December quilt is coming, and so is 2015 challenge!

OK fans! I had a plan when I made November’s quilt for what December’s quilt would become. HOWEVER….. I changed it.

the plan

the plan

FOR GOOD reason I SWEAR! I had a panel planned out! I bought it, measured it, planned the blocks around it, found (and even bought) coordinating colors for the parts, and was about to get to work on it.

coordinating fabrics

coordinating fabrics

Then I realized how difficult these measurements were becoming. Trying to make a panel that is three wide, each piece measuring 23″ tall by 14.5″ wide, work with a block that is 9.5″ unfinished is VERY tedious. I tried to figure it out with sashing, with separating the panels, changing the size of the block or skooching in the panels, none of it worked.

the panel

the panel

Needless to say, I realized this just wasn’t going to work. Sooooo, I wondered to myself what do I do now?

My wheels are already turning on next years project, so I wanted to go with something bold, but something that was still different from previous months. I know what the setting is going to be this time, I just had to pick my colors.

I decided to do a darkish red and gray, and found a perfect big red flower on a gray background that made a perfect center. But the flower is bigger than the normal block center size. So I changed the scale for this month. AND I changed something else (but you’ll have to wait and see!)

I’ve got my pieces cut, and still a few days to get them together. It will be AWESOME! Just wait a few more days and I’ll post it!

XO

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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.

 

My stash is consuming me

Honestly, I don’t know what else to call this post. I mean seriously, I have SO MUCH fabric, and yet I seem to have to buy more for projects, backings, borders, customers, various other excuses… uh I mean REASONS. Legit reasons!

So anyway, here’s the problem (I think): I see the amazing and vast potential of every fabric I find, and I see what it could ultimately become. But I don’t have the time to actually execute the idea I have about the fabric.

I make it a point to go on as many retreats as possible. I made it to only one last year (very busy year), and have made it to three this year, so far, and have two more planned. Wait, make that four already – forgot about the one I was invited to last minute in AZ.

Anyway, I have been to some retreats that were not well, um…. well appointed. I.e. one ironing station for 12 people, two cutting stations for 20. See what I mean? So I prep before going to a retreat so WHEN I GO TO THE RETREAT, I sit and sew and sew and sew. I don’t have to stop production waiting for the iron or cutting table. I precut most of what I can to be prepared to just GO.

Which means I complete A LOT. I usually finish 4-8 tops (mostly not bordered tho) at a weekend retreat.

Which brings me to this (quilts needing borders):

need borders

need borders

Then there is the stack of quilts that HAVE borders attached.

have borders

have borders

And these are probably getting these borders…

maybe borders

maybe borders

Then the quilts that are ready, WITH backing prepared for them.

quilt tops with backing

quilt tops with backing

And then the quilts that I somehow actually got quilted, that now just need to be bound.

need binding

need binding

Never mind the two rag quilts awaiting their turn…

So when I went through all this I brought home about 15 yards of solids from the quilt shop and found all my other large pieces and measured and tagged them. These are potential backs:

backings

backings

First count I had about 8 needing borders, 5 needing backs, 15 needing quilting and 4 needing binding. I got 2 quilted, 5 bound and 3 with borders attached. Which leaves me with 5 needing borders, still 5 needing backs (because I matched a few more up), 17? needing quilting and one still needing to be bound.

Honestly the problem is that I am a long arm quilter by trade, so everyone else’s quilt gets top priority over mine (including any charity for the guild or QOV). So I just rarely quilt my own projects!

And to think, I’m heading to retreat Friday morning to create more tops! OI VEY!

Monthly Block – August Version COMING SOON

I was sort of smacked from the side at the arrival of August, and up until last Friday, I hadn’t even thought about what I would DO for this month! Fortunately I made my decision quickly, found some fabric to work with and started cutting.

So I thought I would give you a sneak peak at what’s to come. I will also divulge that September will look familiar, but as with every month so far, it will also be different.

