Quilt Value and Price

Blog discussion about the value of a quilt has ranged from the economic – how to price a quilt for sale, to the emotional – what the gift of a quilt means to its maker and recipient.

The general consensus seems to be that often quilters don’t recoup their costs if they sell their quilts. However, many get enough satisfaction from making quilts for gifts they believe costs are beside the point. For more on this see the Catbird Quilt Studio’s series of posts and an earlier post of mine.

The Mooreapproved blog weighed in on this discussion with a lengthy post on the real cost of quilts. You may have seen this as I gather it was all over Facebook. I found it a helpful summary of several perspectives on valuing quilts based on interviews with quilters.

Given all of the above commentaries, why am I beating this exhausted horse? There are two reasons.

I made and donated two quilts offered at the recent National Quilt Museum online quilt auction. While my quilts made money for the museum, the online bids barely covered my costs, though I don’t know if bids increased at the live auction.

This cartoon I found on Pinterest, pinned by Sew’n Wild Oaks, illustrates how different the quilter’s perspective is from the rest of the world’s.

quilt donation cartoonThe second impetus for this post is the Mutton Hill Quilt Show coming up in October in Akron, Ohio. The organizers, friends of mine, will be soliciting donations for a quilt auction. I’ve been thinking which quilts to donate. I have some small pieces suitable for a silent auction, but even winning bids of $50 each won’t reflect the true costs of my original designs.

The show organizers also hope to get larger quilts donated for raffles. I have at least one larger original design quilt that I may offer. It’s won blue ribbons at local shows and has beautiful quilting (not done by me.) However, will it appeal enough to potential raffle ticket buyers to raise lots of money for the quilt show’s nonprofit sponsor? I’ll have to think about that, and solicit outside opinion. I have enough invested in this quilt to want it to bring a respectable amount of money. And let’s not talk about my fear of the quilting equivalent of throwing a party no one shows up for.

That brings me to pricing in the world of art quilts, where I aspire to hang out. I think how art quilt prices are set is different than for functional quilts because a work of art is different from a craft. This post on pricing works of art offers sensible advice that I think applies to fiber art. I don’t discount the role aesthetics play in the appeal and pricing of bed quilts, though I think it’s often a different aesthetic. And sometimes functional quilts transcend their function and are art. Conversely, sometimes quilts labeled as art may not be art.

I don’t mean to write a tutorial on pricing art quilts, but I do want to point out that quilters of any type are often their own worst enemies when it comes to valuing their work. Some commenters on the Mooreapproved post said they wouldn’t feel right charging for time spent sewing on binding when they were taking care of their children at the same time. Sadly, many quilters would probably agree. Oh, what about business people who bill for time they spend eating lunch, plus bill for the cost of the lunch?

By undervaluing a quilt’s worth we do ourselves and our fellow quilters a disservice. We drag down the market for quilts and we shortchange the work and thought that go into a gift quilt.

What’s the solution? Wiser heads than mine haven’t yet reached one. Possibly education, of ourselves and the potential audience for our quilts. Why? Because our quilts are worth it and deserve recognition of their value.



Filed under Commentary

20 responses to “Quilt Value and Price

  1. Pam

    I’m coming from the functional perspective of quilts. I often hear people say, “You’re so lucky to have a quilter in the family!” It’s nice to know that people are aware of the blood, sweat and tears we have all shed in the process. Implicit in this expression is that quilts are given or inherited, not bought, because paying for a unique and well-made quilt is not something that everyone can or wants to do. By the same token, making a quilt is not something everyone can or wants to do either. The difference lies with the maker.

    I am part of a two-income household and I do not rely on quilt making as an income source. I have enough have-to-dos and must-dos, so I highly value the meditative and therapeutic properties in hand-quilting. But if I were to leave my steady paycheck and health insurance on the table and go full steam into the quilt market, you can bet that I would make sure I was paid fairly for the work I do. Underpricing handwork does no one any favors, except for the buyer. Educate yourself: read quilt history, learn financial theory, follow the market and find out what truly makes you happy. This will make it much easier for you to name your price. Remember, whether you sell that quilt or give it away, once it leaves your hands it no longer belongs to you, whether the buyer wraps it in acid-free paper and stores it in a cedar closet, never to be seen again (my first nightmare), or uses it as a moving blanket (my second nightmare. Actually, my second through infinity nightmare). Define your work worth.

    Maybe we have diluted quilt values by trying to put a price on an object that at one time was true tactile expression of love, care and commitment. Quilts with a personal history are beyond monetizing, and the last time I checked, personal history can’t be bought in a big box store.

    • You make several excellent points, though I’ve known quilters who have demanded their quilts be returned after a friendship/romantic relationship breakup. In fact, I was talking to some last night. Yes, price and value don’t necessarily coincide, but if you decide to make money at quilting then you’ll want to be compensated fairly. It may be that quilters need to have an answer ready in case they’re asked “how much would you charge for that quilt?” And to factor in all the costs involved to arrive at that answer.

