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Pros/Cons of starting a longarm quilting business/service

Pros/Cons of starting a longarm quilting business/service

Old 01-31-2020, 05:44 AM
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 59

I bought my long arm used..with no intention of doing anything other than my own quilts...my hobby...not a business. I do quilt for a very good friend...who says she likes what I do....and I also quilt for my daughter-in-law....I think the stress of getting a "stranger's" quilt to be what they want is way over my pay grade! I like knowing there is no hurry in finishing up a quilt, if it stays on the long arm for a week, no one is calling to ask when I'll finish their quilt!!
That being said...it's a personal decision...my feeling is that when your hobby/fun becomes a business, it's no longer fun.
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Old 01-31-2020, 05:57 AM
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I would love to have a LA for my personal use. I currently have the Original Grace Frame with a Brothers 1500se. It is about to retire as I am having some serious balance issues with it. I love not having to baste my sandwich and I can do up to a queen size without folding the sandwich and moving things around to finish a quilt.
I have made a number of quilts that I contracted to make for others but I did not like the stress of the process and that was before things started going haywire. If I can ever get a LA machine I want to have it all to myself for this fun hobby that I have loved over the years.
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Old 01-31-2020, 07:45 AM
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IMHO it is all sales pitch from the LA vendors. Some people have that kind of success but it often takes a long time to build up that kind of client base unless you can partner with a thriving quilt shop where they refer customers to you. And that is assuming your area is not completely saturated with LA quilters like some areas are. Yes you have to have separate business insurance and also a resale certificate for tax exempt purchasing (if you plan on offering batting and getting your supplies wholesale). Also, depending on your state, you have to file quarterly sales tax statements with payment to the state. Most LAers I know of who have turned their talent into a thriving, profitable business do other things besides longarming, like teach, write books, sell fabric or design and sell patterns and some even become dealers for their longarm brand.

I burnt out big time custom quilting for others so after a couple of years I cut way back and only quilt for a few other people. However that was probably because I still work full time so I only quilt on weekends. It completely consumed my quilting time so I never had any time to work on my own stuff. Maybe after I retire I will rebuild it but I like having the time and flexibility to work on my things. I have been blessed with the talent to envision quilting designs that will compliment quilts and to execute that vision but there was always that nagging worry in the back of my head, what if they don't like it (because 90% of my clients gave me carte blanche to do what I wanted). And there was also that worry of damaging someone else's quilt and it did happen to me. I was devastated. I did repair the quilt (needle hole due to machine going out of time in the middle of quilting, breaking the needle and the machine still running) and also gave away the custom job. The client could not find the repair so it was well done, but the incident positively gutted me. Another time I sprayed a quilt with a misting bottle of water to remove marks and it ran! Those two incidents caused me to step way back in pursuing quilting for hire.

My passion is custom and densely quilted. When I finally started keeping track of my time and how much per hour I was actually making I was not even making minimum wage, not even close, more like $2 to $3 per hour! And I wasn't even factoring in my research, design and marking time into that figure. I don't have the internet presence, name recognition nor the major awards to warrant charging what the famous longarmers make (like Karen McTavish or Bethanne Nemesh). So when all that finally hit home for me, I decided to quilt only for myself and a few special clients. I know of a lot of longarmers who have also quit doing custom work for others and only do E2E designs (be it CG, panto or freehand). They save the custom for their own quilts or work in collaboration with someone for show quilts.

Pros, I have met some amazing people and have seen and worked on some drop dead gorgeous quilts and had a part in making them even prettier. I have been inspired to step outside my own box with my quilts. People who entrusted me with their quilts helped me to get where I am today in terms of my skill, both as a quilt maker and a longarmer.

I am thankful that I bought my longarm for my own pleasure and use. I saved for it and paid cash so no payments. It was only after I got it and realized I had a natural talent for it that I tried turning it into a business. So I have no regrets about only quilting for hire at my convenience and pleasure, nor do I have any regrets for the experience of quilting for others. I would never purchase a longarm if I had to depend on quilting for others to make the payments. But that is me. I am extremely debt averse!
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Old 01-31-2020, 09:46 AM
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I bought my first longarm in 2012, for much the same reason as you. I was tired of basting, and my current quilt (at the time) was killing my shoulders trying to stuff it through my domestice machine. I specifically told my friends that I was buying this for myself. I had no thoughts of "paying it off" as I have never in my life sent a quilt out to someone else, so there was no cost payback for me. It was the convenience, and I traded a kitchen reno for it (as in, I choose the longarm rather that having my kitchen renovated).

I am now - 7 years later - a full-time longarm quilter (quilt hi-tech). It took less than 3 months after I bought that first machine before the first friend said "I really, really, really need this quilt done and I can't do it. Pretty please?" So I did. And then another for her. And then a different friend gave my name to a friend of hers (who I did not know). I consider that my first customer quilt I was working full-time at the time (in high tech) so I didn't push for a lot of business, but through word of mouth my business grew. It seems there is a lot of demand in my area - there are a LOT of longarm quilters, but then we also have 8 quilt shops with 1/2 hour of me, so it must a big business in this area.

Trying to remember your initial questions - if you want the longarm, (and can afford it), buy it with no expectations of a business paying it off. Then, if things happen you win, but you aren't stressing about it all.
Use your longarm until you get comfortable with it, before you even think about doing someone elses. The stress of quilting someone else's quilt, when things go wrong or you struggle with learning something new are not (in my opinion) worth it.

