That dreaded question we always hear when a friend or family member finds out that you’re a quilter:
“How much would it cost to get you to make me a quilt?”
It stops many a quilter in their tracks. We never quite know what to say. People are flabbergasted to hear the prices we pay for quilt shop quality fabric, thread, computerized sewing machines and longarms. Yet, they want to get a custom piece for the price of a quilt from Wal-Mart (by the way – you can get a King Size Wal-Mart quilt for less than $30). It pains me to hear quilters talk about their prices being based on what other quilts on Etsy are selling for. How do you know exactly how long and what sorts of material it took that other Etsy seller to make that quilt? There are precious few people in the world that really understand and value the time and skill necessary to make a custom piece and are willing to pay for it. They exist but most consumers have no idea what all is involved.
Then we have the other end of the spectrum recently brought up via Crafty Garden Mom – the overpriced, cheaply made knockoff “designer” quilt a la Anthropologie.
What’s a quilter to do? I’m gonna offer some advice and food for thought on this subject. You are welcome to chime in with your own two cents in the comments section. I’d love to really get a good discussion going about this and share your thoughts in an upcoming podcast episode.
The Cost of Materials
Quilting cotton fabric prices vary greatly depending on where you are sourcing them from. Wal-Mart has a $1 a yard section of threadbare fabric and it’s not uncommon to walk into a quilt shop and pay upwards of $13 a yard for designer quality fabric. Here’s a little estimate just for a twin size quilt. This is probably the most common size I see produced for others. This estimate is for “bargain prices” you can sometimes find for quilt shop quality fabric. To calculate yardage needed for a quilt there is a good fabric calculator here.
The Cost of Your Time
Here is a sticking point I see with a lot of quilters. You’ve got two schools of thought here. One harms the other even if it’s unintentional.
“Selling quilts is a business for me” – You need to charge a reasonable hourly wage for your time. Personally, I consider minimum wage way too low for quilting. Think about it – you’re doing a skilled labor job. You had to learn how to use a specialized machine, acquire the correct materials, cut and put together those materials, and often quilt it yourself. Most quilters take classes to improve their skill. Why should we be expected to charge minimum wage for this skill? I think it’s ridiculous.
A twin size quilt can take 20-30 hours to complete depending on the complexity of the block(s) used. Let’s split the difference and say start to finish it took you 25 hours to make a twin size quilt.
25 hours at US Federal Minimum wage ($7.25) = $181.25
25 hours at $11/hr = $275
Some people charge less than minimum wage for their time. I’ve heard of quilters that charge $3-4 per hour for their time. This is better than the other option that I too often hear which I find harmful to those doing quilting and sewing as a business:
“I sell quilts for fun and don’t need the money. I don’t charge for my time and only want them to cover material cost.” This is a bad idea. Yes, you may get more sales on Etsy and Ebay this way or at local craft shows but by doing this you are undercutting every other crafter that is trying to barely scratch out a living selling quilts. The other thing that this does is create an expectation for buyers that your time or any other quilters time will always be free. You’re also essentially losing money because you aren’t covering the cost of your equipment, space or electricity. For people like this I always wonder why don’t they just quilt for charity organizations instead?
The Cost of Equipment and Electricity
A majority of quilters use an electronic sewing machine. Costs can vary from $50 to $12,000 for a sewing machine. A decent quilting/sewing machine combo will run you easily $1,500. If you are selling quilts, quilted items or sewn items you need to figure in a depreciation cost for the equipment you are using.
- Sewing Machine
- Ironing Board
- Sewing cabinet or table
- Cutting table
- Cutting mats
- Rotary cutter
- Starch or sizing
- Crafting lamps (Ottlights)
Add the cost of electricity and water into the mix and this equipment cost can add up. If you were a business you could write some of this off as an equipment cost. Most quilters do not formally file taxes as a business so they don’t usually figure a fee in for the use of all of this stuff when they sell a quilt. All of these items depreciate and/or have an annual cost of upkeep. At some point they will either need to be replaced or worked on. If you are working for free you are letting someone have free use of your equipment and electricity.
I’m not suggesting you add a super high fee to a quilt but you need to add something. You can prorate it depending on the quilt size or tack it on to your hourly fee.
I have to sell quilts at the price the market will bear. So does that mean a quilt that took you over $100 in materials and 25-30 hours to make should compete with quilts sold at Wal-Mart? They’re selling king size quilts for less than $30. I’ve turned down tons of work because people expect me to lose money so they can get the quilt they want.
Etsy is a good example. Often sellers assume the reason why their items aren’t selling is due to the price. I usually don’t find that the case at all. Typically low sales are due to bad photography, a poor description or a combination of the two. If you’ve got good photography, a good description and you’re still not selling you need to take a look at the market. Maybe baby quilts sell better than twin size. Maybe quilted placemats sell better than crib quilts. Find out what works in your area and online and make those items. What’s popular this season will change in six months. You often have to figure out what fabric is hot right now. It’s a moving target and your price point isn’t always the factor that makes it sell.
Losing money just to get sales doesn’t make sense. I think setting the expectation of your budget-conscious clientele so they understand what they can get as far as size, complexity of the blocks and quilting design they will respect the prices you set.