my 2017 projection

Well hello there! Yes, it has been a while… a LONG while. there’s a good reason though, and that reason is that 2016 was crazy busy. I had the busiest year by far out of my seven years of longarm quilting for the public! Like 140% of business compared to the prior year!

This has all been a good thing, because things happened: I paid off a student loan, I put money in savings and CD’s for my girls, and I sort of learned to say no. Most importantly, I had an intervention with some quilty friends at retreat. They sat me down (more than once) and explained how important I am. That I have value, and that I need to make time for ME.

So that’s the plan. This year is all about balance, and about keeping myself as a top priority on my to-do list.

Last year I had quite a few friends that made resolutions to finish UFO’s, to not buy new fabric, to not start new projects but finish their old. My resolution (if you want to call it that) this year will be to start new projects! Ha!

I would like to say one per week, but I think one per month is more realistic.

There is another fuel propelling me towards this goal: I went a little crazy on buying fabric over my holiday time off. I mean like, $6-700 crazy. It’s been a long time since I really went on a spree to buy anything just for me. Usually it’s something to finish customer quilts, bolts of black, or stabilizer. Not necessarily the fun stuff.

When I got home and had the opportunity to fondle my purchases, I decided to see if I had some things in my stash to match or coordinate with my new things. I was appalled. Absolutely embarrassed by the amount of fabric I have hoarded, yet at the same time, I can’t stop. I cannot stop buying beautiful fabrics within which I see great potential for beauty when combined in the right group with other fabrics and a great pattern.

The interesting thing is that I noticed that my fabric tastes have changed. I purged a lot of fabrics over the past few years that were cottagey, boho chic, sort of floral in favor of marbles, solids and blenders, with colors being the opportune eye catcher of the quilt. Interesting to note, at least for me. I have also picked up quite a few black and white prints.

What to do? USE IT. I need to make things. Well, not just things, but QUILTS. So today I started.

Actually it was yesterday. I set out some focus fabrics on my table and some fabric groups. But today I cut fabric from three sets into ‘kits’ that will work with the patterns I chose for them. I’m having surgery next week, and I figure I may not be able to cut or quilt or do heavy lifting, but I could certainly sit at the machine and piece.

So I guess what I have to say about all of this is:

  • if you love fabric, buy it. eventually you will use it or give it to someone that will.
  • use it, and use it now. don’t save the stuff you love for another day. a friend of mine said she knew a lady that did just that, and suddenly went blind, so could no longer play with her favorite fabrics she has saved.
  • start new projects. if you have UFO’s you can’t get back to, give them to someone at your guild, or in a friendship group. It may just become a cherished, and finished project.

I’m a scrapper, so I use a lot of them in quilts and just love the way scrappy quilts look. If you aren’t a scrap saver, give them to someone who is. They will find a good use for the fabric! If you do applique or postcards, the smallest piece of fabric is often still usable.

So, like I said, for me this year is about balance. Balance, meaning I will find time for the gym, to cook some dinners, and most importantly, to make some quilts that I want to make. That does mean that my business goals are less aggressive, financial goals less skyward, but in exchange my happiness level should be stable, achievable, and daily. AND less stress to boot!

Essentially, this is a re-evaluation of my measure of success. This past year was about driving my income over and above the year before. OK, check that off, done. This year, that’s less important than finding peace with a balanced lifestyle, and a holiday season that isn’t overwhelmingly busy to the point of no time for family.

I’m quite excited for this new year. I hope you are too! Happy quilting my friends!

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Latest quilting work

It has been an incredibly busy spring, business-wise and personally. Kids finishing up school, dentist, oral surgeon, orthodontist, emergency surgery… and that’s just kids. Then there was the two emergency speaker engagements and the one planned that I performed, a quick last minute trip with hubby, my own minor surgery and a weekend jaunt to see the folks.

I think I can take a breath now.

Somehow I actually accomplished a LOT of quilting work, despite everything else going on. Or maybe because of it – I find quilting so cathartic that it relieves loads of stress for me.

It was quite a variety of work, too. I quilted, bound and appraised a group of antique quilts for a client, made a few t shirt quilts, and quilted whole-cloth hand dyed panels, as well as a few all-over quilts, a custom wedding gift and a few wool applique pieces.

