Anita's quilts and quilting

A professional longarm machine quilter for hire and some of the work I've done.

Fear of saying no?

This is the current quilt on my machine.

Yes, it does have issues….

95 percent of the tops I receive to quilt will have an issue or two. Some just happen to have more issues than others.

Last evening as I was putting this top on my machine to start the quilting; I began thinking about what it really means to be a professional machine quilter. Not many of the toppers see our side of the quilt world. All a topper sees is the long, long waiting lists and the dollar amount it costs. Most know only about their own tops and their own request…. not about the many requests we get almost daily.

So today I thought I would type-talk about these requests…. for any topper who happens to wander by my site. Maybe it will give the topper a little insight into the daily lives of a professional machine quilter. It might also help educate the person thinking about starting a machine quilting business.

Here are some requests from toppers I’ve experienced over my long career:

Request #1  If I’m willing to pay a little more…. the quilter will put my quilt ahead of everyone else as a “rush job”. It doesn’t matter if those on the waiting list have been waiting for several months. I can afford a few extra dollars to pay for the rush. By paying a rush fee, I never have to wait for my turn. No, I wouldn’t consider paying the quilter more if I’m just on the waiting list. Her fees are too high already.

Request #2  Since the machine quilter is a good friend of mine she will surely let a friend get their top done before those on the waiting list. Who can resist a really good friend or relative? After all, the quilter sees me everyday or two and I know it’s hard to say no to a friend or relative. Of course, she won’t charge me much…. I’m a good friend or relative.

Request #3  If I tell the quilter a really sad story it will get mine done quicker. Hmmm… what about telling her that it’s for a person who is terminally ill and is not expected to live much longer? We need the quilt finished so we can present it before the person passes on. The person passing on used to be a good customer so I’m sure the quilter will want to do a part of the quilt…. and at a discount or for free.

Request #4  You’re booked up for the next 6 months? (Whine) But I don’t want anyone else to quilt it but you. You’re the only one I trust with my quilts. You’ll do it? Great! Oh, by the way, it must be done by next guild meeting…. on Friday. (Today is Monday) Oh and I need a couple of days to bind it. Extra rush charge? I can’t afford to pay more. Since I can’t afford the rush fee, I promise to bring you more tops to do for me later.

Request #5  I know you are booked…. and I’m not really trying to rush you… BUT… can you finish my top by next week? Yes, I do know it’s not scheduled for a couple of months. Well, you do know I’m the guild president? You do know that what I tell the members about my experience can either get you more customers or convince them to take their tops to other quilters? Great! I’ll see you next week then.

Request #6  I brought you five tops to get quilted… can you finish one for me right away? Yes, I know they are not scheduled for right away but I want to take one with me to do the binding while riding in the car to the quilt show. We are going to be there all week. I’m so sorry you couldn’t go with us because you have to work. You would love the quilt show…. it’s going to be great! BUT…. just think about all that big money you are earning. Rush fee? But, I have other tops there…. don’t I get a discount for multiples?

Request #7  My publisher has a deadline of a week from Monday for this quilt, can you get it done right away? He needs it there so it can be photographed before the book goes to print. I’m sorry I didn’t get on your list sooner. You’re booked for months? BUT…. you do know you will be mentioned in the book as the quilter? Mentioned where in the book? I think….. somewhere in the back among the credits. Oh, by the way, since I want to put it into a show in the spring would you do show quality quilting on it? Can I have a discount because you will be in the book too?

Request #8  Would you let me use your machine to quilt one of my own? Yes, I do know you earn a living by using your machine everyday. Yes, I do know that you are booked for several months. BUT…. you could have a day off while you show me how to load the quilt and learn to quilt it myself. All I really need to do is some meander quilting. It’s just too large for me to do with my domestic machine like I do all my other quilts. I’ll be doing the work myself so I shouldn’t have to pay for that but I can give you a few dollars for the electric bill.

And then there are the times when toppers gang up on us: rarely do topper groups actually consider how what they do affects their machine quilters schedules.

