The Process of Pricing

I recently taught a Longarm University, Machine Quilting Basics class, where I teach people how to use their longarm machine and how to run a successful machine quilting business. As part of this class, we do some role playing where they (the students or one designated student) is my customer, I am the (professional) quilter and we go through the steps of taking in a customer quilt.

I also do quilting for my favorite charity, American Hero Quilts. I usually have about 6 – 10 quilts that need to be quilted and when I’m done with them I drop them off and take a few more home for quilting.

In this class, I used one of the American Hero Quilts from my “stack” and we discussed quilting, timing, possible problems, etc., etc. The more I looked at that quilt, the more I WANTED to quilt it – like, right now!!! I had a lot of commitments coming up and knew I couldn’t quilt it, like, right now.

But life is strange! The commitments were postponed a week or two, and suddenly, there WAS time available to work on this quilt! So I did.

In the process of working on this quilt, I decided to write about my process of pricing a quilt, timing the quilting and other things. Unfortunately, I did not get a photo of the quilt before quilting, but you can see from the finished photos, the quilt turned out really, really nice!

Click on the photos for a larger view.

Let’s start at the beginning

This quilt is 67 x 85 inches (5,695 square inches) and nicely pieced. There were some thick seam joins, but the quilt laid mostly flat and square. (I have no clue who pieced the quilt.)

In all my many years of quilting and piecing, I don’t recall seeing a block setting like this quilt. (There may be an adaptation of it being made in the not too distant future.)

As I was looking at the quilt, I knew that an all over design, either a pantograph or a free hand all over design, was not going to be quilted on that quilt. I also “saw” lots and lots of feathers in the quilting! Which means that the quilt will be custom quilted. (Custom quilted being defined as different patterns in different parts of the quilt.)

I knew that I was going to change the color of thread to match the colors of the fabric.

I estimated that it would take 6 – 7 hours of quilting to complete this quilt.

With the above information, here is how I would determine a price for the quilting –

My base price for quilting (which is in my brain and NOT published anywhere – except here) is 3 cents per inch. So I did the math (5,695 psi x .03) and came up with $170.85. Which, for what I wanted to quilt, was TOO low. So I did the math again at .035 cents per square inch and came up with $199.32 which I rounded up to $200. This is a better price, but I knew the quilting would take more time, so I added another $50 and determined that $250 would be the LABOR ONLY price of the quilt.

Note: this price is for free hand quilting only. If I were going to use templates on any part of the quilt, I would add at least an EXTRA 25% minimum ($62.50 rounded up to at least $70) to the labor price.

If you want to take the math a step further, the price of $250 divided by 5,695 si = .0438 cents per square inch.

To recap, this quilt, 67 x 85 inches, will be free hand custom quilted with feathers, no templates, for $250.

When working with my customer, they know NOTHING about my calculations and they are presented with the labor only price.

I also estimated that there would be a $15 charge for thread and $15 for Soft & Bright (Warm Company) polyester batting, which was purchased wholesale.

For an blog article about the cost of thread Click Here

I am also putting the binding on – making the binding and applying it with my home sewing machine. For this I charge $3 per running / perimeter foot. This quilt has 26 running / perimeter feet x $3 = $78 for binding.

The total charge for this quilt (if I were charging for it) is

Quilting labor $250
Thread $ 15
Batting $ 15
Binding $ 78
Total $358 + any state sales taxes

Quilting Time

My quilting time break down is – (time is measured in hundredths – 15 minutes = .25, 30 minutes = .50, 45 minutes = .75

Putting the quilt on the machine: .50
Stitching time: 2.75 07/28/18
Stitching time: 3.00 07/29/18
Total hours 6.25 hours

Quilting details

All the quilting was done free hand. I did mark registration lines on the quilt top so that the curves of the feathers were consistent (not perfect). There was a little more time used because I changed my threads two or three times in each workspace** and I did “turn the quilt” to quilt the side borders. I chose to turn the quilt because I was using a different color of thread in the borders than in the body of the quilt. (For information on Turning the Quilt Click Here)

** I find that this is the most efficient way of quilting mostly equal sections of same color fabrics in a workspace.

Hours / Pricing break down

It took me a total of 6.25 hours to finish this quilt and I would be charging my customer $250. If you divide $250 by 6.25, that equals $40 per hour! Not too shabby!

