WASWI: “But I don’t need the money”


It’s exciting to see the topic of selling handcrafted items for decent money rise up in the consciousness of our industry. I believe that the more we talk about it, the better it will be for all.

I was sent a recent post from Kate Chiconi, from which I pulled this quote (emphasis mine) regarding getting paid well for a quilt:

But I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no point counting the hours I spend in my enjoyment and expecting a return on investment. All that would achieve is a deep sense of despondency at how poorly I’m rewarded, whereas in fact the reward lies in the process and the pleasure my handwork gives, not the monetary reward. Fortunately, I’m not dependent on my sewing to support myself, unlike some of my forebears!

While I’m glad Kate understands the “despondency” of being low-balled for her work, and I’m thrilled she enjoys her process, I think she is missing the fact that her contemporary peers try to make livings with a needle, too.

For many of us, it’s REALLY tough to place a price on what we do. It engages all sorts of discomfort in our esteem, and often leaves us open to criticism and ridicule for daring to challenge the notion that it’s OK for artists to starve. Our love for what we do is called into question when we monetize it. And for we ladies, there’s an added layer of judgment about being uppity and “not nice” when you try to be business-like.

So we don’t do it. We shrink back when asking for a fair price. We do funky math and discount the cost of the materials because we already owned them (unwilling to point out that to replace them will cost good money.) We weakly defend the idea that you can love something AND make money at it (and why the hell is this only a conversation in the arts? I don’t see bankers struggling with this at all.) And the most corrosive lie we can tell is “I don’t need the money.”

It’s a great one to hide behind… not only does it make you sound fortunate, it colors you as generous and altruistic. You’re doing the would-be buyers a favor by leaving some cash in their wallets.

But while it might help you, and maybe get you a modest sale, it actually hurts all your sew-sisters and -brothers. YOU might not need the money, but I certainly do, and I’m not the only one. If you don’t educate buyers as to a fair price, then the knowledge of what that is will not permeate our art-buying culture. And we all suffer for it.

Even if you don’t need the money, PLEASE charge it. Donate the cash to children’s arts programs or your favorite charity if you need to get it out of your account. If you still don’t want to do that, please AT LEAST give the buyers a detailed invoice showing the depth of the discount they receive. Education is the easiest thing we can do to change this.

Kate ends with this:

We create because we can and because we must. Monetary reward is just a very pleasant fringe benefit…

Pleasure in my process is certainly important. But no one quilts for cash without enjoying their process – it’s just too damned hard. However, we can’t pay the rent in satisfaction, nor should we be expected to. Money isn’t a fringe benefit in the arts, it’s what feeds the family. Just like in other careers.


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In praise of counting, even when you don’t plan to sell

How many of us hit the first weekend of February, completely aghast that January was already history? One tenth of the year is done, and I’d be lying if I said I’m cool with that fraction. It’s actually making me sweat a bit. I HAVE SO MUCH TO DO.


Like many people, I navigate the transition from December to January by taking stock, and one of the things I take stock of is how much work I do in my studio. Counting quilts isn’t too hard as they’re pretty big, but my post-meno memory still manages to lose track of a few – mostly test versions of a pattern in development, or things done for charity. I finished 28 quilts in 2014 – yes, a good number! And don’t hate me… remember this is my living! But when I look at that divided by 52 weeks, it made me wonder where my time went.

So here’s a more detailed breakdown:

  • 28 Quilts finished
  • 21 Bee blocks or donation/charity blocks
  • 4 Quilt tops
  • 17 Quilt Talk buckets
  • 11 Chunky Wee Bags
  • 27 Miscellaneous containers (small buckets, zip pouches, etc.)
  • 2 Cross Stitch pieces
  • 10 Other stuff (scarves, pattern tests for other people, sets of napkins for the house, etc.)

A whopping 111 items. Whew. Now *that* number makes me feel like I didn’t spend the entire year fiddling with social media!

So how do I track it? With this worksheet (download it here).


