Tag Archives: Value of quilts

A Quilt Is More Than A Blanket

My guild quilt festival earlier this month was part of the annual arts festival in our community. Because of how it was promoted, many attending our show did not walk in the door as quilters, or even fans of quilts. Depending on experience, they might have had no prior knowledge of the variety and beauty of quilt styles. Most people who aren’t quilters aren’t aware of the process of creating a quilt. And few people, even many quilters, consider how much they are worth.

As a guild, our primary goal was to showcase our quilts and raise friends and awareness in the community. With that, we wanted to educate the public about quilting.

I was asked to create a slide show to demonstrate what a quilt is, and how a quilt is different from a blanket. This difference is where the value lies.

This brief video is the show I made, stripped of the quilt show credits and titles. It takes a little less than 3.5 minutes. Enjoy, and feel free to share.

 

 

How Long Does It Take?

If there is any question I’d rather never hear again, it is “How long did it take you to make that?” Or its variation, “How long does it take you to make a quilt?” These are the questions more likely to be asked than any other. (A close second is “Do you sell those?” I’ve discussed this issue at length, too.)

Why do you ask? Would you like to buy a quilt from me and wonder if you can afford it? Are you considering taking up quilting as a hobby, but won’t if it takes too long? Will you value the quilt I just gave you differently depending on the hours involved? Will you value me differently — higher or lower — based on how much time I put in? Is the question a proxy for something else? Maybe the question really means, “How do you decide what design to use?” or even “Wow, this is really intricate! I’d never know how to do this and it would take me forever!”

Whatever the reason for the question, one thing is true: people who have not made quilts (or watched carefully from the sidelines, such as an involved spouse) have no idea what goes into the process. They literally have no idea if it takes 20 hours or 100 hours, or what factors might make either time reasonable.

They don’t know that making a quilt starts with acquiring and preparing the fabric for it. Both of those might even happen before a quilt’s conception, before any plan is in place. Once a plan exists (which also takes time,) specific fabrics are selected, and cutting and stitching begins. Along the way parts are assembled and pressed. Ultimately a back is needed, batting must be prepped, quilting is done, and binding is made and attached. This, of course, is the quick summary and skips dozens of steps.

In the past, I’ve dealt with the question of time in a couple of different ways. For most of my years as a quilter, I said I didn’t know how long as I don’t keep track of my time. Over the last couple of years, however, I’ve thought more deeply about the time that goes into different parts of the process. I’ve tried to answer the question with an estimate.

Consider this quilt:

Marquetry. 85" x 85" with 15" center block. 2015.

Marquetry. 85″ x 85″ with 15″ center block. 2015.

It has a center block and 10 borders. All of the borders are “simple,” unpieced strips, half-square triangles, hourglasses, bars. There are pieced corner blocks, unpieced corner blocks, and borders with no corner blocks. The center block is a variable star with an economy block center. There is nothing here that is technically difficult.

Now take a look at the border of bars. What variables would affect how much time it takes to make it? The two most important might be the number of patches and the number of different fabrics. The number of patches determines how many cuts are made, the number of seams to stitch, and the number of seams to press. The number of different fabrics also affects how long cutting takes. More variety in the fabrics means more time arranging pieces on the cutting mat, and typically requires more, shorter cuts. In addition, more fabrics means more search time to decide which ones to use. If the bars border were made of one light fabric and one dark red fabric, that would have taken little time compared to the variety that were actually used (including some dark greens.)

So how much time did that one simple border take? It’s a good question and there is no easy answer.

What I do know is that each border usually takes between 5 and 20 hours, depending on its size and complexity. And yes, that includes all the steps outlined above, from acquisition through binding. I estimate a 10-border quilt with “easy” borders will take at least 80 hours.

“How long did it take you to make that?”

Recently I’ve decided not to answer this question anymore. In my world no one is intending to be rude (though I understand some quilters occasionally hear this question posed with a sneer.) Depending on who asks, I might ignore it altogether, or I might describe my process, or I might ask them something to clarify their curiosity.

