Anita's quilts and quilting

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

Or…. you could….

So….. you say you want to become a machine quilter. You’ve seen the prices that machine quilters charge? Of course you have. You’ve been a customer and know how much you pay for getting just one top quilted. That’s really good money isn’t it? You say to yourself; “Why not get a machine and become a machine quilter so I can earn the money instead of paying it? It’s so easy, just move the machine around and get paid for having fun.”

So you invest a few thousand dollars you happen to have laying around doing nothing. To the tune of $20,000, sometimes even as much as $50,000, depending on how many bells and whistles you want added. There are stitch regulators, computerized machines so it will work by itself, hydraulic lifts, push button advances, white light and black light, tool kits for working on the machine, special chairs for sitting and sewing, a floor mat specially made for the chair, special handle bars for closer work than the supplied handle bars, zippers by the set to be used on the leaders, and the types of gadgets you can get with your machine go on and on. You can find cheaper (midarm and shortarm) quilting machines today than when I got my Gammill. This Gammill, at the time I got it, cost more than my house.
Once you own the machine you have to take some classes to learn how to use it don’t you? Other than how to load the machine and maintain it… you won’t get any free training. The only way to get the training for doing stitching designs is to start taking classes. Wherever you can locate the classes. Online, in a far away city, at the local quilt shop, at a quilt show….. just start paying for those classes and trips out of town.

Ok, now that you have the machine and have taken some classes, you need practice. You need fabric by the bolt. Can’t practice without something to practice on…. am I right? You could just use this as both top and back while you practice or it could become the backing for the tops you already have of your own.
Ok, you bought the practice fabric. Now what? Well, you will need thread….. lots of thread. Every color possible of every possible type and every possible weight is best. You want your customers to have a good selection when they start beating a path to your door.
As you get more and more customers you will need lots more thread! It will seem like you just don’t have the right color for one of the tops waiting to get quilted so you buy more thread. Then naturally, you need something to store the thread. Before you know it…. there is a few thousand dollars worth of thread living at your studio.
Now you know you can’t have lots of thread without lots of bobbins. Well of course you need a bobbin or two for every color thread you own. It’s such a waste to pull off the remaining thread so you can use the bobbin for another color. Especially if the bobbin is full. You must get expensive bobbins, because nothing about these machines is cheap. At $3 each it doesn’t take long to have quite a bit invested in several dozen bobbins. Oh, and don’t forget to buy plenty of extra bobbins because they do warp out of shape and become unusable over time. You can’t use warped bobbins, it messes with the tension of your machine.
What next? Oh yes, you gotta have batting. At least one of every size, type, weight, and color from every batting company you can locate so your customers have a good selection. You can buy batting by the piece as I have done or buy it by the roll. If you buy batting by the roll you also need a rack to store it so it’s easy to pull off a piece to cut. I chose to buy by the package so it stores easily under my machine table.
An intake table comes next. Somehow this table will always become a catch all for everything. You’ve got to clean it off regularly. You need a nice big table for laying out and measuring your customer quilt tops when they are brought to you. I mean really, without laying the top out to look at…. you won’t be able to come up with a quilting design in 30 seconds or less. Customers expect a professional to know right away what design is going to be done. If you are lucky, over time, the customers will come to trust your judgement and say “do what you think best”. This will leave you with the freedom to think about possibilities and search through your books etc for just the right design.
Ok, speaking of books…. you will need to buy lots of quilting design books. Not piecing designs. You need quilting designs. At from $25, to as much as $200 each, when you have one or two hundred books that’s another substantial investment in your quilting business.
But wait….. there are also stencils and pantographs too. You need to invest a few hundred dollars in buying these too. You really need lots of them so your quilting looks fantastic on the customer quilts. Stencils require marking devices. Pencils, erasable markers, chalk, etc.
Ok, let’s talk about videos as well. Videos show you techniques so you can learn to do them. It’s like a class with a famous teacher right in your own home. A class that can be repeated over and over again until you get it right. Another hugh investment of a few hundred dollars. Some tapes cost as much as $100 each. Multiply this by a few dozen and it’s become a really big investment.
Just when you think you are getting really good at the designs…. another machine quilter in your area will come up with something new that you just gotta have so you can do it for your customers too. So you start buying the newest thing…. quilting technique dvds. A few more hundred dollars to invest. Oh, and don’t forget the player. Can’t view videos or dvds without a player. Invest in a good one.
Then along comes the computer software or computer quilting disks. Won’t work in the dvd player…. must be played on the computer. A couple hundred of these dvds and computer disks mean a few hundred dollars more invested in your quilting business. You must also have an updated computer so it will play the disks. A few hundred dollars more.
Hmm… now what? Oh yes, the gadgets. Towa bobbin tension gauge, hand held templates to quilt around, marking devices, magnifying glasses, mirrors for checking the back of quilts on the machine, needles for the machine, extra check springs, oil, seam rippers, scissors, a spare bobbin case or two, extra light bulbs…… before you know it you have a drawer that looks like this full of expensive gadgets you absolutely need for your business.
Then you have another drawer full of more gadgets you really need too.