While I point to other more detailed documents for tracking project time and materials, the one I use most is this one, with just enough space for the time used on common steps like piecing or binding. And this easily lets me see where my time went on all the other stuff!

Also – data is power. I can see that I made a lot of bee blocks, and this year I decided not to join in anymore bees or swaps for a bit to reclaim that time for other things I’d rather be doing. I can also track some broad numbers that I can use for more detailed bidding for projects, should the need arise.

I already have a good start for 2015 going (names of projects blurred to avoid spoiling a couple of surprises!):


OK – back to the studio. Time to get something else ON the list!


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WASWI – Quilting for hire (and following up on the Decemberists’ quilts)

I had to step back from this for a bit, mostly because I was in a car accident in January, and by the time this conversation was getting hot I had been diagnosed with broken ribs and was taking (with much gratitude) the painkillers. I thought it best to avoid writing under the influence of narcotics! And yes, I’m mending, though slowly. This is so not the January/February I had planned :-)

Anyway… I wrote that post about the quilts made for the Decemberists’ record company’s giveaway, and obviously touched a nerve or two.* Meg Cox, one of our respected industry leaders, snagged an interview with the artist, Valerie Bradford, who made the quilts (read it here). And as Meg points out, I while I took the band to task, it was the record company that made the deal and the artist that gave the valuation of the work. Mea culpa.

Obviously, none of the terms of this arrangement can be changed. It’s water under bridge. But what we CAN do is be well armed, and well informed as to our process before we shake hands on any future deals that could come our way. And to that end, let’s have THAT discussion now.

Here are things you can do:

  1. Track your time. Every time you work on a project, document what you do and how long each step takes. Even if you’re not selling your work, it’s good to know these things so that, IF an offer arises, you have some educated basis on which to rest your calculations. I put together a simple sheet for that here.
  2. Figure out the cost of the project FIRST. I have a simple version of an invoice template here, and my friend and fellow WASWI Torch Bearer Molli Sparkles expanded it greatly here – and you can use any of the elements of either document to suit your needs. If you can fill out the forms confidently, then you’re close to knowing what it takes to make the project. And in case you think that doesn’t work, several people have emailed me privately and said that, when they presented a bid that was itemized so comprehensively, they walked away with a deposit with no haggling. It’s all in the education.
  3. Plan for contingencies. Either put the contingency budget into the bid, or over estimate your hours and bring the project in cheaper if all goes well. According to a friend who used to produce movies, even the littlest indie films have a 10% contingency added to the budget. You should do the same.
  4. Don’t get twitterpated! Is it flattering to be approached with a project, a magazine offer, a book deal? SURE THING! But don’t lose your head. By all means call your bestie and dance around the room, but don’t say YES immediately. You can screw yourself royally by acting in giddy, breathless haste. Do your research, ask your industry colleagues for advice (all contracts are not equal), and work out what it’s going to take. Ask your GUT what the right decisions is for YOU (and if you have trouble with that, I really recommend this book). And if all signs point forward, then prepare that bid and move forward.

I know I say it over and over, but I really do believe it: if we all work together to educate our buyers and ourselves, and ask for our worth, then we can change the game for all. We are $ew worth it.

*P.S.  I don’t think touching a nerve or two is a bad thing if it gets the conversation going, gets us considering our worth, or gets us, as an industry, to fight for better. And being as most of the commentary directed at me from our industry was very positive, I think I’ll keep touching the nerves. And for a truly wonderful podcast on internet trolls, check this out.


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WASWI – Sticking Together

I spoke at the Westside Quilter’s Guild last week, in Hillsboro, OR – a fantastic group of ladies and gents. I received many lovely hugs from the members, as well as a treat of chocolates! Thank you to all who came out to play!


We spoke of making quilts, lessons learned, and of course, we spoke of We Are $ew Worth It.

At the end of the evening, one of the members came up to talk. She is a piano teacher. She told me the story of the local piano teachers all getting together, and deciding to charge similar prices so that they would all be decently paid. And she said that, in the instances she felt like backing down on her rates, she remembered that she owed it to all the teachers to stay strong and claim her hourly fee. After all, learning to play piano at the level that one can then teach it is no small feat.

