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! ūüôā

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.

 

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What’s my quilt worth?

That is a loaded question, to be sure. As an appraiser, I hear this question quite often, even outside of doing appraisals. If you are a quilter, you may already know this.¬†Maybe you are not, but someone just gave you a quilt; then PLEASE read below to get perspective on why not to let your dog chew a hole in it, or why it’s so important to NOT let your husband wipe his greasy hands on it after changing the oil in the car (I cringe every time I see an old quilt in the garage).

While there are many groups of very charitable and helpful people out there, I believe that quilters are truly one of the most generous groups of people¬†I know. Most quilters are constantly making quilts, because that’s what they LOVE to do. Yes, some of us sell what we make or make them on commission, but I can tell you I have made and given away at least 5x as many quilts as I have kept for my family¬†(honestly I don’t know what the number is¬†– it could be higher, I never kept track. Because THAT’s not what mattered, I just enjoyed the process). To friends, family, for Christmas, new baby or just because. And everybody I know that quilts does THE SAME THING!

I will say this: most people I see, especially with quilts handed down from generations past, are emotionally attached to their quilts. I like some quilts more than others I have made, that’s just how it is. In the appraisal world, we call this “sentimental value”. And that type of value has zero effect on the price tag.

So, with that out of the way,¬†to help answer the question of value, I’ll break our quilts up into two groups: old/antique and new.

OLD/ANTIQUE QUILTS

Technically an antique is 100 years old or more. So I say ‘old’ here because in the quilting world, quilts from the 1930’s or even up to the 1950’s are often appraised for their¬†insurance value. That is how old quilts are appraised: insurance,¬†or fair market value =¬†how much¬†would they get from the insurance company if they had the quilt appraised and then lost it to fire or whatever.

While I can’t tell you the value of any specific quilt at this time, I can tell you this:

  1. Condition is (almost) EVERYTHING. Just like location in real estate, if the condition of a quilt is poor, it is probably worthless (dollarwise).
  2. The more rare the pattern, the higher the value. In the early 1900’s, these quilt patterns were more popular, which is why you see more¬†of them around, hence the lower¬†value than other,¬†less common patterns:¬†grandmothers flower garden, Dresden plate, trip around the world, four patch and double wedding ring.
  3. The more intricate the fabric/workmanship, the higher the value. In the 1800’s red/green applique was popular. As an example, there are tulip bunch patterns, and as time progresses, the curves in the stems decrease, the stems thicken, the flowers look blockier and the greens change (that’s another topic). Earlier = better workmanship = higher value. Another example is the crazy quilt phase from c1890-1920. Earlier quilts were made from velvet, silks and fine fabrics with LOTS of embroidery and many token pieces. Later, particularly after 1900, this type of quilt was made more utilitarian, with canvas, denim, corduroy and less embellishments. Earlier = better (as long as the silks aren’t so shattered that the condition is bad).

Yes, historic information is great and unusual things like signatures from a church group on quilts CAN lend to value. But these bullets above are most important.

NEW QUILTS

Basically this includes anything current day. And while the values could vary greatly depending on where the fabric was bought, quality of work, tied or quilted, etc., I can give you some hints.

Most new quilts appraise at a much higher value than old quilts. Seems backwards, but for new quilts, the appraisal is done for replacement value. Yes, you would need to replace an antique quilt, but to do so, you would buy one in like and kind, which is why those quilts are appraised for fair market value. New quilts would have to be remade, from scratch.

I don’t think non-quilters have the slightest idea what goes into making a quilt. I say that not with a mean heart, but there are lots of things out there I know diddly-squat about, so when a non-quilter wants me to make them a king size quilt for $100, I have to assume they’re ignorant about my world. It’s not bad, it just is what it is.

Potential costs that contribute to a quilt coming to life (we’re going to assume it’s a large lap size, 60″ x 60″, for illustrative purposes here):

  1. Pattern: depending on how difficult, there may be no pattern required, or pattern and paper pieces for very intricate work, leading up into the $100’s. We’ll say relatively simple: $10.
  2. Fabric: the quilt maker could choose from a variety of quality and types (traditional cotton or batik), and I’ve discovered that where you live makes a significant difference on cost by the yard as well. Looking at your quilt, if the fabric is tightly woven and soft, it’s likely a bit costlier. Let’s assume $10 per yard. For this size quilt with a simple pattern, I estimate 6 yards for the quilt top, 1 yard for border, 4 yards for the backing/binding = $110 (see my point on the king size quilt for $100?).
  3. Thread: don’t need a lot, but at least one spool = $10. I’d actually say $12 but some folks will use a cheaper variety (lintier, maybe not as strong) for $6 or¬†$8.
  4. Batting: this is the stuffing/center/whatever you want to call it. You can buy 100% poly high loft for maybe $5-6/yard, or silk or wool or bamboo for more like $16-18/yard. Cotton and blends are somewhere inbetween. We’ll take poly/cotton blend here, 2 yards at $9 per yard = $18.
  5. Quilting: (this is what I LOVE to do! Although, I do really love to create quilt tops as well…) For an all over design, I charge $0.02 per square inch, so in this case it would be 3600*0.02 = $72. For a fancier or custom design, the price goes up.
  6. Labor: this one gets everyone, and I’ll tell you why. Despite the fact that many people do not know how to sew, they seem to think that people who do know how to sew should be paid a menial wage for it. It’s quite frustrating, really. Anyway, most quilt makers will charge $25/hour and up for their time. Some who specifically dedicate their skills to making quilts for low income families charge less. Some who do fine, intricate hand work charge more. So if you try to conceive how long it took the quilt maker to: choose the fabric, wash the fabric, iron the fabric, cut the fabric to pattern specifications, sew pieces together, iron, sew, iron, trim, sew, iron, trim (seriously, this goes on), piece the backing together, then after quilting, trim the quilt and square it up, cut and prepare the binding, attach the binding to both sides (some do the final side of the binding by hand), THAT’S A WHOLE LOTTA LABOR! For this size quilt, I never charge less than 6 hours JUST for the top assembly¬†(and that’s for the simplest of t shirt quilts). So let’s just round up to 8 hours = $200.

That brings the cost for this hypothetical quilt to $420, not including any other fees or taxes from the quilter or anyone else involved, with some very simplistic assumptions made.

Let that sink in for a moment.

So now imagine you have a queen or a king sized quilt!

Wait, tho…¬†you may be saying. Why can I get a big quilt at Walmart for $100 then? Number of factors: cheaper fabric, cheaper labor, smaller seam allowances (the part tucked inside that you don’t see – most quilters use 1/4″ so that the seams don’t rip open after just a few washes), and finally, mass production.

And for how much time it takes to repair quilts (much of it is hand work), you’re better off investing in a good one in the first place.

So if you have recently (or even not recently) received a quilt as a gift from someone, for a special occasion or just because, PLEASE  P L E A S E thank them for it, because it took them a lot of time and money and they made it because they just loved to make it. And then they thought you were special enough to give it to.