Then you fill another drawer with stuff for testing out the designs before you actually stitch them on a customer quilt.

Then along comes the plastic pantographs. You really need these for those quick designs on a customer’s utility quilts. Who ever thought a single piece of plastic could cost an average of $300 each? Well worth the cost in time saved doing a customer utility quilt though. Oh, and you need to buy a new pointer piece for your machine so you can actually use the plastic pantographs.
So you invest in more of the plastic pantographs.

and…. even more investment.

Then you decide on some smaller plastic pantographs.

Well now, you’ve taken classes, bought devices, bought dvds and cds, bought templates, and gotten lots of little gadgets to make the quilting work go much easier. This is not all. Now you need your business licence and to set up an account with companies you will buy your supplies from like batting companies, thread suppliers, etc. (Actually you should have done this right after buying your machine but I forgot to write about it above. I’m putting it here rather than editing.)
You need intake forms, a waiting list to keep track, batting prices at a glance, and quilting prices at a glance. Hmm…. how do you set your prices? Lower than everyone else in town? Higher? The same? What type of quilting will be your specialty? Well of course you want to earn lots of money so you set the prices that will earn you the maximum for the least amount of work. You must do a bit of every kind of quilting. This works for getting as many customers as possible.
You need a brochure and business cards too. Both must be designed to get the topper’s attention in 30 seconds or less. If a brochure reads as interesting enough, in 30 seconds, they will continue reading…. if not, it never gets read.
What will you do about storage? Tops brought to you need to be stored somewhere. So invest a few hundred more dollars in storage devices. It could be a hanging rack or drawer units. The choice is yours to make and your money to invest.

Finished quilts waiting for the customer to pick up need storage too. A few hundred dollars more depending on how particular you are about the storage. These also become catch all places and need regular cleaning.
I can write much, much more about the money you will need to invest in your business. There are things like hiring an accountant to help with the taxes. Buying a digital camera so you can share your work with other machine quilters or just photo all the quilts you will do. Then there is storage of all the photos you share… this cost money too. Maybe paying for a website domain and a person to build the website. The expenses (investments) are never ending. Just when you think you’ve got it all; something new comes out.
Now you could do all this investing over the course of a few years. Not everything must be bought before you go into business. If you start with the machine, and keep investing most of what you earn back into it, in a few years you will have invested thousands upon thousands of dollars more than the initial cost of a machine.
Or….. you could…..
convince a long time established, well known quilter to let you become their employee apprentice. She or he will have already invested the thousands of dollars in a machine, years of time learning, paid to attend many classes, gone to many quilt shows, bought thousands of dollars worth of gadgets, cds, dvds, templates, books, worked hard for customer relations, created good advertising, established a good reputation, created really good forms, gotten good credit with suppliers of batting and threads…….. and the list goes on. You get the idea, right?
You won’t have to invest anything at all; not one cent when you become an employee apprentice. But, you will be able to take advantage of their years of taking out of town classes. You can watch their videos, dvds, and cds. You can read their books and study the designs. Practice with their plastic templates and hand held gadgets. The quilter will be there to show you what you did wrong and help you learn to do it right.
Just walk in as an employee apprentice and start earning money. She or he can teach you everything you need to know…. for free…. and pay you while you learn. Then give you a customer base to get you started when you are ready to open your own machine quilting business as a competitor.