  2. Diane Bird

    I’m an art quilter, so my experience may be different than those who make quilts to keep body and soul warm. I charge between $150 and $300 per sq ft, depending on venue and intricacy of the piece. I charge this much because I think I am worth it. I think my art is worth it. Please note, I haven’t sold any quilts and I may never do so, but it’s OK. If we don’t value our work, then how can we expect others to do so?

  3. Given the economics of quilting and the difficulty of getting a fair price, it seems quite unlikely that many professional quilters are making their living by selling quilts…unless as one quilter in the Quiltonomics article stated, they are making set patterns with (I assume) limited and standard quilting,and are able to make and sell a decent number of those.

    Beyond the question of fair pricing of quilts, though, there is the entire question of how quilters support themselves given the entire range of quilt and fabric-related income sources outside of quilt making: virtual or physical quilt shops, fabric design, sale of patterns, classes, blog monetization via sponsors and ads, custom quilting, and for a lucky few, quilt shows, just to name the ones I can think of offhand. I would love to know the distribution of income for well-known quilters and quilt bloggers. I suspect that those who actually support themselves make a significant percentage of their income from classes, but that is just a guess.

    • I’ve read a blog post on fabric designing and it’s not pretty. The post can explain it far better than I can summarize.

      I’ve had plenty of questions about the rest on your list, also. Teachers may well fair best, if they’re in demand. But if you look at what’s required of teachers at AQS shows, they need to teach the whole show to have travel expenses (incl. hotel) covered. Otherwise it’s an expensive trip for them. Book authors don’t make anything like a “fair” wage unless they’re one of a lucky few, and mostly it gives them cred for other endeavors they want to do. Yes, thinking through the list I come back to what I’ve thought before — those who make money are probably the fabric manufacturers.

      • A friend who wanted to get into designing fabric was told by a nationally known quilter that there’s no money in fabric design. My friend did win a design competition and her fabric was printed. I do know she was visiting quilt shops and encouraging the owners to buy that fabric line. So, in addition to poor pay, you get to do your own marketing. I’m left scratching my head who makes $ in quilting. Maybe it’s on all those rulers.

  4. Everybody gets to make the quilts they want to. Here’s one example — a quilt top in an hour…

  5. patty

    I agree pricing is hard and when you tell someone how much you want for a quilt, the looks you can get! Non-quilters just don’t understand how much time it takes to make a quilt! We need to talk about the Mutton Hill show. I had never heard about it. Do you think I ought to enter “Where’s Jimmy?” Judge or exhibit only?

  6. Seth Godin on substitutions:

    The thing is, people see any bed cover as a substitute for a bed quilt. Once you’re asleep, who cares what it looks like? So that $50 thing from the big store is just as good for warmth as the $2500 quilt.

    There’s nothing wrong with this. It just requires us, the makers, to be sure we know where our value is coming from. Cuz it probably won’t be from the bucks we make.

  7. There isn’t a good solution here I’ve found. For me only me, I’ve started estimating how many hours I put into a quilt. (Since I’m making medallions these days, I estimate based on how many borders and their complexity. I figure they take from 5-20 hours per border, generally. That counts from fabric purchase time to quilting/binding. If I sold them, I’d add marketing time. It’s nowhere near precise, but better than not thinking about it at all.) Then I use a wage to calculate the value of my labor. (And note that doesn’t include benefits, SS, or anything else.) Adding the cost of materials and rounding up for indirect costs, I come to some sense of dollar value. I’ve also shared numbers like these a few times on facebook (my personal page, not the blog page) to help educate people on what’s involved in making and how that impacts “value.”

    It’s also educated ME and given me a stronger sense of purpose. Not sure that’s the right word. But if I’m going to invest/spend so much time on a project, I want it to be meaningful to me. I want to have an emotional connection to it and not look at it as (just) a means to spend time pleasurably. I want to learn something important about design. I want to catch my breath with delight during the process. And I want to feel that when I give that quilt to someone (as I probably will,) it will mean a lot to ME, be a gift to ME, regardless of how they receive it.

    Does this make sense?

    Thanks for the post. You’re not beating the horse. I’m not sure we can talk about this enough.

    • “I want to catch my breath with delight during the process.” That is why I quilt. Thank you for putting my feeling into words. There’s so many aspects of what determines the value of a quilt, and the cost of making it is just one. If we’re making quilts purely to sell them the calculus is different from making them for our own pleasure. For the former, streamlining and economies of scale in construction, and making what sells, assume more important roles. If we’re making quilts as art, then the artist’s reputation plays a big role. Think about what that Picasso painting just sold for. And of course there’s canny marketing and presentation. Keep writing about what it costs you to make a quilt, and the pleasure you get from it.

  8. I can’t imagine donating a quilt and then seeing it be raffled off for a pittance. The show organizers are doing their won disservice to quilters if they allow that to happen!

    • Show organizers have no control over how many raffle tickets are sold. Obviously they can control the PR for the raffle, but after that the raffle quilt has to sell itself, so to speak. Some raffle quilts can bring in $1000; others possibly $500. I’m basing these numbers on my guild’s experiences with raffle quilts. To put this in perspective, a pittance for a raffle quilt of any merit would be about $500.

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