Binding Break down

It has been a long while since I have actually timed myself on adding the binding to a quilt and I was very pleasantly surprised at the results. I estimated it would take me about 1-1/2 hours to put the binding on, but it took a little less than 1 hour!

Here are the details –

Making the binding – cut strips selvage to selvage, stitched them together and pressed wrong sides together: 20 minutes
Stitching the binding to the back of the quilt : 20 minutes
Top stitching the binding in place on the front of the quilt: 20 minutes
Total binding time 1 hour

Cost of binding $78, time to do it 1 hour. No math involved and I LIKE those numbers!!!

If you are not offering binding services, I beg you to re-consider. You are losing $$$ – a LOT of $$$!! I know that you will not bind every quilt that comes to you, but if you offer binding services, you CAN make a substantial profit!

I hope that this has given you some insight into how I price a quilting project and how the timing of your work on a project can help you determine if you are making a profit – or not!

I welcome your thoughts and comments. Please feel free to leave them in the Leave a Reply box below. Or, if you would prefer, you can send me an email at longarmu@aol.com

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Challenge Update #1

Last month about this time I challenged you to time yourself when you are working on any quilt, whether it was for a customer, for a charity, for family or for yourself. I am hoping that by doing this, you have discovered some interesting information.

To begin discovering some of this interesting information, let’s start with the obvious.

To determine how much $$ you made per hour when working on an individual quilt, take the total hours worked on the quilt (from when you timed yourself on this quilt) and divide it into the price you are charging.

If you go back to my post from last month, (to view that post Click Here)I documented two customer quilts I worked on. The first one, Starry Night Quilt, 74 x 83 inches, took me 4.83 hours to quilt. I charged my customer $250 for the quilting labor. So, $250 divided by 4.83 = $51.75 per hour that I “made” when I was working on this quilt.

The other quilt I documented was All My Scraps are Stars, 91 x 108 inches, with a LOT of detail quilting. This quilt took me 14.57 (rounded down to 14.5) hours to quilt. I charged my customer $500 for the quilting labor. So, $500 divided by 14.5 = $34.48 per hour that I “made” when I was working on this quilt.

These numbers do not include any business or operating expenses or any self employment taxes. A very general calculation would be – one third of your hourly “wage” goes to business and operating expenses, another third goes to self employment taxes and possibly recovering the cost of your quilting machine, the remaining third is your profit or what you actually make! Yes, all this can be individualized to your personal situation.

If you track what you make per hour, per quilt, over time, you should be able to come up with two important pieces of information. You should determine 1) the average time it takes you to quilt a quilt – you can break that down into quilt sizes like King size, Queen size, etc. – and 2) you should be able to determine an average hourly rate / wage you are making when you are working on these quilts depending on the pattern / technique you are quilting.

For example – I can quilt a Queen size quilt with medium density, “light” custom, free hand quilting in about 6 – 8 hours. If I charge, on average, $300 to quilt a Queen size quilt, then my hourly “wage” will be between $50 – $37.50 per hour. ($300 divided by 6 hours = $50 per hour, $300 divided by 8 hours = $37.50 per hour.)

Knowing this information, when I am consulting with my customer about quilting designs – and I have been tracking the time it takes to quilt the patterns / designs / techniques – I can recommend quilting designs that are appropriate for that quilt, that I can quilt in 6 hours, maybe less, but no more than 8 hours.

