Stating the obvious? Not if you’ve taken a hobby and turned it into a business. When I say “… unless I want to,” that’s as opposed to getting paid for it. Making a quilt people will pay for takes a lot of time, planning, experience, skill, and money for materials. Even with a t-shirt quilt, there are a lot of extra materials required. If you think you’re providing the materials when you hand over a bunch of t-shirts, you’re only touching the surface. A t-shirt quilt has four layers: t-shirts, stabilizer ($5 for 36″ x 20″), batting (about $35 for a queen size quilt) and backing ($60 – $100). Then there’s the thread, which can be as much as another $20.
The t-shirt quilts I make are not uniform squares sewn together in quick and easy rows. The t-shirts are laid out and arranged according to the color and the size of the print. I use my experience and skills gleaned from years of quilting plus some art classes at the college level to come up with a pattern of various-sized rectangles and squares that I must arrange in a way that I can make the seams come together smoothly yet appear randomly placed. If there aren’t enough t-shirts to fill the entire top, I’ll improvise with strips of coordinating fabric or incorporate traditional quilting designs. Because I live in a really small home, this part required that I move all of the furniture in the living room and keep everyone out for a few hours until I’m done arranging, measuring, photographing and drawing sketches.
Then there’s the cutting stage, which takes hours. And the stabilizing stage, which takes even more. Then cutting again to the measurements taken when the shirts were on the living room floor. Then recreating the quilt according to the photographs and measurements and measuring again to make sure everything fits. Then I start sewing. The thing about t-shirts, even when stabilized, is that they stretch. So no matter how careful I am, I’ll need to continue to measure and trim. After about 10 hours of that, the top is made.
Then it all goes on the frame. A couple of hours to prepare the backing and load all three pieces onto the frame. Another several hours of quilting. Then cutting the binding strips, sewing them together, and sewing them on the quilt. At this point it’s like wrestling a grizzly bear in a broom closet. Now for the hand sewing portion of the project. This is about four hours, plus or minus, of stitching the finished edge of the binding to the back of the quilt.
Now we’re done!
So when I’ve cut a customer (non-profit trying to raise money for their cause) a break on the price and then given another $100 off as a donation, I’m looking at making less than $5 an hour for my work. When I have no work in sight, I’ll do it. But when the customer strings me out for a year on getting the last of the shirts, I drive four hours to collect shirts, I have to wash shirts that came into my house stinking so bad of cigarette smoke that I could smell them throughout the whole house… well, I have a limit as to what I’ll do for $5 an hour, especially when I’ve got work lined up for the next six months that is actually a livable wage. Would you go to a tattoo artist who charges $5 an hour?
Add to that a month of going for tests for suspected cancer ending with a major surgery that meant no lifting, twisting or bending for two months (see “wrestling a grizzly bear” and “moving all the furniture in the living room” above).
Priorities start to take shape when you’re looking at cancer, and when you’ve been treated with a total lack of respect for your time in this life, you start making decisions to use your time wisely. That’s when you send the shirts back, having already been cut and stabilized, but missing the last two shirts. No, I can’t make the quilt except for two shirts. It doesn’t work like that. What are you going to do, an iron-on transfer? And no, I’m not returning your $225 deposit, because if I add up the supplies I’ve used, the travel time, the laundry expense and $2 an hour of my time, you owe me money. Your cursing at me and threatening me with court doesn’t scare me. And telling me I don’t know who I’m fucking with? LMAO Clearly you don’t know who you’re fucking with.
Thankfully, I don’t have cancer. I’m equally grateful for the wake-up call on how I spend my time doing what matters. When someone offers me a decent wage to make a quilt, I’ll create for hire. Until then, I’m only making quilts when I want to.