Tag Archives: Quilting business

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

Best of 2015

There’s a fun link party going on for quilt bloggers. Cheryl at Meadow Mist Designs has invited us to share our top five posts of 2015. It’s a great way to find other interesting bloggers, as well as to remember some special moments from a diverse year. (Click into the post linked above and you’ll find links to dozens of blogs’ best five.)

Cheryl says: “To take part in the link party, simply write a blog post highlighting your “best” 5 posts from 2015 and linkup. There is no set way to pick your best, you can pick your posts anyway you would like, some examples include:

  • Posts with the most views
  • Posts with the most comments
  • Posts that provoked the best discussions
  • Posts showing your favorite 2015 finishes
  • Posts of your best tutorials
  • Posts that are simply your favorites

It’s been a while since I’ve cared much about view counts or comment counts. I already showed you some of my favorite finishes. I’m going with some of my favorite writing! In 2015 I’ve published about 150 posts (not including the few reblogs,) so choosing wasn’t easy. But here they are.

  1. At the beginning of 2015, I published Transforming the Past|Transforming the Future. It describes how my quilts hold memories both bright and dark.
  2. My 300th post published in May. The post itself isn’t much, but I sure enjoyed the comments!
  3. Labels constrain us in so many ways. How we label ourselves and how we label our work can hold us back. Here are a few of my thoughts on “modern” medallion quilts. (And this might be cheating, but here I write more specifically about why I battle with labeling ourselves, rather than our quilts.)
  4. Here’s another cheat. I wrote a series of posts on quilting as a business, and a subseries on cotton and cotton fabric production. The final post (so far) was Conversations with Artists. There are links to the rest at the bottom of that post.
  5. Finally, and as an appropriate follow-up to #4, is My Book Proposal. It outlines the process I encountered in developing and submitting a proposal for publication.

The Mountain. 60″ x 60″. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

And through all of this I’ve been climbing my mountain, learning and trying things I wouldn’t have taken on even a couple of years ago. I look forward to a new year, with new challenges ahead.

Thanks to all of you who stop in, read my blog, drop a comment or question now and then, forward my site to friends. The interaction with you makes this all so rewarding. Thank you. And Happy New Year!

Sam Hunter’s New Post: Legs of the Same Table

Sam Hunter has written a lot about how we pay artists/designers/authors in the quilting industry. The name of her series of posts on this topic is abbreviated as WASWI. It stands for “We Are $ew Worth It.” This morning she entered a new post in that series. I don’t reblog often, or even link without more context. You need no more context for this. Please read.

WASWI — Legs of the same table

Conversations with Artists

Last Friday evening Jim and I attended our local annual art fair. From around the Midwest, painters, photographers, jewelers, woodworkers, and other artists came to display and sell their goods. Jim and I always enjoy speaking with the makers at art fairs. We get insight into their process and inspirations. We engage more fully with the art itself. This time was no exception.

A large photo of a lake in the Black Hills drew us into the booth of a talented photographer. After enjoying his photos for several minutes, I turned to the man and asked, Do you find that there is an upper limit for what people are willing to spend at an art fair venue?

He paused for a moment, and with a firm voice said, “No. I don’t find that at all. People who are willing to pay for art are just as willing to pay $3,000 as they are $300.” He went on to say everyone loves a discount, but he can discount an expensive photo by $100 or a less expensive photo by the same amount, and the buyer is just as happy either way.

“Huh. I’m a quilter and have thought a lot about selling my quilts. But it’s hard to believe anyone would pay me what they’re worth. For most people, a quilt from Kohl’s is just as good,” I told him.

“Well, they can buy pictures for their wall, too. But the people who buy wall art from Kohl’s and the people who buy from me are completely different people. Two completely different markets.”

***

Jim and I continued through the warm, muggy evening. Wandering in and out of artists’ booths, we asked one woman about a woodcut print. It was a poignant representation of a man who was with us but not… She told me an artists’ group had paired visual artists with poets. The poet she worked with had written about a brother with schizophrenia.

Another woodcut artist had more light-hearted work. One piece included the advice to keep it simple. When I commented on it, he reminded me about jazz music and how so much of the music is in the notes not played.

***

Shortly before we headed home we spotted one of my favorite artists, Meg Prange. Meg is a quilt artist who creates whimsical scenes with blind-stitch appliqué. I’ve visited with her several times over the years, and last year she presented to my local quilt guild.