At any rate, I love sharing the photos and as much as I enjoy looking at other quilters’ work, I figure someone out there will enjoy these too!

a beautiful piece of history

a beautiful piece of history

I kept the antique quilts simple; they were going to be auctioned to family at an upcoming reunion. This is one of my favorite old blocks. It’s called Strawberry and it’s not all that common. In this case it was beautifully pieced and scrappy but within a specific color framework.

the classic grandmothers flower garden

the classic grandmothers flower garden

This one (above) has a high visual appeal as well. Quite striking.

field of flowers

field of flowers

I did this one for a friend. It’s hard to see the overall quilting in ANY of the photos, and a photo of the whole is too far away to get a good idea of the quilting in detail.

hand dyed floral

hand dyed floral

Debra Linker did a beautiful job hand dyeing this panel, and I had fun quilting it.

I also quilted a few for a client for her husbands office décor…

waves

waves

and this one…

squares

squares

and this one…

a shell

a shell

Creating this was almost as artistic for me:

tshirt quilt

tshirt quilt

and this one…

BIG tshirt quilt

BIG tshirt quilt

And then a little less custom quilting work…

wool applique quilt

wool applique quilt

And a little more. I hope the bride is happy with this gift from her friend – she should well be – it is so beautiful!

wedding quilt

wedding quilt

Speaking of diagonal lines, here is what I’m currently working on:

diagonal lines

diagonal lines

I can’t even begin to explain how tedious these are, and how pickled I am that they look so straight and evenly spaced! Mind you this is freehand, with my only tools being a tape measure, chalk and my ruler!

my simple tools

my simple tools

 

There were a few others in there. I didn’t snap any pix of the 4 Quilt Of Valor quilts I finished, but after this custom is finished I think I’ll need to do some all over charity quilts to clear my system.

I hope my photos have inspired you, or urged you to create something on your own. Happy quilting my friends. Stay busy!

blooming 9 patch

blooming 9 patch

 

How to Recover from a Longarm Quilting ‘Mistake’

I have some great mentors in the quilting world. I also take on the opportunity to learn from as many other quilters and quilts that I see at shows, shops and wherever else they pop up.

One mentor told me that as soon as I decided I didn’t like the pattern I was quilting to STOP IMMEDIATELY, because otherwise I would have to do the entire quilt with that pattern, no matter how painful or tedious the experience.

Another mentor told me, if you make a mistake three times while quilting (meaning variation from the pattern you wished to quilt) then it was not a mistake, it was now part of the pattern.

Both of those bits of advice are quite sound, and I’ve learned my lessons, sometimes the hard way. But I am happy to tell you that if you think you want to do a certain stitch in an area and DO change your mind, all hope is not lost.

In this particular quilt, I was throwing random feathers into the background, to break up the background quilting and add interest, like in this block below (and around it).

random feathers

random feathers

I had decided to put some within this block. After quilting two feathers in there, I didn’t like the scale, nor that they didn’t look similar enough to belong where I put them. They either needed to be ‘same’y or totally intentionally random, and they were neither. I realized they needed to be removed and the space refilled with the background cover.

So began Operation Unsew:

starting to pull threads

starting to pull threads

This can be tricky, ESPECIALLY if the thread very closely matches the background fabric. If your tension is off, sometimes you can clip a thread (usually underneath the quilt) and remove a long string all at once. But when your tension is good, you have to move very carefully and slowly.

mostly done

mostly done

Bit by bit I clipped a thread and used my sharp, small, curved embroidery scissors to pick the thread out from the lock it had with the bobbin thread. When I can, I clip the bobbin thread and the top thread pulls out a bit easier for a short distance. Those start/stop points are the worst!

thread out, shadow remains

thread out, shadow remains

Finally having all the thread out, we have what remains above. Perhaps a mere shadow of what once was, I needed it to be a disappearing act from what it once was!

Tada!!!

clean slate!

clean slate!

The trick? I use a spray bottle with ONLY water in it, give it a light spray, wipe my clean hand gently over the fabric and then give it 5 minutes to dry out. I’ve done this more than once and not had problems with color bleed, but I cannot guarantee to you that it will not occur. So be VERY careful if you need to use this method on fabrics you worry will bleed.

