Friday, December 12, 2014

Another Candid Post: Edge to Edge Land & Crazy Customer Stories

Warning: LONG Word heavy--not many pictures post, but I loved your comments on my last candid machine quilting post.  They helped me so much.

Before I begin, I would like to add that Val at Val's Quilting Studio said she would be willing to take in my edge-to-edge quilt customer's projects.

So...

So true....shared courtesy sewcalgal.wordpress

Last night, I finally get my youngest two kids to bed and my 13 year old son (who is remarkably mature and honest) comes in the room (while I am staring at machine quilting threadpaths on Pinterest) and says:

"Mom, we've gotta talk.  I don't understand.  You are quitting quilting?  But you love it--and you're getting published and a lot of good things are happening.  I don't get it."  (I guess it didn't take that much time away from family after all?)

He is right (yes, I got my first offer to contribute a pattern to a book just this week).

I answered that I would still design quilts, but I just didn't want to quilt for customers anymore.

But why?

Good question.

Shared courtesy clipartpanda.com.


So I told him my crazy customer stories...like 3 weeks ago on "Black Friday" I had some shopping to do.  A customer told me she was coming to bring her 3 Christmas projects.  I asked her for a specific appointment time--which she would only do a ball-park time.  Then she NEVER showed up--the entire day and expected me to reschedule.  I almost missed the sales and finally went to ones in the evening.  This business is in my home, I have a family to manage.  It's not Billy & Joe's Fabric Shack that's open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. so you can come and go as you please.  I don't have a magic partition I'm quilting behind 9 to 5 with a cashier to take your order like the fabric stores.  If I'm on the phone or processing your order, I'm not quilting.  (Shockingly duh!  I know.  LOL--I can be quite sarcastic sometimes.) Yes, I've set up drop-off and pick-up days--but no one respects that.  Sundays are a sacred day for me and my family--and once they know your address, customers show up anyway.

Probably how some of my customers feel when they bring their quilts out to get done.  Image courtesy quiltshopgal.com


Speaking of another sacred day is CHRISTMAS!!!  Yes, this really did happen.  In 2012, I had a customer call on December 23 asking if I was still in business.  She said:

"Great--this is what we're going to do.  I am piecing a top right now and it will be finished sometime tomorrow.  This is YOUR chance to be Santa Claus for me and create a dream come true.  I will bring the quilt top to you when I get it done tomorrow (Dec. 24), then YOU can stay up all night quilting it.  I'll come get it like 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. and YOU will get a chance to fulfill a Christmas miracle!"

Me: "Wait, you expect me to finish a quilt for you and skip out on my family and children's Christmas Eve parties?"

Customer: "Yes, you ARE professional, aren't you?"

Me: "Yep, I am a professional so I can say no.  Merry Christmas!"  And I hung up the phone.  That lady was so mad she never returned.

I had another customer bring in a custom order as a gift for graduation for her granddaughter.  She chose custom work.  When it was done, she came to pick it up with a family member.  The family member was gushing over it and how grateful the granddaughter would be.  This woman turned with sharpness in her eye and anger and said, "I'm not giving it to her, not for a few more years!  Yes, she deserves it, but I am entering it into this competition because it will win!  That way I can recuperate the loss of the expense if quilting it."  The family member was ready to climb in a hole at that point.  I asked what competition, and she told me and I told her to check the rules as some competitions won't allow you to enter if you did not complete the entire project.  You can't hire out someone's work.  In an offended tone, her response was, "Who cares about the rules!  I am going to win."  At that point, I didn't say anymore.  However, most competitions require a signature from the machine quilter saying it is okay for their work to be shown publicly.  From then on, when she called to schedule a quilt, my schedule was too full.

So...back to my 13 year old.  He is right, you do need to do what is in your heart and he knows me well enough that I love to quilt.

There is something so special when a customer comes and picks up their quilt and their eyes light up.  When a Newbie sees it with a hush and says, "Wait, I did that?  Whoa!"  It gives me chills just writing it.  I also remember the days when I couldn't afford machine quilting so I did them all--even 100 inch King Size quilts on my little $100.00 home sewing machine.  So I like to be affordable out of compassion for customers.  Yet, that was one of the drives for me to learn to longarm.  Affordability and I wanted it done a certain way.

The drive to learn to quilt a certain way led me to buy a used longarm from a local classified add and then to attend HMQS where I spent A LOT of money--almost $400.00 a class to study hands-on with some of the biggest quilters in the business to learn their techniques.  Some of the greats like Pam Clarke  (Quilting Inside the Lines), Kimmy Brunner (ruler work, I need more practice in design with ruler work), Irenea Blum (every kind of possible feather variety) and every online Craftsy courses from greats such as Angela Walters (Dot-to-Dot and FMQ backgrounds).  So if I've studied all of that, why am I still in Edge-to-Edge land--competing with the computerized quilting market that can't do the things these ladies have taught? 

Close-ups of antique quilt tops quilted by Pam Clarke and shared in her hands-on class "Quilting Inside The Lines".

Another heirloom block from the same quilt done by Pam Clarke.


Good question.

Quite frankly, edge-to-edge land pays the bills for the courses--if you don't fall asleep there.

