Lilly Pilly Twin – Making a Quilt for a Commission

There are some lovely quilt pics below, but first a few words on how I handle sewing and quilting on commission:

I’ve made quilts for commission before, as well as clothing, sewing alterations, etc; usually for clients I do not know but who find me through word-of-mouth, or a recommendation from the shop where I used to work. The biggest challenge is always trying to estimate one’s man-hours up front.  My advice for calculating your time; break it down into steps of the project. How long you expect it to take you to cut everything out?  How long will it take to piece, how long will basting AND quilting take you (or if you plan to hire a long-armer, find out their cost up-front), and how long to make binding, attach the binding and label the quilt?  Don’t forget any steps as you want to try to estimate your time as closely as you can.  Once you total up your man-hours, decide on an hourly rate for yourself (I use $15, currently, but I may give myself a raise soon as it’s been at $15 for a while now) and multiply that by the total hours.  Then, add 20%.  YES.  Add 20% to the total estimated cost of your labor.  Why? To cover your butt when you grossly underestimate your time; because you will.  We always do.  Now, this doesn’t mean I take advantage of my customers.  On the contract (ALWAYS have a written agreement before you purchase anything) I include a note that labor is estimated to the best of my ability, but should it take less time to make than estimated, the customer will be discounted accordingly.   The client will appreciate the discount, appreciate the clarity and your professionalism, and it’s is always easier to discount something, than it is to go back and ask for more money.

Now, if I make mistakes while working on the project, that cost me time, such as sewing blocks together wrong; that is my mistake, not my customer’s.  Therefore, I do not include un-sewing and re-sewing time as part of my labor cost.   (If I underestimate my time, my customer gets a break because I don’t charge more than my original estimate).

As for materials, my advice is to calculate your materials, at FULL cost (even if you are using your stash, scraps, or sale items) because you should be charging what it would cost to replace those materials for future projects.

So, on to my most recent commission. A friend of my sister’s asked me last Autumn if I would make a quilt for her daughter’s “big girl bed” (a twin size bed she would be moving into this summer). The little girl’s Daddy is an architect and I knew they wanted something modern and contemporary to fit the decor and style of their (very cool) mid-century modern home.  I told her do an image search with her husband on Flickr and Google to find examples of quilts they liked and we would develop an idea for Amelia’s quilt from there.  They did, and they came back with this:

Lilly Pilly Don't Look Now Pattern

They really wanted THIS quilt.  The problem? The pattern makes a quilt that measures 38″ x 51″.  Hardly twin size.  So, my hubby and I went to Kinko’s on a Sunday evening, played around with enlarging the pattern until we got the size I thought I needed; and made a bunch of copies of the appliqué pattern at 183% (or something like that–don’t take my word for it, but if you really want to know the %, email me, I probably have it written down somewhere). And at home, I taped them all together to re-create the appliqué pattern. At the bottom of this pic is the original pattern, and the top is the enlarged version of the same area:

Lilly Pilly Pattern

After tracing my pieces and pressing onto fabric (which I did at one of our MQG Sewing Days), I started working in quadrants, like this:

Lilly Pilly Twin Size Tree Applique1

I appliquéd as many pieces as I could while only working with one quarter of the fabric, then I sewed the four pieces together before finishing the appliqué (This made it A LOT easier to maneuver at the sewing machine and minimized my chances of pulling and stretching the design area).

Lilly Pilly Tree applique2

Lilly Pilly Tree Applique

Because this quilt was going to a three-year-old, I didn’t want to have the white fabric along the edge where it will be handled the most; exposed to oils in the skin, etc., so I added a double 4.5″ block patchwork border to finish it:

Lilly PIlly Patchwork Border Detail

At this point, I sent it off to my business partner, Trina, to quilt on her long-arm.  She did a spectacular job, as always…

Lilly Pilly Twin Size Quilt

Love how she finished the tree trunk:

Lilly Pilly Tree Trunk Quilting Detail

Lilly Pilly Twin Size Quilt Back


The backing is a Moda Bella solid but I do not know which color it is.

