Pattern Writing Blog Series

My friend Cheryl from Meadow Mist Designs is creating a blog series on pattern writing which launches next January. She will walk you step-by-step through the pattern writing process, which can be approached a number of different ways.


Topics to be covered will include: design, pattern basics, text, math, illustrations, testing, and finishing. Cheryl has asked several of her pattern writing friends (myself included) to join her in this journey and share a little bit more of our pattern writing process. I’m game!!

Click here for Cheryl’s Pattern Writing Blog Series landing page, and be sure to follow her blog so you don’t miss any of this important information!

Christa’s Soapbox – Do the Work

So back at the end of 2012 I set some pretty lofty goals for my business. That summer I discovered the modern aesthetic and decided it was time to go pro with my quilting. It’s been 3 years of hard, but enjoyable work and I’m finally starting to see the fruits of my labor. This had me reflecting on the idea of how there’s really no such thing as overnight success. It takes dedication, organization and WORK to get to where you want or need to be.

I listen to a lot of craft business/entrepreneurial type podcasts and enjoy reading trade magazines and attending industry events where I get to talk shop with other makers and business owners. One theme that continually comes up is “Do the Work.” You can set all the goals in the world, make up pretty charts, keep a business journal and go to conferences for inspiration. However, unless you actually buckle down and do the work, it’s not going to happen.

20150721_wipJust a few of the behind-the-scenes projects I am working on….

I feel like I’ve finally reached a turning point with my business over the last year. In that time, I’ve (1) finalized my book, (2) been accepted to teach at QuiltCon, (3) created my first set of professional looking quilt patterns and (4) curated a selection of precuts that successfully sell.

But what has led up to that point is a lot of HARD WORK behind the scenes: (1) It took months of researching and brainstorming to come up with a really good proposal. (2) It took years of teaching experience to craft a good set of class offerings (not to mention determination to try again when I wasn’t accepted the previous year). (3) It took nearly a decade to decide how to produce my patterns and get some help making that happen. (4) It took a leap of faith to completely change our retail business model.

In this world of instantaneous communication, it’s often hard to work on long-term projects behind the scenes that can’t be shared until much later. But I made a promise to myself that no matter how busy things get, I would still take time to stop and reflect. So I write this post today not only to encourage others to do the work to make things happen, but also as a reminder to myself to keep doing the hard work that eventually pays off.

What goals are you working towards? I’d love to know!

Making Quilting Your Business – Marketing Your Brand

Today I wanted to wrap up a series I began earlier – How to Make Quilting Your Business. I’ve explored topics I’m familiar with such as running an online shop, to other things I’ve never tried like designing fabric. I’ve learned a lot in the process and I hope I’ve been able to share a few insights with you.


The final topic “Marketing Your Brand” is something I have had to learn about on the fly. Although I somewhat agree with the thought, “If you build it, they will come,” I also agree that “location, location, location!” is important and that you have to tell “them” all about it once you’ve built it!

I am not one to shy away from sharing what I’m doing in the hopes that I can get other people to join me. Although it’s my “job” to convince others to buy what I’m selling, I don’t see it as a scary task since I love what I do so much. Many people agree that selling is selling, yet I know I could never sell what I don’t believe in. Conversely, I don’t mind telling anyone and everyone what I have to offer, if I think it will suit them. The worst they can do is say “no, thank you” and the best thing they can do is say “yes!”


Here are a few things I’ve done to market my brand:

Networking – In college I was required to attend (boring) networking dinners for my major at the time – accounting. The idea was to hook up with other like-minded individuals to further our prospects in getting a job by getting to know them better over dinner. I should have known then that if I thought it was a waste of my time, I was in the wrong industry!

Now when I attend quilt shows, trade shows and other sewing events, it doesn’t even seem like work. Many of my most recent opportunities have come because of meeting someone at an event or knowing a “friend of a friend.” Often times I will briefly meet someone at one event, exchange a few words with them at the next event, and finally have a good conversation the third time around. It takes time and effort to build these relationships, but don’t be afraid to get out there and meet some great people!