I asked her how business was and she shrugged. “It’s always slow on Fridays,” she said. We chatted more about art festival sales. In order to break even an artist needs to sell enough to cover all the costs of production, as well as the marketing expenses of the fair. Booth costs, mileage, labor, accommodations and food, it adds up. Again she shrugged. “Last year I didn’t sell much of anything at this fair, but later I got a commission worth $3,300.” Being there had been valuable exposure for her.

***

Since I’ve been thinking about quilting as a business, these conversations were especially informative to me. While the typical “customer” might treat an art fair as a diversion, much like going to a museum, the artists must treat it as a business. They need to know their market and have realistic expectations for profits.

I’ll continue to ask questions about art and artists, including the business side. I may never choose to sell my quilts. But understanding both the motivations and rewards of other makers helps me understand my own, as well. Better understanding can only enhance my creative power.

***

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

You Should Write Patterns!

I’ve written before about selling quilts, and the value vs. price problem. I choose not to sell my quilts (at this time,) because I reasonably believe that I value them far more than someone else would pay. In other words, the value to me is higher than the price I could charge. Consider a bed-sized quilt. If it takes 80 to 100 hours of my time, plus about $200 of direct material cost, plus overhead and marketing costs, plus profit, that quilt has a value (to me) of well over $2000. Will you pay me that much? If not, I’d rather give them away. (See end notes for links to my posts on this issue.)

Besides selling your quilts, another way to earn income in the quilting world is to create patterns. Thousands of quilters offer patterns, both for free and for payment. Some sell their designs through magazines or other publishers. Others market their patterns themselves.

A design, not a pattern. No yardage, no technical directions. Free here: https://catbirdquilts.wordpress.com/2014/05/25/free-medallion-quilt-design-1/

If you are interested in writing patterns, I strongly encourage you to read a couple of posts on the subject. First, from Jennifer at See How We Sew, some advice on creating well-written patterns. Second, from Sam Hunter at Hunter’s Design Studio, a discussion on writing patterns, and what might have happened when a pattern isn’t well done.

One aspect Sam mentions is how well pattern-writing pays. Or not. If you want to make income from your patterns, this is a key piece of data.

Whether you write one pattern for pay, or write them full-time, it IS a business. Several months ago I had a frustrating experience when I decided to buy two patterns from a designer’s website. The process didn’t go well. Multiple attempts to contact her — by email and phone — went unanswered for many days. Her eventual emails to me blamed me, rather than taking responsibility for a glitch in her website. Finally she whined that sending out the problem pattern by mail (which I had not demanded) would cost her another $5. I told her that if that was all it cost her to learn a good lesson in customer service, it was a cheap lesson. She is talented at design but her business skills were lacking.

Another aspect of designing and pattern-writing to consider is copyright law on patterns. It can be very hard to protect your work, and the law isn’t clear on where the lines are drawn. If you’ve ever looked at a quilt and thought, “I don’t need to buy the pattern for that. I can draw that up myself,” you know what I mean. (If this concerns you, I’ll leave it to you to investigate for yourself. Copyright law is not my area of expertise.)

Now and then I’m asked to provide a pattern for one of my quilts. It’s a tremendous compliment and I take it seriously. But while I love to design, I’m not interested in writing patterns. The reasons are partly due to my personality, and partly because of my quilts.

First, to create a pattern and be sure that it provides good instructions, a pattern should be tested. Because I design as I go, I would need to make two quilts of the same design, with the second one as a test of instructions written only after the first was finished. I don’t want to make duplicate quilts. I want to make original quilts. So recreating a design, even for pattern testing, is not very interesting to me.

Second, in general, my quilts are complex. Writing accurate instructions would be time-consuming and difficult, and would suck all the fun out of quilt creation for me. Instructions you would get would be lengthy and difficult, and might well suck all the fun out of creation for you, too. Both of us would lose.

Third, and most important, I don’t want to help you make my quilts. I want to help you make your quilts. Your fabrics are different from mine, your vision is different from mine, you might have a specific purpose for your quilt. If you want to make your best friend a quilt loaded with friendship stars, by all means you should! If you have a wonderful piece of embroidery, or a great big print you’d like to use as a center block (Kate…), you should.

I can help you with that. But I can’t help you make your quilt your way AND tell you how to make my quilt my way. It’s a choice.

We are more powerful when we create from our own vision. For many people, it is harder to do that than to use someone else’s design and instructions. But I know from personal experience, and from feedback from my students, that original creation is incredibly rewarding. It feeds confidence and seeds more ideas for future work. Those seeds sprout and grow in unexpected ways. Here as elsewhere we reap what we sew.

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