In the end, I was able to requilt the area and I can’t even tell where the previous stitches were. 🙂

corrected block

corrected block

There was only the evidence below…

mess on the floor afterwards

mess on the floor afterwards

I would not recommend this as an option if your needle wasn’t sharp or if your backing is batik. You COULD use it, but often a dull needle will poke holes through the fabric on back and you may be able to hide the evidence of the crime above, but the tale will be told below! With batiks, the weave of the fabric is so tight, this often happens even with a sharp needle. Check your backing carefully to see if this IS an option, if you find yourself in a position such as mine.

I hope this has helped out any of my quilty friends with ‘mistakes’ that occur. Happy quilting – may your errors be small!

the copyrighting conversation

I’ll be honest, I am by no means an expert about this, nor will I try to be. I do have resources that you can refer to that I believe have good, solid, factual information.

There has been much buzz about copyrights lately in the quilting world, and by lately I mean in the last 5 years. So much that many of my friends (and me) are concerned about what can or cannot be put in a quilt show! What can or cannot be sold in our online shops!

Say it how you believe, whether it was the universe colliding or God speaking to me, it started a few days ago and culminated this morning. I found out that only ONE quilt that I have quilted was entered in the Dallas Quilt Celebration this year. Saddened by this fact, I felt prompted to act. I’m not going to wait until next year, but I am starting now to formulate plans to get a quilt (or quilts) into next years show, as well as other local shows throughout the rest of this year.

This topic of copyrighting crossed my brain, although I usually make quilts from those general patterns or blocks that don’t have specific patterns or copyright concerns because they are so old, they’re considered public domain.

But still, just having seen SO many photos from QuiltCon in Austin, I wanted to push myself outside my box of normal. I came up with a thought that I’d like to somehow translate into a pattern of sorts, and that is what I will use. That is what I will create.

THAT part is still in my head. This part is not:

my colors

my colors

It began as an idea to make a striking quilt. Then I saw the blue fabric with the swirly pattern. THAT became my inspiration, so I found these other fabrics that I think I want to go with it. I definitely like the gold and teal and how they offset each other.

This morning I was privy to some FB posts that included these articles on copyrighting, so I thought I should share. They are a bit lengthy, one has typos (grrr) and one is a bit more opinionated but I believe BOTH to be valuable. To read, click here and here.

From previous discussions with my quilty friends about this topic, we pretty much agreed that we disagree (except that it is clearly wrong to make copies of a pattern you did not design and sell them for personal profit), but for SURE it is appropriate when selling an item to ensure the designer of the pattern is given credit. As the first article states, it’s good for the designer and the audience, in case someone out there wants to find the original pattern.

At any rate, I hope you find this interesting if not helpful. I’ll be sure to share more information as this quilt project comes along! Happy quilting!

my scrap bin threw up

All over the floor. Unlike when that happens with the kids, or the cats, I have yet to clean it up.

my scrap bin threw up

my scrap bin threw up

It’s so bad you can’t even see where the bin IS! That purple one on the right is backings for charity quilts. The scrap bin is BEHIND all that stuff!

The majority of my fabric is behind my long arm machine, neatly arranged by color in these bins:

neat bins of fabric

neat bins of fabric

Looks like my batting scraps are procreating when I’m not looking too. I keep them for rag quilts, charity quilts and small projects, as well as cleaning my long arm bobbin area and wheels. It’s like having tribbles around (for my fellow Star Trek geeks)!

Anyway, when I ran out of room for fabric (ahem…) I got these additional bins, and use them for special fabrics, batiks, my Christmas bin and new stuff that I haven’t figured out exactly what to do with yet.

new bins

new bins

I guess I need to clean that up soon.

But the only way to REALLY clean it up is to USE it! And I do love to make scrap quilts! But I usually organize my scrap bin by sorting it by color, separating out the stuff that looks like it really needs to go together and the batiks and any large amounts of one fabric. Then I separate anything I see with potential into quart baggies for my next retreat. Before I go retreating I find a pattern to match it with and them I’m ready to go! This quilt was made at a retreat last year from scraps and I LOVE it!

rhubarb pie quilt

rhubarb pie quilt

Actually some of the scraps in my bin (or around it?) are leftover from ^this^ quilt. I didn’t want it to get too big so I ended up with more strips/squares cut than I needed for it (those leftovers are actually front and center in that first photo). You can also see bits from the last monthly block atop the heap…

But I really need my area to be a little better organized, so I guess I’ll have to dedicate a day sometime soon to get this mess cleaned up.

