Quilt Appreciation 101

When I’ve been asked “how much do you want for that” when quilting a quilt top already done, or adding a border and quilting, or doing a whole quilt from scratch, I never know what quite to say. Many a quilter is stumped by this question – because they know the number of hours (no quilt takes less than “hours”, does it?) they have spent doing this work. How much would it be if one charged minimum wage? Should one charge more than that because it’s a specialized artistic talent? What are some of the steps and time requirements in  creating a quilt?

Well, I hope to be able to shed some light on the work that goes into a hand-made quilt so maybe, just maybe,  I can raise the appreciation.  Maybe I’ll just deter many from trying it.  Did I say quilts are projects?

  1. Quilt design and sketch – When doing embroidered blocks, having some pre-done blocks or someone else’s unfinished object (UFO), it takes time after deciding on the finished size to figure out how to set up the layout, how many borders, adding sashing, one or two? In other words, designing can take time. Lots of time.  I ALWAYS use graph paper to sketch out the full quilt in the proper ratios, so I can be sure the finished product will look good. I use this sketch to figure out the number of pieces I need to cut, the length and width of each piece, and how much yardage I need to have for each color and the backing. This process can take 15 minutes or 3 or more hours.
  2. Figuring and calculating yardage needed – If you have a pattern and use the pattern exactly as written, the yardage needs are usually spelled out for you. However, most of the time, you want to make something larger or smaller, or maybe they had 8 color choices, and you want to use only 5 – etc. I always check the calculations of border sizes, block sizes, to finished quilt size, and yardage needed three times before continuing. This can take from 15 minutes to a couple hours or a bit more.
  3. Pre-washing and drying material – depends on how many rinses one has to do – so this can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. For those who say, “why pre-wash?” – see my previous post on this topic.
  4. Ironing fabrics – Since all fabrics are pre-washed, it’s best to iron before cutting and especially before quilting. Gives you more uniform pieces and also makes basting go better. Takes at least an hour, but usually longer.
  5. Cutting fabrics – With rotary cutters and mats, this process is actually one of the easiest and fastest. The trick it to make sure all your calculations are correct BEFORE you cut, and then, when you cut, measure twice, and cut once. Depending on the number of pieces, it could be done in 1-2 hours. 
  6. Piecing and sewing of quilt top – This depends on whether you are starting from scratch, how big your patchwork pieces are, the difficulty level of the block, or perhaps you have the quilt top and are just adding borders. And, it’s best to lay these pieces out in the order you will be sewing them, which can take time depending on number of pieces. I just recently made a quilt with lots of pieces and I am pretty sure the sewing together of the top took longer than the quilting part – or pAdd to the piecing and sewing the ironing you have to do to get the seams to lay in the right direction for matching corners and such – 0-12 hours.
  7. Ironing after all piecing is done – This step may or may not be necessary depending, but it’s best to give the whole quilt top one final press just to make sure all of those seams are laying flat once you start quilting – about an hour depending on quilt size.
  8. Drawing on designs – Free-motion quilting can eliminate this step, but not always. Sometimes, I use templates to draw designs to quilt – giving the quilt more of an heirloom look. Time spent on this also depends on how much of the quilt will be done this way and how intricate the designs are 0-4 hours.
  9. Basting the quilt sandwich – The time spent on this depends on method of basting and how large the quilt is.   I use pin basting, but my table isn’t large enough to lay out the whole quilt at once, so I have to do it in sections1-2 hours
  10. Quilting – The amount of time spent on this varies by many different factors. Is this done by hand quilting, by machine, is the machine sit down or long arm? It can also vary depending upon the intricacy of the design. A simple meandering or stippling on a queen size quilt takes anywhere from 6-10 hours also depending upon the distance the pattern is apart – a meander ½ inch apart will take much longer than one 1 inch apart. Heirloom quilting designs have to be drawn on and followed more meticulously than a meander – and other designs that can still be free-motioned without a drawn on design usually are more intricate and require referring to the design as quilting and also take more time than meanders. For a queen sized quilt – the time would amount to at the very least about 6  hours and up to 20 or more.
  11. Making the binding – Some people have excess backing that they just fold over twice and stitch to the front for the binding. I have to admit, I’ve never done this. I prefer the double-fold binding, bias or straight grain, sewn to the top by machine and hand stitched to the back. I want my quilts to last, and this is the best method to assure that.   Cutting the binding, sewing strips together, ironing in fold, sewing onto quilt top, hand sewing to back  5-6 hours.
  12. A final wash – Depends on whether by hand or machine – I’ve done this in my bathtub or large kitchen sink and by machine, then machine drying – 1 hour.
  13. Trimming threads or weaving in – After pulling it out of the dryer, I lay it out on the bed, top and bottoms up – trim or weave in threads -1 hour.

The bottom line, the typical quilt takes at least 20 hours, but could take 40 or 50.   I’m not going to do the cost calculations here, you can figure it out for yourself using your preferred $ per hour.  Also, none of these calculations took into consideration the cost of material, thread, batting, electricity, needles and all the other tools that make it go a little faster and easier.

So, how much would you pay for a quilt made from scratch? What do you think it is “worth”?  Would you consider a quilt a worthy gift for a wedding or something extra special that you would be very grateful for?


I can say that now that I have done it, numerous times, I appreciate it more than ever before.  Try it, maybe you will, too.

 Q-Tip #14 – Handmade quilts are actually priceless.


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