bear’s paw quilt. Here are examples I drew in EQ8:

I did a quick-and-dirty calculation to get the basic scope of materials cost. I considered a 60″ x 80″ (US queen-sized) mattress and added 32″ to each dimension, giving a quilt measuring 92″ x 112″. That’s 10,304 square inches. To find the yardage I divided by 40″ (usable width of fabric,) and then divided again by 36″ per yard. (Blink twice and join me again in a minute if the math bothers you.) Rounding up, that gives 7.25 yards, assuming no waste or seams.

Of course there are seams!! Without considering the style of block but recognizing that piecing requires more than whole cloth, I suggested increasing the yardage by 25% for the amount lost in the seams. Multiply 7.25 yards by 1.25 to get about 9 yards.

This is a pretty densely pieced block. Each bear’s paw block has 45 patches, meaning 44 seams. Seams eat up real estate, so I was curious about how much it would really use. Fortunately, EQ8 will calculate yardage requirements for designs. Both examples shown above would be 96″ by 112″, a little larger than my estimated size. The one on the right has more blocks, less border. According to EQ8, it would require almost 12 yards for the top. The one on the left has fewer blocks and would require about 11 yards.

Okay, the top will take 11-12 yards of fabric. You also need a back and a binding. The back needs three widths of 3.5 yards, for longarm quilting. That’s 10.5 yards. The binding is another half yard. Total yardage? Maybe 23 yards. How much will that cost? Obviously, cost of fabric depends on a variety of issues. In the US, new quilting fabric ranges from about \$10-\$14 per yard. Let’s say it’s \$13/yd. Fabric for the quilt would be 23 x \$13 = \$300.

What other materials are there? Batting and thread. A queen batting might cost \$40, again depending on type and source. Thread? Let’s add another \$8.

Total materials cost: \$348.

If you charge three times materials cost, that queen-sized bed quilt will cost the customer \$1044. (And note, given the size of 10,752 square inches, that’s about 10 cents per square inch. As a longarm quilter, that might be what you’d charge for custom quilting.)

Will they be willing to pay that much? And if they do, is that a good deal for YOU, as the maker?

For the moment, let’s forget about that. Let’s pretend ALL the \$696 is to cover your labor. And think about ALL the labor that goes into making a quilt commissioned by someone. You have to 1) consult with the client to agree on colors, finished quilt size, deadline, etc.; 2) design the quilt and determine what resources are needed; 3) find and prep the materials; 4) cut, sew, press, sew, press, sew, press, sew, press; 5) quilt it, with all that entails; 6) bind it; 6) meet with the customer again for the transaction; 8) finish your paperwork including anything needed for your records and taxes.

If ALL that took you only 40 hours, you would make \$17.40 an hour, from which you would still need to pay your taxes, social security, and medicare, as both owner and employee. Realistically, because there really are overhead costs, you would make even less than that. Is it worth it to you to do that?

I don’t know where the three-times rule came from. It isn’t necessarily a bad starting point. But if I were in business as a longarm quilter, I’d have to consider alternatives for how I spend my time. If I could make more money per hour quilting pantographs for people, I would skip making quilts from scratch as part of my business.

Time has value, and expertise has value. Your time has value — what are your alternative uses of time? AND your expertise has value. If you are a quilter and someone requests a commissioned quilt, remember, it is because YOU are the expert. Make sure you are paid appropriately for it.

34 thoughts on “How Much Does It Cost?”

1. kpoberg

I love this post. My little quilting business lasted a year because I figured out I was making \$.10 an hour.

2. tierneycreates

I enjoyed this post as well as reading the comments. Yup as a former Etsy shop owner, it is pretty rough to make a living out of making textile crafts and selling them (but it was okay as a hobby).

3. Pamela

People used to tell me that I should sell my quilts and some have even offered to pay me but I know that if they offer, then they have no idea what it is really worth. LOL
I got a good job that allowed me to buy plenty of fabric and the necessities to make all the quilts I can make and I can give them away to whomever I want.
However, I am considering enclosing a note with the cost of time and materials so they will appreciate it.
Thanks for bring up the subject.

1. Melanie McNeil Post author

I think it’s worth considering including a note. I’m not sure if some people would get it even then. Because I’m retired, if I said I spent 100 hours on your quilt, you (generic you, not YOU) might think there is still no value in that, because I don’t otherwise get paid for my time. But I would see it as, my time is either a) worth a quantifiable \$/hr type of figure, or b) a set of alternative things I could use it for. In other words, to ME, my time has value regardless of what my actual pay is. I’m not saying it well but will guess you know what I mean. 🙂 Thanks.

4. snarkyquilter

I have no idea how quilters who sell their work on Etsy calculate their asking prices. I do know prices are all over the map. My guess is that baby quilts are more marketable, being cheaper to make, as well as faster. Some feature customized monograms and I wonder if the sellers buy prequilted whole cloth quilts and simply add the machine embroidery. The range of prices I saw for baby quilts was \$40 to \$4,000. Lots are large squares sewn together out of modern fabric. Prices asked for larger, more complex quilts are easily between \$2000 and \$5000.