Just tell me I’m not the only one with this issue. I can’t possibly be.

turnaround time

I’m posting about this specifically because of a phone call I received today (12/4).

The caller had been referred from the local quilt shop (at which I work part time), because they knew I do a good job making t-shirt quilts. She asked if I could make some for her.

She needed six – five large lap size and one baby size. I told her I could cut her a deal for so many quilts and quoted her a price.

Because she hadn’t mentioned the timeframe, I asked if she wanted them by Christmas (remember the date above)…

She said, “That would be nice…”

Um, no.

Why not, you may ask?

Realistically, making that many t-shirt quilts would take me about 2 weeks without interspersing any other work. Just working on those. ONLY. And I work fast.

At present, I have 3 lap and a king sized t-shirt quilt to make start to finish prior to Christmas, as well as 5 quilts to quilt and 3 to bind in that same timeframe.

I have planned out my workload, and I know I can complete all these projects. I could even fit in a few more quilting jobs (no more t-shirt quilts though). Instead maybe I should just enjoy the time after I finish and work on charity projects.

So when people ask why it takes so long to get their job back from the quilter, here is why:

They have a backlog of work, in most every case. As an example, there was a day last month that I (literally) took in 10 jobs in one day. TEN. Those were not all easy all-over jobs. That included many custom jobs, very large quilts. So in one single day, my backlog grew by 3 weeks.

Three weeks? Yes. Three weeks because one quilt may have taken a day, but if I had an appointment here and there that caused me half days, that took away from my timeframe. And if a quilt was custom or potentially difficult, I would estimate it for 2-3 days, depending on the size.

Why so long? What happens if I under estimate the time it takes for my jobs to be completed????? How would you feel as my customer if I told you it would take 3 weeks and 5 weeks later you are sitting there wondering why I haven’t called you? What if you had a deadline like Christmas and I hadn’t called you?

So when you plan to have a quilter make something for you or even just quilt something for you (because you need to plan in the time afterwards to bind it), remember that they have work from other people in queue, and you will have to wait your turn. Some of us will pull you forward but charge you overtime or rush fee, but understand that the busiest times of the year are October – December and April – June.

I did a study on my business for the last 5 years. 42% of my income comes from the 4th quarter of the year on average. 21% comes from the three months prior to traditional graduation.

So if you are planning on a special t-shirt quilt for someone, try to plan ahead to ensure your quilter has plenty of time to get your gift back to you before your event.

Why does a quilt COST SO MUCH?

***WARNING*** This is a bit of a long read, but WELL worth it. For bottom line costs, see the bottom of the post. Thanks! 🙂

I field this question a lot, often worded differently. When people ask me the price for making them a quilt (mostly this comes with T-shirt quilt requests), they frequently reply with shock at the price tag. I get that when all they know about quilts is the crappy mass produced/imported quilts for sale at Cracker Barrel or Walmart for <$100.

At first that frustrated me, and then I started thinking they didn’t know the value of the purchase they wanted to make. I realized, it is really ignorance (I don’t mean that negatively) – these folks probably don’t frequent the local quilt shops and have no idea how much a yard of fabric costs, or what is entailed in making a quilt. It’s not part of their world. Just like I wouldn’t know anything about the cost of running a resort in Fiji.

So I am here to dish the details, but I’m going to try to keep it simple for easy understanding. REMEMBER: this is MY information in MY area of the country. I can tell you that just 4 hours south of me fabric costs $1 more PER YARD. I am positive that other areas of the country have a bit of variety in cost as well.

Let’s take a large lap sized T-shirt quilt as an example. Let’s say this quilt measures 60″x60″ (5′ square). Understand that with larger sizes, the cost goes up because the top is bigger, the back is bigger, the center is bigger, the edging is longer and the labor is definitely higher.

Here is the breakdown:

1. Fabric. Even with a T-shirt quilt, there is a lot of fabric to be purchased. Sold by the yard, you CAN find cheap fabric at Walmart or Joann’s or various other craft stores. But if you EVER have the chance, go in and FEEL those fabrics. They are CHEAP for a reason! Generally a looser weave, they feel scratchy and are not as densely woven, which will result in a less soft quilt, potentially more shrinkage and faster fading, and one that will fall apart or procure holes much more quickly.

