A professional longarm machine quilter for hire and some of the work I've done.
I do make custom quilts. The majority of them are made from clothing. Either t-shirt quilts or quilts from the clothing of someone who passed away. When I get a phone call from a potential customer, the first question I get asked is…how much do you charge for a _____ size quilt? Naturally, I can’t give a price until I know what it is they want made. What size, what pattern, what clothing they have, etc.
Educating each new customer on the complexities of making a quilt is difficult. Over the phone is nearly impossible. They aren’t quilters so they have no concept of the time involved, the cost of fabrics, what the sizes are, or anything. They only know they want a quilt made….within their budget. I refuse to give over the phone estimates.
I got extremely tired of trying to refigure an estimate on a custom quilt for every new customer at the same time I was convincing them I could make the quilt. Sometimes the initial contact would take three or four hours out of my busy schedule. I knew I couldn’t keep doing that. Also, when I finish a quilt it goes home with the customer. I don’t have samples to show either.
To end some of my frustration refiguring each new quilt, redrawing new sketches, and to save me time; I created a catalog of quilts that look good made from clothing. Clothing is nothing more than scrappy fabrics. My catalog has pictures of scrappy quilts and t-shirt quilt styles. My catalog has estimated prices to go with the pictures. Everyone knows how to look through a catalog to shop. Catalogs are easy. Just look for a picture of something you like, check the price, and either buy or keep looking.
*note here….I always, always, always estimate high. It’s easy to come down on a price. The customer then feels they have gotten a bargain. It’s very difficult to give an estimate then tell the customer it will cost more. The customer will respond by saying….BUT YOU SAID. Then I’m stuck. I wouldn’t want that kind of thing to happen to me either. It almost always happens when I get an estimate on electrical or plumbing work. Gee I hate it when they tell me it will cost more.
I also have topper customers who make custom quilts and have me do the quilting. I explain my system to them with a reminder to be sure to figure my cost of machine quilting into their estimate quotes.
So here is my custom quilt catalog….
Yup, it’s just a photo album. It’s what’s inside that’s important. Pictures inside a photo album, what a concept. It also has this inside. My prices…. If you click on the picture it should get large enough for you to see. Yes, they are high. That’s the point! Please keep in mind I do piece very quickly. I’ve learned a trick or two over the years that keep me moving very fast.
How does it work? Well, this page is just for me…..not my customers. I use it for making the other pages. Each new pattern picture I add gets put into one of the above categories. See the figures inside the brackets? That’s a per square inch price for piecing and quilting. I have set sizes which are on the right.
And here are a couple of the pages…. Yes, of course, t-shirt quilts.
You will see I have arrows pointing to the different pictures. That’s to save space and paper. There are written letters beside each one. Those are code marks for me to double check my figures with the beginning page. I do have something in the upper left hand corner of the price sheets I will be taking off of these pages. It’s for me only and I should have realized that before printing all those pages. (Actually I’m thinking of remaking the whole catalog but it will work the same way.)
In the upper left corner of the price page is a list of numbered items. Then a set of numbers in the column beside the prices. These are code numbers for me. If a person wanted….say….a t-shirt quilt on a low budget; I look for numbers 4 and 5 in that column. If a customer asks for a quilt made from neckties; I look for the number 3 in the column.
You will see that every price page has very clearly…in red so it stands out….the prices are for labor only. I don’t provide anything but the batting, stabilizers, and thread. (I do charge for them though.) The customer shops for any additional fabric required to complete the quilt.
Why do I have the customer shop instead of me? Because very few non-quilters know the high cost of fabrics. They might give me $50 for fabric but expect me to buy $300 worth. Because I can’t read minds to know what fabrics appeal to them. Because I don’t know the colors of their decor. Because I can’t be out shopping when I need to be here running a business. My time is my money. Every fabric store clerk knows how to help a customer pick out fabrics. It’s not necessary for me to be there too.
I give the customer a list of yardage, a list of fabric stores in the area, and instructions to tell the fabric store clerk that Anita sent them to pick out fabrics. If the clerk has any questions about the yardage list, I’m just a phone call away. The customer can shop at their own convenience within their own work schedule and their own budget. If the customer gets sticker shock at the cost of fabrics…its better to back out now….before I put my time into a quilt they can’t afford.
How did I come up with my price estimates? Good question. I took the easiest piecing design, figured up the cost of machine quilting based on the size. Then figured two and a half times the cost of machine quilting. My custom quilting price is .02 per square inch. Two and a half times this is .05 per square inch for the easiest piecing designs. I can come down in final price and still earn a decent amount. Ok, that’s was the easiest. The next was intermediate which went up .02 cents more, advanced went up .02 cents more, and so forth. All of the prices have built in amounts I can reduce the price to give the customer a bargain. But also…..each price is high enough that if a design really does take more time to create I’m still earning what I need to earn.
When a potential customer calls to ask about my price for a custom made quilt; I explain I have a catalog of quilt patterns that is available to look through. Something for every person’s budget if they would care to come by and look at it. I explain, even if they decide to shop around, it’s OK with me, I can give them a few hints of things to ask when shopping for a quilt maker.
This catalog idea saves time as well as show I’m a professional. I wasn’t sure which label to put on it in this blog post. I finally chose to put it under being professional because…..I am after all… telling others how I keep myself professional. I do have another catalog comprised of art quilts with a whole different set of prices. Art quilts are a whole different part of my professional quilting career.
If anyone sees something in this post that isn’t quite clear would you please let me know? I can go back and make changes so it reads better. I’ve been typing really fast so I can get back into the studio.