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.
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.