It’s a beautiful thing to create a quilt for a particular person.
A crib quilt for a precious new baby, a dorm bed throw for that college-bound teen, a full size bedspread for a couple soon to be married, or a piece to commemorate the passing of a loved one...
A commissioned quilt can take so many forms.
With any made-to-order project, there’s a weight of emotion, meaning and specificity that doesn’t accompany your typical quilt project. There could be treasured fabrics involved if you’re working with a person’s clothing, and of course the deadline of a special event is significant.
Kirsten's previous blog on the subject of fundraiser quilts is such a good read. Her list of things to consider when making a quilt for auction is really helpful and many of the same issues apply when making a custom quilt.
At the outset, it’s most important to grasp what your client wants. Let them tell the story of how they found you, what event prompted this commission, and who the person is that they are gifting or commemorating. This initial conversation can be so very rich and informative. Favorite colors, shapes, animals, hobbies and clothing - all can be sources of design inspiration for you and your client.
It’s fun to come up with design ideas. Using Google, Pinterest and Instagram, it’s easy to present images of the kind of thing you think your client is asking for. Showing samples of your own work is even better. Making another version of a previous quilt is likely to go faster than tackling a pattern that’s new to you.
Next comes the ‘brass tacks’ part of the discussion! Any of the following four considerations could emerge as the primary concern that will drive your design and technique choices. Be specific so both you and your client know what you’re going to make.
By what date is this quilt needed?
What will its end use be?
What size should it be?
What is the budget?
All and any of these factors could influence your fabric choices, the piecing or appliqué techniques you use, and the type of batting, back and quilting you add once the top is pieced.
The Due Date
If a quilt is needed for a specific event, you’ll have a deadline that will dictate how long you have to get this project done. This will clarify whether you can tackle an elaborate design or if you need to keep it simple in order to have it complete on time.
The End Use
If the quilt is headed to a baby’s crib or a dorm room, you know it will see a washing machine many a time! Choose the appropriate good quality quilters cottons and it will hold up well. For a wall hanging or a piece that’s going to a quiet and tidy home, you can consider using more fragile fabrics or techniques that do better with infrequent cleaning.
If the commissioned quilt is for a bed, double check what your client thinks is ‘bed sized’. Do they expect a king size with a deep drop all round the bed or just a coverlet to lay on top of a twin? Talk about borders and sashing - a wide border and plenty of sashing can save you time and money if the client wants a big quilt. Wall hangings can be a lovely addition to a home. Is there a particular wall space for this piece that will dictate dimensions? Even if you’re making a pillow, clarify the size. Are we talking dainty neck rolls or generous bolsters? Be specific so you and your client are on the same page.
It’s likely you don’t make your living as a quilt-maker. Few of us do. Nevertheless, make sure you are paid for your time and materials at a rate that doesn’t leave you feeling taken advantage of. Most people have no idea how much work goes into making a quilt. It’s worth describing the steps to your client so they understand what they’re paying for.
Time yourself one day when you’re making a block or piecing a back, adding the quilting or binding by hand. It all adds up! Then (like any good contractor) add 10% to however long you think this project will take. Choosing your hourly rate is a completely personal decision. Take the time to come up with a price that will work for your client and for you.
When everything’s been discussed and clarified, write down what you’ve agreed on so expectations are clear. Just a follow up email with a reply of confirmation can be enough. If you want to be more formal you can put it on paper and add signatures.
Personally, I’m a fan of punctuality. If it becomes clear that you are not going to meet a deadline, try and give your client plenty of notice and set a more realistic delivery date. Sending beautiful progress photos might be some consolation!
Keep track of your hours as you work on the project. If it goes by fast, good for you! You’ll make a better hourly rate. If it takes longer, you’ll know for next time to charge a little more. Unless something emerges that makes this project way more complex than expected, I don’t think it’s fair to announce a price hike mid way through. If things get complicated because a client has requests that are additional to what you had agreed on, that’s another story; charge for any extra time incurred.
The charm of commissioned quilt projects is that you spend time while you sew thinking of the recipient and how much joy your work will bring them. If you've made a custom quilt before, I'd love to hear about it. Please share how it went in the comments!
Here are a few projects I’ve completed recently:
A pillow for David, a retired accountant who no longer wears ties but loved several and didn’t want to part with them:
Four pillows for four siblings who remembered the neckties their dad wore in his career as a salesman in the 1950s and 60s:
A quilted throw from Barbara's late husband's neckties and shirts:
Happy quilting - and good luck with your commissions!