We Are $ew Worth It: Keeping track while you work

ProjectThe first step in being able to assess what you might charge to make a quilt is keeping good track of what went into it, in both time and materials.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of working a job where hours are either billed to a client, or bucketed out on a timecard to different project codes will have already had some experience with daily tracking of time. But for the rest of us, it’s a new tool in the box for being able to calculate good pricing.

I manage it by keeping a Project Tally Sheet with each project I work on. It’s a simple grid of paper that gets started with each project, and filed when the project is finished. Not only does it allow me to keep track of things during the making of a specific quilt, the history in the files allows me to make an educated guess on what kind of time certain tasks take should I need to prepare an estimate for a prospective client. For instance, I know I can make a bias binding and machine sew it onto a quilt in about an hour. And I hand sew binding at about 120 inches per hour.

Project Tally Sheet

I have a couple of extra spaces on the sheet to keep track of the consumable goods that I use during a project as well. Machine needles (usually at least one per project), rotary blades, spray starch or spray baste, spools of thread, stabilizers and fusibles, batting and so on. Yes, all of this matters when you price out a quilt!

Here’s a free PDF of the worksheet I use: HDS Project Tally Worksheet – feel free to use it and modify to suit how you do your work!

This sheet isn’t where the complicated math happens – that’s on the Invoice Templates at the bottom of this page (and psst… the math really isn’t that hard over there either!) This sheet is for capturing the progress of the project as I go along, and I use it because I’m likely to forget that I spent an hour ironing things in front of the TV, or a couple of hours sewing on a binding over at a friend’s house over a cuppa. ALL of the time you devote to a project is countable – and then it’s up to you how you want to charge for it.

When do I fill it out? Always at the end of a work day. As I’ve talked about before in studio process posts, I take a few minutes at the end of a day to shut down the studio, turn off the machine, empty the iron and clean up my workspace. It takes but a minute to scribble in a few notes on the worksheet. The worksheet stays with the project (I use big zippy bags) until it turns into a finished quilt, so it will be there in the morning if I didn’t get a chance to fill it out the night before. I find as long as I write it down within a day or two of doing the work, the information is accurate enough. Any longer than that and I will forget important detail (if not my name!)

Next time you start a project, give it a try. Even if you aren’t selling your quilts, you’ll find out what it really takes to do the work you do. Then if someone surprises you with an offer to buy something you made, you’ll have some good data to use for the pricing.

BTW – Did you join my mailing list yet? Do it here. I’m dreaming up groovy exclusive stuff for you!



Last week I spoke at the Camarillo Quilt Association in Southern California – a friendly and welcoming guild of ladies and gents. I love, love, love working with quilters – they are the sweetest people!

Before we got started Gayle Moyer, one of their members, showed me a group of quilts that she made from one of my patterns:


And here’s the story behind the quilts, in Gayle’s words:

“My son is currently active duty in the Navy. He is the rescue swimmer/door gunner on a helicopter. This summer, while the squadron was deployed into the Red Sea, he was on a detachment on the USNS Rainier. This detachment consisted of 2 helicopters, 4 pilots and 5 air crew (of which my son was one of). A rogue wave hit the helicopter while chained on the deck of another ship. This wave ripped the helicopter from the deck of the ship and it sank deep into the Red Sea. The one air crewman, which was still on the helicopter, was thrown free but the two pilots went down with the helicopter. It was a very stressful time for our family, not knowing if our son was involved. Before we even knew who the 2 men were that were lost, I decided that I wanted to be involved in making Home of the Brave quilts for the family. I had made some quilts for Home of the Brave in the past, including 4 that I made when 2 members of my daughter’s Army unit were killed while she was deployed to Afghanistan in 2006. When I heard that each of the pilots left behind 2 small children, I decided that I wanted to make the children quilts to comfort them and to remember their fathers by. The youngest child was born only 2 months before his father was killed and had never met his dad. The others were ages 4 and two 6 year old’s.  I decided not to use the Home of the Brave pattern as these were young children. I wanted to use bright patriotic fabrics that they might still love when they are older. I had made several quilts from your Mouse Trap pattern and decided to use the pattern because it was an easy pattern that looked good with many different fabrics. I made the 4 tops and quilted 2 of them. A friend of mine quilted the other 2 as I wanted to get them finished to be able to present them at the Memorial service that was scheduled for January 17.”

photo3“I wrote each child a little letter explaining who I was, my relation ship to the squadron, and to let them know that their dad was a true HERO. I was able to present these quilts as well as an official Home of the Brave quilt to each of the widows. My prayer is that as these children wrap themselves up in the quilts, they will imagine their daddy giving them a big hug.”


“The service went well. It was a wonderful service. I was glad that my son was able to sit with me and also was with me as I presented the quilts. He was able to tell them that he really enjoyed working with their husbands. We did not spend much time with the widows as there were more people wanting to talk to them. I was able to hand them over without turning into a puddle.”

photo2Gayle – this world is a far better place because people like you take the time to make important quilts like these. Thank you so much for including me in this. Now excuse me while I go turn into a puddle…

Room for everyone – and vive la difference!

