The Value of Our Work

New Friend and New Perspectives

Recently I made new friend based on our common interest in quilting/creating. Her name is Ashley and she runs the Etsy shop, Shop 316. One day we were video chatting and she mentioned using Joann fabrics when they go on sale as opposed to quilt store fabrics to help keep her supply costs low and profits within reason. This stunned me at first, so I said nothing. A quilter admitting to NOT using quilt store fabrics? Her words made a huge impact on me and I could not shake them. 

Although I have made plenty of scrap quilts in the past, over the past several years I have been spending several hundred dollars each year to make, what I believe to be, quality quilts. I have been doing this because somewhere along the way, (I’m sure through the power of marketing) someone told us that only quilt store fabrics are durable enough to make quilts from.

Ashley’s opinion on fabric choices for resale items made me  begin to question my decision to only purchase quilt store fabrics instead of chain stores fabrics. Was there really a huge difference? I decided to find out.

Shopping for Quilt Fabric

Here is what I purchased from three different stores:

 

 

As you can see, they all look very nice when they are folded and stacked neatly. The colors and shades are all comparable and at first glance, most people would be unable to tell the difference. If you are one of those people, let me help you along on this journey. 

The fabric below was purchased at Walmart. It is made by Waverly Fabrics and it cost me $0.97 for a 1/4 yard ($3.88/yard).

Waverly Fabrics

WalMart fabrics

This fabric (below) was purchased at Joann’s. Most of what I purchased was made by Quilters Showcase for $2.99/yard. Although I did pick up two pieces made by Keepsake Calico for $4.79/yard.

Joann Fabrics

Joann Fabric and Craft Store fabrics

And this fabric was purchased at Birdseye Mercantile, a wonderful little quilt store in Avon Montana, for $8.50/ yard. (A great price for quilt store fabrics)

Birdseye Mercantile Fabrics

Quilt Store fabrics

 

So What’s the Difference?

I knew what to expect from the quilt store fabric, but I had never deliberately held it next to Joann’s fabrics before and I was curious. So after hand washing, line drying and ironing all the fabrics, I laid the Toscana Moon Fabric, by Northcott, next to the Sky Blue Keepsake Calico fabric.

 

As you can see there is a bit of an issue with the opacity of the KC fabric on the right. You can clearly see the design of my ironing board pad beneath it. The Northcott fabric (on the left) was almost twice the weight of the KC one which added to the opacity of the fabric.

The Walmart fabric was a bit better then the Joann fabric as far as weight goes, but it was still a far cry from the opacity that most quilters desire. This leads me to believe that the thread count on both the Walmart and Joann fabrics are significantly lower than that of the quilt store fabric. Which would actually make it great as a backing fabric for quilts, especially for hand quilters.

 

 

The Yin and Yang of Fabric Choice

As I was washing, pressing and observing the fabrics, I kept asking myself if it was really worth the extra money to purchase from a quilt store: My answer depends on who I am making the quilt for, how long I think it will be used, and how I think the quilt will be laundered and cared for. 

I have made quilts using Joann’s fabrics back in the 1990’s. These quilts were for myself and my family. They were not museum quality pieces, but rather gifts of love that were intended to be used until they were threadbare. 30 years later and mine are all gone. After many years of use all of them went to swaddled my dear canine companions when they went to their final resting places. (I believe most old quilts were used this way.) These quilts served their purpose for many years and I do not regret that they went with my friends after they passed away. In this aspect, chain store fabrics are an excellent choice. Especially if it will have a lot of quilting done to it: The extra stitching will add additional stability to the fibers of the fabric.

Ashley’s Solution

Ashley has a brilliant solution for the commissioned quilts that she makes and sells. She gives the customer the choice. She explains the pro’s and cons of the different types of fabrics and the different price points for each. The decision is then the customers to make and she prices her quilts accordingly. I think this is brilliant! And yes, there are people who do choose the Joann fabrics over the quilt store ones and it works perfectly for all parties involved.  

In Summary

Lets face it, thousands upon thousands of quilts have been made using fabrics purchased from general stores and Five & Dimes. Thousands upon thousands more have been made using nothing more than scraps of old clothing. The Gee’s Bends quilts became famous in part because the women used up scraps to make their unique quilts. These quilts not only stood the test of time, but people around the world cherish them and wonder about who made them. 

