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

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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

Playing the Pricing Game

I belong to a couple of Facebook groups where people post photos of the projects they are working on or have completed. These groups are open to quilters of all skill levels – there are some professional machine quilters but most are “regular” piecers and (home sewing machine) quilters. Some of the quilt photos that are posted are quilted, most are not.

As I was cruising the photos I noticed photos of a very, very nicely, professionally quilted quilt. Then I read the caption with the photos, which read in part,

“The quilting took 10 days and 15+ bobbins…. the client is thrilled.” That REALLY caught my attention!

Note: I am specifically NOT posting the name of the Facebook group or the name of the quilter, who I don’t know. I have NO issue with the quilting that was done on this quilt and I am not criticizing the quality of the work.

From what I saw in the photos, and making a few assumptions, the quilt looked like it was a larger quilt, maybe even a King Size and it had a LOT of quilting on it. From looking at the photos, there appeared to be no ruler work, just all free hand. (The caption also said ” I don’t have a computer, this is all hand guided.”)

With this all stated, let’s begin to play the “pricing game.”

The quilter states that it took her 10 days to quilt this particular quilt. To me, that is worthless information. Did the quilter work on this quilt 10 – 12 hours per day or, did she work on this quilt when she had family visiting and could quilt only one hour a day?

(The quilting, which is very nice, is not THAT difficult to quilt and I probably could have done it in about 10 hours. There were a lot of feathers and free hand horizontal and vertical line fill in stitching. Also, in the Comments section, someone asked how long she had been quilting and she stated she has been quilting for 18 years.)

Let’s assume that the quilter DID work on this quilt for 8 hours a day. Let’s also assume that during that 8 hours she took a couple of potty breaks, a lunch break and had a couple of phone calls, for a total working time (standing at the quilting machine, actually working on the quilt) of 6 hours per day.

So with the assumption of 6 hours of working time, multiplied by 10 days equals a total of 60 hours working on this quilt.

Let’s do some math – Let’s assume she charged the customer per hour for this job.

60 hours x $10 per hour = $600
60 hours x $15 per hour = $900
60 hours x $20 per hour = $1,200
60 hours x $25 per hour = $1,500
60 hours x $30 per hour = $1,800

I am willing to bet that the price she charged was NO WHERE NEAR these numbers!

I looked up her name on the internet and found a website that had her name on it. (I am assuming that the person on the website is the same person who quilted this quilt. ) On her website she had her quilting prices listed.

Here is the price posted on the website –

“Custom quilting – $0.025 to $0.030 (per square inch) depending on the intensity of the quilting.”

Let’s do some more math –

Let’s assume that this was a Queen Size quilt, 90 x 108 inches, which is 9,720 square inches (si). At her high end of 3 cents per square inch, the total labor cost would be $291.60! (9,720 x .03 = 291.6) Let’s be nice and round that up to $300.

Let’s take the (assumed) 60 hours of quilting time and divide that into $300, which equals an hourly rate of – drum roll please! – $5 per hour!!!

Let’s assume this is a King Size quilt, 120 x 120 inches, which is 14,400si. Doing the same math as above ( 14,440 x .03 = $432) the hourly rate would raise dramatically to ….. wait for it ……… $7.20 per hour!!!

FWIW – the national minimum wage is $7.25 per hour (http://www.dol.gov/whd/minwage/america.htm, the minimum wage in Washington State where I live is $9.47 per hour and in Seattle, the minimum wage is now $15 per hour!

You can draw your own conclusions about this!

Why do I bring this up and write about this? I feel that many, if not most, professional machine quilters FORGET to add the numbers of hours they take to complete a quilt into their pricing equation.

Using the King and Queen size examples above, if the quilter could have done the quilting in 10 hours, her hourly wage would be about $30 per hour for the Queen size quilt and about $43 per hour for the King size!

And remember, you need to allow for your business expenses from these numbers!

I highly recommend that you begin to time yourself when you are working on EACH and EVERY quilt. You are not playing “beat the clock” to get a quilt completed in a certain amount of time. You are trying to determine how much TIME it is taking you, on average, to complete a quilt.

When you are standing at your machine, working on a quilt, write down the date and your start and stop time. Then, when you are finished with that project, total your hours and then divide that into the $$$ you are charging to find out how much you are earning per hour.

I know you will be amazed at the (low) hourly wage you are making.

How can you change this? I’ll write about that in the next post.

For the record – the last quilt I worked on was a large 93 x 110, Yellow Brick Road flannel quilt. It took me 4 days to complete the quilting. I did free hand feathers and swirls in the body of the quilt and a little more detailed free hand feather design in the borders. I put the quilt on the machine so that the long edge was attached to my leaders.

Sherrees-Quilt

Click on the photo for a larger view

Note: I drove a school bus for nearly 20 years and we did our time cards, etc., in hundredths. So 15 minutes would be .25, 30 minutes would be .50, 45 minutes would be .75. This is how I keep track of my time when working on quilts and it is easy (to me) to calculate.

Day 1 – put quilt on the machine – .75 (45 minutes)

Day 2 – marked and quilted most of the top (as attached to the machine) border – .75

Day 3 – remainder of top border and body of the quilt – .75 + .75. Total of 1.5 hours.

Note: I was having problems with a sore muscle in my right arm and could only quilt about 45 minutes at a time before having to stop and rest.

Day 4 – two sessions of .75 each and 1 session of 1 hour. Total 2.5 hours

Total time worked on this 5.5 hours and I added an extra .5 “just because”, for a grand total of 6 hours working on this quilt.

I charged my customer $375 for the labor (93 x 110 = 10,230si x .035 = $358, rounded up to $375) which I divided by 6 hours = $62.50 per hour!

You can draw your own conclusions about this!

I welcome your thoughts and comments!

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I received a comment about quilting the borders and I have been trying to post a photo in the comments reply section and I couldn’t do it. So I’m responding here –

No, I did not have to turn the quilt. I was able to quilt the border design at the same time that I quilted the body of the quilt.

Here is a photo of the border design drawn out on the quilt border.

Feather Design in the border

Feather Design in the border

I used the Expo Bright Stick markers on top of Plexiglas to draw the design. Click on the photo for a larger view.

The white lines are registration lines I marked on the quilt top and the pink lines are the quilting lines.

I used Signature cotton thread “Latte” for the quilting – you can’t see the stitching lines, just the texture.

A Business Video

I belong to several online business related websites. The one site I really like is TheNewsletterGuru.com. From this site I have found many business “tidbits” that relate to my quilting business. This site has a REALLY good , free e-newsletter which I highly recommend.

Along with the e-newsletter, there is a new business related video that is posted twice a month or so. The video that was recently posted was about raising your prices. This video is for all sorts of businesses (it is not quilting specific) but much of what is said in the video TOTALLY relates to what we do, and who we are, as professional machine quilters.

The video is about ten minutes long and I think it is worth taking the time to watch. The video is free – there is an offer for some books at the beginning which you can exit out of. (I do have these books and they are very good.)  

Here is the link   http://www.newsletterguru.tv/raise-your-prices-now/

Let me know your thoughts about what is being presented in the video.