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Need a little pep talk - share your stories of starting out!

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So I'm about to dive in to something I've wanted to do for awhile now. Quilting has always been my favourite part of the process (aside from designing the pattern) I have a vision of doing this, and am starting to doubt myself. I think it is the fear of failure, etc. I KNOW I can do this and can develop skills to be a great long arm quilter, but there's that little voice in my head filling me with doubt and uncertainty.

I am starting a business and I have kind of a 3-6-12 month plan. 3 months of training and skill building. 3 months of beginning to accept customer quilts - basic edge to edge and some basic custom work. and then build from there.

I realize you get from it what you put into it. And I also realize that it takes awhile to build your business. I understand that it isn't a ton of income, but it could help to pay some bills eventually (like a family vacatioin or some money to put away for retirement, etc)

Can any of you share some beginning stages stories for me to help me out with my nervousness?

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I will be first to jump in I guess. I bought my first machine because I wanted to complete my own quilts, and those my kids were making. I had the money to purchase my machine outright, so I did it. I bought a green millie which saved me a few thousand over a brand new machine. This was over 4 years ago. Since then, I found a great deal on a second, smaller machine and bought it for my kids to use. I have quilted some quilts for customers, but primarily quilt for myself. My machine can sit idle for a month or more and I do not have any stress, unlike others who depend on their customer base for income. My husband own a small business, so we have an outside income, and get the time that we need for our large family.

I am just now thinking that I might want to expand my quilting to a small business. Problem is, I go into waves where I would rather quilt, and other times I would rather piece. So...I am not certain how well this may work for me. Fortunately, I don't have to quilt for the need of income.

As with anything, if you put the effort and time into something, you have a greater chance of getting a return from it.

Many people get buyer's remorse when spending money on themselves. This is normal. Because, I could afford my machines, I didn't have this problem. I do not own a new car, but drive some nice APQS longarms!!

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You can do it you can do it you can do it! There's a pep talk! :P

The key to the whole thing is just one thing--customers.

Sounds lame and simple, but it's the truth.

Do all the things you need to do to build a customer base.

Join guilds, (and be sure you make friends and contribute there and not be thought that you're there to troll for customers).

Make friends at the LQS.

Be generous.

Build your skills so you have lots to offer.

I think you're on track and have a realistic grasp of what it will take. As you improve and do more customer quilting you'll find a niche--either you'll fill a local need for a specific technique (like E2E or custom) or you'll find the type of quilting you love and that makes your heart sing--and you'll get so good at it that the customers will seek you out.

I practiced and quilted for friends for five months before a business card at an LQS brought me my first customer. It was slow going the first year and I learned so much quilting customer quilts. The second year I doubled the first in net income and number of quilts. Third year I doubled the second year and reach the maximum I'm willing to take in per month. I started in 2005 and love it more every year!

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I think you have to have the mindset of Linda Rech...that you LOVE to quilt. I like to quilt...pretty quilts..custom/heirloom. I don't like to do E to E or pantos. I don't like "having" to get a quilt done by a deadline. I don't like customers telling me what thread to use, what batting to use and what quilt designs they want. I don't get that kind of customer, because I send them to other quilters. My husband reminds me that this wan't supposed to be a full time job..it was to be a retirement hobby that kept me in fabric for my own projects. Unfortunately, its gotten out of hand, as word got around.

I have seen a number of people who become burned out, sell their machines and never quilt again. I think you need to be very honest with yourself about your level of committment, the amount of time you want to spend, and your ability to stick to it, and to quilt even when you don't want to. Evaluate your ability to deal with all types of people...not all of them pleasant or reasonable. It certainly isn't the easiest way to make extra money. In the beginning, I would have made more at a job that provided uniforms and training in how to say "Would you like fries with that?" (And less stress, too!)

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It can be tough starting out. I have been at it for a couple of years. Last year I just decided that the way to get my business out there was to do craft shows as advertising. An add in the paper or radio, just doesn't work anymore. You also need to get a business license for your city or county (and not all of them allow home business') as well as Sales Tax ID Number from the state as laws vary by state.

I became licensed to make quilts using the logo of our state University (U of Wyoming) out of Minkee. And I started selling them while displaying a couple of my quilts behind me at craft shows. You would be suprised at the number of people that didn't think there was anyone in the area doing quilting other than the 2 local quilt shops with a 6 months waiting list. I have been able to increase my clientel and my income. Of course November and December were extremely busy sewing and quilting from 8 am to 11 pm. But it paid for Christmas and seems to have accompished getting my name out there. I haven't had hardly any quilts in January to quilt in pervious but I do have quite a few this year and I'm hoping it continues thru the year. I have made myself flexible as to when I will be available for drop off and pick up and try to have a 1 to 2 week turn around. I'm just honest and say I currently have 2 quilts in front of you (or however many) and I will try to get it out in the next couple of weeks or if it is a minkee quilt and I currently am in a minkee mess, they get bumped up. I also have the issue of I may have to leave at any given time to take care of family matters. So I tell them up front that if something comes up and I have to leave I will let them know of the delay as soon as possible.