For this size quilt, the yardage requirements are as follows: top for sashing 1 yard, top border 1 yard, backside of the quilt 4 yards, binding for the edge can probably be obtained from the extra backing after the piece has been quilted. Total yardage: 6 yards. I only buy fabric from the local quilt shop, so the fabric will cost anywhere from $8/yard (for solids and muslin) to $13. The most common price I pay for fabric is $11.29/yard. Total fabric cost: $67.74 (plus tax).

2. Stabilizer. This is REQUIRED for any T-shirt quilt to properly be made (in my opinion). True, not everyone uses it, but when people bring me T-shirt quilts to quilt for them, I insist. It just creates a mess when the shirts are not backed with stabilizer. They stretch when put together and end up forcing creases in the shirts when quilted. There are many brands and types, costing anywhere from $0.99/yard (only 17″ wide) to $6.99/yard. So let’s go with an average for simplicity sake: mostly I use the $2.99/yard 17″ wide medium weight stabilizer. The shirts will take probably 10 yards of stabilizer, so the total cost of stabilizer: $29.90.

3. Batting. This is what goes in the center of the quilt. With a lightweight batting (just like with a lightweight stabilizer) the batting will not add weight, but you can get a high-density batting if you want it heavy and thick. Different battings have different requirements for how far apart they can be tied or stitched, so if someone says they’re going to stitch around the outside of the shirts only, then your batting WILL fall apart – that’s not close enough in. Generally I use a cotton polyester blend for T-shirt quilts, which costs $8/yard. Needing about 2 yards for this project, total batting cost: $16.

4. Quilting. While this IS labor, I put it separately because some quilt makers send the quilts to someone else for this service, or tie the quilt (which technically makes it not a quilt, but a comfort). I perform it myself, but the rate is different than how I figure general labor. In this geographic area, we generally charge $0.02/square inch of the quilt top for an all over (aka edge to edge) design. Custom quilting brings a higher charge. So this quilt 60″x60″ = 3600 square inches. 3600 x $0.02 = $72. I also charge a $5 thread fee. Total for quilting: $77.

5. Labor. This is the real variable. While time = money, more importantly EXPERIENCE = MONEY. You will DEFINITELY get what you pay for. Much like fabric, the rates can vary depending on where you live. I am very efficient, and I charge $25/hour. Some people have asked why I charge so much “just to sew”. Well, while the words from my mouth were sweeter than in my head, the response was basically, if you don’t want to learn to do it yourself, don’t question what I charge for my expertise.  That being said, a quilt this size usually takes me 8-9 hours, but I charge 6 hours of labor for the assembly. Total labor: $150.

6. Binding. This, too, is labor, but again, a separate calculation. This is the edging around the quilt. For binding prep and attachment by machine both front and back I charge $0.30 per linear inch around the edge. You may find someone that charges less, but they may not have mitered junctions, or mitered corners. If you want the binding attached to the back by hand, expect to pay more. 60″ x 4 edges = 240 linear inches x $0.30 = total binding cost: $72.

All this being said, here is a few photos of what I produce, for comparison purposes. You can see the finished product is crisp and clean, very professional looking.

ole miss t shirt quilt

NO Saints SB Tshirt quilt

NO Saints SB Tshirt quilt

Tshirt quilt with precise instructions from the mom

Tshirt quilt with precise instructions from the mom

Assuming I haven’t forgotten anything, here’s the tally:

  • Fabric (est tax incl) $73
  • Stabilizer                   $30
  • Batting                       $16
  • Quilting                     $77
  • Labor                         $150
  • Binding                     $72
  • TOTAL                  $418 (before tax)

Amazed? You shouldn’t be. Honestly I am amazed when some people charge such low fees for their work. I gather they either value their time differently or are using REALLY cheap fabric. Bottom line: THIS IS THE COST. IF SOMEONE TELLS YOU THEY CAN DO IT FOR LESS, UNDERSTAND THAT THE DIFFERENCE WILL COME FROM ONE OF THESE AREAS. And to ensure you are protecting yourself, see my blog about questions to ask prior to buying a T-shirt quilt.