There is a delicate balance for quilters, between doing what we love because we love it, and doing what we love because we are obligated.
It all starts out innocently enough. We see a pretty pattern or a soft, beautiful piece of fabric, and we start to dream about what we could make with it. We shop, buy, measure, cut, arrange, stitch, rip, rearrange, restitch, press, rip, stitch, press, turn, pin-baste, heft, quilt, pick, requilt, bind, press, label, photograph, and ultimately fold up in satisfaction. Perhaps at this point, we show the quilt in a fair, or maybe we give it to a lucky, beloved friend. And then we start another one. Even if we’re fast, the process is slow. We savor it, we curse it, we finish it, we love it.
It doesn’t take too many rotations of this, even if you don’t feel like a stellar quilter, before people start to take notice. Sometimes we are constantly posting our progress on social media. Sometimes a friend who has received a gift shows it to everyone he knows. (We LOVE this, by the way. There is nothing like the feeling that a gift we’ve made you is cherished.) The eventuality for most quilters is almost identical….someone inevitably wants to know if you would make one for them.
This ranges in different levels of commitment. Some people want to pay you to make one, and wonder what you charge. Some ask, “If I buy the fabric, will you do the sewing?” (“For free” being the implication.) And some people, though this thankfully has never happened to me, just outright ask you if you’ll make them a gift. Because they see you making gifts for so many other people, of course. “You were eventually planning to make me one anyway, right?”
Well, these are all tough questions, that as quilters, we aren’t always sure how to answer. Yes, it looks like we’re getting a lot done quickly. Yes, it seems like we’re making gifts for everyone we know except you. Yes, we have hundreds of yards of fabric on hand, waiting to be made into something beautiful. But so often….no, we don’t want to make your quilt.
The best way I know how to communicate this, being both introverted *and* an accountant, is through my first language….the spreadsheet.
I sat down one day and crunched the numbers. I’m talking….A LOT of numbers. I calculated yardage for quilts of several standard sizes, made of different-sized squares, including backing, estimated hours per square foot and dollars’ worth of fabric, and I came to the conclusion….that quilts aren’t just expensive, they are DAMN expensive.
And when you think about what goes into them, you can hardly be surprised. Really. Aside from fabric, there is also thread, batting, tools, equipment, utilities, pattern and design….but the most expensive element of the project is, by far, your time. The part people are asking you to give them for free. As flattering as it is that people think you are superhuman and can just whip up a quilt (of any size) in one afternoon, that scenario is far from the truth.
Yet, people price their work sometimes like quilting takes them no time at all. Someone on a quilt board mentioned the other day that her custom quilt pricing was $150 for a twin size, $250/full, $350/queen, and $450/king. She said at these prices, she stays pretty busy and always has a project to work on. At first, it sounds kind of astounding–all of those figures are, in some context–a LOT of money. Someone who offers to pay these numbers isn’t necessarily being cheap if they really don’t know what goes into it. So I don’t say these things to insult anyone–in fact, I would bet this is a fairly common pricing structure among quilters who always kind of like to have a paid project going. You probably can go to Bed, Bath & Beyond and get a fairly nice bed-in-a-bag at around or under this pricing. But what we forget is that chain store prices include a profit–and the labor costs are very, very low. What we forget is that we no longer live in an era where it’s cheaper to make a textile item than to buy it at the store. At these prices, her quilts are literally a steal. When people jumped on the thread (myself included) insisting that her time is worth more, she responded, “Yes, but I could never sell one for that.”
And I don’t, for a moment, doubt that to be true. The perception of value for time put into creating something by hand just doesn’t exist in the everyday. We have to remember that enjoying it doesn’t make it worthless–it may be a labor of love sometimes, but it’s still labor! I don’t fault anyone for charging what they can actually “get” for their work, but I do fault a market that fails that seriously to recognize value.
To that end, today, I do have a freebie–and it’s for quilters and quilt lovers, alike. If you’ve ever wondered what you might charge to make a quilt for hire, or what it would be reasonable to offer to have one made, this Excel spreadsheet is the tool for you.
The first time anyone really thinks about a quilt in terms of costs of inputs, it can be pretty jarring. So, you may want to brace yourself.
The spreadsheet has spaces on the cover sheet where you can enter your minimum and maximum fabric costs per yard, your hourly rate, your desired profit margin, and your hours per square foot of a given type of quilt. From there, it will tell you what you would ultimately charge a customer for a given quilt, to cover your costs and a reasonable wage for yourself. It’s meant to be used as an estimate, but you certainly have permission to tweak it for any specifics you’d like. This sheet only includes basic squares. The more complicated the design, the more fancy techniques desired (machine embroidery, for example), the more costs you’re likely looking at.
If you’re good with spreadsheets, you can even do a goal seek on one of the “Total Costs” cells to see how low labor costs would have to be in order for you to meet a certain price point.
I invite you to download this sheet, fill in the green cells on page 1 with your own numbers, and see how the chips fall. And I highly encourage you to see how far you have to drop your hourly rate to quilt in the price ranges listed above.
And with that, I will also attach my personal price list. My rote answer, when I’m asked what I would charge to do a quilt for hire, is that I simply don’t make quilts for hire. That is a topic I may expand upon at a later time, but in the meantime….if I *were* to make custom quilts, this would be my current price sheet. I charge $20 per hour, because my skills (and willingness to spend the time making someone else’s project) place me well above minimum wage. If you as a customer are in these price ranges, and I have the time, I might actually consider it. However–I realize that most people don’t have this kind of budget, my work is beautiful but far from perfect, and no one is going to be beating down my door as a result. I’m okay with that. On the other hand….if you’re interested in learning to quilt….let’s talk. 😉