The Quilt That Never Was

I had to give some devastating news today. A work colleague had asked me months ago to make her a quilt: a commissioned, fully requested, this is what I want, and I will pay you for it, quilt. Knowing I couldn’t take on a full project until some other WiPs were completed, I asked that she give me until August. So for months I have been brainstorming ideas in the background that would fit her style, and hopefully, fit my design aesthetic as well. I really didn’t want another Bartering for Flowers situation so soon.  
Last week, the time finally came to sit down and let our ideas co-mingle. “I want an all white quilt.” The penny dropped. Um. Not exactly the bold and bright that I was hoping for. Then I asked her to describe the quilt to me, gimme some words that she wanted reflected. “Crisp, Sunday mornings, bright, early, clean, and fresh.” Okay, now that I can work with. It immediately went from just a white sheet, to an undulating cascade of whites to wrap up your loved ones in a bay window before emerging for a brunch of pancakes and berry compote. See how descriptive words can help?!
Remembering the scrappy Trip Around the World quilt-demic that swept through the community earlier in the year, I wondered how that might be constructed with all white fabrics. Everyone else made a bright, scrappy version, so I thought a Trip Around the World quilt devoid of colour would be right up my alley. I like to explore the antithesis of quilting–a rule breaker, if you will–and this could be the perfect opportunity. I also thought it would be an unexpected, delicate dance of romance and elegance. So I went to work.
I decided to make a few test blocks, utilising a solid white homespun as the central, diagonal fabric, while all other fabrics are completely white tone on tone. I adore the result. It is exactly the delicate piece I wanted to create. Romance, and elegance, indeed. Then the inevitable happened, as I had to remove the art, and start playing economic hardball. I sat down to formulate a proposal for the client.
Her request was for a queen, verging on king-sized quilt, (100″+ square) which, I enlarged to 120″ square to allow for shrinkage, and to keep an even multiple of 12″ — simply, 10 x 10, or 100 blocks. That’s a big quilt. Y’all know I like big things, but this is bazooka big. But I kept going. I factored in paying $24.00 / yard, which are typical Australian LQS prices. I thought that might be on the high end of fabric pricing, so I didn’t charge for thread, or fabric needed for binding, design costs, transport costs, shipping costs, or even a carbon tax.
I calculated how many square inches of fabric are needed for each block including the seam allowances (240 in^2), and then for the entire quilt top (240 in^2 X 100 blocks = 24,000 in^2). I then calculated how many square inches are in a yard of fabric with a WOF of 42″ (1,512 in^2). To determine the total approximate yardage needed for the quilt top, I divided 24,000 in^2 / 1,512 in^2, which equals 15.87 yards, or simply 16 yards. Remember that, 16 yards.
I made the assumption that the quilt back would be a solid fabric, with only two seams, as full WOF could be joined together in three runs. The size of the quilt back would need to be 126″ square to allow for the long arm quilting process. Three runs, each measuring 42″ wide and 126″ long (126″=3.5 yards), equates to 3 X 3.5 = 10.5 yards. Remember that, 10.5 yards.
My long armer extraordinaire Quilt Jane, charges ~$3.50 / square foot for an all over design. Since this quilt has 100 blocks, each finishing at 12″ square, that’s pretty easy, works out to be 100 ft^2. 
From this stage, I needed to calculate the accumulated supplies cost because all these numbers were starting to make me dizzy. (I’m sure you’re dizzy right now!) 
16 yards X $24.00 / yard = $384.00
10.5 yards X $24.00 / yard = $252.00
100 ft^2 of quilting X $3.50 = $350.00