Networking with fellow quilt shop owner friends at a recent trade-show.

Cross-promoting – I am a huge fan of sharing what other people are up to in this industry. More often than not, many of them will return the favor. However, I try not to be obnoxious about it, nor do I request a quid-pro-quo. By genuinely seeking and sharing common experiences that I’m truly interested in, I’m providing valuable content to my blog readers and Instagram followers as well as building a relationship with the person I’m promoting. (Plus, it gives me an excuse to research fun topics I want to know more about!)

Invest in the Industry – I don’t just mean money. Sure, it will take resources to create and promote your business presence, both online and off. If you are selling a product, advertising is key. But even more importantly it takes time and “sweat equity” to gain traction for your business, no matter which industry you are in. Be patient, carve out a specific strategy, and take the time to map out your plan for success.


The greatest way to stifle creativity is to be constantly worried about finances, so don’t quit your day job until you have set aside a few months’ living expenses and have established a rainy day fund.

Create Valuable Content – One of the best ways I have promoted my business is to get my work into books and magazines. I know it doesn’t pay a ton, but consider this: when I relied solely on the income from my precut store, I would pay lots of $$$ to advertise in quilting magazines, usually in the form of an ad taking up less than 1/4 page of space. Now that I’ve put on my designer hat, magazines pay me for content that splashes my name over 2-3 pages or more. Now that’s the best deal if I’ve ever seen one. ๐Ÿ™‚

Christa's Quilt AlongI’ve also created a series of Quilt Alongs that are completely free, and they have really helped get my name out there to a wider audience. Although the quilt alongs were a ton of work, they were fun to do and provided me with tons of modern machine quilting practice. They also helped me flesh out how to write step-by-step directions which I’ve been able to turn into patterns and classes.

Take Advantage of Free Publicity – Now let me be clear here – I do not mean work for free. What I mean is if someone wants to feature you in exchange for something easy, like a free pattern you’ve already designed, or by sending in a picture of a quilt you’ve already made, I’d say yes!

So many places like to feature a roundup of specific topics or themes and your work may just fit the bill. I think the worst business mistake a blogger or quilter can make is to create a free publicity quilt just because someone asks, unless you are indeed getting compensated either in money or product, and the quilt can serve additional purposes.

Quilt Scene MagazineSpiraling Out of Control has been in a couple of quilt magazines – free publicity!!

For example, I like my quilts to do double duty. One of my latest free publicity stunts was for a show quilt of mine to be featured full-page in a magazine. I’d already made the quilt, so all I had to do was send it to the show venue a couple of weeks early.

(Note – completing quilts ahead of schedule is helpful, too!) So although I didn’t receive payment, I did get a free copy of the magazine with my name in it in exchange for sending in a project I’d already made. It did cost me postage to ship it there, but the organizers paid the return postage so I was happy with the deal.

Keep Your Branding Simple – This can be a tough one, especially in the era of social media overload. How many different names do you have? The more names you are known by, the harder it is to keep track of who you are!


Many times it makes sense to have a brand name that is different from your first name. Just be sure to use the same brand name across all your sites: your blog, facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest, etc. I know that’s tricky if your business name is already taken, but for those of you just starting out, keep this in mind when deciding on a name.

And don’t be afraid to change it if needed. Quilts and Treasures (bleh!) and Desert Rose Quilts (better) were earlier incarnations of my business before I finally settled on Christa Quilts. It’s who I am and what I do, so it’s easy for people to remember. I also made sure to buy up several domain names with different spellings, just in case!

Make It Easy for Others to Say Yes – You may have a fabulous idea that others are interested in and you know they will love it. However, you may fall short because they can’t conceptualize it. So make it easy for them to understand, and simple to implement. The more legwork you do, the easier it is for someone else to agree.

For example, I knew I wanted to work with Robert Kaufman as a giveaway sponsor for my last quilt along, Abacus. Instead of vaguely asking them to be a “sponsor,” I presented them with a straightforward idea: I would make the quilt in Kona solids and give away the same bundle of fabrics that I used in my quilt.

20141006_kona_giveawayA graphic that Kaufman made for me using my design sketch and their fabric bundle.