My dear friend Josh, the man in glitter behind Molli Sparkles has hit a nerve out there… he is part of a guys-only quilt bee group, and it seems that some gals have taken umbrage with the name of the group (No Girls Allowed Quilt Bee) not to mention the exclusion of girls from it.

Sigh. Let’s stop all this now, shall we? There is room in this for ALL of us. Ladies, gents, kiddos and cats too, if the pix on Facebook are any indicator of truth.

Yes, I am a feminist. Yes, I want women to have equal opportunity. Yes, I am a member of a couple of women-only bees…. that in all honesty, we want to keep that way. (Or at a minimum, in our own female world view, we didn’t think to ask any fellas.) Yes, my first quilt guild got their bloomers in a bundle over the first guy to brave the biddy gauntlet and join (hell, they got all up in arms when Sam here volunteered to be president, most of them thinking I’m a fella because of my name – not once seeking me out to find out who I really am). But seriously – if we want to be treated inclusively, we need to TREAT OTHERS THE SAME. If we want to get into the locker room, we have to open the door to the powder room. I know the scales are still nowhere near balanced, but our playing narrow-minded and small isn’t going to rally anyone to the cause.

I urge you to read Josh’s follow up post here. It seems that the original post has reached a reader’s son, who now is excited that there is a welcoming place for him to explore his desire to sew. And the fellas in the bee are sending care packages to this lad. Ladies… we do this very same thing! We find the spark of interest, and we fan it with care packages of fabric. What on earth could be wrong with that??? Are we not here to get other people to fall in love with quilting?

So to Josh – bravo! – you done good!

To the young lad – welcome… we love having new people in the sewing tribe! (and please just ignore the biddies… the cool people already do)

And to the naysayers… get off the internet and go do a nice thing for someone today… maybe the steel around your heart will soften up a little!

Improv piecing and the Pope’s robes

photo (2)Despite living in Los Angeles for decades, I had never made the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown LA (ha… almost wrote Downton!) Yesterday, I changed that.

Just so you know, I don’t talk about how I do faith in public. I’m cool with how I do faith, and on board for however you do yours, but I find overt evangelism a bit odious, so when the topic comes up amongst anyone other than my closest pals, my response is usually “How ’bout them Dodgers?”

I went to the cathedral to experience it as art and architecture. I’ve been to many European churches and cathedrals, and they are usually marvels, testaments to the absolute best the artists and craftsmen of their time had to offer. A mason could work his entire (short) life on a magnificent edifice, knowing he would never see to completion, yet knowing that it might stand for generations to come. Sometimes I think quilting can be just that important too – they can outlast us if we make them right.

So this cathedral… impressive, but not my cup of tea. I understand that one doesn’t set out to build an old school Gothic cathedral full of soaring buttresses in 1996, but I found the postmodernist angles of this building to be, well, angular. My friend remarked that they didn’t inspire much comfort. I would have to agree. The tapestries, though, were quite spectacular and worth a visit. As always, I might come for the building but I stay for the fiber!


In one rather awkward little alcove, there were some mementos of the Pope’s visit to LA in 1987. There were a few press pictures of him saying mass in Dodger Stadium (and… how ’bout them Dodgers?!) wearing the robe and mitre in these pictures.

photo (1)

And look… improv piecing done in myriad contemporary fabrics! Fancy that! I wonder who made these? And if she is now a modern quilter?

Come see me in Camarillo!

I’m back to the old stomping grounds this week… the Camarillo Quilters Association is hosting me for a lecture on the morning of Tuesday Jan 14 – stop by if you can and say hi! I’m also teaching Dingbats for them on Wednesday Jan 15, and I understand there might be a couple of seats left if you’re interested.

The lecture is going to include a trunk show of a lot of quilts – this is the first time I’ve done a trunk show out of a suitcase rather than a car, and I’m thrilled to find out just how much I can pack into a 50lb case. And I packed two of them!

While I was searching for the right quilts to bring, I unearthed this lovely Snail’s Trail/Virginia Reel:

Snails1It’s the only antique quilt I own. I bought it because, with all that ORANGE, I just knew it had been waiting for me to show up and love it. It’s machine pieced, but hand quilted, and still has a lot of pencil marks. It has the feel of a project that was maybe a big stretch in skill for the maker… there are a lot of points that don’t match, and there are lots of places where the orange shadows through the white at the seams because they should have been pressed the other way. The binding is a bit dodgy in places too. It is utterly charming for every spot that the imaginary quilt police might frown upon… the hand of the maker is delightfully evident everywhere! And I find myself cheering for her courage to try something that I know to be a bit tricky with all those bias-edged triangles. The last time I tried this block I paper-pieced it.

Here’s a shot of the quilting:



I’m told that the style of quilting and the quality of the muslin tell that the quilt was probably made in the 1920’s. All I know is I think it’s sweet and bold, and I slept well under it last night!