Process – tools!

If you recall, one of the things I pointed out in my original post about process was my desire for efficiency. I like to feel that I waste as little time/fabric/money/regret as possible so as to allow room for more. “More what?” you may ask. More of everything… more time, more groovy things made or designed, more play, more freedom, more future… a little existentialist perhaps, but there you have it! MORE.

In concrete terms, efficiency becomes a big deal in how I choose my tools. So here’s what I use, and why I chose them (and I have no affiliations so this is not an infomercial!). And I would love to hear about your faves in the comments – you might be turning me onto my next big tool crush!

Before I get going – a quick word about labels… if you ever take your sewing kit on the road, be sure to mark your name on EVERYTHING. It makes for saner retreats and workshops, and less misunderstandings about whose ruler is getting passed around. I use Sharpie pens on most things (especially the rulers so that there is no label obscuring the one section of the ruler I’m bound to be looking at). And when I’m not using Sharpie I use ribbons (which will make sense once you see the pix). Mostly ORANGE ribbons. Like you needed to be told that!

So let’s start at the cutting table..

Like many quilters, I grew up with the dark green Olfa mat, but a couple of years ago I was introduced to a mat made by Fiskars that is pale green on one side and pale yellow on the other – easy to reverse depending on the color of fabric you are working with! A bonus with this mat is it lasts twice as long because once you’ve grooved the heck out of one side you just flip it over.

Also – note the dots in the squares on the yellow surface above. This is some additional alignment help that I’ve come to appreciate.

For rulers, I use Omnigrid and its newer sister Omnigrip, which has scrubby/grippy bits on the underside to help mitigate the slipperies. I prefer the grippy texture and green color of the Omingrip (I seldom use that color of green fabric so it shows up well) but I’ve had my Omingrids a long time with few issues (and I’m too frugal to replace them without good cause). And if you take a look, you’ll see that the Omnigrips also have those extra alignment dots I like. The sizes I use most are 6″ x 24″, 6″ x 12″, 3″ x 18″ and 4″ x 14″. Yes, I know that Creative Grids have the same grippy texture on the back, but most of their rulers are something-and-a-half inches, and I’m not used to that dang HALF (having used whole number sized rulers for twenty odd years). I invariably cut wrong with them because I’m not catching that I aligned the wrong side – which makes for a reduction of efficiency and increase in waste, not to mention a rather grumpy Sam.

However – there is a caveat to just about everything. Behold, above, the Creative Grids yardstick. It’s 2.5″ x 36.5″ and I’m utterly in love with it. Definitely a tool crush. I cut mostly 2.5″ bias binding and this is my go-to ruler for that and any fabric that is 60″ wide. Get one. You can thank me later.

And onto the rotary cutters. Again, I grew up with the original Olfa 45mm cutter and haven’t found a reason to abandon it (and I got to test a bunch of them for the team that is now GenQ Mag so I’m not just being an old-school luddite). I do keep a 60mm version too, and use it for cutting batting, fusible fleece, canvas, and any other thick or weird stuff. I also keep a spare cutter designated for paper. Note that it has different identifying ribbons so that when I grab the handle out of the pot I know which 45mm I’m getting.

One thing I will say, nay SHOUT, about rotary cutters is this: if you are not willing to close the blade yourself when you put it down (or you have hand issues that make it difficult to slide the guard closed), you MUST buy one that will close for you. YOU MUST. You may NOT have blades out in the open. Because getting a bad cut is REALLY inefficient. Not to mention terribly inconvenient. And somewhat embarrassing.

This lovely little goody is another tool crush – a magnetic pincushion by Clover that has a lid. No more putting the pincushion into a Tupperware to take it out of the house. And the lid clips to the bottom when you need it open. Swoon! My only complaint is that it doesn’t come in ORANGE. What were they thinking?

Clover also makes the best seam ripper in town – this one consistently wins magazine test drives for its nice fine point and a good sharp blade. I keep a spare new one on hand at all times and toss the one next to the machine as soon as it starts snagging (and then buy another new one to keep spare). I think I had my first seam ripper for a decade, never realizing that they need to be replaced periodically!

Last tool for this post – a small pair of scissors. These are by Fiskars, but I know that they are being made by several companies now. I use them at the machine to trim threads from the surface of a quilt when I am quilting. That little bend keeps me from snicking a cut into the fabric.

Hmmm…. I spy a purple ribbon. Heresy! Must change that!

The “You Made Me Clean My Studio” Sale!

There’s nothing like outing the mess in your studio to make you clean it up – it’s right up there with inviting people over to dinner so that you’ll clean house! As I was looking through the photos to add to the previous posts, I got the urge to sort out some of the stuff that was really beginning to bother me. Looks like I’m not the only one that happens to!

The things that were weighing on me the most were the tallest piles. The boxes on top of my book case were beginning to feel like they were looming over me, like Snoopy doing his vulture impression. And the rack was just out of control… piled high and beginning to shift and wobble… you know how it is – touch one thing and the whole mess tries to jump into your lap.