It was an easy idea for them to agree to and they even went one step further; they offered two bundles: one in my colorway and another showcasing their new 2014 solids. I quickly sketched out the quilt using the new colorway and then asked them to share it on their social media platform (see cross-promotion tip above).ย  They said yes, and I got a lot more followers on both my blog and instagram because of it! (See networking tip above – I only asked them to sponsor after I had already built a relationship with their brand.)

I’m sure I could go on, but this post is already pretty long, so if there’s anything else you are wondering about, please feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer. I love talking shop!

Click here for the start of this series.



How to Make Quilting Your Business #12 – Designing Fabrics

Today’s business of quilting topic – designing fabrics, is one I really don’t know much about. Therefore, I’ve enlisted the help of Moda fabric designer April Rosenthal to share a few of her experiences about the whole fabric design process. All quilt & fabric images shown below are courtesy of April.

Scroll to the end for additional blog posts about this topic.

20140721_ar_fabricBest. Day. Ever. designed by April Rosenthal for Moda fabrics

I think April’s candid responses are very informative so I wanted to include them in their entirety. My questions are in bold and her responses are below.

Please tell me a little about your fabrics and the inspiration behind them.

“When I think back on being a teenager, I remember how everything was exciting. Everything was new, and being on that precipice between child and adult was exhilarating. With each new privilege, each new experience, I was eager to learn and enthusiastic about the challenges. I felt like I could take on the world and succeed.

“Best. Day. Ever! is a reflection of this enthusiasm, this can-do attitude, this excitement for life–that I try every day to remember as an adult. With beautiful, saturated color, and bold, joyful patterns, Best. Day. Ever! reminds me of all I have to be happy about–and how much is still out there waiting to be experienced. My fabrics are inspired by trying something new, taking chances, and grabbing my dreams with both hands. My goal is to make EVERY day my Best. Day. EVER!”


Dahlia Quilt by April Rosenthal, Prairie Grass Patterns

What made you decide to design a line of fabrics?

“Fabric design is the perfect intersection of several of my passions: color, design, and physically making with my hands. While I get a lot of satisfaction out of creating digital things like websites, there is nothing quite like holding an actual product you designed.

“Designing fabric has been a goal of mine since I began my business in 2009, and almost everything I’ve done has been with that in mind. In fact, from the moment I discovered that there were moms like me designing fabric from their home–my heart beat a little faster, and I knew that was where I needed to be. At the time, I was consumed with 18 month old twins and was feeling pretty acutely isolated and uncreative.

“Prior to children, I was crafting, sewing, and making all the time. I was online looking for inspiration and hope that I’d get back to creating someday. That desperate evening changed my life path for me! I began drawing up a business plan and quilting patterns that same week.”

20140721_ar_modernhexModern Hex by April Rosenthal, Prairie Grass Patterns

How did you decide on working with Moda?

“Moda was the first fabric brand I noticed when I started paying attention to the different manufacturers and their fabrics. Consistently, I would pull fabric I loved from the shelves only to find Moda on the selvedge. I knew from day one that they were the company I wanted to work with, and every interaction I had with them only solidified that desire.

“I had several opportunities to design for other manufacturers, but I declined – not because they aren’t amazing companies in their own right, but because my goal was always Moda. As I became more involved in the industry, I was told I was crazy for turning down opportunities, and that designing for Moda was nearly impossible–but my dreams have always been big, and I’m willing to chase them down.”

How long did it take you from conception to completion of the line?

“I started drawing up Best. Day. EVER! in the spring of 2013. I delivered the files and swatches to Moda in late fall of 2013, and had strikeoffs in January. It was actually pretty expedited for this first line, I don’t think it usually goes that fast.”

Do you plan on designing other lines in the future?

“Yes! I have a second line in the works right now that will come out in 2015, and plan on many more after that.”

How hard is it to become a fabric designer? What skills do you need to be successful?

