quilting, repurpose, small business

What It Costs

I receive a call or email or message on Facebook asking about having a quilt made. We go back and forth about what they want until I think they’re ready to commit and I schedule a time for the person to come over to my house. Most often they are on time, but sometimes I’m waiting around 10-15 minutes before the person arrives. Then we go through a bag of shirts. She (for the most part my customers are women) pulls out each shirt telling me which sides to use. We talk about colors and styles. At this point she already knows my prices but I remind her of the cost.

Next I start cutting out the shirts. If I only need to use one side of the shirt it’s easy — I lay down the template over the smoothed out shirt and cut it. However, if I need to use both sides, first I have to cut the shirt in half and then cut out each side separately. If I have fabric on hand I’ll start cutting that out too, but more than likely I’ll need to make a trip to JoAnn Fabrics to get the fabric I’ll need to finish this project. That involves driving 15 minutes, grabbing a ticket in line BEFORE looking for fabric, finding the right colors, waiting in line at the cutting counter, waiting in line at the check out (with my coupons — never shop at JoAnn’s without coupons!), then another 15 minutes back home.

Once all of the fabric is cut, I can start sewing. If this is a rag quilt, I sew an X across each pile of “t-shirt — flannel — cotton” until I’ve sewn all 24 or 30 or 35 or even 48 squares. Now I arrange all of the squares on my cutting table to create the final layout of the quilt. Then I grab a row of squares and sew all of those together and continue until all 6 or 7 or even 8 rows are done. With the rows completed, I sew the rows together until the quilt is one step closer to finished!

I cut strips of the cotton fabric, iron them in half, sew them together and viola — binding! While some people bind my hand, I do not. I start with the binding on the back, sew it all around then flip the quilt over and fold the binding toward the front and sew it down again. I use a thread color that blends in so it doesn’t show up much on the backside. With the seams exposed on the rag quilt, I go sit on the couch in the basement, turn on a good show and start clipping each seam until it’s ready to go in the washer. After drying I shake it out outside because all of those exposed seams create lots of lint! Back in my sewing room, I use a lint roller to get off the remaining lint and check the binding to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Now… the quilt is finished!

If this is a more traditional quilt with the non-exposed seams, there is a different process involved. First I sew all of the t-shirt blocks together into the top of the quilt. I measure and create the backing with the yardage I got at the store. Next is the cumbersome part… I lay the backing on the floor (in the living room which means I need to move some things around as well as sweep to make sure I’m not covering the quilt in dog hair!) and smooth it out really well. I used painter’s tape to adhere to the floor. Next I lay down the batting that I cut off my bulk roll. Finally down goes the quilt top — face up. With the three layers lined up and smoothed out I go about placing safety pins all over it to keep everything in place. This task is hard on the knees and the back (I sound old!).

Once it’s all together, I find myself back on the couch in the basement with a good TV show, but this time I have a hook needle, embroidery floss and small scissors. Because quilting something like this would require me to iron interfacing on the backside of every t-shirt, I opt for a different method! I tie little knots all over the quilt — usually on each corner and at the center of each seam. The final process is the same with washing, drying, looking it over for errors.

Finally, I ask Brad to go outside with me as he is my quilt holder for all pictures (it was part of our marriage vows lol)! I prefer outdoor pictures with my quilts because the lighting is better, the background is better and I can step back far enough to get the whole quilt in the picture.

At this point I contact the customer and set up a time for her to come pick up and pay for the quilt. Many times these are emotional gifts for graduating high schoolers or memories from a deceased loved one, so it’s not uncommon for tears to be shed and hugs exchanged before the quilt leaves my house.

Generally, that’s the process that goes into each quilt I create. That’s my time. That doesn’t include the cost of fabric, thread and tools. A typical size for a rag quilt is 5’x7’ and for that I charge $175. Is that enough? No. Not at all. But, I’ve learned that although people want custom, meaningful gifts, they don’t always want to pay what it’s truly worth. Since this isn’t my full-time job, I can get by with lower prices. And, I think I’m in the sweet spot because there are some people that are unwilling to pay what I charge, but many others who are… it’s good to have a balance, or so I’ve been told.

All of my business comes through word-of-mouth. I don’t ever pay for advertising. I have a website which hosts this blog as well as information about quilts. I also have a Facebook Page for my business, but that’s it. People keep finding me through friends and recommendations in Facebook groups. I have a large set of repeat customers as well. My cousin always contacts me for baby quilts. One mom calls me every time she cleans out closets and has more t-shirts no one wears anymore. I’ve done quilts for every member of a family and have become the go-to person for graduation gifts for many parents.

If I were doing this for the money, I’d be in bad shape. I think what I bring in pays for the next project as well as my love for fabric when I have time to create something for me. The part that can’t be quantified are the relationships I get to build, the sacred part I get to play in the lives of families. Last week while talking about a quilt with a mom whose daughter is graduating this spring, I got to comfort her a bit and help her realize this will all be okay. Yes, I love to sew and create and make something functional. I also love to welcome people into my home, even for just a bit, and talk to them about what’s going on… very few people have a t-shirt quilt made “just because” — it’s usually bigger than that. I get to be part of that experience. What a gift!

So yeah, making a quilt costs a lot — in materials and time. Should I charge more? Probably. Will I? Probably not. I like making this kind of gift accessible. I like knowing that something I made is keeping someone warm on a cold night like tonight. I’ve got close to 200 quilts out there (including the one covering me right now) doing just that. I think that’s worth the cost.


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