Lilly PIlly Quilting Detail

Lilly Pilly Quilting Detail

Lilly Pilly Quilting Detail

Each leaf, branch and bird was stitched around a second time with the long-arm to reinforce the appliqué.  I did a little hand embroidery, to give the six little birdies legs and eyes, and I used a pink variegated DMC floss to embroider her name on the label of the quilt:

Quilt Label Embroidered Lilly Pilly Quilt Twin Size

I made two mistakes at the end of this project.  First, I should have added Trina’s name to the label, and secondly, I didn’t pull my phone out to capture the joy Amelia expressed when I delivered this quilt–pure, un-adulterated, three-year-old, jump-on-the-bed, joy.  EVERY handmade gift should be so well received!

Lilly Pilly Quilt On Bed

The bottom line is, if you decide to sell your handmade goods, don’t undervalue your time and your skill.  Contractors are paid well for their skills; as are Electricians, Musicians, Graphic Designers, Woodworkers, Painters… why should handcraft skills be worth less?

Have you ever made a project for hire?

Did you feel you were fairly compensated?


24 thoughts on “Lilly Pilly Twin – Making a Quilt for a Commission

  1. Ohmygod, I have nothing to say on the subject of quilts for hire, except you did a wonderful job explaining it! And that quilt, oh my, that quilt! You should be so proud! Amazing! I *love* it!!! 🙂

  2. WOW!!!! I’ve had this pattern for years, and have been meaning to make it for ages – what a great job you’ve done of this – it looks superb enlarged – well done! have you emailed a picture of this to Kellie, the designer of the original pattern? I’m sure she’s LOVE to see it!

  3. Love, love, love that quilt Doris! Oh, I think I said that a million times when I saw it in person! And as for quilting for hire, I may be a long time before I do that again, but if I do, I will certainly heed your advice!

  4. Doris! This quilt is amazing!!! It was an honor to be able to see it in person. I’m glad that they loved it!

    I haven’t done much commission work (Only 2 and one ended horribly) but I am in the process of trying to price my quilts for sale and oh, my, is it difficult! thanks for posting about your process of charging. it’s so very helpful!

    btw, you totally deserve a raise. 🙂

    also, I can mail your ruler to you. sorry I’ve been so slow about getting back to you!

    have a great weekend, friend!

  5. this quilt is SO spectacular! I’m thrilled I could see it in person because a computer screen just does not do it justice. Also thanks for all the pricing tips! That comes in handy whenI’m trying to assign a “value” to a charity quilt.

    I’m feeling the need for a sewing retreat. July just seems so far away…

  6. How wonderful, Doris! I’m so glad for you to have been commissioned to make this quilt. No one else could have done it better. So you turned under the edges of the appliqué pieces? And then machine appliquéd them? I love Kellie Wulfsohn’s designs, and recognized it as hers before you even stated the name. It’s a stunning quilt, and the way you assembled it is perfect. No, no one has ever asked me to make a quilt for them. Not sure why, and that bothers me a little – not good enough? I would charge too much? It would sure be nice to sell some of the quilts I’ve already made! This is a great post about pricing, as I know from helping others figure quilt costs, and from having done a little garment sewing for others. We definitely underestimate our time, and our value. I’m happy for you to be sharing your skills for profit.

  7. What an amazing quilt!! Any little girl would be lucky to have it. I am a beginner quilter- been quilting for about a year now-and would someday like to be able to make something so breathtaking.

  8. What a fabulous quilt, Doris! You did an amazing job. I hope you were paid fairly for your time. On so many commission jobs I haven’t charged enough because I didn’t think the customer would pay the full amount I would ask for. It’s hard for them to understand our work is just as valuable as a plumber’s or electrician’s. That little girl is so lucky to have a beautiful quilt like that.

  9. I love this quilt!! As for getting paid fairly, I think the point you make about other professions is exactly true! I closed my shop because I felt I was being underpaid. It was my fault entirely because I put a value on my work the same as a sweat shop in China.

  10. I just received the pattern “Jessie” from the same designer, DON’T LOOK NOW, and it has about 1,500 appliqué pieces to trace, fuse and cut out. I just ordered some fusible bond sheets that can be put through your ink jet printer. Then just fuse to your fabric and cut out the shapes, no time-consuming tracing the pattern pieces first.

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