“At the beginning I thought, ‘How hard can it be?’ and just jumped right in by submitting a portfolio. It wasn’t accepted of course, because it really wasn’t any good. I was overconfident and pretty ignorant frankly. After being turned down I actually started researching and learning. I took art and design classes, I read dozens of books, I bought fabric just to look at how it was designed. I found fabrics that I loved and practiced creating art in those styles.

“I noticed that most fabric designers were also accomplished quilt or garment pattern designers, and so I began to learn about publishing patterns. What I learned then, and this is even more applicable now due to the economy – is that manufacturers need designers that will bring value and help sell the fabric. They need people who know the industry, who have the quilting or sewing skills to make the fabric look good, and who have the following on social media and online to drive sales. They’re not just looking for pretty pictures to print on fabric–they’re looking for someone who can bring sales to the table.”

20140721_field_guideA Field Guide to Fabric Design by Kimberly Kight is an excellent resource.

What’s your best advice for someone who wants to become a fabric designer, but doesn’t know where to start?

“Learn. Learn everything you can about the industry, about design, and color choices, and the people who are decision makers. Learn how to quilt and sew accurately, and gain skills there.

“Make yourself the complete package. Find ways to get your quilts out there in magazines, contributions to books, and shows. Share your designs online, and gain a following. In the end, it comes down to what you know how to do, how well you do it, and who knows you can do it. If it’s something you really want, be persistent.”

Anything else you’d like to add?

“One of my best resources along the way were other friends in the industry. They were (and still are!) invaluable in teaching me, and helping me avoid major missteps. There are many, many, incredible people in this industry, and they are generous with their knowledge and time.

“My advice is to make sure you make friends, and not enemies in the industry. I’m a big believer in there being enough room in this industry and in life for everyone and their dreams–I am absolutely not competing with anyone. Be happy for others when they succeed, and be generous inย helping others succeed. It will come back to you. Always do your own work, be honest, and learn. You’ll get there.”

Additional Information

Check out this post by Alyssa Thomas of Penguin and Fish on How to Make a Fabric Collection. It’s a great read!

Want to know the inside scoop? Read this indepth article from Abby Glassenberg about How Much Fabric Designers Earn. It may surprise you!

Click here for the start of this series.


How to Make Quilting Your Business #11 – Getting Published

Today’s business of quilting topic, getting published, is probably one of the more “glamorous” aspects of making quilting your business. It’s the goal of many quilting bloggers and can be exciting for both the amateur and professional quilter. I’ve been published several times in magazines, and I’m currently working on a book with Martingale, so I will be happy to share a few of my experiences.

christa_quiltcon_chaming_chevronsAt QuiltCon in 2013 with Charming Chevrons – the start of my modern quilting career. And yes – I do own more than one shirt, this one just happens to be my favorite!

Background Inspiration

I came back from QuiltCon in 2013 on fire and ready to take on the modern quilting world! Although it has always been one of my goals to write about and publish my work, it wasn’t until I was inspired by the success of other modern quilters, that I actually took the necessary steps to make my goals become a reality. This is what I constantly ask myself, “What actions would you take today if you weren’t afraid of rejection or failure?”

Trust me, for every success I’ve shared publicly, there are plenty of failures and mishaps along the way! I think the key to long-lasting success is to get up, dust yourself off, and keep going. It’s worked for me so far. ๐Ÿ™‚

So, how do you go about getting published?

Honestly, it’s as easy (or as hard) as contacting the publishing company and finding out what their submissions guidelines are, then following the steps. You need to come up with a good idea, be flexible, work well with deadlines, and be patient!

Quilty ChevronsColorful Chevrons, inspired by my original quilt, Charming Chevrons

When I submitted my first design idea to Quilty magazine, I included a picture of my Charming Chevrons quilt just to show an example of my work. Well, guess what – they weren’t interested in my design submission, but they loved the chevron quilt! So I reworked it into a larger size with a fresh color scheme, and it ended up making the cover. All because I was willing to adapt. ๐Ÿ™‚

Did I Say Be Patient?

It took me 6 months to narrow my focus and come up with a really good book proposal to submit to Martingale. Then it took another 5 months to get approval and receive the book contract. It won’t even be published until next summer, so no spoilers yet – you’ll just have to wait!

