Should Longarm Quilters Do Free Charity Quilting?

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Should Longarm Quilters do Free Charity Quilting? pinterest graphic

A Quilts of Valor sampler quilt with pieced backing, showing the quilting pattern Stars & Stripes by Quilter's Niche. Free charity quilting provided by Andi Rudebusch of AndiCrafts QuiltingIf you are a longarm quilter, especially one who belongs to a guild, you have probably been asked to provide free charity quilting on one (or several) charity quilts. These may be quilts that are donated to a fund-raising auction, given to victims of fires or other disasters, used for Quilts of Valor or other veterans groups, Project Linus, or any number of other community service, or charitable groups.

Most of us have good hearts, and want to help out all of these very worthwhile causes. I recently had a comment on my blog of a quilter who was doing 50 – 60 of these a year for her guild. That is a HUGE number of free charity quilts to do in a year. At a very modest $50 per quilt for the longarming fee (and that’s just for a simple lap sized quilt), that is $2500/year.

I wonder how many of the other guild members are donating $2500/year towards their guild’s community service projects? Yes, I know many members will donate fabric, piece tops, put on bindings, or other methods of giving. It seems to me, however, that they will spend their evenings piecing after working their day jobs as nurses, teachers, lawyers, office managers, etc. In other words, they spend their off-work hours doing something they consider relaxing that is NOT what they spend 8 hours a day doing in their jobs.

Why are longarm quilters expected to do free charity quilting?

Longarm quilters are expected (yes, in some guilds or groups it is pretty much EXPECTED for them to do the free charity quilting) to spend their non-working relaxation hours doing the same thing they do all day long. Now if you have a job that does not allow you to quilt all day long, you may be thinking “I’d love to do nothing but quilt all day”. But when quilting is your job, it is just that – a job. While I, and many of my fellow longarmers, LOVE to quilt, we also love to do other things. And when my 8 hours are up, I prefer to do something else to relax. I’ve spent 8 hours on my feet, I’ve spent 8 hours driving the machine around on the frame, I’ve sometimes spent 8 frustrating hours dealing with machine issues, thread breaks, trying to make extra fullness in blocks lay down flat and look nice, etc. At that point, I’d like to do something ELSE with my time.

I have belonged to some guilds where I was one of only 2 or 3 longarm quilters. They were producing quite a few community service quilts each year. How I really wanted to contribute was to spend my evenings sitting down, giving my feet and legs a break, and do some piecing. But I was pretty much expected to donate my time doing free charity quilting on these tops.

You, and only you, should make the decisions of when and how to donate

I don’t know about you, but I believe it is up to each individual to decide when, where, how much, how often, and in what capacity they choose to donate to any charitable endeavor. Why should guild members decide those things for the longarmers in their group? Just because a person bought a longarm and started a quilting business does not mean their guild members get to decide how they should use that machine. I’ve often thought that if the members feel that strongly about providing charity quilts, perhaps EACH member should be expected to hand or machine quilt at least one quilt per year (or whatever number the membership decides) – not just that the longarmers should do all of them. If a member is unwilling or unable to complete the quilting process, then they can contribute by ‘quilting by check’ (meaning they would pay to have one quilt longarmed.) The longarmers would also donate one or two free quilting jobs per year. This way ALL of the guild members have the same amount of ‘skin in the game’.

Are you sure the quilt is even going to make it to the charity?

Another problem I’ve heard about is when an individual contacted a longarm quilter and asked if they would do free charity quilting on a quilt that would be used for XYZ charity. The longarm quilter agreed to do so, returned the quilt to the individual, and later found out through the grapevine that the individual ‘loved the quilt so much that I just couldn’t donate it, I kept it for myself/my husband/my friend.” So basically the longarmer just quilted a customer quilt for free! Unless you know the individual really well, I would be hesitant to agree to such a job unless I was the one going to turn the quilt over to the charitable group.

Oh, well, you can write that off on your taxes.

Another myth is that the longarm quilter ‘can write this off as a tax deduction’. Unfortunately, that is not true. We are able to write off any materials that we donate (such as fabric or batting) but we cannot deduct the value of our time. So I often have agreed to give free batting, but charge for my quilting, although sometimes at a reduced rate if it is a charity that I wish to support.