Last year, a local quilter make a model for the store that had sort of an ombre look to it. The pattern was leaves with a light background, all batiks, and it was quite striking. So that was my inspiration for this month. Once I found the colored pencils in my daughters room, I sketched it out and then found some fabrics to work with.

august sketch

august sketch

specific placement of colors

specific placement of colors

This is my makeshift design wall. I was so excited about this I got up at 530a and started on it. So this piece of batting was great until the sun came up. Then I had to move it over so the light didn’t shine through the window and mess with my eyes.

pieces on design wall

pieces on design wall

OK, that’s it. That’s your teaser. After a little time on the beach I will get this girl finished up and post the results. Until then, happy quilting!

 

that blank slate again…

I thought I was over it. I thought for sure I could get past it, because I HAVE gotten past it! Even recently! So why am I paralyzed again today???

OK so here’s how the week has been: Monday morning I showed up for jury duty selection, and was ever so fortunate to not have to serve at this point (it just isn’t a good time right now for civic duties). Considering I had NO IDEA how the day (or week or longer) might actually turn out, I didn’t make plans to get any work done. But I knew the next bit of work that NEEDED to be done was adjusting the timing on my longarm machine.

One of my mentors suggested doing it on a weekday morning, so if I had any troubles I could contact APQS service and they’d be there to help. So when I got home, I was fortunate enough to have the time left in the day to attempt it.

I’ve done it before, successfully, so I knew if I just followed the instructional video I would do just fine again. After a bit of frustration (from doing something wrong), and taking a break I finally got my timing successfully adjusted and machine completely cleaned.

To test the timing, I thought why not put up a small piece of plain cloth and make a mini out of it? I couldn’t find a cotton fabric I wanted, sooo, up went a piece of silk.

blank slate of silk

blank slate of silk

Blank slate. OK, break the ice – outline the perimeter. Done.

I saw I had an oblong space, so I decided to do a feather, with a heart at the top, since it was in burgundy silk, maybe that could go in my bedroom.

feather

feather

I knew I wanted to echo it, and then decided to do the curl/paisley/echo thing I’ve come to really like around that, as a filler. Boom. Done in 10 minutes.

red silk mini

red silk mini

Well that was easy.

For part 2 of the story, let’s back up a few days. I’m cleaning and organizing the house, basically, because I’m going to clean the carpets, so I need to move A LOT of stuff out of the way. In doing so, I found this cute little kit I bought in Colorado Springs, which, coincidentally was great for my jury duty experience (and doctors office visit today) because it’s small, handwork, easy to start and stop and tuck into my purse.

First off, I never buy kits. This is literally THE FIRST kit I have EVER bought in my entire life. Secondly, I don’t hand embroider. I am a quilter, and I make quilts. I’ve done a few stitches on some minis for friends, but not anything sufficient enough to call real hand embroidery. And third, I don’t follow directions. That’s not entirely intentional, I am just not good at following orders/directions/recipes, so I tend to sort of do my own thing.

So off to jury duty I go, and bring this little bird thing with me. The selection process did take a little time, so I made some progress, which I continued later in the day. Unbelievably I finished it last night, and added a few beads that look like feed at his feet (not shown in the pic).

first chicken

first chicken

Ultimately, he is part of a mini quilt, with blocks around this one, but I thought, what a fantastic way to stay busy while waiting ANYWHERE!!!!!

So I started another one, but with black background and pink thread (to the right below). I’m going to bend his knee so he looks like a flamingo because I think they are the funniest birds on the planet. So as I start this new one, I tell my daughter, I think I’ll trace some more of these so I can make a bunch of them. She says, “Why mom? Make your OWN drawing!” Well, duh.

stumped

stumped

And here we are.

There are more scratched out doodlings, I just didn’t put them in the photo.

I feel like I am a vast vessel of ideas, but that I can’t bring any of them to fruition. I HAVE ideas, and they WILL work with a line drawing situation like this, I just don’t know what to do!!! I think, oh flowers, BEEN DONE. Ohhh, a tree, LAME. A bird – HELLO  YOU JUST DID ONE!

What I really wish is that I could detail in a pencil line what it looks like to echo emotion and feelings and hope. But I can’t figure out how to illustrate that. I tried a heart with a crown of thorns and frankly it looked ridiculous.

Second best would be to draw out something simple, like a cat or an owl or a bird, and figure out how to take it to another level by changing everything surrounding it (like adding beads, changing up the thread color, leg or tail position, blocks surrounding the embroidery). Sound familiar? Sound somewhat like my monthly block project? I think it does.