Our fabric choices are only part of the issue when making a long lasting quilt though. We also need to educate people on how to properly care for a quilt: How to air it out, launder it when needed, fold it for storage or display, etc. 

I am very grateful for my conversation with Ashely that day, she really opened my eyes to a new perspective especially when it comes to selling our creations.  I have heard countless people complain that they could never sell their quilts because they would have to ask too much money for them. Well, perhaps it is time for artists everywhere to start pricing their wares accordingly, like Ashley does. If we have different price points for different qualities of merchandise, the buyer can then choose what it is that they are willing to pay. 

Know the Value of Your Expertise and Work

On one last note I would like to add that in a world where people spend anywhere from $50.00 – $150.00 each month on acrylic nails, $2.00 a day on coffee ($720.00/year), and/or $50,000 for a new car or truck every few years, I find it insulting that they scoff at a twin sized, machine stitched, quilt that costs a respectable $500.00. I believe that when artists start respecting their own work enough to place a reasonable price tag on their handmade creations, then the customers will start paying. Just look at Eva Scrivo, a New York City Hair Stylist who charges $500.00 per cut & style and people flock to her from all over the United States. Eva knows the value of her expertise and her customers are willing pay.

If customers are only willing to pay $100.00 for a baby quilt, then they will get a quilt made with Joann fabrics purchased on sale and with a coupon. If they would like to spend $200.00 and get quilt store fabrics, then they have that option too. 

What do you think?

Bella~

12 thoughts on “The Value of Our Work

  1. Very thought provoking. I like the idea of giving customers a choice in fabric. The time will not change, but it might make hand made goods more accessible. I also believe there needs to be a better understanding of the amount of time that it takes to make something. Not many in the Western world can survive on cents an hour!

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  2. I’m biased as I lay on the outside couch under a pile of old quilts that are all over 100 years old, I believe that we’ll made quilts will last longer than the person who made them. These were made by Grandma Kathrine and her mother (no relation to me), and they may not last past me as I tend to use them on all the beds and take them outside- but because of the wear on them (all have one short edge with more wear on the edging) I know they made them to be used because they were used before a well meaning family member decided they were too nice and put them in a cupboard for 30-50 years.

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  3. I think to offer a choice of the kind os fabric to use if one is selling their handmade items is brilliant,now I don’t very often sell something …it is either for my family ..mostly though what I do make goes for charity ,our churches sewing groups,so I use what ever I can get for a price that I can afford. I’m not a big JoAnn’s fan or Walmart… I like connecting threads or Thousands of bolts ,their prices are very reasonable with fabric that handles lots of washings . Loved your post,thank you!

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  4. You make many good points in this post. I do make quilts to sell and prefer to use quilt shop fabrics. I think most of the true value of a quilt is bound up in the hours spent making it rather than in the cost of materials. Sadly most people would not pay the true value of a quilt needed to provide the maker with a living wage for the hours of work that go into designing and making a quilt.

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  5. “Sadly most people would not pay the true value of a quilt…” Today, this is a true statement Allison. I do believe though, if quilters & crafters everywhere started asking a fair wage for their work, like other professionals around the world do, then perhaps things will change. If we undervalue our work, then others will as well. Just my opinion though. Thank you for replying, I really appreciate your feedback.

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  6. A great, thought provoking post, Bella. I think that is getting more difficult to find quality fabrics, whether it be for garment or craft sewing. Selling is not something I have ever aspired to, one reason being that I don’t think anyone would pay what the project cost me in time and materials. Thanks for opening the discussion.

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  7. I made all of my clothes until I reached the age of 30. Fabric was great back then. Upon retiring after a 38 year long career I decided to quilt for my retirement hobby. I went to Walmart and purchased fabric. I thought that it was “real fabric”. What a mistake, but it was a good lesson. The fabric thread count is very low, and if one makes a quilt with that fabric, the odds that the quilt will last about 3 years. No Heirloom quilting there. JoAnn’s is very popular, but it is the same issue – poor quality fabric. I took an on-line class and learned that if I wanted to spend all the time that I put into my quilts and use cheap fabrics that I should not expect to have the quilt last past my lifetime. It was a very valuable lesson – one that made me realize how important it was to learn the Designers and the fabric companies.