Supplies Total = $986.00

I hadn’t even added in my labour. I knew things were getting out of control, but I forged ahead. I’m a new quilter (although, completely fabulous!) so I’ll only charge $20.00 / hour. I bet once I get my groove on I can get these blocks done in, let’s say, a half hour each. That means I have 100 blocks X 0.5 hour, equates to 50 hours for the block creation. Okay, whoa, so I’ll throw some major chain piecing, and I’ll down a few Red Bulls, and I should be able to factor in cutting all the fabrics, piece all the blocks together, piece the back, create the binding, sew the binding down (machine, definitely) and label the sucker all in 50 hours. (Rolling my eyes even thinking about it now). But, in a perfect world where I could do that, 50 hours X $20.00 / hour = $1,000.00.
Labour Total = $1,000.00
I see some of you completely nodding in agreement.  I see some of you thinking to yourself, “it doesn’t cost that much to make a quilt,” and I see others thinking quizzically, “what’s a square inch?” It’s okay, suffice to say, this is a big quilt, and it’s a big price.
After all of my calculation and numerations, I presented this to my colleague today. We got to the end of the supplies cost explanation and she declared that was totally in her budget. Oh, then I showed her the additional second number representing the labour. “Oh, right.” I have to say though, my colleague was completely, and utterly the most professional about it. She agreed that wasn’t in her budget, but she also was very quick to point out that it was in no way an insult to my craft, and that she completely valued the work I did, and I should expect that cost, if not more, for what I do. Agreed, sister, agreed.
That leaves us here. Two blocks down, ninety-eight to go for the quilt that never was. The good news is that my colleague and I are working together to find a way to simplify the pattern, and decrease the size so that it will work into her budget. At this stage, we are thinking of 12″ squares of two tone-on tone white fabrics only, creating a white-on-white checkerboard. The backing will become homespun to decrease that fabric cost, and the simplified pattern means less labour charges. The quilting will then become more the hero of the quilt, and I’m totally okay with that.
It’s disheartening to know the quilt I was so very excited about is now just a light, romantic dream. However, this was an extremely important exercise for me to go through. It’s taught me a lot about my economic worth as a quilter, the cost of supplies, how to budget for a quilt, and how to convey that sincerely to the client. I’m not quite sure how this new quilt is going to wind up, but I now know that us quilters are worth a helluva lot.

Linking up with Em at Sewing By Moonlight and Crazy Mom Quilts because this quilt was finished before it even began.

38 Responses

  1. It is so tough to price quilts and make it something an average person would want to pay – especially when you factor in your time. Glad to hear you're working on a second idea so your colleague will still get a fabulous quilt.

    Perhaps you could make those blocks into cushions to go with the quilt?!

  2. I would have loved to have seen your original design made up, I'm sure it would have been fabulous!

  3. A crazy thought, could you use a king sized flat sheet for the backing fabric? That might reduce costs further too, plus no seams!

  4. Adrianne says:

    Thanks for posting about this. It's pretty much the exact reason I don't sell my quilts. I value my time too highly not to charge for it, but I don't think people are willing to pay more than the materials cost. I prefer to give my quilts away – that way I get to choose what I make and when I make it (although I do take requests from immediate family members). I do agree that it's disheartening though – I think it would be fun to make the odd commissioned quilt, but I don't think I'd really enjoy it if I felt like I wasn't being fairly compensated for my time (and there's also the issue of devaluing the value of other quilters' work if you don't charge for your time properly).

    I think the way you've gone about this is a good one – you have to be honest and upfront and if the person isn't willing to pay what you think is a fair price, then no deal. Sounds like your friend is a pretty good client too. By the way, I couldn't see that you'd taken the cost of batting into account in your calcs so the price might be even higher than you thought :-S

  5. Liz says:

    I bet you could halve the fabric cost by buying from and Kristy's favourite fabric stash. Get your sale on – even with US shipping charges, the uber cheap fabric makes it much cheaper – you need to buy 9yards at a time to make the most of the us $25 shipping fee. So you get designer fabric cheaper than at spotlight (which I love to hate).

  6. WOW. who would have thought? We do take ourselves for granted I recckon! 🙂

  7. Vera says:

    It is/was very interesting idea. For once I would voted for random placement. For reason unknow I don't fancy that trip whatever thing. Anyway it's great and useful post!

  8. The O's says:

    Gorgeous block! Hilarious post! I snorted at the 'down a few red bulls' and 'major chain piecing'! Too funny.

