Do you sell your quilts?
I get this question a lot, especially from my friends and family that aren’t quilters. I never know quite what to say, how to give an answer that won’t turn into a soapbox, or how to wrap up my response in a neat little package. Because even though the question is straightforward “do you sell your quilts?” the deeper connotation is “you should sell your quilts!” And that complicates things.
The short answer is “no.” (That’s super short and to the point, right?) No, I don’t sell my quilts. I might one day, but at this point in my life and business, I don’t make quilts in order to sell them.
Part of it is the financial aspect of it. The materials to make a quilt (fabric, batting, thread, and pattern) add up quickly. And thanks to a cost accounting class I took years ago, I even mentally tally the electricity to run my sewing machine, wear and tear on the machine, and the electricity that lights up my sewing room. We’re already at a couple hundred dollars and I haven’t even started cutting the fabric (oh, need to add the cost of a rotary cutter blade, wear and tear on my cutting mat – those don’t last forever, you know, and rulers – sometimes you need a specialty ruler or two).
My time is valuable. That sentence took some time and mental fortitude to write. It takes even more strength to believe it and more than that to reinforce it to potential customers. It’s common in the crafting community for crafters to undervalue themselves. Customers often do the same in a sort of bizarre twist. Customers want something unique and not mass produced, but they still want to pay mass production prices. (See? That soapbox is sneaking out.)
Depending on the size of the quilt and the pattern involved, it can take days or weeks to complete. The hours add up – cutting, sewing, layering, basting, quilting, trimming, binding. Even at minimum wage, and I definitely value myself higher than the United States federal minimum wage, there’s another couple hundred dollars.
There’s also profit to consider. Sure, I could charge a price just to cover my expenses and as long as I’m breaking even, that’s good, right? This one is possibly the hardest one to defend, even more so than “my time is valuable.” Businesses are meant to make money. Let me say that again: Businesses are meant to make money. Even home-based businesses are meant to make money.
But all of these factors combine into a pretty hefty price tag. Now, don’t get me wrong – there are people out there willing to spend the money for a handcrafted quilt. The market is there. It might not be easy to find them or connect with them, which just adds more costs to the time and energy in producing and selling a quilt.
Living close to Lancaster, PA, I know there are plenty of people who travel and pay money for an Amish-made quilt. I don’t have that built in market or reputation, and don’t even get me started on the fact that some of those Amish-made quilt tops are outsourced to Laos for piecing and applique before being returned and quilted by Amish women. When even those quilters are outsourcing labor, how can I compete?
In the interest of complete honesty – I don’t want to sell my quilts. I don’t want to spend all the time and energy in making the quilt, marketing it, selling it…just to have to repeat the cycle all over again. I’m not saying that my time is more valuable than anyone else’s. That business model just doesn’t work for me. It may change in the future – if there’s one thing I know, it’s how quickly plans can change.
Now back to the original question. Do you sell your quilts? I usually give some shortened answer, usually, “No, not yet” or “not at this time” or “no…it’s really hard to make money that way.” Sometimes that answer suffices. Usually there’s a follow up. If you’ve been quilting for any time, you probably have a pretty good idea of what that question is.
Are you ready for it?
“…then what do you do with all your quilts?”
It’s a fair question, not entirely unexpected. Quilting still carries a connotation of utility; it’s written in the very history of quilts. Once you have all the quilts you need, what’s the point in making more?
It certainly seems like an indulgence – the buying or making or having of anything that’s beyond a need. Or worse, it seems like futility – the making of something that’s unnecessary. If you don’t need the thing…why make the thing?
If you’re an artist or creator, you understand. It’s enjoying the process of making. It is okay to make something entirely for the joy you get in creating it. Or maybe it’s the joy in having the finished product in your hands. I’ll say it again: It is okay to create for the sake of creating.
For me personally – I love the process. Quilting and designing have been my ways of creating order in the chaos of my life and turning it into beauty. Quilting has helped me make friends through swaps and retreats with Quilting Around the World.
Now that I’ve started my business of designing and selling quilt patterns, I make the quilts that I design in order to test the pattern, work out any bugs, discover new or easier ways of piecing units. Then I use the quilt I’ve made to photograph the quilt for the pattern cover and promotional materials.
Right now, two of my quilts are on display in a quilt shop that sells my patterns. (If you’re a shop owner looking to sell my patterns, please contact me about wholesaling options at heather[at]coffeeandquilt[dot]blog.) From my experience in working at a quilt shop, I know how much better patterns sell when there’s a physical quilt to see and touch.
I also know how much comfort and joy a handmade quilt can offer. Jackson’s quilt was one of my first quilts to be given to provide comfort at a trying time. It certainly won’t be my last. (I’m still donating $1 from the sale of each Twice is Nice! pattern to his family while they battle through his illness.)
Maybe one day I’ll start giving lectures and doing trunk shows showing off my designs. Or maybe I’ll just have quilts piled up in all the corners of my house, draped over every couch and chair, ready to be used. It’s not a bad plan.
I do know that I love what I do. I love working with beautiful fabrics and creating beautiful quilts. I truly believe that there can never be enough beauty in the world.
All of this to say, no, I do not sell my quilts.