Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cost vs. Utility - Making Quilts on Commission

Recently, I've had several people ask me about making them a quilt.  One requested a t-shirt quilt out of some favorite college shirts, one was looking to turn her wedding dress into a keepsake quilt for future children, and one sent me a link to a quilt she really liked.  And all of this got me thinking....could I make quilts on commission?  Would I even want to?

I found a post this morning from the blog of Ink & Spindle. called The Formula - or 'how to price your wares correctly'.   They are a boutique textile company so they aren't too far removed from the world of quilt making.  The whole post is about accurately pricing yourself and your wares.  So I thought, okay, using the method they discuss, how much would a baby quilt cost me to make?

First I needed to figure out the cost of materials.  I assumed I'd probably be working from a fat quarter bundle.  I found one made up of 7 fat quarters costing $17.50 amounting to a total yardage of 1 3/4 yards of fabric.  More than enough for a simple baby quilt.  That's also $2.50 per fat quarter; a standard rate for most quilt shops.  I'd also need to buy backing fabric.  The standard size of a baby quilt is 34" x 54".  Making it just slightly larger than a single yard cut of fabric.  Assuming that I'd have some scraps left over from the front to make up the difference I thought that I'd be able to get by with one yard.  The average cost of a yard of quilt-shop quality fabric is right around $11.00.  I'd also need batting.  Warm & Natural baby-size precut batting is $14.99 at Joanne's fabric.  If you're following along we're up to total material costs of $43.50.

Next I need to factor in the cost of the time it takes me to make the quilt.  From cutting all the way to sewing on the binding I think it'd take me about 12 hours to make a simple baby quilt.  At a living wage of $15/hr that's $180 in wages.

That means that the base cost of making this simple baby quilt is $223.50.  Then I need to cover my overhead costs.  Things like machine upkeep and maintenance, bulk thread purchases, rotary cutter blades, needles, even the cost of the electricity to run my machine, iron, and lights... you get the idea.  According to the post on Ink & Spindle a good rule of thumb is to double the base cost.  That means that this simple baby quilt now costs $447.

Because we live in a free market society, there has to be some profit built in as well.  Let's assume I want to make a 50% profit on this quilt (the Ink & Spindle post suggests another 100% markup).  With that in mind, the baby quilt now costs $670.

The exercise of moving through this thought process has certainly opened up my eyes to the true costs of making a quilt for someone else purely for economic purposes.  However, I rarely quilt for pure economic purposes.  I also gain some economic utility, or some measure of happiness and pleasure (my college professors would be so proud of me), from quilting.  So then the question becomes, do I discount the price to account for the happiness I gain from the process?  Does the fact that I get to make a quilt impact the cost of actually making it?  I don't know.

SO I'm asking you.  Have you ever made a quilt on commission?  How did it go?  What did you learn in the process?  Once I have some responses complied I'll do another blog post about the subject to further address these questions.  I know this can be a touchy subject for some people in the quilting community so let's keep the conversations positive and constructive from the get-go.

So that this post isn't entirely lacking in pictures... I've made significant progress on my modern double cross quilt.  I ran out of background material this weekend but hope to have it finished up shortly.


  1. My fabulous friend and marriage cousin, Renee, has a great post about the worth of a quilt with lots of other links and resources: http://www.quiltsofafeather.com/2014/02/the-worth-of-quilt.html. I have just started going through this process myself, and what I have concluded to sell for material and labor costs (so closer to the $225 number). I also include the seller fees into my calculation (around 6% going through Etsy) to make sure I am still getting a reasonable hourly rate. I'm not looking to get rich or pay for the electricity in my home. So that's my starting point for now. Good luck and I will be interested to see how this progresses for you.

  2. I have done the math as well, which is actually why I haven't made any quilts to sell. People are selling baby quilts on etsy for under $100. Designs that should be quite a bit of work. I did the math for a throw size quilt I made my dad for Christmas, a simple design, and I figured out that I would not be willing to sell it for less than $450-500 (and that's without markup). I don't know how these people are selling for so little - whether it's because they are using garbage fabric or the quality of construction is poor or if they just put no value on their time. I wish there were more people who appreciated the value of a quality quilt, but I think there are too many quilters out there that don't even value it themselves who ruin it for the rest of us. Sam Hunter has some posts called $ew worth it that discusses these issues further.

  3. I occasionally make quilts on commission. I charge supplies plus $15 an hour. So for one baby quilt that was 42 x54 inches (simple stripes, FMQ, and machine binding) it came to $150. I don't do it often, because I don't want it to become a business. Just something to earn a little fabric spending money.