Also knowing this information, if the quilt says it needs a pattern / design / technique that will take MORE time, then you can start raising your price accordingly for that project. Estimate how many extra hours it will take you to quilt the particular pattern / design / technique, multiply that by your hourly “wage” and add that to your price.

Example – Let’s take the Queen size quilt from above and even though I may be doing somewhat simple quilting in the body of the quilt (let’s assume there are many busy prints in the body of the quilt) my customer decides she wants a feathered cable design in the border. I quilt the feathered cable design with templates, which is a more complex, time consuming technique. I have to determine HOW much extra time I will need to quilt this border design. Let’s assume that I estimate that it will take an extra 3 hours to quilt the border. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say I have an hourly wage of $30 per hour. Because I KNOW all this information, I will ADD an additional three hours to my estimated time of quilting and ADD an additional 3 hours of my hourly wage to this quilt ($30 x 3 = $90, rounded up to $100 to make things easy.) An estimated price then would be in the $400 range, for quilting labor only!! Batting, backing, thread and binding are all charged separately and not included in this price.

What if you don’t know how much extra time it will take you to quilt a different pattern / design / technique? Then I add percentages such as an extra 25%, 50%, 75% or more, depending on the complexity or difficulty of the quilting.

For our Queen size example from above with $300 for “basic” quilting, 25% extra would be $75, which I would probably round up to $100, which is about 30% of the basic price, 50% extra would be an additional $150, etc.

I can hear some of you right now saying, “Cindy, you are a crazy woman!! I could NEVER charge my customers that much money for my quilting!!” And I would answer you by saying “Why not???”

YOU are a highly trained, skilled, professional person. If machine quilting were so “simple” your customer could do it themselves – but they don’t. YOU have invested thousands and thousands of dollars into your quilting machine. YOU have invested hours and hours of your life learning how to use your quilting machine. YOU have invested more hours and hours and hours practicing, practicing, practicing your quilting skills. YOU can do things with your quilting machine that your customer CAN’T do and they are paying YOU to do this!

I travel around the country and talk to other quilters about their businesses. So many quilters are “locked” into the length x width x XX cents per square inch pricing. They will do all sorts of fancy, complex quilting – free hand, pantograph, computerized, templates, etc. – and NEVER charge anything more than length x width x XX cents per square inch, AND they will spend HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS working on the quilt with NO idea of how many $$$ they are making (or loosing) per hour!

Let’s say you are thinking of putting a deck or porch on the back of your house. You want the deck to be 7-1/2 feet x 9 feet. You talk to a contractor about this and he says a basic deck / porch, no railings, nothing fancy will be $500. You think that having railings around the deck / porch might be a good idea, especially when the kids and /or grand kids come to visit. You also say that you would like to have a cover over the deck / porch, seats built into the railings and some planter boxes on the top of the railings. Is the contractor going to do all of the extras for the same $500 cost? I don’t think so!! He would – and he should – raise the price he is charging you according to what you want to have done to your deck / porch.

Why are YOU any different from the contractor in this example? If you haven’t figured it out, 7-1/2 x 9 feet is 90 x 108 inches, the same size as a Queen size, pre-cut batting! Think of yourself as a “quilting contractor” – the more quilting your customer wants, the more YOU SHOULD be charging for it, and they should and WILL pay for it!

Trust me, I have a LOT more to say about this, but for now, let’s finish with this – keep timing yourself on every quilt you work on. Begin to collate and group your information by quilt size, technique, pattern, etc., and see what information is starting to emerge about YOUR quilting.

As always, please leave a comment – I WILL be wearing my flame proof underwear or maybe I should make it a flame proof suit!

If you would like, send me a personal email at longarmu@aol.com

Take the Challenge!

Usually around the first of the year I write about raising your prices – which you should be doing –  but this year, I want to do something a little bit different.

I have a challenge for YOU! For the next 30 days, I want you to TIME yourself when you are working on ANY quilt.