For the Christmas quilting season last year I called my current customers and asked how many they thought they would need quilted by Christmas and this was in October. It put the bug in their ear that they needed to think about it and get back to me. It started them earlier and gave me an idea of how many quilts I would have. I was after customer loyalty so I just told them I was trying to schedule so I knew how many new clients I could get in before christmas while still taking care of my existing clients, many of them appreciated it.

I was able to honestly tell new people in a rush that either yes I had time to fit their quilt in or that I'm sorry I am booked with my regular clients. I did tell them that if they became an established client sometime during the year that it would give them first dibs on my available quilting spots. i have picked up a new client this month wanting to become established and she has 4 or 5 more coming up before fall.

It depends on your area as to how long it will take to become established. The other thing I did when starting out is that I would charge my friends for a pantograph and they would allow me to do whatever I wanted. Usually if their quilt is talking and I want to play I get to practice (play) doing whatever I want and they ended up with a custom quilt at panto prices. Giving me experience and then as you get busy, they will be willing to pay for the custom if that is what they want. Sometimes I just can't bring myself to do a panto on an quilt that is screaming semi custom or custom, and I talk to the client and up grade their quilting to the next pay level for me and custom for them.

I know that I am giving some of my time and talent away, but I look at it this way. I'm getting to practice and find my niche and the clients are really happy. Most of my clients tell me do whatever and let me decide. They also know that during crunch time (Christmas Season etc) that if I ask what they would like to pay and it is panto prices during the rush that is what they will get. Some of them have figured it out and find that they get alot more quilting for less price during the year which keeps me busy with a steady flow all year. During the rush they only get what they pay for.

It has taken a few years to get to this point, but due to family issues, remodeling etc it has worked for me. What works for one person doesn't always work for another. The local quilt stores here don't like to refer anyone. Two of the Three stores quilt in their stores. So you have to work around them. Our local guild has several people with mid or long arms and they use each others machines and a couple like to quilt on their DSM so they are out.

I did burn out between making product and quilting client quilts before Christmas, but I only came up with the idea in October. I vow it will not be that way this year and have started making product in between customer quilts and my own, putting it in totes for the Craft Show season so I will have a good inventory without all the anxiety.

I like to sew and quilt, but I like to quilt other peoples quilts for a variety and this has given me more insight into being a better piecer. I have learned by other peoples mistakes and have been able to help them become better piecers as well.

I have also started into a new thing. It is a home party business that is geared towards sewers and quilters and look forward to getting that going in the next couple weeks. I have discussed it with a couple of my current clients and they are thrilled as it is kits or just the pattern to use their stash. Many of them want me to teach new techniques and such and I was looking into that, but alot of them wanted kits and the cost of ordering all the fabric and having it in inventory for the kits was astounding and I just don't have that kind of money. I am looking at doing a monthly sewing thing where I pick a project and if they want to make it they order the product or just the pattern and I direct them in how to make it. I think I will pick up some quilting this way. I don't care if they want to learn to do the quilting on the DSM I'm willing to assist them in it. Some people are good at it and they love it. I quilted one on my DSM and vowed never again and bought a longarm.

There are so many ways to build your business. But since I am prone to be a hermit and live in my sewing and quilting rooms, I was looking for an outlet to get with other people. I think that is one of the downfalls of working from home. I have had a lot of pressure from people to open a business with regular hours, but it won't work with my lifestyle. If I want a week off i just don't schedule any quilts for that week. If hubby wants to go camping for a week we go. If I need to take care of my mothers stuff for a week (which I do once a month), I just schedule around it.

Having a business is great, but you don't get to work on your own stuff as much as you think you will.

Sorry this is so long, but I think if you think about the issues ahead of time, maybe you could be better prepared for it as a full time business then I was. It can be overwhelming if you are used to working 40 hours outside of the home and now suddenly you are home 24/7. The "oh I will do it in a little while catches up with you". Ask me how I know. I work my day this way now. I sleep in if I want, run my errands and clean around the house, go to lunch with a friend if I want and do all my appointments in the morning or early afternoon. By 2 pm I am in my sewing room and work until time to cook dinner, take a break and cook dinner then go back downstairs and sew until 9 or 10 pm. It works in my household as hubby goes out in the shop to work on motorcycles or snowmachines or whatever until bedtime.


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Share what you are doing with your quilting friends.  If you don't have any, now is the best time to make them.  Join a local guild, hang out at your local quilt shop, whatever it takes.


I loved my machine as soon as I got it up and running.  I didn't expect to do many customer quilts, I live in a very small town.  But the quilters here are make a lot of quilts.  I took too many charity quilts at first, for "practice".  Well, I didn't get very many of those quilted before the real customer jobs rolled in.  I've been booked ever since.


