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?
If your materials cost $348 or so, and you sell a finished quilt for three times that, or $1,044, that means the other $696 pays you for labor and overhead. Your overhead is your basic cost of doing business, including the space, the equipment, the electricity, the internet and your website, etc. Oh — and remember to pay for your health insurance and business insurance. Do you use an accountant? Be sure to pay her, too. These are all parts of your overhead.
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.