Request #9  Our guild went on retreat last weekend. We would have loved it if you had gone with us. There were 20 of us at the retreat. We had such a great time! We helped each other finish UFOs. We each rushed through and finished two large UFO quilts each. Wasn’t that great! We all want you to do the quilting on them. You will have plenty of tops to quilt because we know you need the money. Oh by the way, we all plan to go on the next retreat in a couple of months. Can you go with us? We plan to finish two more UFO quilts each… again … and have you quilt them. Oh, I’m sorry you can’t go because you’ll be working. Girl, you gotta get away from home sometime. Surely you can take a day or two off for a retreat? (Do the math…. 20 quilters completing 40 UFOs to be put on a waiting list. Then multiply times two or more retreats….. gang up on the quilter)

Request #10  Two of the local quilt shops have scheduled beginner quilt classes. Each schedule a class a month for 3 months. That’s 6 classes. Each class will have about 10 students. Supposing the classes are all full….. that’s 60 beginners doing one quilt top each. Now…. in order to move on to the next top and not spend time doing the quilting themselves…. the beginners decide to have their tops machine quilted by you. (Again… gang up on the quilter.)

Request #11  Our local quilt guild has gotten several charity tops completed. We know we didn’t ask you BUT we knew you would want to be a part of our charity efforts anyway. We have several tops to bring to you this week, can we pick them up next month? Waiting list? BUT these are for charity. Yes, of course… we know you already quilt for your favorite charity…. that’s why we knew you would want to do these. You do know we all are an occasional customer of yours. We can go to other quilters you know. Cost? BUT you do understand these are for charity? The fabric was donated and the piecing was donated…. don’t you want to donate too? Well, yes, I know you are earning a living… but this is for charity. Well, how about at a discount because we are bringing several and it’s for charity?

A couple more special requests:

Request #12  I heard you were sick for a month back in the spring and had to push all your waiting list back a month…. now that it’s fall are you caught up yet? Well, yes, I do understand that you were scheduled very tightly for several months back then…. BUT didn’t you do double time (or over time) to catch up? You had me down for September does that mean you can’t actually do mine until October because you are still running behind schedule? Maybe I should have gotten on the other quilter’s list instead. I’ll call her to see if she can work my top in… if she can’t work it in then just keep me on your schedule for October anyway. By the way, I plan to bring 3 tops instead of the one I had scheduled.

Request #13  Remember you had me on your schedule for March? Well I finally finished making the top. In fact I managed to finish two. Can I bring them to you today? Yes, I do know it’s June…. BUT you promised you could quilt one for me before July so I can give it to my niece at her baby shower. You already have several rush quilts and you are behind schedule? Well, both of these are really small and shouldn’t take you long to quilt. Ok, I’ll be there sometime this afternoon after I stop at the fabric store to see the guest speaker that’s here for today only. I’m sorry you won’t be there too.

Do you see how what the topper does affects the machine quilter? What I have type-talked about today could be read as negative thoughts. It’s not meant to be negative at all! I’m simply explaining what life is like for us from a personal point of view. I’m explaining why a machine quilter might say NO to your special request.

Machine quilters are willing to stay away from picnics, family gatherings, parties, movies, guild meetings, lunches, retreats, quilt shows, our own UFO tops, and even dates…. to keep a topper happy. Each time we accept a rush job top, or a charity top, or late tops, or multiple tops; we must give up something of our own. How many other professions do you know that would give up a social life, like we do, just to accommodate a special request customer?

Heavens, if I stopped using a waiting list and simply did nothing but special requests and rush work, I’d still be booked for months! (LOL)

It took me many months of practicing to say the word no (nicely) before I had the courage to actually say it to a customer. BUT… I say it to family and friends really often these days too. I rarely take classes, have never been to an away retreat, often turn down friends who want me to join them for lunch, very seldom attend family gatherings anymore, and my kids believe my customers are more important than they are.

Why is it we machine quilters have such a hard time saying no? Well probably because we have a fear of being replaceable. It’s only after we can conquer this fear of being replaced that we start believing we can have a personal life again. Just because a machine quilter says no to your request doesn’t mean she is being rude…. she’s probably already over whelmed with special requests and simply can’t work in another one. Just because there are 24 hours in a day…. doesn’t mean the quilter can actually work all of them all of the time.

Ok, enough type-talking for now. I have the top to get finished today if I can. I hope I haven’t offended anyone by being honest. If you are considering buying a machine to go into the business…. think about these things as part of your “plan” to be successful.



This entry was posted on August 13, 2008 by in Quilting - business or hobby?.

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