Think about it….. but reverse the roles….. you are the established machine quilter with the years of experience and thousands of dollars invested. I am the one with no experience asking to be your apprentice. What do you say to me when I plead with you to be your apprentice?

Yes, I really do want to know what you would say to me. Nicely of course. Feel free to ask questions of me if you need to understand the roles better. This is a make believe situation. I’m preparing myself for the eventual requests from quilting friends as the economy gets worse.

5 comments on “Or…. you could….

  1. kathi
    August 17, 2009

    Oh my. “all of the above” just reminded me why i REALLY need to reduce the quilts i take in for customers. I HAVE a LIFE, but “life” often gets set aside for customer quilts. or LIFE will DRAMATICALLY be interrupted and you can't GET to customer quilts. You also reminded me of the HUGE investment i have in the business.

    I think YOU being a TEACHER and the apprentice a PAYING STUDENT is a good idea. Yes, you know there will be the pleading to learn your skills WITHOUT the apprentice “investing” a dime. I heard long ago that IF someone PAYS for something, they are much more likely to take care of it, or, it will have MORE value to them.. So IF you take on an apprentice. MAKE SURE there is a CHARGE to THEM. and make it a HEFTY one. IF the apprentice truly wants to learn, they will pay the price.

    You are “retiring” from customer quilting for a REASON. always remember that reason. YOUR TIME is of GREAT VALUE. and SO IS your EQUIPMENT. and supplies, etc etc etc.

  2. winda aka DutchQ
    August 17, 2009

    maybe you should ask money for having an apprentice! or… go into a teaching job so you can earn money while teaching other people how to quilt with a LA machine… doing what you like and getting payed for it. renting the machine sounds good to me too…. trouble with that? if the machine gets broken who is going to pay for that?!

    hugs from the Netherlands
    Winda aka DutchQ aka (*ü*)

  3. Anonymous
    August 16, 2009

    I would be worried about causing
    the machine to need repairs. What

  4. Bethany
    August 16, 2009

    Here's what terrifies me about doing this kind of work..the customers. I'm a great quilter, but I'm terrible with people.

    The anxiety would kill me. Learning to work with people of all walks of life would be the best learning skill you could teach me.

    My next concern would be turning into the obnoxious business owner like I see that people turn out to be with this job. They go from being really sweet to being to busy to do anything else and you are now “in the way”. Losing my friends/family to this scares me as well.

    At the same time the thought of working with a beautiful long arm machine..the freedom of movement to work with designs that I cannot duplicate on a home machine, the templates, the DVDs, the books, the batting, threads, classes…

    The things you could teach me that no book/dvd or self taught guessing could ever do.

    There are days when I envy you.

  5. Elaine
    August 16, 2009

    I actually am going to do that with my daughters. I have a bad back and can't always quilt for others for a very long time. So I am going to teach them to quilt – some basic things for starters. And hopefully soon they can do large meanderings and simple things to take on the quilts that are easiest. I will keep a percentage of what the job is and they get to have some. By rights they should do some quilts where I get all the money for the time I take to teach them.
    Another thing you could do is rent your machine by the hour. You would get to how others do and could decide who to take on as an apprentice by how they do on their own quilts

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This entry was posted on August 16, 2009 by in Quilting - business or hobby?.

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