I recently decided to not take customer quilts for a while, so I can work on my own projects.  I designed and am piecing my first project just for me that I've done in a very long time.  It feels great.  I look forward to getting it on the long arm and quilting something special on it.


And guess what....I still have a small pile of those charity quilts that I took over 3 years ago!  They are still on my to do list, but without deadlines:-))

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My most important piece of advice is to keep track of the time you spend loading and quilting a quilt and charge accordingly. A lot of quilters in my area of Iowa way undervalue their work. When I first started 7 years ago I tried to charge by a per square inch and guess how complicated the quilting would be. I agreed to do a complicated custom job on an appliqué quilt and guessed at a $300 cost. I earned $3 an hour for that quilt and it was beautiful but did I ever agonize over it and got paid less than minimum wage! I always time myself on each quilt I do using a kitchen timer. Some people use stop watches. I was charging &.01 per square inch for free hand over alls. As I got faster and more experienced, I realized that I was charging about $25 per hour for my over alls and getting $7 or less for custom work. I came to the conclusion that I was over charging most of my customers on over alls and the custom jobs were getting a steal. it was not a fair deal! I now charge a flat $15 per hour for every type of quilting. My over alls are actually $.007 (not even a whole cent) per square inch! Even a queen size quilt is under a hundred dollars. Baby quilts are about $35. My customers love my over alls and want the economy of having a quilt done and looking good. A semi custom quilt I am working on now is in the $150 range. The Custom "show quilt" I won a 1st place ribbon on at Machine Quilters Showcase on a couple of years ago had 100 hours of quilting in it which would have been a $1,500 quilting bill.

Your work is worth a decent paycheck! This is just my opinion based on my experiences. Good luck and have fun!

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  • 2 weeks later...

I estimate over alls at $.01 per square inch and usually get them done for less than a cent $.007 or $.008. I state on my order sheet and to the customer my hourly rate. I also always calculate the $15 per hour rate and then divide by the total square inches to see what my per square inch rate is for each quilt I do so that I get better at estimating. Most of my over alls are under $100 for quilting only, not including batting, thread, or tax. Anything that is fancy like separate borders goes up to $150 and any custom block and border work starts at $300. The intense show quilting I have done on some of my quilts or my Dads quilts was 80 to 100 hours of work or $1,200 to $1,500. I don't do show quilting for customers because my customers really can't afford it and don't compete with their quilts.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I am sure that most quilters undercharge.  If you figure you need to pay your own machine off, charge for the space and heating/cooling/electricity, and your time.  Sometimes I gave the quilter the threads free, and then I tried charging for the threads.  It was confusing, but possible, by seeing how many bobbins I used.  I took in many quilts and found that it was easy to quilt them free-motion.  Then I met a client who wanted me to do 5 quilts at a time, and fast.  Who was not happy with my prices and wanted them done cheaply.  I worked with her for a few rounds of that and decided it was enough.  I was working round the clock and making very little money.  I decided to go back to my day job that pays much better and put the quilting on hold for awhile.  But when I first started out, I found it fun, and maybe I just had a bad customer.  None of my other customers were like that.  I am a night owl anyway...so may as well quilt.

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I too charge by the hour. After 7 years I know about how long it takes me to do things. I give estimates but In a range. I always try to guess high as I'd rather the customer think this one is a bargin. I tell them that pricing this way is more fair to both parties, they are being charged for actual time. I ask $20 per hour and $2 per bobbin used-and that includes any part of a bobbin used. I start charging from the time I start loading the quilt until it is off the machine and then add an additional 15 minutes for calculating the bill, photographing, and packaging.

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  • 1 month later...

Hi All

Thank you Sheagatzi for starting this topic, and thank you all, for giving some really good advice. I just ordered my business cards and am really ready to turn this into a full time commitment. Right now I have about 6 regular customers, they are friends as well and I know Im not charging what I should be, I think charging by the hour might be the way to go.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I say don't listen to the negative voice!  Consider the pros and cons, and go forward if this is really what you want to do! 

Linda is right - you do need customers. 

I live in NW Ohio and I was shocked to find out how many longarmers there are within 5 miles of me!  There are a ton!!!  I tried advertising, including a FB page, but, what worked best for me, was to talk to quilt shop owners.  It tood persistence, but, I offered to quilt their shop quilts for free with a very quick turn around.  I quilted probably 3 - 4 quilts for one shop and just one for another shop - all for free.  They loved it.  And, now, I get referrals all the time!  Now, the shop owners pay for quilting, though I give them a very nice discount.  (I found out the second quilt shop owner's sister had a longarm so she was referring everyone to her sister.  And, I can't blame her for that.  But, no more free quilts for her.  LOL)

This was the one best thing I did to get my business started.


Good luck with your new business!


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