craft business, Quilting

T-Shirt Quilts – My Process FAQ

Yesterday, while waiting to have new tires installed on my SUV, I finalized the design of a t-shirt quilt and conducted an initial phone consult with another customer. Pleased to say that after 4 years in business, I finally received a local referral from someone completely unrelated to family, friends or school/work. The person’s name she gave as the one who gave her my contact information didn’t even ring a bell.  That made my day!

Basically, the process goes something like this:

  1. Decide which t-shirts you want to use in the quilt.
  2. Launder your t-shirts as usual, but do not use fabric softener.
  3. Indicate which side of the t-shirt you want used in the quilt.
  4. Think about colors you might want to use for borders & sashing. Most customers let me choose, but blue and gray are very popular.
  5. Make arrangements to get the t-shirts to me (local pickup or ship).
  6. Pay a $100 deposit.That’s all you have to do. I do the rest. 

    Lead times vary, depending on my day job and how busy I am with other quilts in the queue. I have completed a twin-size in as little as 3 weeks (around a full-time job). Lead times during busy season (like right now with graduation) might be 8-12 weeks.

    Final price depends on number of t-shirts, size of quilt, extended borders, photo blocks, pieced blocks, etc. I can give you an estimate when you first contact me; however, the final price will be determined once I see your items.

    I will send you updates periodically during the process. If you have a firm deadline, please communicate this at the very beginning. Once completed, I will send you a photo of the quilt and we will make delivery arrangements at that time.  Any balance due must be paid before I ship the quilt. Local customers can pay at pick-up.

    Then, enjoy your fabulous new quilt and wrap yourself up in memories!



Piecing blocks with directional fabric

I’m currently working a quilt using the Duck Duck Goose pattern from Summercrafter Patterns (edited my moi!).

Here are the completed duck and goose blocksduckduckgoose. See the ducks with the yellow/white ovals? And the goose on the second row?  Those blocks involved piecing with directional fabrics. It’s not difficult to do, but it does require some advance planning on your part.


  1. Decide which end is up on the fabric – this will be the top of any cut pieces.
  2. Before cutting, study the fabric and plan the direction/sequence you’ll need to cut to make certain all pieces are oriented the correct way.
  3. Make sure you turn pieces the right way when sewing. Here’s a handy diagram I made to help remember which way to turn the fabrics when making corner units or HSTs. This example shows a snowball block:

(Directional base fabrics should be turned in this direction!)

The arrows indicate which way to orient the top of the fabric squares to                          maintain a one-way design after sewing.

I often sew in the evenings after a long day at school. I don’t want to think too much about what I’m sewing. This diagram in my sewing notebook helps immensely!

**Goose block cutting changes if using directional fabric for the background** 
Cut two (2) 3″ squares of each fabric for the tail feathers instead of the single square listed in the pattern directions.


craft business, Quilting

Hacking my Janome 8900QCP

Perhaps MODIFYING would be a better term to use instead.  🙂

Modified straight stitch plate (back view) for my Janome 8900QCP

Why did I want to hack my sewing machine in the first place? Because I wasn’t getting an accurate scant 1/4″ seam with the zigzag plate – even with the walking foot and 1/4″ sole. To me, the straight stitch plate offers greater accuracy with piecing, so I searched for a solution.

ISSUE #1: Cannot adjust needle position for a scant 1/4″ when the straight stitch plate is installed.

HACK:  Switch out the sensor on the back of the zigzag plate with the one on the straight stitch plate. Turn both needle plates over. See the white plastic thingie in the lower right corner of the photo? That’s the sensor that tells the computer which plate you have installed. If you unscrew the sensors and switch them correctly, your machine will think you have the zigzag plate installed when you really have the straight stitch plate on.  Take a photo with your phone before removing them so you can remember which way to reinstall them later.

I could now adjust for my scant 1/4″ seam, but I still couldn’t use the walking foot with the 1/4″ sole because I didn’t have a hole in the needle plate to accommodate the “right needle” position that stitch D95 requires…

ISSUE #2:  Lack of a 3 hole straight stitch needle plate for the base model 8900 so you can’t use the walking foot and stitch D95 on your “modified” straight stitch plate.

HACK:  Order a modified plate from a sewing machine dealer who specializes in modifying needle plates for this very reason (several were recommended on the Janome 7700/8900 Yahoo Group). I contacted one dealer who informed me the plates he needed to make the modifications to were backordered.  OR here’s my DIY solution: Take a 3/32″ high speed metal drill bit and drill yourself a hole on your existing straight stitch needle plate (or have hubby do it for you). You will also want to pick up some crocus cloth or super fine grit metal polishing sandpaper at the hardware store, if you don’t already have this on hand. That will smooth any rough edges on the underside of the needle plate. I can now get a perfect scant 1/4″ seam using my modified needle plate, walking foot with 1/4″ sole, with stitch D95 and an 8.8 stitch width.  Sure, the front of the needle plate is a little scuffed from the drill, but it doesn’t affect usability. When you go to sell/trade the machine, you can pick up a new needle plate for $50.00 or less.


craft business, Quilting

Planning for unexpected business disruptions

I missed 3 days of school this week due to whatever upper respiratory malaise is currently making the rounds.  My school district has a procedure where we report our absences electronically and the system finds a substitute to cover for us. Lesson plans were already done for the week, so all my parapro had to do was make the copies they’d need and fire up the reserve laptop to cover classes.  I returned on Friday (still without a voice) and tweaked the lessons so my kids could read Valentine stories to their classmates instead of me.

