# Pay for Quilters (and other Crafters and Artists)

I was curious this morning about how well crafters are paid. What should we plug in to that wage figure, when we calculate cost of labor? Well, guess what, folks — there is a way to find out! In the U.S., the Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps records of wages in thousands of labor categories.

The most recent statistic for 2012 shows a median hourly wage of \$21.34 per hour. “Median” means it is the middle, with half of workers making more than that and half making less. Federal minimum wage is \$7.25, so the median is approximately three times minimum wage. Below is a screen shot of the page I viewed. Click through here to see it for yourself and read more detail.

Let’s go a little farther with this look. Suppose we want to compare the textile crafter or artist in the U.S. to a textile laborer in another country. We know so many of the “bag” quilts are made in China. This isn’t necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison, as the workers are not making any decisions. But maybe this will give us a sense of scale.

An article from 2014 looks at textile workers’ pay in several countries. It shows Chinese laborers have a minimum wage of €175 per month. This works out to approximately US\$200. If you assume 160 hours of labor a month (40 hours x 4 weeks) that works out to \$1.25 per hour. In fact work hours are typically longer than 8-hour days, so this is a high estimate.

Are you outraged to think of Chinese textile workers, working over bedding and clothing for a dollar an hour? I hope you are. They deserve more.

You deserve more, too. If you “sell” your quilts for direct cost of materials and don’t include your time in the price, you are making less than a Chinese textile worker. It can feel uncomfortable to ask for fair pay. But it is not wrong. It is right. You deserve more.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

# Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2

As discussed in yesterday’s post, Price vs. Value Part 1, some quilters want to sell their quilts for costs, and include a profit. Others have no interest in that. My hope today is to provide a point of education for quilters of both types, and for non-quilters alike. Even when you give a quilt as a gift, you might discuss with the receiver elements that went into it, so they can appreciate the magnitude of that gift. We’ve all heard stories of quilts that end up on garage sale tables for \$25, or that pad the dog bed. Owners who value your work don’t do these things.

Those who do choose to sell can struggle with pricing. It’s easy to think of materials that go into a specific quilt, but there’s a lot more. These can be broken into direct costs and indirect costs. Direct costs are the materials and labor that directly go into a specific quilt. Indirect costs include overhead of space and equipment, or other costs that are harder to attribute to a specific quilt. All of these need to be considered to objectively value your quilt.

The list below is a) pretty complete, but if you think about it, you’ll come up with things I missed; and b) way too complete, as I don’t mean to scare you away! My intention is just to remind you that you pay for all this stuff, and all of it goes in your projects. And note, I am not an expert on taxes! Consult a tax professional about tracking your expenses for tax purposes. This is just for purposes of pricing.

DIRECT COSTS attributable to a specific quilt
Material
Fabric including waste
Batting including waste
Basting spray
Fusible products
Foundation paper
Embellishments
Pattern
Labeling products

Labor time required to
Choose pattern and/or develop design
Choose fabric and other materials including search time
Wash, dry and otherwise manage not-yet-used project fabric
Press fabric
Cut
Piece
Press
Assemble
Applique, embellish, etc
Quilt
Bind
Clean area after creation
Sell

INDIRECT COSTS Overhead including equipment, tools, notions, utilities, and space
Washing machine
Dryer
Laundry detergent
Iron
Ironing board
Gel mat (to stand on while ironing, cutting, long-arm quilting)
Starch/sizing
Water
Cutting table
Scissors
Rotary cutter
Cutting mat
Rulers
Sewing machine, serger, embroidery machine, long-arm machine
Sewing table/surface
Needles
Machine oil
Bobbins
Specialty feet
Maintenance of machines
Lamps/lights and bulbs
Electricity
Camera
Computer
Specialty software
Internet access
Storage space for materials, notions, tools, etc.
Room square footage for your studio
Craft show booth space, advertising, or other marketing costs

In truth, some of these are pretty hard to track or attribute. You may have a washer and dryer, anyway, or a computer and internet access. And breaking out your studio electricity costs from other home energy costs may be difficult, at best. But these are costs of doing business.

So how to include all of this when pricing a quilt? Track your direct costs of materials. If the fabric you use in a quilt was already in inventory (stash,) remember you’ll need to replace that fabric in your inventory with new fabric, not necessarily on sale. Same with batting and thread. Keep a record of your time. Consider the value of your time as a skilled artisan. Skilled workers don’t work for minimum wage.

There are worksheets available in various places to record these. Start here with Sam Hunter’s We Are \$ew Worth It post, which includes a sheet to track your time. In addition she has a sample invoice to demonstrate to buyers the expenses entailed in a quilt. And check Dana Jo Forseth’s spreadsheet, also. Dana Jo is an accountant and quilter.

Neither of these worksheets include recognition of those indirect costs, though. How do you add in the cost of wear and tear on your iron? Tough question. Many of those indirect costs are related to the time you spend, so perhaps you increase your wage to incorporate them. Or increase your applied “profit” margin to include them.

There are various ways to determine price. Here I’ll outline four of them.

1) Include all direct materials cost, multiply that cost by some factor, and price the quilt at the resulting figure. For example, your material costs are \$100. You might choose a multiplier for that type of quilt of 3. (This is just an example, not a magic number.) Then 3 x \$100 = \$300, and that’s your price. This does not explicitly account for all those other costs, nor for profit. But you may find (after tracking your time on a few projects) that it works out fairly for you. Certainly it is more fair than taking \$0 for your labor, overhead, and profit.