And it gave me hope. Hope that if I can convince enough people that working for free hurts us all, we WILL all benefit from it.

We make beautiful things. We do it with skills that are learned, honed, and practiced. We invest in expensive equipment to do the work we do.

We are worth a living wage. We really are. We just have to claim it.


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An Open Letter to the Decemberists – Quilts and their makers have value

01/23/15 – A Few Updates!

First up – yes, some fans and local artists made a quilt for the band – you can see it here (it’s lovely – how lucky they are to be cared for so much!) And it’s not the one pictured below.

Second – the link to the raffle of the quilts, which stated the value of $388 is no longer alive because the entry date has passed. Once upon a time it could be found at https://pages.umusic-mail.com/decemberists/rules/ but no longer. I doubt my writing anything about this got it taken down :-)

Third - Meg Cox, a respected professional in the quilt industry, has snagged an interview with Carson Ellis that she will publish shortly. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Fourth – this was never about the band. The quilt industry peeps get the conversation. It has always been about educating the public that handmade art and craft has VALUE, and that the people that make these things deserve to be paid in accordance with their skill and talent – accountants love their jobs and don’t do it for free, so why should we? It’s also about teaching people who do make these things to up their game and charge their worth. If just one person sees more value in handcraft because of what I write, then it utterly negates the harsh words of the trolls. I’ve left their comments standing for the sake of balance :-) but will be deleting anything that is just plain hateful that doesn’t add value to the discourse.

Fifth – for those of you who comment that the valuation of $388 might be based on materials alone and needs to be listed that way for tax purposes, I would ask you to look at the valuation of any car given away in a contest. The car is always valued at full retail – not the price of the parts before they got assembled!

Carry on!


(Originally published on 01.22.15 @ 6:02am)

Hey Decemberists! I see you have a shiny new album, with a really cool cover (that I read was designed by Carson Ellis, your frontman’s talented wife):


Image credit to The Decemberist’s website at http://www.decemberists.com

And clever you, you’ve decided to raffle off a couple of quilts made to look like the cover:


Image from The Decemberist’s Blog at http://www.decemberists.com/news/itunes-first-play-a-beginning-song-released/

Who wouldn’t want such a pretty quilt? I wonder who made it? I can’t find that information anywhere. All I could find (before the entries closed) is the estimated value, a ridiculously low $388.

I’m guessing that, perhaps, (hopefully?) none of you have ever made a quilt, because if you had, you’d know better. So, as a member of the quilting community, and one willing to publicly bear the torch for us being treated well, I have a few things to say to you:

The art of a quilt isn’t just in the materials, any more than your music is in the plastic of a CD and its case. The art is in the intellectual property, and the skill to render it into form. The hard work it took to learn how to do it right is a huge factor. Just as you didn’t get good at your art overnight, neither do most quilt artists. It takes practiced skill to know how to build a set of triangles into something pretty, just like the skill it takes to arrange a set of chords to make beautiful music. How would you feel if we raffled off your music for the value of the plastic, without saying who played on the album?

As artists who’ve “made it,” you have a certain amount of power. You’ve done well. You’ve made it through an incredibly tough gauntlet of toiling in dodgy dives for a few bucks and cheap beer. You’ve got fans, enough visibility to get a day named after you in Portland, and a record company to help distribute your music. You’ve got a pulpit. Now use the power of that pulpit to help other artists.

Tell us who made the quilts. Link them up so they can maybe get some business out of it. Pay them properly (because I know you know the lie in being asked to do your art for “exposure”). And get those quilts properly appraised so that you don’t perpetuate the idea that we like sewing for cheap. Because we don’t – we are worth SO much more.

I know that most people think quilt makers are a bunch of older ladies with nothing else to do, but I’m here to set that story straight. Many of us make our livings in the $3.7B industry that is quilting. Yes, the B stands for BILLION. It’s a huge deal, even if it isn’t visible to you, so let me run down some sewing economics for you:

First up – there’s the talent. We quilt makers often spend years honing our craft. Sort of like musicians do. It takes a lot of practice to get good at sewing. And lest you think “anyone can sew”, how would you feel if I said anyone can strum a few chords and yell into a microphone?