As I laid in bed (now on my second box of tissues), I thought about how would I handle my small creative arts business if I were out of commission for a couple of weeks dealing with my own illness or that of a loved one?  Or what about fire, theft, machinery breakdown, bad weather, etc.  I’m a solo business owner – it’s all on me. If I had assistants things would be different, but this is what I came up with:

(1) Manage what I can – I learned the hard way to keep two reliable back-up machines in the studio (a Janome 3160qdc and an Elna Carina) in case the main machine goes AWOL while making a commissioned quilt.  I keep extras of commonly used supplies on hand so I don’t have to run to the store in the middle of the night or be at the mercy of the weather when I’m snowed in.  I also use cloud based services for accounting, financial and contact management. Heavily used files are uploaded to Google Drive so I don’t have to worry about my laptop malfunctioning. I also backup my computer on a regular basis.

(2) Have a buddy for referrals – I have a couple of friends to whom I can refer a project if I get in a pickle. Of course, I’ll have to pick up the costs associated with having them finish the project, but at least I will keep my promise to my customers.

(3) Communicate with your customer about what’s happened if you aren’t able to keep the deadline. 95% of the time, most will be understanding and aren’t on that time sensitive of a deadline. Shift things around if you must to keep those firm deadline projects on track or outsource the 5% that will help you keep your sanity.

(4) If you really suffer a devastating loss such as a fire, flood or death of a family member, communicate with your customers as soon as possible. I have at least 2 referral buddies I could count on to handle this for me (and I’d do the same for them). If not, a virtual assistant can be a godsend. Hopefully, you also carry a business insurance policy on your home-studio because chances are your homeowner’s policy won’t cover business losses (unless you have a special rider or endorsement).  In this sort of situation, there’s really not much you can do except to communicate with your clients.

Do you have any other things you’d like to add?


craft business, Quilting

Watching costs improves your bottom line

I love quilting and often create things for the sheer joy of it.  Lots of time, love and extra special fabrics go into quilts for loved ones without considering the cost. Moving from hobby to business quilter required a change in mindset.

My goal is to provide a quality service for my customers at fair price for both of us.  So far, so good, but materials costs are rising and I am afraid I’ll lose some of my customer base if I raise my prices too much.

Basically, I have two ways to improve my profitability – cut costs or increase prices. (Remember, the purpose of being in business is to make a profit?) Cost cutting can include buying supplies at cheaper prices or investing in equipment that will save production time without sacrificing quality.  I do have some wholesale suppliers, but the fabric wholesalers currently have minimums that are out of my reach.

What’s a micro business owner to do?  
(1) Limit customer options.
(2) Shop retail on sale and stock up.
(3) Some combination of 1 & 2 with upcharges for certain things clearly spelled out.

I choose option #3.

I limit customer options with regard to:
(a) overall design (grid, wonky or mosaic)
(b) machine quilting (straight line at 1″ intervals, simple meander or loopy meander)
(c) thread color

(a) Fabric above a certain price point. This allows the customer to use any fabric they want, but means I don’t have to absorb the cost of the fabric they must have and can only be found at the LQS for $13.75/yard.
(b) Fancy machine quilting or anything over a twin size. Most of my orders are for lap size quilts (roughly 50″x66″), so anything over a twin automatically goes to the local longarm quilter. Customers are told this when they first inquire about my services. (Note: I now have a mid-arm machine and am practicing my quilting designs).

My interfacing and batting come from the big box craft stores when they are on sale and there’s either an additional 20% off the purchase or I use my 15% teacher discount.  If I find a backing fabric that I really like at a quilt shop or the big box craft store, I may buy the entire bolt if it’s at a really good price.

Cost comparison for a 3 x 4 grid t-shirt quilt (50″ x 66″)

6 yards of interfacing, 6-1/4 yards of fabric and a twin package of batting from Joann:
Full retail:  $130.00  Carefully shopped: $86.00

THIS MEANS $44.00 more in your pocket by watching how/where you shop.

You might even save a few more dollars if you hit things on sale at the right time. 

In my area, the going rates for a 12 t-shirt grid style quilt with sashing and a border range from $195.00 to $380.00.  That’s a pretty wide range of prices. The person at the high end is rumored to have to turn away business. I’m somewhere in the middle. I’d really like to see how the company that charges $195.00 makes any money. Are they able to save on supplies, have super speedy construction methods or are they paying themselves $3.00 an hour at the end of the day?  Yes, there are times when I’ve probably averaged $3.00 per hour on some projects in the beginning stages, but thankfully, not anymore. 🙂