The other problem I explained to my son is when customers come to set up their order.  They see your quilts and your work (which is a good thing in some ways).  In a shop, they just see fabric panels hanging and if you're lucky some printout of what designs can be done.  I actually quilted an entire quilt, well multiple quilts, free-hand and specific blocks to create a quilted portfolio, cut up those quilts (which was painful, so much work!) it into 10 inch squares, zig-zagged all the edges, so my customers can see and feel the actual quilted piece.   I ask them to choose one quilt/page for their project since they selected the edge to edge price. I am honest, I do not want any surprises.   However, this little porfolio instantly transports me from edge-to-edge land to a custom job.  I explain it costs more, and the customers have a fit!  But--I want this here, or that there and yes, I can do it all but not for $0.01 per square inch (the going rate around here).

It actually is cheaper than that. I had a friend invite me to the local county quilt guild meeting to meet a machine quilter.  She charges ONLY $25.00 to quilt ANY SIZE of quilt.

I declined going to the meeting because the only thing going through my mind was "She's under-cutting the market."  Of course, she will only do clam shells as that is all she knows how to do as it is the only pattern track she has purchased to clamp into the bed of her track.  I don't think I'll fit in at that quilt guild's meetings.

However, edge to edge quilting does have a lot of good things going for it.  I can time a certain threadpath going from one edge of the quilt to the other and measure the entire top.  At the end I know EXACTLY how long it will be to execute a certain pattern per square inch.  I can divide that number by my desired hourly wage and figure out what to charge.  I can't do that very well with custom work, I can only set up a ball-park.  I can also calculate the exact number of bobbins per square inch and know the EXACT cost of thread and the EXACT yardage used.  This is great for budgeting.

There are also times when the quilt top's piecing isn't of enough quality to do custom work.  For example, the last 3 full size quilts I did the last 2 weeks had seams in them where the customer simply  missed the under-lying fabric.  Of course I don't find it until the quilt is on the frame, half-done and I can't remove it to fix it, so all I can do is hand-stitch it closed.

Also, free-hand (not pantograph) edge to edge is useful when the patchwork has been stretched.  This customer obviously put the bias edge of the triangle against the feed-dogs and the entire quilt was full of ripples.  They always say, "But you're a professional, it'll just  quilt out."  Ummm, no, not really.  All I can do is either tuck your top into the seam (which means you loose your carefully sewn points), or have you buy more batting and do edge to edge so the batting puffs up and fills out the ripples once removed from the quilt frame.

So much to think about!

Which brings me back to my 13 year old.  What kind of message does it send if I quit now?  (Will I be Michael Jordan bowing out at the top of his game?)  No, and I do have so much more to learn.  And what does it teach my children if I quit when I got stressed?  What example is that?

I was on Pinterest, realizing that the next creative quilting step for me is to apply ruler work to divide my custom quilt areas into spaces and do only custom work.  And when I get a new technique to work out, I get excited and my passion returns.

But I had some set-backs.  Recently I had a major magazine return my Nordic Sweater Quiltt I submitted for publication because I custom quilted it and they only wanted edge-to-edge work.  I was heart-broken.  They said edge-to-edge work is what is considered professional, not custom work.
This isn't "professional" quilting according to a major magazine.  Oui!  But it wasn't in my heart to scribble all over this top.  I loved designing the piece.

Experiencing this set-back, I really felt like my custom work wasn't good enough.  I felt trapped in edge-to-edge land.  After my 13 year old son's psychoanalysis of me, I kept scrolling through machine quilting negative space ideas/curved cross-hatching and found these pictures someone else had pinned:


My first though was, "Oh, those ARE good."  Followed by, "Wait, isn't that the quilt that is on your daughter's bed?"  Yes, these are close-ups of the Quilting Bee Sampler quilt I did for Moda Bake Shop over a year ago.

If my initial reaction is that my custom quilting is good enough, who is someone else to say otherwise?  (Which is what my husband said as soon as the Nordic Sweater Quilt was "rejected"--smart guy, I should listen to him more often.  LOL)  They probably rejected it because they want the style of quilting to be easy and simple--stuff that their readers can execute, which makes sense, but I wish I would have known that before.

I also appreciate your comments on my last candid post. Thank you for all of your support. Helen said she was in my shoes 2 years ago and said she converted her business to custom work only.  It lessened her workload dramatically and allowed her to raise her prices. If someone wanted edge to edge, then they needed to go to someone else.  Thank you for your advice Helen!  It's great advice.

That is good advice, and it sounds like my family thinks I spend plenty of time with them.  I will be doing my master's degree while they're at school in the mornings, which means I can quilt in the afternoon.  I do not get satisfaction from edge-to-edge land.

Perhaps these are the growing pains of a business--the signal of when to change to custom work only.  I feel at peace with that after all I do love a nice custom quilt.  My background is in hand-quilting--as a matter of fact, the first time I won a blue-ribbon is for my hand quilting work.

The real question then becomes, what do I charge?  I've never seen a quilting business book for custom work?  Any advice here?  I'd love it!

Thank you everyone, for your support!


What does someone charge for these techniques?  They are a lot more time consuming, but well worth the effort.

These are a lot more time-consuming work but well worth the effort.

Humm...what if I just do custom work only?