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

Timing App?

I am a firm believer in timing yourself when you are working at your quilting machine. I keep track of the time it takes to quilt nearly ALL the quilts I work on. If the quilt is customer quilt, it is critical that I keep track of the time, and if the quilt is a charity quilt or even a personal quilt (what is that!) I keep track of the time. At a later date, I look back on these records and see if I can find any trends or information that is important to me and to my business.

For example, many years ago I was doing a lot of sampler style quilts – many different blocks, most of which had borders and sashing. Not to mention the several outer borders, some with piecing and / or applique. By timing myself, I found that I was spending several more hours of my life completing this type of quilt than I was for a non-sampler type of quilt.

Because of this information, when I quote a price for quilting a sampler quilt, whatever my base price would be, I will ADD at least and extra 25%, maybe more, to the price. Why? Because I KNOW, from past experience, and from timing myself,  it is going to take me longer to complete this quilt.

Here is the math for this – Queen Size Sampler Quilt, 90 x 108 inches = 9,720 square inches. My “base price estimate” of cost is $300. (9,720 si x .03 cents per square inch = $291.60, rounded up to $300.) Because this is a sampler quilt, I would add at least 25% more ($300 x .25) which equals $75 for a total labor price of $375. If there is an applique border or any other “special” things that need to be done with the quilting, I may even round that up to $100, or more, for a total of $400. (Yes, you CAN charge this much for your quilting and YES, people will pay you for this.)

I have been timing my quilting  for nearly my whole life as a professional longarm quilter (20+ years), and now I want to come into the modern age!

I KNOW there has to be a app “out there” that can track my time for each quilting project.

I usually use the stopwatch function on my “clock” app on my (Android) smartphone. But, the last few times I set my stopwatch, I also was using a radio app on my phone. When listening to music from my phone with my earphones, somehow, the stopwatch function shuts off!

I have checked in the “app stores” and there are a ton of timing apps! They all say about the same thing and the reviews are pretty much the same also.

So my question to you is – do you use a timing / project app and if so, what is it’s name? Is it easy to use, do you like using it and is there anything else you would like to share about it.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is a little confused about the timing / project apps and options there are “out there.”

Please leave your comments, app suggestions and any other information in the comments section. Thanks in advance for your advice and input!