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

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179 thoughts on “What’s it worth?

  1. Amen! I too, have been sewing for over 55 years, and it does amaze me that we are willing to sell our product so inexpensively. My home ec. teacher use to tell her students that we should charge
    ’3 times’ the cost of the materials, and that was back in the 60s. We are worth our talent. Not everyone can sew on a button.

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  2. Pingback: Bill’s Star | Sewing by Moonlight

  3. I heartily agree with your pricing. I am frequently asked if I sell my quilts, I say NO, because no one would pay the price I would want for them. They then ask me what I do with all the quilts I make and I tell them that I KEEP them unless I decide to give one as a gift. Most people do not understand that attitude. By the way, I do NOT quilt for a living – that would make it WORK, which is a 4 letter word with me. I will do things for friends, either as an outright gift, or if they want something particular and buy the materials for it.

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  4. I charge fully loaded prices for my quilts. It may take awhile for some to sell. I would rather give quilts to a charity than sell for less than their worth.

    For making food budget n such (yes i have been there)I have always found smaller sew-ables (pot holders, placemats, and even mending & alteration work, etc sell faster)

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  5. People who look at art work (of all mediums) and quilts don’t think about the fact that you had to learn how to do the craft, pay for the materials and not to mention time to actually cut and sew each piece. I’m a professional artist for a while and I still get looks like I’m insane for my prices for my pieces. I got bills to pay to ((**GASP**)) and I went to school to learn my art form! Maybe I should offer for them to take a peek at my monthly payments for my tuition? But hey if they don’ t like it they can go to Walmart and pay for crappie prints by a machine or quilts that will not last as long.

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  6. My husband just made a quilt, 110 x 120, a beautiful bargello. Very stunning. People keep asking how much something “like that” would go for. Then we start..$270 for the kit, $100 for the backing, $202 for the batting/machine quilting, probably 6 spools of thread, etc. We are at $600 not counting the time he o put in every single night from October to mid January! We’re talking weekends and EVERY holiday here! That quilt is priceless!

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    • No, it has price, just a high one, probably $1500 to $2000 or more. If you say it with a smile and a serious look in your eye, people will believe you. If you ever have to sell it, time adds value as the price of materials, craftsmanship and other items rise. Never under price things as it hurts all of us. I always reply, well you can make it yourself, if the price is too high. They haave no idea the hours that go into this work.

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  7. I have said the same thing as many of you have. I don’t sell my quilts. No one could afford them. Hence I give them to loved ones and charity…where they will be cherished and loved – for only love can pay the true price of a quilt.

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  8. I hope you don’t mind but I shared your post on FB! I also included this quote from your post a I have many friends who under charge and mostly out of guilt. I am hoping that many artists, artisans, and crafters see your most excellent post!

    “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.”

    Also don’t forget to include the cost of replacing your sewing machine in that final amount, the camera to take the photos, and the computer to edit the images, and share said quilt with the world!

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  9. Hi Mary! Remember when your nieces were little and I hand smocked their First Communion Dresses? 125 hours per dress, (and that wasn’t including materials!) Somebody said I should sell them for $200 apiece, (as if!) but you were the sister that said I should frame the dresses and hang them on the wall as the artwork that they are!

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  10. I enjoy making quilts but what’s the point of having dozens (as much as I want to keep them) – I’m not a salesman and would rather give them as gifts…it’s not about the money, it’s about the creation..

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