A local girl contacted me recently wanting to “pick my brain“ about long arming as a home business. She currently makes pretty good money in her stay at home business but is looking for a change. This is the letter I sent her in response. Not to discourage her, just sharing my experience.
If you are serious about getting started as a business enterprise, these things come to mind:
1- You need space. A long arm takes up a minimum footprint 10′ x 5′ and you need to get around both sides of it, so your room must be 15 feet by at least 10 feet. When I started, I bought a used machine and cut the frame down to 8 feet long so I could fit it in a spare bedroom. We ended up remodeling our house to accommodate my machine so I didn’t have to break down the long arm when I wanted to sew
2- There is a learning curve. You don’t start making nice quilts for quite some time. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent in front of my machine before it finally clicked. For at least a year I was turning out crap. After about 6 months of playing with it I started volunteering to do free quilting for a couple of organizations. They were so gracious to let me cut my teeth on their quilts. You could probably catch it much faster if you took a class, but I quilt because I like to be by myself so a class did not interest me
3-You need to be mechanically inclined. You will have to clean your machine, learn to set the timing, adjust the tension and do the routine maintenance. Long arms are generally finicky and need adjustment with each kind of thread, fabric, batting, needle. Sometimes you burn a little time and materials figuring it out. There are some local shops that service machines if you run into something you can’t handle, but a routine cleaning and maintenance service cost $250.00 bucks a pop plus down-time. That’s a lot of hours in front of the machine to make that up
4- You will be limited on the time you get to spend on personal projects. 18 months ago I decided to make my own quilt and enter in a competition(it is true. I do not own a single quilt). I have not even started. I was up til midnight at Christmas trying to finish PJ’s for my grandson’s because the paying customer work had to come first…
5- It helps to have a “Sugar Daddy,” or regular employment. Thread is expensive. I order it about every three months and spend about $100 each time. I watch for sales on batting and order it from by the role. Each roll costs between $150 and 250$. Sometimes a killer deal comes along and I will buy two or three or four rolls to stock up
6- You won’t get rich. In my experience, most hobby quilter’s are generally unwilling to pay for the time that goes in to custom quilting. They are just looking for simple edge to edge, inexpensive, get it done type quilting. I try to appeal to specialty quilters who are looking for something unique that will showcase their work, or first time quilters who need a little extra love on the quilting to “save” a beginner piecing job.
I think if you were to do only simple edge to edge, or get an automated/computerized set up, you could produce more volume and potentially capture a higher net income. Last year (2019) was the first full year I filed taxes under Brenda Lou Quilts and I showed total sales around $10,000.00 and a net loss of around $1500.00 Hmm…???
7- Don’t let it become “drudgery.” Right now, I only accept jobs that turn me loose to “quilt as desired.” Do not let your clients dictate the pattern. Certainly welcome suggestions but every time I have been told what to quilt, I chafe. I simply say I only do custom, long arm, free motion quilting and what you get will be totally unique and designed especially for you. That seems to satisfy most clients.
I do quilting for others because I enjoy quilting, and I want to break even on my hobby. I guess based on that criteria, I am “successful.” My original selling point to my husband when deciding to buy a new machine was “retirement income potential!”
I know now that I could never quilt enough quilts to make a living, but quilting for others enriches my life, for now, that is enough.