Recently Country Living magazine featured a woman who started selling her quilts. There’s nothing newsworthy about that, except the price given for one of her quilts – $1900. And the quilt in the photo? Lap sized, consisting of broad solid stripes set at right angles to each other on a light solid background. In other words, nothing complex. It was hand quilted and the cloth was hand dyed.
My companions (all quilters) who read the article were aghast at the price, given the nature of the quilt. According to the article, the woman has set up a business making quilts that employs a few people. To me that implies she’s selling enough to pay other folks to do part of the work. I was impressed that the 24 inch pillows for sale on her website were priced at $255. Interestingly, the woman’s background is textile design and fiber arts, so she may be approaching pricing from a gallery perspective.
The reaction to that article started me thinking about how to put a monetary value on quilts. Certainly there are appraisers for antique/vintage quilts; and an old quilt’s value will depend on its scarcity, uniqueness, condition, complexity and visual appeal. And quilts that are really works of art made from fabric are often priced like other fine art and sold in galleries.
Then, there’s a vast gray area of quilts that fit more in the craft category. Many of these are offered for sale on Etsy, eBay, individual websites, and at quilt shows. In addition, quilters offer custom commissioned quilts in a variety of styles. How are these prices set? Time and materials? Size of the quilt? What the market will bear?
My Etsy search for quilts returned 256,109 items. Probably about 25,000 of these weren’t really quilts, but to be conservative, let’s say there were 200,000 quilts for sale. The types of quilts offered varied wildly from door hangers to “authentic reproductions of traditional quilts.” Prices for completed quilts ranged from about $25 to $50,000 (just one.) That’s quite a spread, though there were five pages of quilts priced from $2000 to $4000.
I became even more confused when I checked out quilts on eBay. How do I explain to my in-laws that it’s reasonable to pay $1000 for a handmade king size quilt when they can buy one on eBay for $100 plus shipping? As you can see from the photo, pillow shams are included. This is listed as a new “tea dyed, primitive, Americana wedding ring” quilt. No country of origin is given in the ad, but I suspect it isn’t American made.
As I clicked around eBay I was struck by the number of old quilts offered for sale at prices ranging from $40 to $150. Some have condition issues, but it breaks my heart to see a hand pieced, hand quilted snowball quilt described as in good condition with a high bid of $49. I defy anyone to make a twin size quilt for that price, even if you don’t include labor.
But to return to how to price quilts and the diversity in pricing, the TV documentary “Why Quilts Matter” touched on this when it talked about the divide between art and bed quilts. Here’s Caryl Bryer Fallert’s formula to determine an art quilt’s price. Many of the costs she mentions are often overlooked by quilt makers. I’ll leave it to you to work out the math, but my takeaway is her concluding sentence, “You are so right, too many people undercharge and give their work away…”
As for bed quilts, even more people undervalue these, in my opinion. After all, if you can get a quilt with matching shams for $100, why should you pay more? Well, there’s the uniqueness of the quilt, quality of the materials used, the complexity of the quilting, and the degree of customization and originality (colors, pattern, size.)
Unfortunately, quilters themselves may contribute to low prices for bed quilts. Witness the group of us exclaiming about a $1900 price tag on a quilt. I don’t think we fully realize the cost of making a quilt. If you add up just the cost of fabric for the top and backing (assuming it’s commercial fabric), the batting, the thread, and quilting (if done by someone else); the total can easily approach $300 to $400 for a double to queen size quilt. And that doesn’t account for any labor costs.
The Amish quilters ask more, and get it, for their quilts, but they’ve done a canny job of marketing. Buyers can feel they own a piece of that simpler life and still use electricity.
Alas, it may simply come down to marketing and reaching your target audience rather than the intrinsic quality of the quilt. So, forget those quilting classes if you want to sell your quilts. Focus on marketing and merchandising ones instead.