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What It Takes to Make a Quilt

Child's Quilt
By Barb Bergquist

In today’s world, I know we are all watching our money and want to get goods at a reasonable price, but we must take care to ensure we don’t undervalue the artisan that creates what we are purchasing.  Unfortunately, this happens all too often with a handmade quilt, and part of the reason is because the shoppers do not understand the time and materials that go into this work of art.  Think about it, everyone is aware of how valuable sculptures and paintings are because they have been educated to understand the painstaking effort that goes into it.  Hence, if we educate the public on the effort and expense required to create a quilt, then they will understand the value of what they are purchasing.

So let’s start at the beginning.  The process starts with selecting a pattern.  The pattern could be purchased or it could be designed by the quilter itself.  Regardless, they both cost time and money.  For the sake of keeping this exercise simple, we’ll assume that the pattern is bought.  Under this assumption, we’ll estimate the time to select and purchase the pattern at one hour, and estimate the purchase price with tax at $10.  This may be low if the pattern is difficult to locate or the shop is located some distance from the quilter’s home.  And if the quilter designs the pattern, the cost of materials is probably less by half, but the time spent in design is likely to be four hours.

Once the quilter has the pattern, next step is locating and purchasing fabric.  When I approach a new quilt project, I have found that it takes about two hours to find the right fabric for my project and have it cut, paid for and out the door.  That doesn’t include driving time, but a trip to a quilt shop is usually combined with other activities so I’ll let that go for now.  Oh, and the cost of the materials – I have found that on the average, the fabrics for the top of the quilt, lap quilt size, is around $100.  This is just the top.  Add that to the previous step, and now I have three hours and $110 in the quilt.

The next process is to cut the fabric per the pattern’s specifications.  This is all labor, though I would be using a new rotary cutter blade that should be figured into the cost.  This can vary depending on the difficulty of the pattern, but using an average, I will easily put 4 hours into this task, including the time to press any fabrics that have too many folds in them.  (I will mention here that if you have fabrics that need to be prewashed, you need to factor in another hour.)  Now I have seven hours and still $110 in this quilt project.

Piecing is the top is the next step.  Again the amount of time you will need to complete the pieced top is dependent on the difficulty of the pattern.  This is not a process to be rushed and it includes pressing and trimming as I sew the pieces together.  I find that this takes on the average 10 hours to do a good job on a lap quilt.  That brings us up to 17 hours and $110 for the quilt project.

Once the quilt top is pieced, it’s time for the quilt sandwich.  But that means a trip back to the quilt shop because I don’t usually invest in the batting, backing and binding at the same time that I purchase the fabric for the quilt top.  I have found that the batting for a lap quilt averages $35.  Binding is minimal, but fabric for the backing is almost as much as the fabric for the top.  I will assign $75 price tag to the two.  That takes us up to a cost now of $220.  I can usually get this done in less time so I’ll allocate one hour to this shopping trip.  But when I am back home, I start by piecing the back, because the 108” wide fabric available seldom works for the project I am working on.  I invest two hours in this effort.  Next laying out the sandwich and basting the sandwich, whether with safety pins or needle and thread, usually averages four hours.  Total time and cost is now 24 hours and $220.

I’m ready at this point to quilt it.  I won’t even discuss hand quilting because if you have an opportunity to purchase a quilt that is hand-quilted, pay whatever price they ask.  I have hand-quilted two lap quilts and one queen size quilt and the hours that I put into them is more than anyone can imagine (except for another quilter who has done it).  Simple machine quilting on a lap quilt that is nothing more than stitch in the ditch is approximately an eight hour effort.  Now it is 32 hours and $220.  (Note that if I took it to someone to long-arm quilt it, I have likely paid at least $100 for their time and effort.)

My lap quilt just about done now.  I’m down to the binding and the label.  Cutting the binding, sewing it onto the front of the quilt and then blind-stitching it to the back is about a four hour process.  Tack on another hour for the label, and I am finally finished with my lap quilt.  Total time and cost is 37 hours and $220.

The cost I’ve given is just for specific materials.  What I haven’t taken into consideration is whether I have the thread to piece and quilt it.  I have also not considered things such as needles, cutting blades, or starch. Then there is the electricity for the sewing machine, lighting and the iron.  We also have to realize that there is wear and tear on the sewing machine, the iron and ironing board and all the other tools I use.  It’s hard to assign a dollar amount to it, but be aware that the quilter must take that all in stride.

Finally, we must factor in what the quilter’s time is worth.  This person is an artisan, with special skills (and patience) that compares with that of a sculptor or artist.  By the experts in the industry, it has been reported that a quilter should receive $20 to $40 per hour for their time.  So using the 37 hours that is a good estimate for a lap quilt and just sticking with the low end of the pay scale - $20, the time invested would equate to $740.  Add to it the $220 in materials, and that lap quilt should be valued at almost $1,000.

The quilter knows that most admirers can’t afford that price and will reduce it to a price that he/she believes that it can be sold at and one that he/she can accept.  So I guess what I’m trying to say is that the next time you want to say that a handmade quilt isn’t worth the price that the seller is asking, remember what goes into a quilt and realize what a good price that quilt really is!

Barb Bergquist along with husband, Ron, own A Block Away Quilt Shop.  A dedicated quilter with more than 25 years of experience, she is now actively sharing her love of quilting through the work in her shop.

Contact Us:

Phone: (956) 638-1961
Location: A Block Away Quilt Shop
                 2706 N. 10th Street
                 McAllen, TX 78501
Hours: Mon-Sat: 9AM-9PM, Sun: 10AM-6PM

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