So – I gave myself an afternoon to improve the space… I waited until I had the right amount of ruthless coursing through my veins, put on dusty clothes and some righteous Motown tunes and got busy! I tossed a couple of bags of trash, donated a couple bags of things I was no longer using to my sewing pals, and relocated 4 boxes to the garage. Now I feel like I can actually breathe! This is what I have now:

Just taking down all the big dark items from the top of the bookshelf allowed more light into the room.

I sorted the chaos on top of the drawers, and put some things in tubs to stop them from getting sloppy or toppling.

And on the rack… several boxes got moved out to the garage, and a couple of others got reworked into different space. I also started working through my “need to quilt these” pile which lives on this rack. WHEW!

There are only two boxes left that need to leave (those two on the bottom left of the rack), and they are currently filled with kits for my shop. So let’s have a SALE! All the kits in my shop are now discounted by 25-30%! And they all include the pattern for free (which is a $10 savings by itself!). So head to the shop and treat yourself to a deal! My studio and I will thank you!

Bag Ladies!

Yesterday my gang of merry pattern testers and I headed to New Moon Textiles and took over the big classroom to test my latest pattern, a chunky little handbag. I can’t thank my testers enough… they make my designs better!

Thank you to Mary Ellen S, Mary Ellen G, Sandy, Alyssa, Jessica, Minerva, Barbara, Frances, and Noni! And thank you again to New Moon for hosting :-)

Here’s what came out of the classroom – check out the fabulous fabric choices!

And the Orange Robot Bag is MINE!!

 

 

What’s it worth?

This morning I caught a post on a quilting Facebook feed… a member posted a picture of a delightful baby quilt and asked what she should charge the neighbor that just asked to buy it from her. She mentioned that the quilt was made from a panel with pieced borders, and that the quilting was done in threads to match the fabric colors (oh, the thread changes!). She mentioned she was thinking $85. A fellow poster thought $100 was better. Another said it depends on the closeness of the friendship.

First of all… I’m not naming names here because I don’t want this person to feel pilloried – far from it, I absolutely appreciate her question and have one heck of an opinion about how it should be answered… a rather, ahem, shall we say passionate opinion – you are warned! Her question, which I hear dozens of times a year, is absolutely legitimate. How does one price a handmade piece of work?

And to note – there is a difference between what it’s WORTH, and what you can ACTUALLY GET for it. So keep that in mind and I’ll address this difference at the end after I show you how I calculate the WORTH part of it:

1. Determine the cost of the goods involved. Fabric is averaging $12 a yard, and even if you bought the fabric years ago, it will still cost you $12 (plus sales tax) a yard to replenish what you used. Same goes for if it came out of your scraps. You still bought the original yardage that the scraps came from… they didn’t give you a 25% discount assuming that a quarter of it would head to your scrap basket! If you got it on sale, wonderful! The savings are for YOU. You hunted it down. And it’s probably the only “freebie” your going get out of this process so take it and run.

2. If you don’t want to count out the yardage of all the little pieces, instead calculate the total area of the quilt top (let’s say it’s 48″ x 60 for a generous lap quilt), and then multiply it by 3 for a simple quilt, and 4 or more for a more complex one – then divide it by 1440, the area of a yard of 40″ fabric. Why these numbers? The fabric it takes to make the top of a simple quilt is about double the surface area because of all the fabric lurking in the seam allowances – and don’t forget the binding! The other “one” is the backing. And use 5 if you paper pieced most of it (because there are way more seams and you have to cut bigger for paper piecing). So for this simple lap quit: 48 x 60 = 2880, 2880 x 3 = 8640, and 8640 / 1440 = 6. So 6 yards at $12 a yard is $72 for materials.

3. Do you wash and iron your fabric before you use it? Add 25% for the time and water and electricity and wear and tear on your (probably expensive) iron and your Netflix subscription for the movies you watch while you iron. Ladies… it’s 2012 and in 2012 we do not iron for free.

4. What did the batting cost? The thread? The embellishments? Add those in. Yes, the thread – because you have to replenish it! And you are probably using a lovely, high quality, long staple cotton goody that can’t be had on sale at the big chain store so yes, you must charge for your thread. And note that there are other consumable products that you could charge for here: machine needles, blades, template plastic, fusible web, etc.

5. Now we get to TIME. How long did it take? Not just the cutting, pressing, sewing, but the “sits and thinks” part of the equation. The pondering, plotting, and extra trips to the store for one more FQ of the perfect print for that corner. The stitching of the binding. The label. All of that. I’m going to, for the sake of easy numbers, say my simple lap quilt took 15 hours – in other words, about a day to choose, cut and piece (assuming all the materials were already in my studio), and another day to layer, quilt and bind. Yes, the binding you do in front of the telly at night is still hours spent on the piece.

