You have a longarm quilting business and someone asks you to make them a t-shirt quilt. What do you say?!
Maybe you love tshirt quilts? Maybe you hate them. 😬 Feelings aside (but really, I would never tell you to put your feelings aside), does it make financial sense to add this service to your menu of offerings as a longarm quilting business?
Custom quilts or custom quilting can mean different things in different contexts. For the sake of this conversation, I mean "custom" in a start-to-finish way with specific materials (t-shirts) provided by the client. Custom here does not refer to a specialized kind of layout or that areas of longarm quilting are specific to certain areas of the quilt.
Early on, when her hobby was just starting to morph into a business, Kristen made custom quilts for people. Then, she added fabric sales. Years later, she bought an APQS Freddie and outfitted it with Intelliquilter robotics and began offering longarm quilting services. Throughout her journey, she's been asked to make numerous t-shirt quilts. She's definitely learned some things and refined her process over time.
Kristen shared some key take-aways to make this offering worth her time:
For Kristen, a plain grid with all shirts being 15" square is the way to go. She will suggest a solid-color fabric to use as the sashing strips between, to nicely frame the t-shirts and give them a cohesive look.
Coming up with a layout different from a standard grid and "puzzling" it all out is not efficient.
Her current rate is $18/shirt—with a minimum of 9 shirts—and that includes everything needed to return a completed quilt. Adopting this pricing structure allows the client to head into the transaction knowing exactly what the final cost will be. The more t-shirts, the bigger the quilt and the more it will cost.
The clients who request a t-shirt quilt will likely not be the same clients who are contacting you for longarm quilting services, but they could be. The "general public" does not always know what to expect for the pricing of handmade goods, and being upfront with a price per t-shirt will remove the mystery early on and also save you time putting a bid or estimate together.
Kristen bought a used heat press she found on eBay, typically used for pressing vinyl. She applies a moist towel to the press and then steams the interfacing to the 15" t-shirt squares, prepping them for easy sewing and creating a very efficient system.
For the bulk of this one-hour interview, Kristen and I "talk shop" about her online fabric shop, so please note that she is buying her bolts of solid fabric for sashing, backing, and binding at wholesale costs, along with the interfacing and batting. If you do not have wholesale accounts established, your profit margins will either be smaller or you will have to charge more.
Find the price at which this service will be profitable and stick with it! It's okay to price it in a way that discourages tons of orders, if it's not something you love. It's okay not to offer it at all, too.
Your business, your rules.
This one-hour interview can now be found in our Longarm League archives, available to members.
The main focus of the call was about owning and operating an online fabric shop, what Kristen's timeline was for her business and how it transitioned from hobby to a business over the last five years.
Kristen spoke candidly about pre-selling new fabric, starting her business on Etsy, her strategy for growing and 'rules' she set up around that, which fabric companies she likes to work with, selling on Instagram, adding longarm quilting services to her business, updating her own website, growing her email newsletter list, deciding which collections to buy, her future dreams, and so much more!
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