No, this is not to play “beat the clock,” or “I can quilt faster than you can!” This is to show you how much time you are taking to quilt a quilt. By tracking your time for at least 30 days, you should see some interesting trends developing. Before we talk about interesting trends, let’s talk about what to “time.”

FWIW – I time myself on 98 % of the quilts I work on, and yes, I can give you all sorts of timing details on the quilts I have done!

What to time  – I break my timing into three major sections – putting the quilt on the machine, actual quilting time and “after quilting” time.

Putting the Quilt on the Machine – Why is this important information? Remember back to when you were a beginning quilter (even if you weren’t quilting as a business.) How long did it take you to put a Queen size quilt on your machine? If you were like me, it took about 3 hours, maybe longer. My thoughts were, there is SO much fabric and SO many big pieces and where to do they all go and what gets pinned, etc., etc. Today, after putting (literally) a thousand + quilts on my machine, I can put a Queen size quilt on the machine in about 35 – 45 minutes, if there are no major problems.

If you are a fairly new quilter, after more than a few quilts, you should see a decrease in the amount of time it takes you to put a quilt on the machine.

Once you are aware of the time it takes you to put a quilt on the machine, you may be able to figure out more efficient ways to put a quilt on your machine.

Even though you are not “quilting” when you are putting a quilt on to the quilting machine, I do consider it as “quilting time” and include it in the total time it takes to quilt the quilt.

Actual Quilting Time – This is the time you are standing at the machine and actually working on a quilt. It makes no difference if you are quilting with a computer or hand guiding the machine. It also makes no difference if you are quilting pantographs, doing free hand work, working with templates or doing super duper over the top super dense custom quilting. If you are touching the machine, the needle is moving, stitches are being made, bobbins are being wound or you are moving the quilt from workspace to workspace, this is actual quilting time! This will be the bulk of the time you are working on your quilt.

For many years, I drove a school bus and I had to keep track of my time on the routes, etc., Instead of counting minutes, we counted hundredths of the hour. Here is how it worked – the clock was divided into 100’s, so 15 minutes was .25, 30 minutes was .50 and 45 minutes was .75 of an hour. For simplicity’s sake, 5 minutes is calculated a .08 of an hour. This makes things so much easier to calculate and I continued doing this when I time my quilts. Example – if it took me 45 minutes to put a quilt on the machine, I would write down .75 hours. If I was quilting for 55 minutes, I would write down .91 (45 minutes = .75, 10 minutes = .16. So, .75 + .16 = .91) If I was quilting for 1 hour, 30 minutes, I would write down 1.50 hours.

Most smart phones have a clock / timer/ stopwatch function on them. Some people like to use the stop watch function, some people prefer to set the time for a specific amount of time and work until the timer goes off. However you like to track your time, do it and write it down.

Many times when I’m quilting I listen to podcasts, each of which is about 40 minutes long. I will keep track of the number of podcasts I have listened to when I calculate my time.

If nothing else, write down your start and finish time and figure how much time it was.

Note: I like to add the date to my times. Many times I am working only a few hours a day on a project – the project may take only 6 hours, but it might have taken me 4 days to do them!

While you are timing yourself, you can break the time down into categories / sections / repeats / rows / techniques, etc.

For example, when I quit pantographs, in addition to the time I am tracking on the whole project, I will time myself on the actual quilting time – the time the machine is moving – on at least one row of the pattern. Let’s say that for a queen size quilt, from raw edge to raw edge, one row of pattern took 30 minutes of quilting time. It took another 10 minutes to do the “roll up” and re-setting of the pattern, etc. You can calculate that it will take 40 minutes (.50 + .16 = .66 hours) to quilt one row. If your pattern is 10 inches wide and your quilt is 100 inches long, that will 10 pattern repeats. At 40 minutes /.66 hour per row that would equal about 6-1/2 hours to quilt.

I do a fair amount of template work. When I am working with templates, I will time myself per block / motif / border section / etc., when using that particular template, in addition to the total time it takes to finish the quilting.

