A quilt of Lill’s clothes, and how to execute a commission quilt project
A commission quilt of Lill’s clothing, made using my Stepping Stones pattern.
Just before the holiday season, I finished a memory quilt. This one was for a lovely new friend who lost her mom, Lillian, to cancer about 2 years ago. As you may notice, Lill, as her friend’s called her, was a fan of color and wore very happy clothing. I have a strong feeling I would like her very much!
I’ve done commissions for a few years now, and thought would break down my process. These kind of projects used to be very stressful and confusing to me. When I started, I felt inadequate and not “good enough” to do them. Plus there was not much out there by way of guidelines or rules. I didn’t know how much time to allow and felt like every single one needed to be completely original and custom. Basically worked myself into a tizzy!
But experience (and age) has made this process so much easier. I’ve made it a personal challenge to figure out how to make them work for me, because I enjoy them. My ability to effectively communicate, quote, design, and execute them is not always perfect, but much, much better with experience.
Let me preface all of this by saying what works for me may not work for everyone, but here goes-
For this particular commission I got lucky- the person who wanted it was local to me. No shipping back and forth, making the entire process of handoff and delivery much easier. We initially “met” via FaceTime to discuss the project and her expectations. I love meeting this way! (In fact, I now offer video call quilt consultations!) Its easy and and helpful for several reasons-
- If the person is local, there’s really no reason for them to lug boxes of clothes and personal items to a meeting place if we’re not even sure the project will go forward.
- Video allows us to discuss the project and I can look at the pieces I have available to work. I also like to know how the idea of making a quilt came to be. Learning about the one who is being honored in a quilt like this, and the person I’m making it for are important at this stage.
- I can run through my process, find out when they hope to have the finished quilt, and give a general time frame. (I have looked at my schedule before this call, and know where I will fit it in.) My time frame for commissions is usually three months, but occasionally I can do two months. The quilt commission above was for Hanukkah. I want them to know they are in very good hands.
- What size do they want the quilt to be? What type of design do they like? (A private Pinterest board shared only between the two of you is a great way to share ideas to get an feel for the client’s style or aesthetic.) I also make suggestions, point to different quilts I’ve done that could inform the design ideas I have about their quilt. My assumption is that they like my work and would like a quilt made in my style of quilt making- scrappy and value-based.
I feel its important to note that I don’t quote any pricing during this initial meeting. Only after. I have heard of others creating a set price or set base price for this type of project, which I wish made sense to me. I have just never been able to to price these types of projects any way other than individually. There’s just so many factors to consider. Am I designing a quilt from scratch? Can I use a pattern I’ve already produced? Will I be given only knit or other fussy fabrics, which will require extra prep time?
Creating a Estimate
After the call, I sit down and, factoring in everything, and create an estimate.
- New design or existing pattern? Lill’s quilt was based on the pattern I designed last year, Stepping Stones. It was perfect for the pieces I would be using. I saw ample opportunity to play with stripes, color value, and motifs. That shaved a ton of design time off, speeding up the entire process. If I had been starting from square one, I would need to factor in more design time, and client input, which equals higher costs. (Note: if it is a new design, I don’t start the design process until the partial invoice is paid and the project is committed to.)
- I don’t literally charge by the hour for these projects, but you certainly could calculate your costs that way. As I said above, I’m pretty fast at making a quilt, and am able to anticipate when a design would be fussy or complicated, i.e. more time consuming. I know my strengths and can create a project that works within that.
- Quilt Size? They usually want queen or king sized quilts. I usually suggest throw sized quilts, which can go at the foot of the bed, over a sofa, be used for napping, or even hung on a wall if desired. Bigger will add to cost, obviously.
- Does fabric/clothing need to be prepped before quilting? Knits like t-shirts and special fabrics must be backed with a lightweight fusible stabilizer in order to be sewn into a quilt. This definitely adds to the cost and time frame. I buy a lightweight, fusible interfacing by the bolt and charge for approximate amounts I expect to use. If I overestimate and factor in too much? Great! I can refund that amount. (I discuss the type of interfacing I use in my book.)
- Do they want any clothing remnants not used in the quilt returned to them? That shipping weight will need to be estimated as well.
- Backing fabric and batting. I always do a solid back, but as an added bonus I will piece in a couple of special things. For example, on this project I pieced two t-shirt fronts on the back. Not creating an overcomplicated back saves time and money.