Set up a donation policy

If you don’t want to be caught off-guard when someone asks, it’s best to have a policy in place beforehand. Keep in mind that YOU are making the decisions of what types of charities you wish to support and in what amount. At the beginning of the year, take some time to decide:

  • How much free charity quilting do you want to do each year? Are you basing this on the number of quilts or the dollar amount of quilting? (Set up a budget.)
  • How often are you willing to do them? Do you have a ‘slow’ time of year when you would prefer to do them?
  • How much lead time do you require for a request? (Asking for 2 or 4 or 6 months allows you to work these in on YOUR schedule, not at the whim of the requesting party.)
  • Do you have a size limit? One quilter was asked to do a free group raffle quilt each year. The quilts became bigger (king sized) as the years went on. She then informed them she would donate $100 worth of quilting, anything over that they would have to pay the difference. Suddenly, the size of the quilt got much smaller ;-).
  • Will you limit your donated quilting to overall designs only? Remember, custom can take 2 – 5 times as long as an overall. Most non-quilters are not really going to know or understand the different types of quilting, so why put extra effort in when most people would be just as happy with a pretty overall design?
  • What charities or types of organizations are you willing to donate to? Do these meet YOUR values and interests?
  • Do you even WANT to offer quilting services, or would you prefer to donate cash?

Now when asked if you can donate for a particular cause, if it doesn’t feel right to you, you can say something like “I’m sorry, but I set my charity quilting budget at the beginning of the year. I have already made my commitments for this year so I won’t be able to help you this time. You can check with me at the start of the new year, but keep in mind I need the top 4 months before your event, so I can work it in at a time that is convenient for me.”

Thanks to Maya from one of my Facebook groups, she had this strategy to add as well: “I heard what big non-profit and businesses do. The requesting group must submit a written request 45 days prior to when the donation is needed a statement of why, who and were this item will go.”

Join the conversation

How do you feel about longarm quilters providing free charity quilting? Have you ever been ‘burned’ when you did provide a free job?


46 thoughts on “Should Longarm Quilters Do Free Charity Quilting?

  1. I have found myself in situations as you described. It isn’t just L.A. quilters but any business person who finds themselves being asked to “give”/donate with the thought that it can be an IRS deduction!!!! NOT! Answering the request(s) firmly but with kindness is now an easy task but must be considered as an opportunity to educate the one requesting the “donation”.

  2. Excellent blog post. I would love to add a link from my blog if you don’t mind.

    I have done many charity quilts for our guild over the years. Primarily raffle quilts for our guild’s charity. It’s one that I am happy to donate my time to.(in lieu of selling raffle tickets which I really hate to do) But I do it on my terms. I will quilt them for free (4 so far this year) I decide how it will be quilted and I do it as my schedule allows.

    I don’t think most of the people who ask for their charity quilts done are thinking it through from our point of view. And why should they? They can ask. We can say no. If we feel pressure many times it is coming from ourselves and how we feel we “should”.

    Thanks again for the great post.

    • Perfect way to handle it – doing it on your own terms. I’m sure not saying NOT to do charity quilting, it’s the expectation that I SHOULD do them is the part I have trouble with. That would be like me telling someone that they HAVE to donate a certain amount of money to something I choose for them – um, no! LOL

      Please feel free to share the post as long as it links back to my blog. And thank you for asking!

  3. I think society, not as a whole, necessarily, but a lot-have become “entitled”, and to some extent, we’ve allowed it. Ive started to say no a lot more often. When I first opened my store, was afraid to say no because I didn’t want to upset anyone. But it just gets ridiculous. Last summer, I had a 30- something woman ask me to donate a quilt for auction because she couldn’t afford invitro, so was having a fund raiser. Not sure how they’re going to afford a baby if they can’t afford to get pregnant. So, yeah, they come out of the woodwork.

    • Yikes, Lise, that’s a good one! Entitlement – yes – have you ever gone to GoFundMe and looked at some of the requests? Most of them are very valid, someone going through a medical crisis or whatever, but I’ve also seen things like “I want to go on vacation and can’t afford it, won’t you contribute to my account?” I was brought up that you work and save for something if you want it, don’t go asking other people to just give it to you. Glad you are now donating on your terms, not because some people think you should.

