I belong to several FaceBook groups for quilters. One of these is for those of us who make our living (or TRY to) from longarm quilting. Recently one of the longarm quilters showed a beautiful customer quilt she finished that took her sixty hours to complete. S…I…X…T…Y…HOURS…! She did an AMAZING job, and everyone was in awe of the quilting she had done on the quilt. It was obvious she had used all of her talent, training and PASSION for quilting to turn this top into a show stopper. And do you know how much she earned for all of this hard work? Around $13 per hour.
Now some of you may be thinking, “well that’s pretty good, I wish I made $13 per hour”, but let’s put it into perspective. The Federal minimum wage rate is $7.25. In my midwestern state, which is NOT known for high wages, minimum wage is $8.50 per hour. That is the wage for entry level workers with little to no experience or skills.
I don’t know about your town, but in mine I can earn $10 – $11 per hour working at an entry level position at WalMart or McDonalds. Which means I need NO artistic talent, NO hand-to-eye coordination, NO investment in a large piece of machinery that I need to learn to maintain myself, as there are no dealers nearby. When it’s slow in the store, the chain store employees still gets paid. (As a business owner if I don’t find new customers to bring me quilts, I don’t get paid that week.) Even if the chain store employee just does a so-so job, they will probably not get fired. They have very little responsibility – they don’t have to find customers, advertise, make decisions that can make-or-break the business. THEY JUST HAVE TO SHOW UP AND RUN THE CASH REGISTER OR STOCK THE SHELVES.
Keep in mind, MINIMUM WAGE is the starting salary for UNSKILLED workers. Longarm quilters are definitely NOT unskilled. First off, we purchase a major piece of equipment that can run from about $5000 for a limited entry level machine, to over $30,000 for a top-of-the-line computerized machine. Next we have to take lessons and learn how to use the thing. That takes anywhere from 3 – 6 months or more of practice before we are comfortable doing SIMPLE quilting. Then we need to add in the cost of classes…patterns…books…videos…rulers…etc. We spend HOURS looking at other quilts, coming up with design ideas, deciding WHAT to quilt, consulting with other professional quilters. And CUSTOM quilting takes more time and practice to become proficient at. (This article will help you learn about what is meant by E2E or Custom Quilting).
When you own a business, you are responsible for EVERYTHING that happens. You have to market yourself and find new customers. You have to take the blame if someone doesn’t like what you quilted on their quilt. You have to set up the schedule, deal with difficult customers, order supplies, answer the phones and emails, do the invoices, pay the bills, etc., etc.
And when you are self-employed, there are overhead expenses. While most longarm quilters work from their homes (eliminating the cost of rent) we do have other expenses such as advertising, insurance, computers, internet, websites, utilities, etc. Oh – did we mention self-employment taxes? And those people making minimum wage at WalMart get benefits – health insurance, paid vacations, sick leave, etc. As a business owner, if I don’t work a day, I don’t get paid for that day. I have to pay 15% for self employment taxes, I don’t have any money going into retirement accounts (unless *I* put some there). And after 8 hours on my feet driving around my longarm, I may need a massage or chiropractor appointment to keep my body in good shape. Guess who pays for that? Me!
So it’s not unreasonable to figure that only about HALF of what I bill my customer ends up to be my take-home pay. So that $13 per hour my online friend made – really ends up to be only about $6.50 per hour. How many of you want to take on all that responsibility for $6.50 per hour?????
For those of you who send quilts out to a longarm quilter to be quilted, have you ever had one tell you they are no longer doing custom work? Oftentimes customers want custom work at an edge to edge (E2E) rate. Many do not realize that custom can take 2 – 5 times as long as E2E. And that not all longarm quilters will do custom – some don’t want the pressure of it, some don’t want to spend that much time on one quilt, and many are not TALENTED enough to do it. Sometimes the customer ‘just wants something simple like SID (stitch-in-the-ditch)’, not realizing that on a longarm, SID is one of the harder techniques, requiring the use of a ruler and much slower stitching than E2E to keep the stitching straight and actually in the ditch.
A while back, I was getting burned out doing custom, and actually DID stop doing it for a while. However, I missed it. I ENJOY doing custom, I just wasn’t making enough money at it. So when I went back to doing it, I changed how I priced it.
First off, a lot of what I see being labeled Custom is actually HEIRLOOM work. So I defined four categories of non-E2E work, based on how easy or complicated they were. Then I went back through my invoices and calculated how long each of these type of treatments took me. Basing my prices on a goal of $25 – 30/hour (because of course that is NOT what my ‘take home pay’ would be after expenses/overhead/etc., I’d probably only end up with 1/3 to 1/2 of that), I was able to come up with a PSI (per square inch) rate to give estimates to customers. However, I do explain that I charge for custom work BY THE HOUR. I give them a ballpark range, and if it’s too much, they can choose a simpler treatment or take it to another quilter.
Yes, I have had people take it elsewhere. I had one customer with a Judy Niemeyer paper pieced quilt that I quoted about $800 for. She sent it to someone else. You know what? I’m fine with that! I’m not going to work for less than $10/hour, when that is being paid to unskilled workers at McDonald’s or WalMart! If another longarm quilter chooses to work for pitiful wages, that is their decision, but not one I have to live with.
I don’t think we need to stop doing custom work, however we may have to remember that custom does NOT necessarily mean SID every seam, teeny tiny fills in every background, etc. We can keep custom simple and still have a pretty quilt. If the client wants drop-dead show-stopping quilting, then they should be willing to pay for the extra time and talent that we provide. If not, we can choose a treatment that is still pretty, but doesn’t require us to give away many hours of our talent for pitiful wages. We need to be clearer about the difference between Custom quilting and Heirloom quilting so that our clients can choose what is right for their budget. You can see my definitions and pricing breakdown on my website.
Here is another way to think about ‘giving away’ our work – if a customer goes into a quilt shop and wants to piece a top that would be a knockout in high end batiks, but her budget only allows her to buy the close-out, discounted calicos, does the shop owner ‘give’ her the more expensive fabric for the cheaper price because it would make the project look better? Does the dress shop owner ‘give’ a woman a designer dress for an off-the-rack price because it would look better on her? Does the butcher shop ‘give’ a customer prime rib at the same price as hamburger because it would be so much nicer for her dinner party? Then why the heck are longarm quilters ‘giving’ so much away?!?!?! Some quilters say they do it because they have passion for the craft of quilting, and the quilt ‘needed it’, but we are doing a disservice to ourselves, and other longarm quilters everywhere, when we give away our time, talent and expertise. Please, PLEASE, value yourself and your talent!! Explain to your clients how the different types of quilting vary in time and expertise. And remember that YOU are in charge of how much you charge for your different services. DO NOT let your client dictate how much you charge. Offer them 2 or 3 different designs choices and let them choose the one that fits in their budget.
Longarm Quilters – Has this changed how you think about your pricing structure?
Longarm Customers – Do you have a better understanding of why your quilter charges what she does?
Or am I totally off the mark with my ramblings?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Please share your comments below, and share this post with your friends so we can see what they think…..