If you decide to start a business, you need to become a joiner. I belonged to 7 quilt guilds the first year I really started to push my business. And they got me a LOT of business. Show your own work every meeting (different quilt every time), and don't forget to say you have a business. Also try to get your customers to show their quilts and remember to say who quilted them. Sometimes a stooge in the audience to ask "Who quilted that?" helps.

Insurance was a pain in the neck. Apparently there are only 1-2 companies here (I'm in Canada) who will actually insure this type of arrangement. And I cannot get full coverage for the cost of my machines were something to happen to them. But as soon as your first customer walks through the door, you need to have insurance (I discovered that my original house insurance was completely voided because of the business, even if the claim had nothing to do with the business).

Basically, follow your heart. There is probably more business in your area than you think - especially if you have guilds and shops around. I have found fellow longarms to be more than generous about sharing information, ideas, and even clients (if they are overworked or not interested for some reason).

I hope that helps. Feel free to PM me if you have any more questions about my business in particular.
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Old 01-31-2020, 10:30 AM
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I had a part-time longarm business for several years but I felt too pressured when doing other's quilts. I never really pushed the business. I belonged to one, very large guild but their rules forbade me to reach out to members individually through email/mail for business. One ad in their membership booklet didn't result in much business. Eventually, I just decided I didn't want to do it for others.

Aside from the business angle I do want to point out some things:
Physical comfort: be sure you have your table at the right height ergonomically(I am short and spent the money for hydraulics to be sure I had the right height for my comfort level). Also it is worth it to have foam blocks along both sides of the table so you are not standing on a hard floor for hours(I have my machine on a basement concrete floor but with the foam don't have leg problems at all). I also use zippered leaders and find this helps with physical comfort also. You can sit anywhere to apply or remove zippers and not have to stand at the table so long.
I don't like a lot of heavy quilting and don't do fmq well so my business and personal quilting is pantographs and ruler work. This worked for my business and my own quilting.

Last edited by selm; 01-31-2020 at 10:32 AM.
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Old 01-31-2020, 11:34 AM
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"I'm not a member of a guild (I tend not to be a "joiner") and have no real feel for how much demand there is in this area, either."

I think this may be an issue if you are thinking about starting a business. You have to get your name out there, no matter what type of business you start. Referrals go a long way to creating a buzz about your business.

You need to do market research, how many quilters in your area? How many send out their quilts to be quilted? Who is your competition, not just locally but by mail? Do you have any awards for the quilting you have done to date? What is the average rate charged in your area?

You can get a business rider for your insurance, but there are other factors to consider. Do you want people coming to your home? Is there adequate parking? Are there stairs to get to your quilting area? Do you have an exterior entrance to your quilting space? Do your local bylaws allow for a home based business? In Canada, running a business out of your home allows you to deduct certain expenses against your business income, but it can also impact your Principal Residence exemption.

I bought a second hand LA machine because I wanted one for me. I do not quilt for others. I have no interest in doing so. I do not have to justify the cost to anyone.

It ticks me off that nobody bats and eye, when a man buys a boat and fishing gear, or hunting gear, or woodworking tools, an old car to work on etc., yet, women have to justify a major purchase.
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Old 01-31-2020, 04:11 PM
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You guys are awesome - thank you all!

The very issues you raised (customer expectation, working with others' schedules, advertising/networking) are exactly the reasons I have always felt I would never quilt for others, just for myself.

The purchase cost, etc., are not at all an issue, especially given I don't plan on computerization for myself. In fact, the only way I would quilt for someone else is to have a computerized design. I'm a former computer industry engineer, and very comfortable around design software, so I would't expect any software operation challenges. I'm an electrical engineer and DH is a mechanical engineer who dabbles in programming and automation, so the equipment doesn't intimidate us at all.

My interest was piqued at a potential cost-offset income stream since it is a large purchase (although I'll buy certified pre-owned, demo, or gently used as we do with most large depreciating things). Y'all have answered all the right questions of "is it worth it to me?", and the answer is a resounding "no". Thank you everyone who took the time for such thoughtful responses!

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Old 01-31-2020, 04:50 PM
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It depends on what you want to do, me, I bought a sit down 20" Bailey a couple years ago for under $3,000. Although, I would love a frame, I just don't have the room for it. Personally, I wouldn't pay much more than that, because unless you just have lots of money to spend, then you to take in quilting to help pay for the machine, then it becomes a and not a hobby, and you probably won't have time to work on quilts, either piecing or quilting.

Last edited by QuiltnNan; 01-31-2020 at 06:39 PM. Reason: shouting/all caps
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Old 02-01-2020, 09:31 AM
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I purchased my long arm last April and then purchased the computer to go with it in June. It has been a big learning curve for me. I don't intend to quilt for anybody other than family and they don't make quilts anyway. I make them myself so I do it all anyway. I used to make baby quilts for an ex-dil and she was always calling me to see if I was done. I finally told her that I couldn't make anymore. It wasn't worth it for $2.00 an hour. I'm glad that I did make the purchase for just myself. I have 14 of my own to finish. Good luck to you.
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Old 02-01-2020, 11:14 AM
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Originally Posted by grannyQ View Post
I purchased my long arm last April and then purchased the computer to go with it in June. It has been a big learning curve for me. I don't intend to quilt for anybody other than family and they don't make quilts anyway. I make them myself so I do it all anyway. I used to make baby quilts for an ex-dil and she was always calling me to see if I was done. I finally told her that I couldn't make anymore. It wasn't worth it for $2.00 an hour. I'm glad that I did make the purchase for just myself. I have 14 of my own to finish. Good luck to you.
Good for you grannyQ! Enjoy!
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