  4. Costs many small business owners fail to factor in to their equations are the costs of annual leave, superannuation and other benefits employees are usually paid (e.g. medical insurance). If someone were to quilt as a business, they would need to add in a little extra so that they are able to take a break and have a holiday now and then!

  5. I haven't done anything on commission, but my friends keep telling me 'you should totally sell some of your quilts!'. What they fail to realize is exactly what you've written about here - that 'real costs' make quilts seem unreasonably expensive to lay people. I'll be interested to see what you are able to conclude, in case I ever do any commissioned work!

  6. I've been asked several times if I sell my quilts, to which I always say that I don't because I can't sell them for what they are worth. I'm trying to make a business out of quilting, so it doesn't really bother me. I had a family member ask about one and I offered to sell it to her for the price of the fabric, but she thought it was too much. I explained what it cost me, and that I hadn't put in any labor or overhead and she understood, just couldn't afford it.

  7. I haven't made a quilt on commission. If a dear friend ask me to make a quilt for them I either charge them the materials or have them purchase what they want to use. It doesn't happen often. I have sold my quilts on Etsy and marked them on the lower side of prices, the only goal of my Etsy shop is sell just above cost so I can buy more fabric and supplies. It's not a money making adventure.

  8. This post is so interesting. People have suggested to me that I make quilts to sell and I always say I don't have time because I'm so busy making gifts for people. I think making quilts for sale would take the enjoyment out of it for me.

  9. I'm late to the party as I'm still trying to catch up on all the blog hoppers!!

    I've been wanting to start selling quilts, mostly for the reason that I like making them and want to make more, which leads to the fact that I need money to be able to make more quilts because I need fabric to make quilts and fabric costs. So it ends up in a circle that to get money I need to sell a quilt so I can buy the fabric, to make a quilt, to sell it...

    When it comes to costs like electricity etc... I tend to think a percentage over certain parts of the labour would work. Because if you count electricity as a cost over everything, there's a bit extra being added there and then you're adding extra again for profit (profit on profit?), because you don't really need electricity to do cutting or basting (or if you have a lamp, that would probably use less electricity than actually running the machine or maybe this is getting too technical ;)).

    With the other overhead costs, I think it gets iffy here. How many times do you need to replace things like your iron (which you use on multiple things you sell to different people), rulers (these are used on every item also and aren't likely to wear out or break unless you don't look after them -- different if you need to buy a speciality ruler I suppose), the rotary cutter itself (blades sure, because you could break down the costs to charge for one blade per quilt -- we are supposed to change them regularly though I can't remember how often so maybe even charge half a blade per quilt?). Generally, I just think, how many times can you charge people for something you've already charged someone else? If an iron is $70 and it works out you have a $10 charge on every quilt that equates to the iron's cost, you make/sell 7 quilts and your iron is paid for. 3 more quilts and you're half way to a new iron! But if your iron is only lasting through 20 quilts, it's not really a good iron lol. And if your iron is something you also use for your own personal ironing (whether your own sewing, or just laundry) then is it right to charge customers for the use of something you are also using which means you are also limiting the "life" of the iron...

    I think even fabric usage is confusing. Say you bought that fat quarter bundle and only used half of it, should the customer then pay for the whole fat quarter because you bought it for their needs? You could offer it to them to keep, but if they can't sew, which is why they asked for you to make them something, why would they want/need it? Perhaps they'll let you keep it (could be likely if selling to a friend) but then technically you could then use that fabric in another quilt you sell (whether to someone directly or just a general quilt for sale on etsy), and then you'd also charge that customer for the fabric also...

    Even wages are murky! Say you made a mistake, and it took you extra time to fix it. Because you made a mistake, why is that the customer's fault, that they then have to pay extra labour costs for? Which has now started me thinking about mechanics because they claim something took 3 hours to fix but who knows if it really did...

  10. Me again! lol.

    I was just thinking about utility/overhead costs while pottering around the house. What if the overheads -- such as electricity, machine wear and tear/servicing, iron wear and tear etc, and I guess general equipment like rotary cutters and rulers -- were added as a percentage onto the final wage? Because it's your time of using these various items that adds up into their "wear and tear". At one point or another in your time, you'd be using some kind of item that you may have to end up replacing. Replaceable items, like the rotary blades would be separate a long with the thread, fabric and batting because they can be seen as specific to a single project.

    The idea of doubling the base cost from that post you found just seems odd to me because the overheads are being added to the cost of the fabric (and batting) and you didn't do anything for the fabric itself (especially if it comes down to someone already knowing the fabric they want or giving it to you). If you did have to go somewhere to purchase fabric, or look for it online, this could be added into your time (an hour's drive? half an hour on the computer? Maybe even added into a design fee?). SO much to think about!


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