Selling quilts: What I’ve discovered so far

As the text in the blog header indicates I do absolutely love patchwork and quilting.  To me it is a consuming hobby; a very satisfying creative outlet; supplier of a seemingly endless number of learning opportunities; and it also provides social possibilities too – friendships develop through local quilt groups, workshops and online. As a hobby it is not cheap and it can take up quite a lot of space… To fund my obsession and to prevent my home being over run with fabric and completed projects I have endeavored to sell some of the patchwork related items I make.  These attempts have met with varying levels of success/failure and even some guilt.

Selling craft is tough!  As Melanie so eloquently explains in a series of posts: more often than not handmade crafts are undervalued by both sellers and buyers. Finding the right market/clients is difficult and can lead makers to drop prices well below that which would secure a ‘living wage’. This can result in ‘hobby maker-sellers’ (like myself) undermining the market for professional crafters.  This argument in particular has made me feel guilty about attempting to sell my quilts at what amounts to little more than cost price. Although, having observed and reflected upon the canny success of some quilt makers I have been feeling less troubled about this lately.  Looking at the websites of innovative, professional quilt makers I see they have moved from selling their quilts to using their quilts to advertise their patterns, fabric ranges, classes (real time and on-line) and lectures. Once a good reputation and a large enough following have been established, enterprising quilters are able to obtain the endorsement and sponsorship of fabric designers and retailers, making quilts to showcase new lines of fabric. Others branch out to provide longarm quilting services, become fabric/notion retailers, author books, write articles for magazines and are invited to design and publish quilt patterns, and some gain revenue from commercial advertising space on their blogs.

Having sold a reasonable number of items, and applying some of what I’ve understood about marketing to my ‘hobby maker-seller’ status I am moving away from being content with selling at only a little more than cost price (sometimes less once venue costs, machine wear and tear, electricity etc are included). It was paying the 20% commission on each item sold in the pop-up shop that acted as my wake-up call. Whilst enjoying selling on a much more successful scale than anything I’d tried previously, I was basically charging nothing for my time and receiving even less.

I am wrestling to reconcile what happens in my sewing room: is it about doing my hobby or about ‘running a business’? I need to sort this out as I don’t want to be using time ineffectively. Do I really need to be taking time to sort out the SEO on the items in my Etsy shop or be figuring out how to acquire a client database or keeping my Facebook page up to date or struggling to understand financial spreadsheets? A couple of months ago I asked my prayer partners to pray with me about the way my business (‘business’ said very tentatively) should develop, if at all.  Well!  Be careful what you wish pray for is the first lesson learned!  These past few weeks I have been provided with, and taken, several opportunities to move on a few steps; developing my ‘brand’; designing and making ‘products’ for the soon to be reopened pop-up craft shop; and preparing examples and course notes for classes at Purple Stitches, a local quilt shop.

I took my logo to a printers, so pleased with the result! I sorted through my scraps and made thirty 4″ blocks to create the border. The finished banner measures 48″ x 28″ and I’ll use it at craft fairs and in the pop-up craft shop.
I designed and made a table runner – particularly pleased with the spiral walking foot quilting 🙂 This will be for sale in the pop-up shop. And I followed a Beth Studley pattern given me by Viv of Purple Stitches and made a storage pod, this will be on display in her shop 🙂
I made a tote bag using fabrics from Purple Stitches as an example to promote a class I hope to teach in June.

But now I have to admit I’m tired and full of self doubt *sigh*.  What does this mean?  Am I going down the wrong path or is the oft repeated school report phrase ‘lacking self confidence’ still true? Or maybe I’m just experiencing the tough ‘downside’ of pushing a retail idea forward into the public domain? It is hard work!

My sewing room suffering project overload!

Writing all this is helping me to work through some of the muddle in my brain (take a look at the photo to see this muddle working it’s way into my sewing room!). My enjoyment of patchwork and quilting hasn’t diminished; my head is full of half-formed patterns, designs and projects; I do enjoy making things to sell; I don’t have a clear ‘vision’ of what my business would look like, do I need ‘vision’ to move forwards?; the P&Q bloggers who are developing their hobby into a commercial venture appear to be enjoying what they do; there doesn’t have to be a clear division between sewing for pleasure and sewing for business; sometimes working to deadlines and adapting projects/ideas to suit clients can make sewing more business than pleasure; then, advancing a business can bring much needed funds for ‘pleasure sewing’; I really enjoy sharing new ideas and skills, taking classes is a good option for me…

I wonder if anyone who has been patient enough to get to the end of this ramble of a post is at a similar point in the growth of a hobby/business? Maybe you’ve taken it beyond this point and worked through the process of putting what you do for pleasure into a commercial context? Has it been difficult to reconcile the two? Or is it just a privilege to call something we love doing ‘work’ and therefore no distinctions need be made?


Linking my finishes with  Amanda Jean at Finish It Up Friday



18 thoughts on “Selling quilts: What I’ve discovered so far

  1. Yes, it’s a muddle. My ambition rises and falls just about as quickly. I’d love to teach and present more, except honestly it’s a lot of work, and it’s a lot of work to even set up gigs. So I dig in a little and move that way, and then I dig in my heels and resist. Back and forth… It’s not a matter of self-confidence for me. It’s not being sure I want to work that hard, and not wanting to set up obligations for myself that I might resent later. I have all the freedom now to do what I want. But if I sign contracts or make agreements, that disappears. Thanks for the honest post.