The equipment is expensive too, not unlike the cost of guitars or drums. Yes, you can get a cheap machine, but they work like a cheap knock-off guitar sounds – like crap. And there are all sorts of things you need to have to keep them running. Like spare parts and good techs to do the tweaking.

Then there’s the cost of materials. I can’t find any details about the size of the quilts you’ve offered, but let’s go with an educated guess of 40” x 60”. I see at least 20 fabrics in there, and assume the minimum purchase for the top alone was about 6 yards. Premium fabric is running around $13 a yard, and you’d need about 3 yards to finish the backing and binding. So 9 yards at $13 is $117. Plus batting (let’s call it $20). And threads ($10 for the good stuff). So we’re at a conservative $147 before we talk about labor.

At $388 less materials, we have $241 with which to pay the artist. I’d bid 6 hours to work out the design, and around 15 for putting the top together, assuming nothing goes horrendously wrong. And for the record, I sew FAST (a skill that has taken 25 years to develop), and on an expensive, fast machine. It would take a couple of hours to put together a back and turn it into a quilt sandwich. It takes 2 hours for a quick and dirty quilting job, 10 for something custom and amazing. Another hour to make a binding, and three more to get it on with a hand finish (which is how many of us do it). At the low end, we’re talking 27 hours. $241 divided by 27 puts the labor at less than $9 an hour.

Do I have to point out that $9 and hour is an insult to ANY skilled artist? That my mechanic charges $99 an hour? That my friend just gave a plumber $13,000 for about 4 days of work? That $9 an hour, if you’re lucky, gets you “do you want fries with that?” and an order that isn’t screwed up?

Those quilts are worth far more than $388. And our industry cares about crediting who makes things (after being invisible behind centuries of anonymously made quilts, we’re kind of rabid about knowing who the makers are). So from one group of artists to another… give us a hand, OK?

Cheers ~ Sam Hunter


Blog Tour – Rose Hughes and Fast-Piece Applique – FIRE!

My friend Rose Hughes is debuting her latest book, Fast-Piece Applique and I’m tickled to be included on the tour.

Rose is a seasoned author – this is her 4th book! I met Rose while she was writing her third book, and lucky me, she was a great mentor when I began the work on mine. She is definitely a person that I look forward to hugging at industry meets like Quilt Market!

One of the cool things about Rose’s new book is the triptych format of the projects – they are created with the elements in either groups of three or panels of three:

Final Fast-Piece Applique B1277.indd

Photo Credit: Brent Kane/ Martingale

Art history geek alert!

The triptych has a long history in art, and rose to prominence in western, Christian-based, religious iconography during the Middle Ages. The center panel would show a major scene from the Bible (usually from the life of Jesus), and the two side panels would be supporting elements of the story.

Often, the side panels were hinged, creating doors to cover the main panel. This was used extensively on altarpieces – once the services were done the doors were closed, and the smaller altarpieces were then carried back to safe storage.

The picture below is a great example of a triptych: the center panel is Mary and the baby  Jesus (the format is known as “Madonna and Child Enthroned”), flanked by angels and saints, announcing the child’s birth. The side panels show John the Baptist, who came before Jesus, and John the Evangelist, who came after.


The Donne Altarpiece by Hans Memling

The kneeling characters in the main panel are the poet and cleric, John Donne, and his wife and daughter. Donne likely commissioned this to show his piety and dedication to the Church (paintings that include their patrons are called “donor portraits”) – while making sure that he was acknowledged for his donation. It was like getting one’s name listed on a publicly displayed donor roster. Why a portrait and not a list? Back then, reading was something only the wealthy were able to do, so pictoral religious art functioned as cartoons for the unwashed – if you could “read” the pictures, you could grasp the stories.

One of the most magnificent altarpieces is a polyptych (poly = many) tour-de-force by brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck, known as the Ghent Altarpiece:


Go here for a really detailed hi-res peek :-) and here to see what it looks like closed.

