What’s A Quilt Worth?

Recently Country Living magazine featured a woman who started selling her quilts.  There’s nothing newsworthy about that, except the price given for one of her quilts  – $1900.  And the quilt in the photo?  Lap sized, consisting of broad solid stripes set at right angles to each other on a light solid background.  In other words, nothing complex.  It was hand quilted and the cloth was hand dyed.

My companions (all quilters) who read the article were aghast at the price, given the nature of the quilt.  According to the article, the woman has set up a business making quilts that employs a few people.  To me that implies she’s selling enough to pay other folks to do part of the work.  I was impressed that the 24 inch pillows for sale on her website were priced at $255. Interestingly, the woman’s background is textile design and fiber arts, so she may be approaching pricing from a gallery perspective.

front_page_pillow_1_grande

The reaction to that article started me thinking about how to put a monetary value on quilts.  Certainly there are appraisers for antique/vintage quilts; and an old quilt’s value will depend on its scarcity, uniqueness, condition, complexity and visual appeal.  And quilts that are really works of art made from fabric are often priced like other fine art and sold in galleries.

Then, there’s a vast gray area of quilts that fit more in the craft category.  Many of these are offered for sale on Etsy, eBay, individual websites, and at quilt shows.  In addition, quilters offer custom commissioned quilts in a variety of styles.  How are these prices set?  Time and materials?  Size of the quilt? What the market will bear?

My Etsy search for quilts returned 256,109 items. Probably about 25,000 of these weren’t really quilts, but to be conservative, let’s say there were 200,000 quilts for sale.  The types of quilts offered varied wildly from door hangers to “authentic reproductions of traditional quilts.” Prices for completed quilts ranged from about $25 to $50,000 (just one.) That’s quite a spread, though there were five pages of quilts priced from $2000 to $4000.

I became even more confused when I checked out quilts on eBay.  How do I explain to my in-laws that it’s reasonable to pay $1000 for a handmade king size quilt when they can buy one on eBay for $100 plus shipping?  As you can see from the photo, pillow shams are included. This is listed as a new “tea dyed, primitive, Americana wedding ring” quilt.  No country of origin is given in the ad, but I suspect it isn’t American made.

As I clicked around eBay I was struck by the number of old quilts offered for sale at prices ranging from $40 to $150.  Some have condition issues, but it breaks my heart to see a hand pieced, hand quilted snowball quilt described as in good condition with a high bid of $49. I defy anyone to make a twin size quilt for that price, even if you don’t include labor.

ebay-snowball-quilt

But to return to how to price quilts and the diversity in pricing, the TV documentary “Why Quilts Matter” touched on this when it talked about the divide between art and bed quilts.  Here’s Caryl Bryer Fallert’s formula to determine an art quilt’s price. Many of the costs she mentions are often overlooked by quilt makers.  I’ll leave it to you to work out the math, but my takeaway is her concluding sentence, “You are so right, too many people undercharge and give their work away…”

As for bed quilts, even more people undervalue these, in my opinion.  After all, if you can get a quilt with matching shams for $100, why should you pay more?  Well, there’s the uniqueness of the quilt, quality of the materials used, the complexity of the quilting, and the degree of customization and originality (colors, pattern, size.)

Unfortunately, quilters themselves may contribute to low prices for bed quilts. Witness the group of us exclaiming about a $1900 price tag on a quilt. I don’t think we fully realize the cost of making a quilt.  If you add up just the cost of fabric for the top and backing (assuming it’s commercial fabric), the batting, the thread, and quilting (if done by someone else); the total can easily approach $300 to $400 for a double to queen size quilt.  And that doesn’t account for any labor costs.

The Amish quilters ask more, and get it, for their quilts, but they’ve done a canny job of marketing.  Buyers can feel they own a piece of that simpler life and still use electricity.

Alas, it may simply come down to marketing and reaching your target audience rather than the intrinsic quality of the quilt.  So, forget those quilting classes if you want to sell your quilts.  Focus on marketing and merchandising ones instead.

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5 Comments

Filed under Commentary, Snark

5 responses to “What’s A Quilt Worth?

  1. charlotte

    What people that shop at walmart don’t understand is you get what you pay for. Walmart quilts are not American made, are not the quality of hand made and will never be passed down as a family heirloom.

  2. A quilting acquaintance of mine charges $50 to **hand quilt** your quilt for you, regardless of size. Needless to say, we were all stunned. She replied she just like to hand quilt and it ‘didn’t seem fair’ to charge more. I don’t believe in price gouging, but my philosophy is ‘Those who can, quilt; those who can’t, pay.’ It’s not a business for me, simply a (usually) relaxing hobby but I’d still expect to be paid fairly for the work and materials. Unfortunately, when you can buy it at Walmart for $19.95, not mainly folks are willing to pay what quality work is really worth.

    • Your group of quilters are incredibly fortunate to have such a generous acquaintance. Has she ever looked into how much Amish hand quilters charge when defining “fair”? The least expensive longarm quilters I know will charge about $50 for a pantograph pattern on a lap quilt, and prices go up from there.

      • The last I heard, her sister sat her down and had a serious talk about what a disservice she’s doing by charging so little. People come to expect something for nothing, especially if they don’t do whatever craft they’re looking to buy. I’ve had people say ‘Can you make me….?’ and my reply is always the price. I’ve never had a taker.

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