But that still doesn’t help remove the feeling from me that all I can do is take something and tweak it. I want to make something unique, and I feel like instead I am taking something of someone else and just changing it, and that doesn’t feel as visionary to me (so maybe I should be confronting myself about not being a visionary here).

I guess that’s something everyone wants – to leave their unique mark. Something that sets them apart, something THEY are known and recognized for. Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself , after all, this is my FIRST hand embroidery project. Or maybe I should just stick to quilting.

Nah, it’s too fun to try new things. I just need to stop pressuring myself, and remember to have fun with this, and that’s what it will be. 🙂

 

T-shirt quilts – the nitty gritty

NO Saints SB Tshirt quilt

NO Saints SB Tshirt quilt, quilted with footballs

I guess the reason I feel the need to cover this topic over and again is because well, it’s important. People collect t-shirts from concerts/places/life events/football teams that are important to them. T-shirts cost money, AND usually represent great memories, accomplishments or something important to the owner. Well, quilts ALSO cost money, and if they cost a lot, they are very likely made with care and love, integrity and professionalism. So in essence I feel like by me (an expert on this topic) informing you (the reader) about details to consider, I am helping you to protect your investment.

OK, before I get to the meat of the topic, I just have one more thing to say: IF YOU ARE TRYING TO MAKE A TSHIRT QUILT FROM PINTEREST, STOP NOW!!! I’m sorry if that sounds rude, and I’m not trying to be mean; I’m just trying to save you from spending exponentially more money when you have to take your work-in-progress to someone who knows what they’re doing to fix it for you. And I say this from being that person that fixed some pretty difficult works-in-progress.

Well, one more thing: you pay for what you get. I don’t see the website up anymore, but there was a local person a few years ago charging $75 for t-shirt quilts, and they were HORRENDOUS. Not only were they ugly and poorly constructed, but the ‘quilting’ was so sparse that the batting would have begun to fall apart within a few washes.

OK here we go:

1. INSIST on seeing examples of their work. Here’s what to look for:

  • Does the quilt maker have one style? If so, that is exactly how you can expect yours to turn out. Inquire if they have more options to offer.
  • Are the panels of the t-shirts cut so that some of the words/picture is missing? Is that what YOU want?
  • Can you see the quilting stitches? If not, can you see lines that look wavy (like when a curtain drapes)? That could indicate the stitching is not frequent enough to support the batting. Stitching/ties should be every 4-6″ square with standard (poly, cotton or blend) batting.
  • How do the quilts look? Is the maker’s style elegant, country chic or throw it all in the pot and stir? Elaborate quilts can be made from t-shirts, but usually a more extensive pattern will call for a higher cost. So if that’s what you want, discuss it with the quilt maker.
  • If you have sports jerseys, has this quilt maker worked with them before? I can say they are generally more difficult due to the weight, slickness of fabric and stickiness of the logo, and experience is very helpful. Same goes for silk shirts, neckties and crown bags.

If they have examples on hand to show you, that’s even better.

2. Ask them what kind of stabilizer they use. I use that phrase because using stabilizer is NOT an option, it is required. I tell you this as a t-shirt quilt maker AND as a long arm quilter. When it comes time to quilt the layers of your project together, if the shirts are not stabilized, they will stretch and pull, and you will end up with puckers and wrinkles in your quilt or a quilt that is not squared up, and that just does not look good.

I’ve had a regular customer ask me about this, because she was making one and didn’t want it to be so heavy. There are very lightweight stabilizers that can keep the weight down, and a lighter weight batting can be used as well, if that is a concern.

3. Ask them WHERE they purchase their fabric. YES there is a difference in quality. If they give the name of a local quilt shop or start rambling on about this great online store they found, you’re probably safe. Joann’s even has ok fabric. But if they buy at Walmart, Hobby Lobby, Hancock’s or even Michaels, then ask to see some samples of fabric they would use in your quilt. If it’s rough, that means it is not as tight of a weave, which means it may shrink more or unevenly, the dye may fade quicker, and that fabric will likely have holes in it in fewer washes.