  4. I had a friend share with me her philosophy on “Quilty” Charity. -she would rather give her money/donation to the charity than her time and creative process, which is her one outlet for peace, creativity and joy and does not want the pressure or commitment of creating to cause her angst in her sewing room. Yep, that is when a pleasure becomes a job!!!

    • I often think donating money to a charity is probably a better use of resources. If people are in need of warm blankets, how many more could be purchased with the amount of cash/time it takes to make one quilt, helping that many more people? Abby Glassenberg has an interesting post about this on her blog. The Real Truth About Crafting for Charity

  5. Good post! Personally, I quilt 12 quilts per year for the Canadian Quilts of Valour program, and I get them (usually) through the local QOV rep. I will only do pantos for this donated quilting. Any other donated quilting is done on my own quilts for a charity I want to sponsor.

  6. I guess I’m very lucky. I’m the only longarmer in my guild, but they don’t expect me to quilt all of the quilts, in any way. I accept quilts to do when I feel I’ve got the time, and they’re all E2E. I do 100% of the quilting for the quilt ministry at church, but that’s my choice. And, when I can fit them in, I’ll do one or two for QOV a year. But, I have also said no to them when my schedule is full and they have a deadline. It’s good to have a balance.

    • I’m curious, Michelle, if you are not quilting all of the quilts, and you are the only longarmer, how are they getting the rest of them done? I’m glad that you have found balance.

      • In my guild, many members quilt charity quilts on their home sewing machines. We do mostly baby/child’s sized quilts. We donate them to places in our area at Christmas time. Any that are not quilted get tied by the group at our November meeting.

  7. I have a question for all of you long arm quilters. I am in charge of a QOV group in our quilt guild. Many ladies take the time and dollars to make beautiful quilt tops and I only have 2 volunteers out of 200 members to do the quilting. This article is very timely and interesting…so glad to see it. Here is my question…what would be a fair price to pay if the backing and batting are furnished and you know it is a charity quilt. We all know how much batting and backing and fabric for the quilt top costs, so the ladies that make the quilts are not without a cost of charity…And I do not like to think of QOV as a charity quilt. To me it is an award..a recognition. If I had a long arm, I know I would have to set a limit to the number of quilts to be done free of charge, or at a reduced cost…then say no more until next year. Thanks ladies!

    • Sharon, when I was coordinating our QOV group, we were fortunate to have a lot of fabric donated, and got enough cash donations to purchase batting & backing, and additional fabrics as needed. So the only thing not covered was the quilting. In the beginning I was the only one quilting on a regular basis, occasionally another quilter would do one or two. I would have loved to quilt all of them, but I had rent, utilities, etc. to pay. The size of quilts we were doing, if I were to charge a customer, would have been about $50 – $60 at my very lowest E2E rate. We had considered fund-raising in the community, asking people to ‘adopt a quilt’ and donate that amount to have one quilted. Never did pursue that though as we weren’t sure it was appropriate.

      • it would be appropriate to have them “adopt a quilt”. However, QOVF has volunteer longarmers who will (on their own terms) quilt for QOVF members. A guild should NEVER expect any member to do it all and do it on the guild’s terms. We need to learn to say NO just like we do when those pesky phone calls interrupt supper.

        • Karen, we used to just keep all of the QOVs local, so they were pieced by guild members and quilted by local LAers, rather than spending money shipping them back and forth. One guild I belonged to had a VERY prolific piecer/longarmer who used to try and ‘guilt’ the other LAers (as well as piecers) into doing more than most of them wanted to. There were about 4 LAers in a guild of 60 or so members. So if each member pieced one quilt top per year, that meant about 15 tops to be quilted by each LAer. This was in addition to another guild I belonged to that I quilted most of their QOVs.

  8. I’m not part of any guild but I have customers who ask. I used to do them for free and donate the wadding but I started to feel like I was being taken advantage of. My policy now is 20% off allover and 10% off custom. I donate the wadding. Occasionally I do them for free if it’s a customer or group that I get a lot of work from, but that’s up to me.