1. Melanie McNeil Post author

I haven’t looked on Etsy for a very very long time, so will take your word for it. I do wonder how well the more expensive ones turn over. Thanks for sharing the info.

5. jeanswenson

I don’t think I would do well with the stress of making a commissioned quilt. I worked in marketing as a career, and having to design to someone else’s whims seems to suck the life out of the creative aspect, which is the part I enjoy most. Hence why most of my quilts are charity donations.

1. Melanie McNeil Post author

I completely get that. In fact, only a small number of times have I made gifts based on someone’s requests, and I don’t love doing that, either. I’d much rather make something to please me, while also trying to please them. But if you ask me to make an all-grey quilt, and I don’t like grey quilts very much, I’m not going to enjoy the process a lot. Thanks.

6. Cindi Lambert

I recently sold a queen size 98 X 98 Vintage Rose (Quiltworx) quilt I had done to a very good friend of mine. I had a professional appraisal for this quilt for \$2,800 in a “depressed” market. The quilt was professionally custom longarmed at a cost of \$516. I believe she used digital patterns on it mostly. Being paper pieced it took a huge amount of fabric. I sold it to her for \$2,000. This quilt also won a ribbon at World Quilt New England. My friend was happy, I was happy and although I did not sell the quilt for what it was worth, it was worth it to me to see my good friend so happy with her purchase and I definitely feel did not lose out overall.

7. Nann

Thanks for all the calculating, Melanie. I wonder if Abby Glassenberg, who blogs about the overall craft industry, might have some insights. As for calculating fabric — I do keep track of how much fabric I use by figuring out the measurements of each piece. (Simple example: a nine-patch block that’s 6″ finished has nine pieces, 2.5 x 2.5, or 56.25 square inches. A 30-block quilt top, no border, = 1688 square inches. 40×36 usable fabric is 1440 square inches. So this 30-block top is 1.17 yards.) I also keep track of what I pay for fabric. What I don’t track is my time or the overhead. Labor is definitely the biggest expense. [But the emotional pleasure is priceless, right?]

1. Melanie McNeil Post author

Yes, the emotional part is the priceless part. That is true for me. And as I said in a comment above, I would like people to have some sense of time/effort/monetary value, if only to understand the emotional exchange going on when I give them a quilt. Thanks for taking a look.

8. Jim R

Would this kind of cost analysis apply to other creative art and craft pursuits? I figure it would. For most people, it is not why we make stuff.

1. knitnkwilt

Correct! it took me only a couple pair of socks to realize I wasn’t knitting socks to save money! And a couple tries on quilts to realize that unless one had a “big name” it wasn’t profitable either. Didn’t mean t wasn’t fun.

9. zippyquilts

The 3 times guideline came from retail, where it has been common practice in some markets to triple the wholesale price to determine retail. The formula doesn’t consider the possibility that the retailer is the maker. In quilting world, I have 2 acquaintances who make commissioned tee shirt quilts. One figures the price at \$45/block. The other has a basic price for making, then takes the customer through all choices of materials and quilting, adding as she goes. Both have willing customers.

1. Melanie McNeil Post author

Yes, I think t-shirt quilts are an interesting market. People are willing to pay up for them in a way they wouldn’t for many other textile/quilt items. I can’t say I understand it, but I’m not very sentimental and don’t tend to save a lot as mementoes. So my brain just doesn’t work that way.

10. Andi

It is always surprising to see the math behind the business of quilting. All of us quilters need to share these types of numbers more often so our friends, family and potential customers learn the true value of our skills.

1. Melanie McNeil Post author

It’s funny about that. I really want people to understand that there is VALUE in what we do, even those of us who don’t quilt for pay. Because I don’t do this as a business, I don’t need them to understand monetary value as much as the time and effort put in, and the act of love that represents.

11. jmn

It’s the same with my hand knit socks – the yarn costs me ~\$25 for the yarn (before I’ve knit a single stitch); it takes me ~25 hours to knit a pair of socks for a woman wearing size 7 1/2 shoe. I put a price tag on the socks at \$50 – that’s \$1 for my time – and people aren’t willing to pay the \$50! (My time at say minimum wage of \$15 would be \$375 plus the yarn – realistically I should be charging \$400 for a pair of socks.)

So yes, quilting on commission is a losing proposition.

12. katechiconi

I used to take commissions, and then I stopped, for all the good reasons outlined above. I don’t want to quilt for business, I want to quilt for the love of it, to my ideas, my decisions and my processes.

13. Mary Says Sew!

I laugh knowingly, say, “Oh, you can’t afford me!”, laugh some more. If the person persists, I say, “Oh, no, you REALLY can’t afford me!”, laugh more, and walk away….

14. Rose

Very interesting article. I am not making quilts for sale but this does highlight the cost of the “little sewing hobby” we have.

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