As you can see, in addition to your actual quilting time, you can break your time into as many “pieces” as you want to determine all sorts of things.

Those of you who “float” the bottom of the quilt top, I would love to know how much time you take to “fuss” with the quilt top to keep it straight and smooth each time you do a “roll up” of the quilt. If some of you could send me this info, I would greatly appreciate it.

Then there is the “After Quilting” Time – What is after quilting? To me, that is things that need to be done to the quilt before the quilt is taken off the machine and before it is either ready for binding or to be given back to the customer.

For example – After the main quilting is done, and before the quilt is taken off the machine, I inspect the quilt both top and the quilt bottom / backing fabric to make sure the stitching is good, that there are no tension issues on the back, no un-quilted spaces, etc. If anything needs to be fixed with the machine, I do it at this time. Many times when I use templates I will drag my thread from place to place. These “dragged threads” need to be trimmed from the back, and yes, I time this too! The threads have already been trimmed on the quilt front during quilting.

I trim my quilts so that there is about 1-1/2 to 2 inches of backing fabric and batting from the raw edges of the quilt top before I give the quilt back to my customer, if the customer is applying the binding. (All the trimmings are returned to the customer, unless they are very small.) I generally don’t time this, but I will allow an extra 15 minutes (.25 hours.)

I like to make a chart and write everything down.

Here are some numbers from an actual quilt I did – click on any photo for a larger view


Starry Night Quilt, 73 x 84 inches
click on the chart for a larger view.

I like to round my numbers, so this quilt took me (rounded up) 5 hours from start to finish. This quilt was free hand quilted.

Here is another quilt – the photo is of half the quilt.

All My Scraps are Stars, 91 x 108 inches
click on the chart for a larger view

This quilt was quilted free hand, but there was a TON of quilting , LOTS of detail work and it was HUGE!! As you can see, this quilt took me 14-1/2 hours (rounded down slightly) over 6 days to complete! I also had some stitching issues that had to be taken out and re-quilted and those were included in the times above.

I don’t want to overwhelm you with more details, so I will end here by saying – accept my challenge and time yourself for the next 30 days and see if you can see some interesting trends in YOUR quilt and quilting.

I will write more about this in 30 days. Until then, keep on quilting!

Feel free to leave a comment and if you would rather send me an email, please do so at longarmu@aol.com

Belated Happy New Year

I want to wish every one of you a Happy and Prosperous 2015! The holidays are over and things have (hopefully) calmed down in your life. You may be hunkered down under inches or feet of snow or listening to the rain on the roof during this winter time.

January was hectic and it has blasted past.  So many things happening at one time and now, I finally have a few moments to work on the blog. Actually, I have been working on this blog post in my brain for the last few weeks – now I finally get to see it in print!

With any business, the goal is to be prosperous and earn a few (or more than a few) $$, which is called “profit”. And, no, profit is NOT a bad word! Unfortunately, I know way too many machine quilters who are NOT making $$ and there is NO profit for them.

Since this is the (almost) beginning of a new year, let’s talk about the one thing many professional quilters don’t like to do and that is RAISE YOUR PRICES!

By raising your prices, you will bring in more $$ – which could mean a profit for you!

I would recommend reading, or re-reading, my blog posts about the Cost of Quilting – Part 1, and the Cost of Quilting – Part 2. (click on the highlighted text to view these posts)

Raising your prices is a fairly simple process – choose how much you want to raise them – then do it!

Let’s assume you decide you want to raise your prices a half a cent per square inch (.05 cpi) on all your levels of pricing.  Choose a date – I would recommend February 1 – and every new quilt that comes into your business gets the new price(s). This is easy, but how come it is so hard for some quilters to do this?

Let’s talk about some issues some professional quilters have about raising prices.