  9. I haven’t been able to quilt for charity yet this year, due to no time (i’ll do it if I’m caught up on customer quilting, which has not happened). 🙂 A couple of years ago, I taught machine quilting on your domestic machine in workshops for our guild (yes, I got paid), so the folks in charge of the charity quilts have that, and use it, to get others to quilt for them.

    I feel sorry for one person who is in charge of charity quilting, because she does have a long-arm and she’s quilted more than 40 quilts this past year. She brought that up at a meeting and also told the guild how far out I was booked (before I could get to the charity quilts). There were 4 quilts sitting there and 4 people took them home to quilt them on their domestic machine. I guess guilt worked in that instance, but it doesn’t always.

    One thing I’ve done is attach an invoice to the quilt with how much it costs for the quilting, but with this at the top, “You saved_____!” Don’t know if it has any effect, but it makes me feel better.

    • Great idea, Ida, to teach the members to machine quilt so they can help out. A lot of members only want to do the parts they consider ‘fun’ – i.e. the piecing. Yes, having a longarm makes it easier, but many people quilt on a domestic machine.

      Perhaps you need to suggest to the other quilter that she read this post 😉

  10. Something that has not been brought up in the cost of doing a charity quilt is, the time you spend on the donation takes time away from doing a paid quilt. Two out of the three guilds I’m with do pay for their “opportunity (raffle) quilting, but it wasn’t always that way. I want to speak out about the latest one that just happened to me, but this woman could do serious damage to my clientele, so I’ve kept my mouth shut.

  11. Great discussion and something I have wondered about myself. I do the quilting for free on our QoVA quilts and the gift quilts for my guild. That comes to about 30 quilts a year. I had hoped that there might be a bit of a flow-on effect to get some paid work, but that hasn’t really happened. I am now wondering if maybe I should have a nominal charge per quilt?

    • I know QOV and am happy to contribute to that program, but I’m not sure what the guild gift quilts are? If it’s something that you want to continue contributing to, perhaps just set a limit on how many you will do for free and then charge a somewhat discounted rate for any others. Or maybe something like ‘for every 10 customer quilts I get from guild members, I’ll do one gift quilt for 1/2 price’. The main thing is to decide how much time (or lost income) you are willing to contribute towards a cause, and then let that be known, rather than have the guild assume you’ll do all the charity/community service quilts they can throw at you.

  12. Thank you for a enlightening blog. I am a long arm quilter in Australia and am fed up with being used and abused by charity ladies. I too have wondered many times if the quilts ever made it out of the homes of the woman who makes them, I have very stringent rules now for any charity work after being approached by a woman doing quilts for an organision she set up. She delivered me two quilts, I quilted them for her then my mouth hit the floor not long after when I arrived home to another ten at my front door. She got a very quick phone call explaining why I wasnt going to do her quilts any more. I have set limits to how many per year, i also only do quilts for customers who support me, and they wait a very long time to have them quilted…..my paying customers always come first.

  13. I’m a longarmer and enjoy how everyone explains their own idea on this subject. My thought on this is if we give them an inch they will expect a mile. I do have a question tho. If we can not charge our time with IRS what makes us any different than Drs or lawyers or physiatrist that time is money also?

    • Gee Cindy, I’m not sure, as I’m not a tax accountant. I can’t seem to find right now the reference that says we cannot donate the value of our time, but I did research that when I started out.

    • I am a long armer in CA and I have to collect sales tax on my services also. Probably a state by state issue. Was told i could not list my time as a charitable contribution.
      I do not do a lot of charity quilts, about 6 a year. I have chronic back issues so I want to save my body for all of my tops. Ha. Great topic.

  14. I’d like to put in my two cents worth here as a State Coordinator for Quilts of Valor® Foundation.

    Our founder originally planned for there to be teamwork to make quilts for our military. She set up a process where longarmers would register to do “x” number of QOVs per month/year, or whenever they had the time in their schedule. They worked with the Longarm Coordinator who would pair them up with a topper. It works well when people know about and adhere to this plan. Problem arises when neither toppers ask for help and when longarmers aren’t registered.