4. Ask about their process. How do they go from t-shirt to quilt? How do they decide what shirts go where (this question can ensure all your red shirts do not end up in one column)? Do they quilt it on their regular sewing machine, on a long arm machine or do they have someone else quilt it for them for you (could increase the cost)?

On this note, different quilt makers have different pricing strategies and go-to styles. I charge by the size and generally (unless otherwise requested) cut the panels to different sizes to fit in as many as possible, with sashing and a border. One of my esteemed fellow quilt makers charges by the shirt ($28 per), and she uses 2″ squares in various colors to essentially border the shirts or provide spacing, and then a border. It’s ok to call around and ask about these things – you might find the perfect match to your style by doing a little extra research!

memory quilt with tshirt panels

memory quilt with tshirt panels

Baby clothing quilt with panels and 2" squares

Baby clothing quilt with panels and 2″ squares

5. Ask how they finish the quilt. Borders make a great frame for quilts. It also allows for the edge of the front to tie in color-wise to the back of the quilt. And it provides a no-stretch surface for the quilt maker to bind the top and back together.

  • If they do a knife edge finish, that means they put the whole thing together, sew three edge sides together, flip it right side out, sew the last side and then quilt or tie it. This can lead to batting getting loose inside the quilt (by not getting sewn into the edges) and less than exemplary quilting.
  • If they fold the binding over from front to back or back to front, that will secure the edge but ask to see examples of their work, because this can ALSO lead to a very uneven look and really fat binding.
  • If they use a double fold applied binding (also called French fold), you will have a very tight, clean edge to your quilt. Especially if they know how to miter their corners.

a beautifully mitered corner

You should expect to spend between $400-1200 on your quilt, depending on a variety of factors, including number of shirts and desired quilt size. Understand, your quilt maker may be supporting their family and this is their source of income. Their labor is their time and it will cost you. Batting and fabric costs add up as well. I have spent $120 just for the backing fabric on one quilt (the one below)!

king size crown bag quilt

king size crown bag quilt

Because you should expect to pay that kind of dollar, you should also expect a result that is on par with that price. But, YOU have a responsibility here too:

1. Ask questions. I have outlined a few above that I don’t think the average non-quilt maker would know to ask. If there is something else you are unsure of, ASK. It’s not a dumb question, it’s smart for you to become educated about your expenditures in advance.

2. Tell him/her what you want! The scariest quilt I have made in recent times happened to be the last one, and what made it so scary is that she told me to just do whatever. As a long arm quilter I LOVE that, but as a quilt maker, I cannot predict what colors she does or doesn’t like, so I just went with what I thought she might like. Fortunately for me, she loved it. I did too, but it could have been a disaster if she didn’t like yellow. Or purple (the back was tie dyed white/purple)!

tshirt quilt

tshirt quilt

3. They should ask you questions during the initial discussion, like how big you want it to end up (is it for a bed or not), who is it for (male or female, young or older person?), do you want all the shirt blocks to be the same size, specific colors you do or do not want in the quilt, any special deadline or shirt that should be centered…

This quilt was made for a graduating son, and the mother was very particular and involved in the entire process. But I got three hugs at the end, so I think she was pretty happy with the result.

Tshirt quilt with precise instructions from the mom

Tshirt quilt with precise instructions from the mom

Usually people tell me if it is a memory quilt, which is a great tidbit, because I mostly quilt those in all-over hearts and try to keep the color scheme upbeat. This was a memory quilt with not much to use (sudden loss). Included were t-shirts, a sweatshirt, PJ pants and a watchcap. If your quilter has experience, she’ll make anything work for you :).

memory quilt

This was a memory quilt for a baby lost pre-term. The birthing coach had me make it from onesie’s from the other babies she had birthed.

memory quilt from onesies, patchwork style

memory quilt from onesies, patchwork style

4. As a quilter and quilt maker, I can tell you that I try to do everything to my best ability. But I’m not the one paying for the quilt and I’m not the one that’s taking it home. You are, so make sure YOU know what you are getting for your money.

If you are unsure, reach out. You can also Google ‘tshirt quilt photos’ and find more than enough fodder to peak your imagination. Best of luck!