6. How much do you think your hourly rate should be? $10? $20? $30? You are certainly worth more than minimum wage. You are a skilled craftsperson. In my case, I’ve been quilting for 25 years and sewing for 43. This is not an insignificant statement. If you hire that depth of skill to lay tile in your house or make cabinets for your kitchen, it will cost you more than $20 an hour. My years of skill ensures the quilt is well constructed, made of quality materials (chosen with a discerning eye and years of practice), and executed with knowledge and a passion for the artistry and craft. This is WORTH a lot. So I’m going to go with $20 an hour for my simple quilt (I would go up for something more complex, and add even more if it was a commission for a pain-in-the-patootie client). Thus – $300 for my labor, and I’m rounding up to $100 for my materials (high quality cotton batting, threads from Aurifil and Isacord, etc). So my lovely little lap quilt is $400.

WORTH vs. What you can get

And I hear you laughing. No one’s gonna give you $400 for that, you say. And you are probably right. But here’s the thing… the fact that society has poo-poohed our grandmas’ prowess with a needle while celebrating their husbands’ prowess with a plow is a sad history that we need to rectify. “Women’s work” has been terribly devalued. And ONLY WE CAN CHANGE THIS. It is up to us to educate the public that what we do has WORTH. And we have to do this with confidence. We have to OWN IT.

So the way I tackle this is to state the gist of my calculations to the person that offers me a department store sale price for my work. I state the price, and then I educate them on what it takes to make a good quilt. The fabric quality. The time. The years I’ve spent honing my craft. I point out that I don’t work for minimum wage as this is much harder than “do you want fries with that?” Then I re-state the price. I own it.

Most of the time they don’t buy, but that’s OK (and if I absolutely want them to have the quilt I give it to them for free). I won’t sell it for less because I feel so very strongly that to sell low is to continue the myth that our work has little value. Either I get what I’m worth or it’s a precious gift. I’m taking a stand for the team, OUR TEAM. Every time we let hours of work out of the house for $5 an hour and free materials without the educational part of the discussion we are letting down the team.

I truly get that our original poster might only be able to squeak $100 out of this sale. And that she might have to put aside any philosophical stands to get her hands on that $100 to shore up the grocery budget (and I have absolutely done this when I needed to). But I really hope she adds the “lesson” to her invoice when she picks up the check!

Update 04.04.13 – What’s It Worth Part 2 – A Bigger Picture

BTW – Did you join my mailing list yet? Do it here. I’m dreaming up groovy exclusive stuff for you!

Thoughts on Quilt Market – and swag sharing!

To Market and back again – what a blast it was! This was my first time there and I’m really looking forward to going again. Our industry really shows itself off well in such a venue, and there were so very many pretty things to look at (this image is an iPhone Pano shot that covers less than half the floor).

A few quick thoughts…

If ever there was a place that required comfy shoes, this is it. And to the booths that had wonderful, soft, padded floors – my feet adored you!

The vibe was different from a “vendor mall” show… lots of business to discuss, appointments to keep, etc. Not the crushing crowds either. It was quieter and more intense.

No one warned me to pack an empty suitcase – the brochures, samples, stuff and swag available is quite overwhelming. I ended up just barely at weight on my checked bag, and hauling a bunch of heavy books into carry-on (and more stuff in my pal’s bag…) And I wasn’t really working hard at the swag.

Stuff is big in Texas, and the Houston George R Brown Convention Center wears it proudly. Twenty-four aisles of industry goodies and half the space again in quilt exhibitions. Almost too big to comprehend. I managed to walk about half the floor each day.

Volunteering to work for Kim at TrueUp.Net was a smart thing to do because not only did I meet her and the rest of the cool team, it gave me the opportunity to meet so many new folks – which translated into opportunities to introduce myself and what I do – I gave out handfuls of business cards and Sassy Buttons.

Swag… I had no idea how much swag was available to collect. If you want to be a swag hound and know how to work it, you can hit all the schoolhouse sessions and free book signings and such and bury yourself in a mountain of cool stuff. And then there are the product samples, brochures, pins, magazines…  I barely had the swag thing figured out and managed to come home with five new books.

Because the shopping is all at the wholesale level, there’s not a lot of general shopping to be done until the last day. On the last day, anyone not staying for the Festival (retail show) sells off the stuff they don’t want to pack, and I found myself a little drunk on finally being able to BUY FABRIC. Half a suitcase full of it! I came home with several towers of Kaufman solid FQs and a squeal-worthy pile of 1/2 yard Echino cuts.

Quilt people are KIND folks. Every single person I met was enthusiastic and in good humor – and there was a noticeably higher level of sweet humanity evident in all the instances where people are often tense and tired at this sort of thing.

And so – to share some swag… please leave a (not-anonymous) comment here to win a 21 piece Jelly Roll of Riley Blake’s Puppy Park – I will draw a random winner on Tuesday morning :-)