    I’d like to encourage those longarmers who would like to help us fulfill our mission to volunteer to be a QOV longarmer at http://www.QOVF.org. Then when asked to do a QOV, refer the topper to the web also. Help me help you, please. Together we can accomplish so much more. No one should feel obligated to always be available to work for nothing in return.

    Thanks for offering this conversation opportunity. It’s important for everyone to see one another’s perspective.

  15. Good article. I was being bombarded quite a bit, but when I looked in my bins and discovered way more of my own quilts awaiting quilting than when I started my business, I knew I had to do something! I decided I would only do charity quilts if the request came directly from the guild (not a guild member), only if the charity is one I approve of, and only if my situation at the time allows for it. One of the guilds I am a member of requires all members to take an active role in some segment of the guild. I hooked up with the section that does donation quilts, and was provided with a handfull of tops, backings, and batting that I can quilt at my leisure, on my timeframe, and at my discretion. There are no pressures to perform, and no deadline pressure. I like that! I am not their only quilter, either. In addition, I know the tops I quilt will be used as gifts to individuals who will use them, whether they are homeless, or fire victims, or are in some other needy situation.

  16. QoV works somewhat differently in Canada. I’m a local rep and also a longarmer.

    I have been burned by folks with expectations of what I ‘should’ be willing to do for that organization or my guilds….that’s MY decision! I try very hard to not impose on other longarmers in my area ( thanks Helen and others for what you do to help) but I am not in the position to be able to do any more than I already do, and frankly I it’s annoying that folks don’t think before they ask…they just assume.

    Those of us working from our homes seem to be particularly vulnerable to the assumption that we are not working…just quilting!

    Great post…Thanks!

    • Good point, Alison. Since most longarmers are working from their homes, many people do not perceive us as an ‘actual’ business. “Oh, you’re just home quilting anyway, so why can’t you just do these for free?”. They don’t think about the cost to us to purchase a machine, the cost of classes and books and videos to learn how to use the machine, the supplies like rulers and needles and thread and machine parts, etc. etc.

  17. Our Quilts of Valor group provides top, batting and backing. Only thing asked of long armer is time and thread. We would never think to impose on anyone to make a quilt to the detriment of their business. However, without these long armers, we would not be able to award quilts.

  18. I’m a longarmer and a veteran. I work with my QOV coordinator and try to do 1 quilt a month. Right now, we’re doing wheelchair quilts for the local Honor Flights.
    If I’m very busy, she understands and doesn’t bug me to get any done. I’m probably very lucky working with this particular lady.

  19. A long time ago I asked someone to do jobs for me while I quilted their quilt, an exchange of my time for their time, you can guess how that worked out…..

  20. This is an issue that has not been handled well in my guild. At one point the president “called out” the longarmers, complaining that she tried quilting at the local quilt shop and she could do a quilt in an hour and a half. If all the longarmers would just take all the charity quilts home and do them there wouldn’t be a backlog. Well I cannot even load a quilt in that time frame, let alone quilt it. To say the least I was hurt, I quilted for three different guilds as well as elderly quilters who cannot afford a Longarmer.

    Many of the charity quilts are poorly pieced quilts that the quiltmaker gave up on or didn’t bother to have quilted because it didn’t turn out as planned(wavy borders, etc). People don’t realize that many charity quilts are harder to quilt than customer quilts.

    I believe that a charity quilt should be the givers gift start to finish and if they don’t quilt, they should get it quilt by whatever means, if by checkbook, or by themselves, or tying, etc. since this incident I no longer quilt other people’s quilt for charity. I piece my own charity quilts just like everyone else. Then quilt them myself. Charity should never be expected of anyone.

    • Exactly the points I was trying to make, Karen, that it should be up to each individual to decide when, where, how much, how often, etc. to donate their time or resources.

  21. I quilted 5 quilts for a quilt guild that was doing QOV’s no charge even gave a couple of options for quilting. I was glad to help. The kicker was when one of the gals whom had all the fabric and batting donated to her, decided to make an attach a label, she thanked the recipient for their service but didn’t mention the person that paid for her fabric or the person that quilted her quilt for free.She did however put her name as the maker of the quilt. I never put my name on charity quilts anyway, but that was pretty rude in my humble opinion.