    • The O's says:

      oh and as a PS: I can take you to a place where you can get quilt backs backing for $11/m sometimes even less… I have some in my stash I paid $7 for…

  9. Sooli says:

    Interesting post. Good on your work colleague for not being put off entirely by the cost too, which is hard to argue with when its all laid out for them to see. I hope you can both come up with a project which works for you both, love to see a win/win situation. Compromise can work. No reason why your white trip around the world couldn't become your own project as something on a smaller scale, say lap size.

  10. giddy99 says:

    $24 AUD for a yard of fabric! That's insane! Too true about the quilt math, though – when someone asks me how much it will cost for me to make them a quilt, I just tell them $10,000, and that shuts the conversation down. 🙂

  11. What's a square inch? What a diverse following you have! Excellent post. Yes, we all do the math in our head, on occasion, but to lay it all out there for your prospective client to see…. You did the right thing. Hope she can find a way to make it work.

  12. Leigh Anne says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. As someone who is building a business through quilting, it can be hard to explain to people the cost behind it. I'm happy that you are working with someone who knows your worth and I sincerely hope that you are able to find a way to make this quilt. Cause based on these two blocks, it would have been a stunner!

  13. Auntie Pami says:

    Goo job. People don't understand, but seeing it inwriting does help. Perhaps this might be a future QAL. Don't we all have bits of lights to use?

  14. Muttmomkay says:

    love the dream… makes me wish I could ship you some fabric from the US.

  15. Poor quilt that never was. I'm certain it would have been divine.

    Though, I do think you could easily downsize the quilt just a bit. 120" is massive. Massive I tell you. I made queen size for a friend (a BIG queen size) and it was 96" on each size. A queen mattress is only 60" by 80". Yes, I know you have to allow for shrinkage and you do want some overhang, but I'd guess it's not going to shrink that much. You'd decrease your cost significantly if you made it 8×9 blocks instead of 10×10. Though if you want the look of lots of overhang on the bed (to the floor), then I guess you need that size?

  16. It is frightening how the cost of a quilt mounts up, which is perhaps why we don't really work it out until we have to.

    Great post though!

  17. Mary Gregory says:

    I hear ya! I almost dread getting calls from family friends or acquaintances saying they love looking at the pictures and can I make something for them. I always give them a ballpark and just wait for the reality of labor costs to sink in.

    It's awful that you got this far into the design process before she realized the price involved. It's so hard to fall in love with what you're doing, then completely curb it back.

  18. Oooh I love it. Love love love it. The great irony of a quilt: most can't afford to buy them, and yet we often give them away for free.

  19. It is a scary thing to work out who much time, equipment, and supplies you use to make a quilt. I know it is strange but the cost to make a quilt is why I give them away. You can never recoup your costs so I do not try – it is handed off with love.

  20. Forgot to say I love the white on white blocks you had made. Fabulous stuff.

  21. akainik says:

    It's expensive to make a quilt – I've never sold mines…

  22. charlotte says:

    I thank you for breaking this down for us. I know when we make quilts for ourselves and to gift to others, it's a labor of love. We know it is expensive. After all, look at our stashes. I must say though, I do love the whit trip around the world. Maybe you can still make it some day.

  23. Katy Cameron says:

    Ah yes, I did a post about this earlier in the year. I broke down the charges for my aunt for a quilt that she wanted me to make (king sized to the floor) I worked out that even for a very simple pattern it would be £600 odd for materials alone, never mind my labour costs/quilting costs. Funnily enough, she went off the idea ;o)

  24. Anne says:

    Maybe she'd be willing for you to make the white on white trip-along lap quilt? Because seriously that is STUNNING, and I really didn't like that pattern.
    Good on you for sticking to your guns about the cost. I don't even bother doing commissions because there's no way people could afford me! *does that snap in an S shape thing along with the head waggle*

  25. How bout a bed runner…..those seem to be popular with that "hotel look". Someone in my Modern Guild just did one with swoon blocks…it was fabulous. Scrappy trip would be pretty!