But the question does represent some curiosity. I can recognize that and engage the questioner by telling them some other things that might be more meaningful. If it is a gift for them, they might find it fun to see some of the fabrics I chose especially for them, or symbolism in parts of the design. Perhaps I can show them how I used half-square triangles in the wide red and cream border, as well as in the narrower green and cream border, but having turned the values different ways creates a different look. Or maybe I can tell them about the trip to Hoover Dam that led me to buy one of the special fabrics used in it.

“How long did it take you to make that?” The question is so easy to ask, but so hard to answer.

How do you answer this question? I’d love to hear from you in comments. 

 

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

TINS and SINS and Value

TINS = Triangle in a Square

TIN

SINS = Square in a Square

SIN

Okay, I made those up. But made ya look, huh?

These will soon be the final pieced border for my Stained Glass Too. (The last border will be a narrow unpieced border to punctuate the quilt.) It will finish at 66″ x 70″.

Stained Glass Too

This quilt began with leftover hourglass blocks, which were too pretty to set aside. I’m in the midst of building that border of TINS and SINS. This is the quilt so far:

20150318_122429

ugh, shadows…


Since I shared some thoughts with you on the value of a quilt, I’ve tried to be more aware of how much time goes into what I make. While I’ll probably never track time carefully, I estimate this last pieced border will take about 15-20 hours in total. That is fabric choice, prep, cutting, stitching, pressing, assembly, and attaching. This doesn’t include design time or quilting and binding. Now figure a reasonable wage for a skilled artisan, and you can see ONE border adds up to a pile of money.

If I assume that unpieced borders take 1-2 hours and pieced borders take 10-20 hours, a quilt with several borders (and a center) might take 80 hours or more. This quilt has 9 borders, including the turquoise strip border for the final edge. Again, consider the value of my time, and tell me if you would pay me that much for my quilt.

“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”

Last week I wrote about why I don’t sell my quilts. It comes down to this: I value my quilts more than potential buyers would, and I will not sell them for less than they’re worth to me. I will give them freely to those I love. I will give them freely in compassionate service. But I won’t sell. Would that ever change? Perhaps, but right now it’s hard to imagine.

My post was spurred by the ongoing discussion among quilters (and other crafters and artists) about how to price handmade goods at appropriate prices. Many sell their quilts for the cost of materials and not much more, not recognizing the value of their time and all the other factors required to create their work. Others understand value in an academic sense but feel uncomfortable in asking for that much, that it seems immodest or something.

Women sell all kinds of products and services. We ask for business every day. We ask people to trust us, that we’ll be honorable in our end of the transaction. When they do, they are not doing us a favor. They are satisfying a need on their own end. It goes two ways.

Marie Forleo defines the particular problem many artists and crafters face here

But a strange phenomenon often occurs for passion-based business owners — especially when it’s time to get paid.
You have trouble bringing yourself to actually ask for money for something you’re so naturally good at.
Feels weirdly like cheating the system. Or taking advantage. Or somehow getting one over on people.

It feels weird asking for pay.

Women, in particular, have been taught to downplay our strengths to others, don’t show off, don’t brag. If you’re just really good and really patient, things will work out for you. Even today we’re told not to assert ourselves, especially with regard to pay. Last fall Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told a group of women in technology that they shouldn’t ask for raises, but to trust that the system will give them the “right raise”.

Having been a woman in a male-dominated field, I can tell you the system fails.

Fortunately, Nadella’s co-panelist at the meeting was computer scientist Dr. Maria Klawe. She offered better advice. According to this article from Salon, she said,

“First of all, do your homework…know what the appropriate salary is.” … “Then role play, sit down with someone you really trust, and practice asking them for a raise.”

Know what the appropriate price is. Shake off the voice that says you don’t deserve that much. Practice asking for the right amount. Ask.

One thing I learned a long time ago: you don’t get if you don’t ask.

So what about the voice in your head, the one that says you’re not quite good enough, not ready? This post by Tara Mohr addresses the doubt. She says that voice “is a wild liar. It has no bias for truth-telling. It says whatever it thinks might make you leap right back into the cozy territory of the familiar.”

Does it feel weird asking for pay? You can learn to quiet the inner critic that keeps you holding back. One way to do that is to practice. Marie Forleo’s post, linked above and here, includes a video on practicing. It’s kind of light and funny, but has some really good points.

Do you struggle with asking for pay? Do you have tips in asking to be paid, or paid more? Share with us.

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