- Shipping charges and insurance? Quilts are expensive to ship, don’t be surprised by shipping charges. I currently have about 50 quilts in my studio of various sizes. Based on what the size of the commission quilt will be, I can calculate a pretty fair weight estimate. I ask if they want to insure the box and, if yes, factor that in too.
I send the estimate within 24-48 hours, with a stipulation that 50% of the total cost is due within 48 hours if they agree to go ahead with the project. Any longer than that, the deadlines and my ability to execute will be affected. My bookkeeping system (Outright) sends invoices and estimates electronically, and allows them to click on a link and pay via paypal. My goal is to always make it easy and straightforward.
Pricing these projects will always be subjective, and individual. My best advice here is don’t undercut your price. You likely won’t enjoy creating the quilt, and will resent the process. Which doesn’t really serve anyone well. Many clients are shocked at the price quote initially, but with experience, the ones I enjoy working with the most understand what type of project this is.
Prepping to Begin the Project
I start to create a schedule of what will get done when. Starting with scheduling a meeting with them to get the clothing or prompting them to send them to me (with tracking). I have a pretty detailed daily schedule and am able to schedule time throughout the week to work on a project. Although some projects I have just started and powered through until its done. Either way works, and I’ve done both.
If I am designing a layout that is completely new, as I’m waiting for the boxes to arrive, I will create 2 or 3 different layouts in Adobe Illustrator, and email to the client for approval (paper trail= important!). These layouts are based on what I can realistically execute using what I will be given. Because I do scrappy, value-based quilts, I’ll create these initial layouts in gray scale, to try make them as easy to understand as possible. I will also link to quilts I’ve done that may help them see what I’m talking about. The client is looking at me, the designer, for the expertise at this stage. Their input is important, but you should also present yourself as a confident designer of the quilt, which will reassure them that they are in good hands.
If the design is a pattern I’ve done already, I skip the above step, clear off my worktable, and cross off things on my schedule while I wait for the boxes.
I batch produce these quilts. Meaning, I prep all the pieces (such as stabilizing the back), then I cut all the pieces, then sew all the blocks, etc. There are exceptions, when this doesn’t work as well, but typically, its a very efficient way for me to work and keeps everything organized.
There’s not usually “in process” photos sent to the client. I explain to them early on that I may “go dark” for a bit at this stage. What I mean is, at this point, I don’t necessarily ask for their design input, unless I have a specific question or issue. Me sending progress photos can complicate things. If I am the designer, I should design the quilt. I will send an email midway through the time frame, just to let them know that I am on schedule, can’t wait to show them, etc., but it will not include a photo unless we’ve decided to, back at the initial stage. I don’t make a big deal of this, and state all of this upfront. I’ve never had an issue.
It was explained that Lill started lots of needlework and craft projects, but often didn’t finish them. (I can relate!) I immediately knew I’d put an unfinished cross stitch piece in the quilt. See below, circled in pink.
I finished it for you Lill! ❤️
Project Completion and Handoff
I almost always try to complete the project a week before its due date. Is this just quirky to me? Last minute stresses me out, and can’t do all nighters anymore. I email them to let them know its ready, with the updated invoice to reflecting the balance of the project cost. They may want to see a picture at this point if they haven’t seen one yet, so I will send a clear photo in good lighting, to represent the quilt in the best way, so they can get a true feel. Usually at this point we are both so excited we’re “email squealing”!
The final invoice is sent out, paid promptly (hopefully). The quilt ships with tracking and insurance if requested.
What if they aren’t happy?
I have not had this come up, but it absolutely might at some point and I’ve given some thought as to how I would handle it. Its always important to remember- these types of commissions, although business transactions, are emotional. Its important to be respectful of the client and how they may feel. If they are unhappy, whether you feel its unrealistic or warranted, you should do all you can to make it right. It this means offering a partial or full refund, based on the circumstances, do what you feel is appropriate. I would rather lose money on a project than have a client unhappy and dissatisfied.
*I free motion quilt these quilts myself, although not crazy intricate quilting. This part almost more enjoyable to me than the piecing. I machine, then hand stitch the binding on, and sew a label on the back.
Hope that helps someone out there thinking of a project like this! They are immensely satisfying when everyone is happy, and I remember every one I’ve done.
If you are interested in discussing your own quilt project like this with me, see more here. I’d love to work with you on it!