  26. Megan says:

    Yikes! I knew there was a reason I love the fact that my quilty maths is completely hopeless. I love those little trial blocks you made, what a great idea, I hope you figure out a way to use them even if its for yourself (I'm thinking white is a great backdrop for anything that glitters).

  27. Kudos to you on being totally real with your estimate!
    Let it be said, that I bet there is a buyer out for that dream quilt and you should definitely make it some day. 💜

  28. cakegirl says:

    loved this post and seeing a breakdown of cost in print. People ask me to make quilts all the time and I just tell them no. Most people have NO idea of the cost and time involved. I would like to forward this post to a few people who have received one of my quilts as a gift.

  29. Nony says:

    Eeee. It reminds me of that vaguely sick feeling I get whenever I look at my bursting bookshelves or overflowing stash tubs… just don't add anything up, I say! But of course in this situation you definitely have to, and it's good to get the shock of the cost out of the way straight up.

    The white blocks are gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. I can just see them working with Mirror Ball Dot in Snow to add some pizzazz and becoming something totally beautiful… and destined to disaster if it lived in my house. Somebody would get some chocolate melted on it or spill some wine and it would all be over.

  30. Cari says:

    Oh, too bad — that would have been a lovely quilt! It briefly made me think about making a white-on-white quilt, and then I remembered the black cat who shares my bed. Looking forward to seeing the simplified version!

  31. Esther F. says:

    Thank you for this clear calculation of the REAL costs of making a quilt.
    I am still on the fence If I want to sell some of my work and your post topic is exactly why.
    esthersipatchandquilt at yahoo dot com
    Ipatchandquilt dot wordpress dot com

  32. Paula says:

    My friends keep telling me that I should sell some of my creations and this is exactly why I don't. I son't thikn they realise exactly how much went into each quilt and it is nice to see it properly said for once and how great it is that your friend was appreciative and understanting about the cost and work.
    I too live in expensive fabric land and just to be able to afford to quilt as a hobby I have to order from abroad, What I save on 4m of fabric more than covers shipping and usually the customs bill as well.
    It's a pity that this quilt won't get made(for now at least) but hopefully one day it will, because it would have been stunning.

  33. Taryn says:

    Fantastic post and a lot to think about! I've been struggling with this a bit this week. I totally undercharged for a quilt, which I realized after 25 hours (and counting!) of labor…for a *baby* quilt. Lesson learned! 😀 Your mock-up blocks are beautiful! I look forward to seeing the modifications you and your colleague come up with.

  34. My husband once in awhile starts up the "why don't you sell on Etsy" thing. THIS IS WHY. It's because once you get through the expense of the raw materials–which is huge–people don't want to pay anything beyond that. I have thought about selling quilts I would have made anyway, just sort of at-cost, but then that undermines those quilters who really deserve to be paid for their excellent work.

    I took on my first commission this week–two twin quilts–and I am doing them for two of my very dearest friends, so I am just charging for materials. They understand that and are grateful. I am hoping to use their quilts as "portfolio" type pieces and maybe drum up a few more little commissions for which I will charge more–and of course, I love them, and I'd make them any quilt they wanted anyway.

    And I live where fabric is relatively cheap. I told my husband you pay $24/yd for fabric and that really made my $6-$7/yard overindulgences this week seem like a deal!

    Great food for thought, as always. What will you do with those orphan blocks?!

  35. pforgerson says:

    how about a runner for the end of the bed like all of the new hotels are doing. It would be beautiful!

  36. CitricSugar says:

    Those blocks are too gorgeous – the quilt would have been stunning. It's completely understandable, though. I thought we got hosed on fabric in Canada… and we pay double what they do in the States. $14-20/yard. Criminy!

  37. I have just seen this ..and while i am not looking at the cost (even though that is certainly a good point to remember!) but the all white!
    My daughter is turning 30 so i thought it was time i made her a quilt..but she wants ALL WHITE and small pieces!, I said "are you sure"?
    "yes Mum"! so i have been trying to see how it would work, seeing what you have done here, it looks like i could do it. clearly I wont tell her the cost!!!
    thanks for the inspiration Molli Sparkles 🙂

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