Many professional quilters think that their customers won’t “like” them if they raise their prices. You are running a business, not a popularity contest! Yes, I know, you have to keep your customers happy, but they have to understand that you ARE a business and that businesses, from time to time, raise their prices. Restaurants raise their prices, clothing stores raise their prices, quilt shops raise their prices, grocery stores raise their prices and on and on. Why not you?

Many professional quilters feel that they have to advertise their price changes in advance. That would be nice, but it is not necessary. I don’t advocate changing prices on quilts that are already in your possession waiting to be quilted, but new quilts coming into your quilting line up, those quilts can have higher prices on them. Most stores don’t say “We are going to raise our prices next week.” They just do it!

If you need to, blame your price changes on someone else. You can say, especially during this time of year when you have to get your “stuff” ready for taxes, “I have talked with my CPA / tax adviser and they say that I need to raise my prices.” You don’t need to elaborate any more than that. If a customer persists, you can always say “it’s way to complicated to get into right now.” In other words, mind your own business!

Many professional quilters feel that if they raise their prices they will loose customers. There is always this possibility, but in reality, you will probably NOT loose any customers. If you did loose a customer or two, don’t worry about it. They were probably not your best customers and they were the ones who brought you crummy quilts and were difficult to work with. Trust me, you don’t need them!

Here is my true story – Way back when, after quilting a few years, I decided to raise my prices. My prices were in the lower mid range in my area at that time. I was worried about losing customers, but raised my prices anyway. I did lose a few customers but my regular customers stayed with me and were supportive about the new prices. When I raised my prices, I began to get better pieced quilts and better customers who appreciated the work that I did for them.

Many professional quilters think that if they raise their prices they will become the most expensive quilter in their area and will loose business.  If you do become the most expensive quilter in your area, so what! You go girl! There are people(customers) who think that expensive means good! Many customers who you think may complain about your prices are actually bragging about their ability to pay your prices.

Customer “I just paid Jane Doe (quilter) over $500 (maybe more) to quilt my quilt.” Is this customer complaining about the price (this was a custom quilting job) or that she can pay it!”

Think about things in your own life. Have you every purchased something at an expensive store and (somewhat bragging) told your friends about it?

Speaking about being an “expensive” quilter in your area – where is it written that you MUST get all your business ONLY from your area? Think of ways to get business from other geographic areas. (I’ll write about this in the future. )

How about raising your prices without raising your prices? Let’s assume you have several levels of pricing – super simple all over patterns, free hand or pantos, at your lowest level, then two mid level prices, then (high) custom pricing.

Eliminate your lowest level of (super simple) pricing. You will still do that kind of work, but charge it at your next higher fee.  Yes, you can keep this level for the poor, elderly lady who is on a limited income, but I would be VERY selective of who I gave this price to. Think of combining the two mid level prices into one, higher price. This way, you HAVE raised your prices by not charging the lower fees.

What other ways can you bring income into your business?

If you don’t charge for thread, begin charging for thread. You will be amazed at how much you can make on thread charges. See my blog post about this by Clicking Here 

Learn how to put binding on the quilt and offer it as a service if you don’t do so already. Not all bindings have to be hand stitched. Learn how to use your home sewing machine to apply binding and you will be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is and how much $$ you can make doing this.

For information about an online class on how to apply binding with a home sewing machine Click Here

Carry some wide baking fabrics for your customers to purchase. Purchase the backing fabric at wholesale and sell it at retail prices. Yes, there is a little bit of investment in the fabric, but there is potential for more profit!

Specialize in a style of quilting. You can become the Feather Queen, the Sashiko Princess, the Template Goddess, etc. A specialized style of quilting makes your skills more valuable and you can charge more for ALL your quilting skills. If you are good at one thing, you MUST be good at everything! And of course you are!

I hope I have “kicked you in the butt” to raise your prices. YOU are a skilled crafts(wo)man! It has taken time to learn how to do what you do! Reflect this in your pricing and begin making a profit in 2015!