  22. I’ve been doing free longarming for a charity group for a few months and every other week am asked to do 10 more. I started doing it in hopes of getting a few clients that are willing to pay for the services. So far, everyone says they will soon have a personal quilt they want me to do, but as yet only one has come through. With these, I am donating my time and the thread as they supply everything else so it’s not quite the hit that I take with the QOV quilts I do. One guild supplies everything, while the others I supply the batting, thread, and my end of the shipping costs. Again, I was hoping to perhaps get some paying clients but as yet I haven’t been successful. I love doing donation quilts. It certainly keeps me busy and gives me a chance to try out new designs and techniques; however, it is not making the payments on the machine. I love your article – you state it so eloquently.

    • If it’s not making the payments on the machine and you’re not getting customers from it, perhaps it’s time to rethink how you’re doing business. Of course if you WANT to just quilt charity quilts for no pay, that’s your decision. But is that what YOU want or what THEY want? If not, set an amount of free work you are willing to do, and then go look elsewhere for paying customers.

  23. I am a Longarm quilter and belong to two guilds. What constantly amazes me is how the guilds have money to pay the quilt shops to do quilting for them but think LAs are outrageous if we ask for even the smallest fee. We pay our guild membership fees, volunteer at events, contribute to fundraising efforts. I want to ask the members that work full time if they could quilt at their jobs–you know the places where they earn their money that pays their mortgage.

  24. I’m a longarm quilter, have been for about 6 years now. I’m in 3 guilds and for the last few years have quilted the raffle quilts for free for 2 of the guilds. I see that as my contribution to the guilds’ success so that I don’t have to be as involved in other areas of the guild. I see it as good “advertising” in the guild as well.

    I have had other non-quilters approach me about making and donating a fundraising quilt for their pet cause, such as a little league team, etc. I have declined all of those, since it is something so totally unconnected with me and I have no way of knowing if it would ever actually make it to where intended.

  25. I quilt about four lap size quilts for charity a month, plus make a couple quilts for them. I am a beginner quilter, so this has been the perfect way for me to leave. I only have two customers (and don’t want any more), so it doesn’t take away from paying customers. I do know they go to the charity, since I deliver them myself. It has been a great way to experiment with pantos and free motion, as the quilts are for kids.

  26. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I donate quilting services to charitable organizations of my choosing. Rarely, I provide the batting but always, I provide the thread, time, and muscle. More than half of the charity tops that I quilt are heavy custom because that is what I feel looks best on the quilt. I also quilt for one specific charity at a reduced rate, that is my contribution to them. Often in guilds, piecers make charity tops from donated fabrics or fabrics provided to them by their guild. They also are donating thread, time and muscle but not always buying fabric for these quilts. When they do, their fabric and batting purchases are tax deductible. Yes, my thread is tax deductible but geez, imagine what a hassle that can be to track thread on 175 charity quilts! I’m over age 50 and beyond, conceivably my life is half over; it’s not worth my time to do that, even for the charities that I support. As you so accurately pointed out the difference, their career path is usually not as a ‘piecer,’ where I have a longarm quilting business. I have been machine quilting since 1996, paid for a multitude of classes, conferences, festivals and tools even before I was a business. (Yes! What commenter Jody said!) When someone asks me to quilt a charity top for them, it is not free of charge. I may offer a reduced rate, if I feel so inclined, especially if it is for a charity that I also support or for a good friend…but actually, my good friends do not ask something for nothing. We barter tasks with each other. Otherwise, it is not my responsibility to make their charity gift affordable for them, guild member or not. I do create an invoice and note the appropriate savings when a reduced rate is offered. When I go to a quilt shop, I do not get the fabric for free because I say I intend to use it in a charity quilt. Sometimes the shop owners who know me, out of their own gracious generosity, offer me a discount on their clearanced fabrics because they know I make charity quilts but I certainly do not expect or ask for it.

  27. Very interesting comments from longarmers about quilting charity quilts. I like the comment from one longarmer who said she will quilt a charity quilt at no charge from anyone of her current paying customers. That is how I treat charity quilts. You do need to give back to the people who feed you.

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