And now, back to regular programming!

Rose has planted free patterns at each hop, and I chose the FIRE Heart pattern to share with you! FIRE conjures up ORANGE for me, so it was a great fit!


ALSO – yes, a giveaway! Please leave a comment below to win a digital copy of the book. Rather than tell me which word you would make using Rose’s techniques (because we just talked about words last week!), tell me what your favorite piece of fine art is, and why it moves you! I’ll choose a winner on Jan 16th. - UPDATE: winner chosen and notified!

Don’t forget to pick up the rest of the WORDS – here’s the list of stops – their posting day and #loveletterhearts WORD

Jan 5th-  KISS– Victoria Findlay Wolfe http://bumblebeansinc.blogspot.com

Jan 6th – SOUL– Natalie Barnes http://beyondthereefpatterns.blogspot.com

Jan 7th – SEXY –Maddie Kertay http://www.badassquilterssociety.com

Jan 8th – SWAK– Teri Lucas-Generation Q http://generationqmagazine.com

Jan 9th – LEAP– Mandy Leins http://mandalei.com

Jan 12th- LUST– Megan Dougherty http://thebitchystitcher.blogspot.com

Jan 13th – HUGS– Jenny Wilding Cardon http://blog.shopmartingale.com/

Jan 14th – FIRE– Sam Hunter http://huntersdesignstudio.com

Jan 15th – SING — Rachel Biel-TAFA http://www.tafalist.com/blog/

Jan 16th – ROCK, WILD, XOXO — Rose Hughes http://rosehughes.blogspot.com


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Words, words, words

I asked for words and did you ever respond! I couldn’t choose…. I just couldn’t. Too many lovely words and even better stories (seriously… go read ‘em). You are all so inspiring – and thank you for the new year wishes too!

So I RANDOM.ORG’d it. Kathleen K – with the lovely word CORUSCATE – look for an email from me!

Here’s what Kathleen wrote:

I came across a good word a while ago but can’t remember how or where.  I like it for the example Merriam-Webster gives because my husband has a 57 Ford Fairlane convertible with an awesome chrome grille.  The word is “coruscate” and the example is: “a classic car from the 1950s, replete with yards of coruscating chrome”.  The actual definition is “to give off or reflect in bright beams or flashes; to be brilliant or showy in technique or style”.  Awesome word!

Yes! An awesome word!


What’s your word?

Happy new 2015!

Being a word girl, I like the idea of having a word or phrase to play with. Confession though… I don’t do the yearly word thing because my life seems to operate in seasons that don’t necessarily begin and end with a tidy bow at the new year!

I love being inspired by other people’s words too. In fact, I’d like to be inspired by yours! So pop your word or phrase into the comments, and tell me a little bit about them. I’ll choose a winner on Monday (based on what inspires me the most) and send you a copy of Quilt Talk so you have the tools to make your word in fabric!

And if you’ve already made your word in any type of fiber, please post it on Instagram and tag me @huntersds, and use the hashtag #2015word to add it to lots of others.

As for resolutions, I make few. But if there was one that I would encourage all of us to make, it’s this: Please maintain your sewing machine regularly. Respect the Power Tool! De-fuzz it, oil it, and change that needle! I even have a cute and quick free pattern for holding your dead needles! It could be your first finish of 2015!


Wishing you all the best a new year can bring!


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VAT is coming – and it isn’t pretty

UGH. You may or may not have heard about this: the way VAT (Value Added Tax) in Europe is being charged and handled is changing as of January 1st, 2015, and at the moment, it’s being implemented in a way that is a HUGE burden for small businesses.

Until the dust settles and good solutions arise, it means I have to switch off the ability to take digital patterns orders from countries outside of the USA as of December 31st at midnight – so if there’s anything you want for yourself as a late holiday prezzie, hop to it! Note that orders for physical products are not affected in this go around (although there are rumblings that they will be next year). The law is intended to get some good money out of the likes of Amazon, but there is no small business threshold of forgiveness, so yeah, We the Little People are taking the hit, as usual.