2) Track time and direct expenses on a worksheet or spreadsheet. Price your time as skilled labor (or better), in other words, at least twice minimum wage. Add an appropriate profit margin of 10-20%. For example, your materials cost \$100. You put 20 hours into the quilt at \$20 per hour, equalling \$400. Materials plus labor is \$500. Add a profit margin of 10%, or \$50. The total is \$550.

3) Track time and expenses on enough quilts of different types and sizes to understand value as it relates to size of the quilt. Price your quilt by the square inch or square foot. An alternative is to price by linear inch, rather than square inch. While this is the approach taken by many art quilters, it can also work well for “traditional” quilters. Here are two links to explain this approach more thoroughly than I can here. Cory Huff at the Abundant Artist lays out both square inch and linear pricing here. (Read the rest of his post, too. It applies just as well in our world as it does for painters.) And quilt artist Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry of Bryerpatch Studio discusses the issues, including galleries, consignments, and installations here.

4) Have your quilts appraised by a certified, professional quilt appraiser. While this adds to the expense (which could be included in the price), it assures the buyer of value.

All four of these approaches include some level of pain, if only in counting your direct material costs. However, if you choose to be a businessperson, creating and selling your products, you will find power in valuing your own work correctly, and you will empower your clients as they understand the work they are buying.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. How do you determine prices for the quilts you sell?

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

# Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1

Sunday’s post on why I don’t sell quilts struck a nerve and generated some great comments about valuing our work. There are a few things I’d like to highlight, including a few other resources and views.

First, as I noted in a comment, price and value are two different things. Value is subjective and will differ for each person. What I value highly is not necessarily the same thing you value, and vice versa. Price is objective. It is a set amount for which the transfer of goods or services will happen. The transaction happens when the buyer agrees that the value is at least as much as the price and the seller agrees that the price is at least as much as the value.

Second, an essential part of making those agreements is education. Quilters need to be educated on the value of what they do, as many have not thought through all the elements in a cost/benefit way. “The market” needs education, too. Buyers will not buy if they don’t know what went into making a quilt. I’ve read scores of anecdotes about people who didn’t appreciate the value, either as potential buyers or as gift recipients. How can they appreciate it if they do not know? Those of us who do know have a responsibility to educate those who don’t. Maybe we need to talk about words and phrases to use to convey the information.

Third, it seems like there are three types of quilters. This may apply to other arts/crafts, too.

Businesspeople: those who sell and attempt to price their quilting services or products to account for costs, including materials, overhead and depreciation, time, and profit margin.

Non-business sellers: those who sell without calculations of cost and profit.  They may be motivated differently than the businesspeople, or they may not know how to calculate costs, or they may believe their market will not bear the cost.

Hobbyists: those who choose not to sell their quilts, for whatever reason. This is a terrible word to describe this group. Anyone want to offer a more accurate word?

ALL of these are valid positions. I read a blog post from a woman in the second group who sells on Etsy. She doesn’t care a lot about getting paid for her time.  She said she gets a thrill out of the sale, she loves quilting, and she wants to earn back enough to buy more fabric. Her motivations are not the same as mine, but she has a right to her value-calculation, whether or not I agree with it.

Many of those who choose not to sell, including myself and many who commented here, make that choice because to us, the value of the quilt is greater than a price we could command. Maybe the high value is because of sentimental reasons, or maybe we’ve actually done that cost calculation and believe price would come up short. That’s okay, too.

But for those who want to sell quilts and be paid “fairly” for all costs including their time and a profit, knowing how much to charge is confusing.

It’s easy to think of materials that go into a specific quilt, but there’s a lot more. These can be broken into direct costs and indirect costs. Direct costs are the materials and labor that directly go into a specific quilt. Indirect costs include overhead of space and equipment, or other costs that are harder to attribute to a specific quilt. All of these need to be included to objectively value your quilt.

If I go on, this post will be really long. To keep to one topic at a time, I’m going to break it up. Look for Part 2 tomorrow. I’ll talk about what costs to include, and how you might price your work to incorporate all of that.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

# You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, with Commentary

Scene 1
[Setting: small town library reading room. Characters: paint artist and quilter.]
Artist: You should sell those!
Quilter: No one would pay me what they’re worth.

Scene 2
[Setting: quilt shop. Characters: quilt shop clerk and quilter.]
Clerk: For the women who make the quilts we sell, it’s really a labor of love.
Quilter: If I’m going to put that much love into a quilt, I’ll give it to someone I love.

Scene 3
[Setting: quilter’s living room. Characters: professional musician and quilter.]
Musician: You should sell those!
Quilter: No one would pay me what they’re worth.

The End

All three of these scenes have happened to me in the last few weeks. I relate these to you because there’s been a lot of discussion recently about the value of hand-made crafts. I’ll use quilting as my frame of reference, but the discussion surely applies just as well to other crafts.

The question focuses on value. How much is it worth? My take on the question is shaped by my own quilting, but also by my education in economics and my knowledge of the history of quilting.

My quilts are my original designs. A small quilt I made recently had at least 50 hours of work in it, for both design and execution. The value of materials was about \$40. That includes fabric (including waste,) batting, and thread, but doesn’t include mileage or search time for the fabrics I used. As a skilled designer and high-skilled laborer, my time is worth substantially more than U.S. minimum wage of \$7.25/hour. I don’t work another job now, but the value of my time is the minimum I’d require if I rejoined the workforce. Given that, to charge for time and materials for that little quilt, I’d charge between \$1000 and \$1200.

Who would pay that? Would you?