    I remember the first time I purchased fabric from a Quilt Store – WOW $7.98 a yard for top fabric. It was a shock, but eventually I learned the value of spending the $ up front and knowing that any of my quilts will outlast me.

    Bella this is a great post and even if we do not sell our quilts (I do show quilts and have them appraised) as a custom made quilt, or one that we just want to sell, we need to realize just how much time it takes to make a quilt. I am working on one now that takes approximately 3 hours (providing there are no errors).

    In my opinion, the Modern quilt is just that! Modern full of squares and strips that make no rhyme or reason to me. But then I am a traditional quilter.

    In closing this book, I certainly understand that the majority of quilters do not make quilts for Show or Sell and it is a very expensive hobby. So I do not judge anyone for purchasing fabrics at Walmart, or Jo Ann’s because not all can afford the fabric at the price they charge now. I always look on-line for the fabric and can usually get the same for less. This is another issue for later discussion as I know we need our Quilt Shops for classes and the ability to touch and feel the fabric.

    Great post!

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    • My goodness Nanette, I wish we could sit down with a cup of tea or coffee and have a nice long chat: I’m am sure it would be a good one. Once upon a time fabric was priced fairly. I too use to make most of my own clothing, as well as clothing for my kids. Sometime around the 1990’s sewing became in vogue and the prices of fabric sky rocketed yet, as I am sure you are aware, the quality did not change. Nor did our fair wage for creating hand crafted items.

      I believe the real issue though, is the price that people are willing to pay skilled professionals for their time, expertise and effort. In a world where people throw away their money on frivolous items daily, I think it is high time that crafters everywhere started demanding a fair wage for their work. I do not believe that it is unreasonable to ask for it either.

      I also wish that crafters everywhere would stop saying, “No one is going to pay me what I am worth so I don’t bother trying”. That to me is a cop-out. How does a person know what someone is willing to pay, if we never put a price tag on our wares and put them out into the world for public viewing?

      The bottom line is that IF a person wants to sell their handcrafted items, they really need to stop making excuses and start moving forward. Ashley’s solution of cutting costs on the fabric is one way to lower the final cost of the finished product. It works for her and her clients and I wholeheartedly respect that. I would love to learn about how other sewers/crafters are fulfilling their desires of running a home-based business, without compromising their dignity.

      Thank you for commenting Nanette, this is a huge topic and there is much to discuss here. I value your opinion on this sensitive issue.

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  8. I don’t shop for fabric; the customer does.. The customer picks a pattern. I write up a list of required fabric yardage for the size quilt they want. IE color a color b color c and so forth. I explain the difference of one fabric over another with a list of places that sell fabric locally then let them go shopping wherever they choose to go.

    My reasoning is that when the quilt leaves me I may never see it again. The customer is the person living with the quilt so the colors and fabric must be something they are happy with. The colors I choose may be something they absolutely hate.

    My charge is for labor only. A cost of $300 for labor looks/sounds so much better than $500 with fabric costs added. I have had potential customers shocked at my labor costs. “You charge that much for a homemade quilt?” No mam. Homemade is when you make it yourself. My quilts are custom made. No different than asking a tailor to make a custom fitted suit. I always, always give a higher price estimate than I expect to get. When the customer is ready to pay I reduce the amount owed so the customer feels they got a bargain or else I’m covered in cases of something unexpected.

    I would much rather keep my prices high and make nothing at all than to be treated like a sweat shop servant with prices way too low. I’ll leave the cheap made stuff for Walmart and Dollar Store to sell. Making quilts this way I get to keep my dignity and the customers have personal responsibility for their choices. Anyone who believes my prices are too high are shopping at the wrong place. I may want to shop a pricey boutique but that doesn’t mean I can afford to shop there. So is it better for a quilter to slave over ten $200 quilts or only one $2,000 quilt?

    One more thing. I don’t have thousands of dollars tied up in fabric inventory either. I treat my business the same way as that of a professional dress maker or suit tailor. I keep only essentials necessary for almost every quilt such as thread, markers, and stabilizers.

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    • “Homemade” `vs’ “Custom Made”: I really like that. You make many great points here Anita, so many that I have printed out your comment for my personal reference material. Thank you for taking the time to read this post and sharing your perspective. Also, welcome back to my blog.

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