    • Thanks for taking time to read through it all. Maybe there always will be a tension between creative freedom and making a living from a craft. I do find myself baulking at commission work and don’t like having too many commitments in my diary but it is these very things that are teaching me the value of what I do!

  2. I sympathize with you, having to make decisions about creating and selling or choosing to focus on one or the other. For me, the pressure to create (in order to sell) would strongly reduce the joy of creating. And then, knowing the time I spent to create, having to sell for less than the value of my time and supplies would be very discouraging (especially because I don’t create speedily). I hope you receive good inspiration about how to proceed, Allison.

    I love your banner, especially the little blocks that create the border. Fabulous!

    • I wouldn’t want to sell after the amount of creativity and time you put into your beautiful quilts Nancy. I did put one handquilted quilt in the pop up shop and I didn’t feel happy that strangers might handle it or pass judgement on it. I’m glad it didn’t sell, I’ve realised I am emotionally attached to it and will be keeping it. I am really pleased with the way the banner turned out ☺ it provided a good talking point with passersby at a fair last weekend.

  3. I am in a similar spot now, I spend one weekend a month at shows and they are a marketing device rather than an income generator. online networking seems to connect me to interested clients more effectively. I am also getting some repeat and referral clients from my personal contacts at a local quilting group and volunteering at the elementary school. The in-perfon contacts are the best most effective for me. I like to have these small projects that can be completed enmasse, but they do make me eager to get back to something more creative than assembly line sewing.

    • That’s interesting. I think there is a very strong connection between face to face contact and selling handmade crafts – people like to meet the maker. I did an online marketing course and building relationships was given emphasis with 3 key words: know, like and trust. I hope you continue to build on your success – give yourself time to be creative too ☺

  4. I think it’s great that you are thinking about all of this, in the end you will work out what’s best for you. I agree with Denise about the personal connections. Keep doing what you love and that will show!

  5. Hi Allison, nice post and some great projects. Your banner is especially good. I made a good ‘go’ of my pottery business but it was a lot of work and while it was very satisfying creatively I never really made much money at it in relation to time spent – not as much as some people speculated anyway !
    I taught classes for 21 years and I always had a little giddiness about being paid to get together with people to show them something I was passionate about. I have sold some of my quilts and potholders but I’m not sure where I am going with it and sometimes make multiples of things and then wonder “what the heck for ?” You make a good point about getting attached to some of your makes – I’m doing this too but don’t have an end in mind for the items.

    • I think lots of crafter’s ‘fall’ into teaching and selling a relatively small number of items rather than developing a full blown business. I don’t have the drive to try and make a living through craft and I would be sad if what I love doing became a ‘job’ so I think it will stay small time and I’ll enjoy the opportunities it brings as they arise.

  6. I’ve found enjoying quilting and selling quilts are totally different. Quilting is the easy one. Branding, selling, pricing, and so on are the reason I don’t sell very many quilts. In fact, I do what I love and let customers find me. There aren’t many (surely not enough to support much) but my customers are always happy and that’s what matters. Good luck with whatever you decide. It’s lots of work and hard (for me anyway) but surely it’s worth it if you can figure out your niche.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience of selling quilts Mary. I think you’ve picked on a keyword with ‘niche’ – that was used a lot in the marketing course! I would think being true to what you like in the quilts you make gives a genuineness and integrity that is attractive to those who find you.

  7. I’ve had friends ask me if I sell what I make and the answer is NO because of all of what you’ve said above. My guilt comes from the amount of fabric I’ve accumulated over several years and what to do with it all! Make pretties and give them away, I guess!

    • Yep! There’s a lot to be said for enjoying making something and then having the added pleasure of giving it away. It is lovely to have someone in mind as you make a quilt – deadlines such as birthdays and weddings can add a twinge of tension though 😀 And there are charities glad to accept quilts too. Hope you are blessed as you give.

  8. I have to admit, you’ve described why I decided to keep mine just as a hobby and not try to create a business out of it. I was afraid I would take something I really enjoy and make it into work. That being said, I’m really glad others do make money at it because you are obviously very skilled and if I didn’t make quilts myself, I would buy from you!

    • Aww! That’s very kind, thank you. There have been a few times when I’ve thought, ‘I’m not enjoying this’ -nearly always when I’ve accepted a commission, so I avoid those unless it’s something I feel sure I can get done quickly.

  9. Your banner is gorgeous! I waffle constantly on this subject. I have more quilts than I need and yet, sometimes working on commission type work totally sucks the joy out for me. Since I have my long arm, that is the most obvious business opportunity. But honestly, I enjoy doing volunteer work for Quilts of valor and the like to having to do the business part. I’m certain God will bless you as you seek His will in this venture.

    • Thank you Katy. It’s just finding a balance isn’t it? Thankfully I’m not trying to earn a living from quilting but if I am selling some of the things I make I think it’s important they’re not undervalued, both for my sake and that of other quilters.


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