This affects EVERYTHING digital… from ebooks to music to patterns, etc. Basically, for all sales to the European Union, I have to collect VAT (at each country’s rate) and file quarterly tax returns and payments to EACH country. I also have to collect a bunch of data about the transaction (like the IP address it came from) that isn’t yet being made available to me by my payment providers like PayPal (they’re working on it, but it’s not in place). And then I have to store that data for 10 freaking years. And if I put my head in the sand and hope not to get caught, I could be forbidden from traveling to the countries in which I would then be considered a tax evader. Go here If you want to read deeper details.

I have already put my Etsy shop on hold, and I will be limiting the payment locales in PayPal, which affect the digital orders from Craftsy (who don’t have a solution in place yet, but I hope are working on it).

So this is how it looks for my customers right now (and I’ll let you know as soon as it changes):

EU folks – until I find a digital provider that will handle the VAT stuff for me (at a rate that makes business sense) I can’t do digital business with you. I can do a credit card and snail mail of a physical product only. UPDATE 1.06.15 – I’m looking into PAYHIP – will probably implement at the end of January. In the meantime, you can order my PDF patterns through PatternSpot.com (as they are taking care of VAT filing for us)

Canada, Australia, and New Zealand folks – as PayPal currently allows a US customer to block only “non-US” customers (not on a country by country basis) I can’t sell digital files to you either or I risk being open to the EU penalties. I can work around it with a credit card and emailing a file though, so just email me and I’ll do everything I can to get you what you need. UPDATE 01.06.15 – I was able to manipulate PayPal to allow everything but EU – you should be fine now, and if you’re not, let me know.

US folks – you’re in luck. Business as usual for you… carry on. Although you’re probably going to see prices go up all over to cover the costs of dealing with this.

I’m seriously bummed. ALL of my customers matter to me, and I’m thrilled that the internet has shrunk the borders and allowed me to make friends all over the world. I HATE that I have to shut some of you down.

Oh, and other countries like Japan are looking at implementing similar things next year. The global digital economy is about to change. I just hope in the race for more tax dollars it doesn’t kill off all the small businesses that make it so vibrant.



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Happy and Merry!

Tis the season! So of course, for my guild’s holiday celebration, I pulled my favorite Christmas accessory out of the waaaay back of the closet.


I showed it to a couple of friends before I wore it out of the house. The reactions were mixed… it seems that this gorgeous thing that was THE BOMB when I made it in 1995 is now, quite possibly, the quilter’s version of the ugly sweater.

No matter! I sweated over it, so I’m wearing it! Seriously, it has more hours in it than many of the quilts I’ve made (the smaller the pieces, the longer it takes). Where on earth did I get the idea? From Judy Murrah, author of Jacket Jazz (and now the head of education for Quilts Inc.) I took a class from her in 1995 – fabulous teacher – and well… went a little overboard with concept.

Many of the techniques are in her book. The twisted texture…


… the 9 degree wedge elements (one half of the strips is the sleeve, the opposing half is the front).


I designed the presents for the second front. Notice how I integrated the pocket. Damn proud of that, considering what I didn’t (and still don’t) know about garment construction.


I shrunk the poinsettia from a wall hanging pattern (my apologies to the designer… I no longer have the pattern to credit you!) and APPLIQUED it. Yep, I actually did the A-Word for this (albeit by machine, but still). I only wish I had known about glue basting back then!


I finished it off with a run of paper-pieced trees. They needed a bit of a switch up, so I swapped a tree from the back with a Santa from the cuff. Santa does get around, you know.


So there it is. Shoulder pads and all. I like to think that, due to the wonders of time, it has perhaps transcended from tacky kitsch to retro cool, just the way that ugly sweaters have, no? And when you think about some of the holiday excesses (swants, anyone?) then perhaps not quite so over the top!

I wish you Happy and Merry from my studio to yours – I hope you get to spend time with good people and good food, and that every stitch you made on a gift is well appreciated by the lucky person that received it!


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