A professional longarm machine quilter for hire and some of the work I've done.
A good friend has asked me how I manage (schedule) my time between machine quilting, custom made quilts, and having a personal life. Instead of typing a very long email I decided to put it here. Machine quilting is my job, creating tops is my hobby. It’s very, very easy to forget this so I remind myself of it daily.
A refresher of my time management is definitely in order for me too. I confess! I did let the machine quilting take over my life. Twelve to eighteen hours, six days a week, is a bit much don’t you think?
How did it happen? Well, let’s see….I hated to say no. I over booked. I believed I was super woman. I wanted that money. There are lots of reasons why machine quilting gradually took over my life. I rarely visited my kids and grandkids. I rarely had a day out with friends. I rarely shopped except for enough food to keep me alive for a month. I rarely cooked a nourishing meal. It was when my daughter told me that my quilting was more important than her or her brothers I decided to wake up!
In my opinion, time management is the backbone of a professional quilter. Unless we are disciplined in our work hours and learn to say NO we can find ourselves frustrated, fatigued, overwhelmed, stressed out, ready to quit, and looking at a very dirty house.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like saying no to a customer. It’s like saying no to a good friend and I really hate disappointing a friend. I want them to continue to be my friends. At the same time I have to be realistic. I asked myself, “Would I work at an outside job that many hours?” What would be the point of working so many hours if I couldn’t enjoy my friends and family?
I have to tell myself every day that this is a JOB. Not my life.
I like to work early so currently my working hours are 8 am to 4 pm, Tuesday through Saturday on the quilting machine. Why do I set work hours when I work at home? For the same reason a fabric store has hours of operation or a factory hires for a certain shift. It’s the time I have set for my business to operate. It creates a separation of the business part and the personal part of my life. I treat my business the same as I would if I had my quilting machine in a building clear across town. When the day started I would be there opening the door. When the day ended I would lock the door and go home. Crossing the furkid gate between my studio and the rest of the house is the very same thing as commuting across town to open a business. Home stays at home while I put in my work hours.
How many quilts can I expect to finish in one week? That’s asking me to predict the future. How many days will I be sick? How many days will I need to rush to the hospital for my mother? How many quilts will be so large I can barely fit them on the machine? How many customers will want highly custom heirloom on a large quilt and how many will want quick pantographs on a baby sized one? Gee, my psychic powers seem to have failed me.
I know of machine quilters who have 50 or more quilt tops hanging in their studio waiting for the quilting. The thought of having that many tops in my possession for such a long time terrifies me. To be responsible for so many tops belonging to someone else for up to a year is very scary to me. What if there is a flood, tornado, or fire? Could I save all those tops plus my furkids? What if tiny eight legged critters decide to take up residence in there? Oooo scary!
To be facing that much work would also have me in a panic the rest of my life! I would absolutely work myself to death trying to finish them all. Where do those quilters find the storage space? They must have very large studios. I don’t.
A better idea is to schedule only 2 or 3 quilts per week and only accept a couple of weeks work at one time into my studio. Yes, yes, I know this sound like very low numbers. The number may be higher for someone with an automated machine or with very fast pantographs. It could be 1 per week if someone specializes in highly quilted heirloom work. For me 3 is a realistic number per week.
Before I ever schedule a quilt; I need to know which weeks of the year I will not be working. Do I have a vacation planned? Will I be teaching a class? Am I going on a retreat? Will I be gone during Christmas? All this has to be subtracted from the number of weeks in a year.
I don’t use an actual calendar for my waiting list. I have a form I created which is just a bunch of lines on sheets of paper. It’s not dated. Here is what it looks like….
How does it work? I have one sheet per month of the year. The sheets have from 3 to 12 numbered lines plus 2 or 3 unnumbered lines. During months I plan to be away; the sheet will have fewer numbered lines. One line equals one quilt. A customer calls to put their name down for what ever month they plan to have a top finished. If the person has more than one top I write their name down more than once. What are the unnumbered lines for? I will explain that in a minute.
I came up with my paper waiting list several years ago after reading a comment made by another machine quilter. The comment was — “A customer’s inability to plan ahead does not make it my emergency.” I remember at the time thinking how double edged that statement was. How could a customer plan ahead if the machine quilter has 50 tops already hanging there in the studio? I thought about it and thought about it until I realized a top doesn’t have to be finished to be on a waiting list. So my paper waiting list was born.
I will call the customer a week or so before I get to their name. This gives the customer time to finish up the top, if they haven’t already; plus, work it into their schedule to bring it to me.
What happens if I get to a person’s name but they haven’t finished the top or don’t have all of the tops finished? I can skip over a name for a few days if needed so it can be finished then come back to it; but, only within a reasonable few days. If the person tells me they simply can’t finish then I erase the name, write it for a later month, and have myself a day off. My saying is “I can remove a name from the list with an eraser but I can’t write one name on top of another.”
When do I fit in the custom made memory quilts? How do I manage to get them pieced and quilted on schedule? Remember, quilting is my job, piecing is my hobby. When I am asked to piece some custom quilts they are immediately scheduled onto my machine quilting waiting list with the customer’s name. In effect; I become my own customer. If the month is already booked, I use the unnumbered lines at the bottom. Names on unnumbered lines mean I am in for some overtime during that month.
The piecing is done before or after work. My actual machine quilting day may not start until 8 am; but, I may be in the studio at 5 am working on a personal quilt or a custom quilt. My work day ends at 4 pm; but, I may go back in there after supper to work for another couple of hours; or maybe not. I may get onto the computer to read list mail or surf around looking at other blogs. The point being….before and after work is my time; I can use it for anything just like anyone with regular work hours.
Ok, time for me to get back to the quilting machine. Eileen, does this help? Is it helpful for anyone? I will try to post something in the next couple of days about the custom made quilts scheduling.