For the magazine, I first contacted them in March of 2013, received the contract in April, sent the quilt off in June, and it was published in the November 2013 issue. So yes, patience is a virtue when comes to writing a book or a magazine pattern. And my best advice? Don’t send anything without a contract. I’m speaking from experience here. ๐Ÿ™‚

What About the Money?

The amount of payment and ownership rights vary depending on each publishing company and the length of the article/book/pattern/topic. Magazines and most compilations usually pay each contributor a one-time fee whereas book royalties are usually tied to the volume of sales. Also, some fabric companies may provide free fabrics for the projects in exchange for a mention which I think is cool.

Another perk I have discovered, is that the more I get published, the more my name gets out there, leading to further opportunities to teach, write and design. I have to admit, it is quite the ego boost to see my name in print. That’s worth it’s weight in gold, right?

herrinbone_quiltingGetting my name out there led to making my Herringbone quilt on commission for Camelot Fabrics, plus a pattern designing gig, teaching invitations, and extra publicity!

I also love the fact that once my book is published, I’ll be able to teach from it and have plenty of show and tell, not to mention at least a year’s worth of quilt show entries. ๐Ÿ™‚

Some authors choose to go the self-publishing route, but for me that just seems like too much work. I’d rather let the professionals handle the layout, editing and distribution, so I can spend my time on the fun parts – pattern writing and quilt-making! (If you are interested in writing and publishing your own stand-alone patterns, I covered that in an earlier topic here.)

A Winning Submission

If you are wanting to get published, I would recommend starting with a magazine. There are so many of them out there, and one of them is bound to like your original design! One word of caution though – it’s bad form to submit the same idea to several different magazines at the same time, so don’t do it!


I design all of my quilts in EQ7, both personally and professionally.

Most designers use some sort of design software like EQ7, or Adobe Illustrator, but hand drawn sketches are also usually okay, too. Magazines prefer to start with drawings and sketches rather than actual physical quilts. If it’s your first submission, it’s great idea if you can include a picture of a finished sample of your work. Try to brainstorm a couple of different designs and match up each idea with the magazine that seems like it would be the best fit. For example, you wouldn’t submit a traditional quilt design to a modern magazine, etc. Then send off your idea(s) and forget about them for awhile.

20140610_martingaleI recently asked Karen Burns, the acquisitions editor for Martingale, ย her best advice on writing a winning book proposal. Here’s what she had to say:

“Put a lot of thought into the ‘hook’ of the book, and the designs. Having 14-16 pretty quilts alone doesn’t work anymore. What makes them special? What makes people want to buy your book? What are you teaching them that they just “need” to know? Is there a technique that is used that is new and exciting? What would make the consumer want/need this book? What is different about the book, than what is out there?

ย “Contact the acquisitions editor of the publisher, and work with them. ย The acquisitions editors are always happy to help, encourage, and coach. Also, it is important to realize that writing a book takes a lot of work, but the end result, (a great book!) is totally worth it.”

Thanks Karen! Wise words indeed. I hope this encourages you to jump in and give it a try if you want to get published. The worst they can do is say no, and they may just say yes. ๐Ÿ™‚

When I was doing research and talking to others about their publishing experiences, quilting instructor and author Deb Karasik said to me, “writing a book will change your life!” That statement both encourages me and scares me at the same time. But I’ve jumped on the bandwagon now, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a wild ride!

Additional Reading

Check out these additional informative blog posts about getting published:

Insider Tips on Magazine Publishing by Abby Glassenberg

Is it Worth it to Write a Craft Book? by Diane Gilleland

Click here for the start of this series.

How to Make Quilting Your Business #10 – Monetizing Your Blog

Wow! It’s hard to believe this is my 10th post in the series on How to make Quilting your Business. You can get links to the other 9 posts here. Today’s topic is Monetizing Your Blog. This can be a somewhat controversial topic but still, I think it’s an important one to cover. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

Paid Sponsorships

Most often, paid sponsorships are those square buttons to other shops and products that show up, usually on the right (or left) column of a blog. Though I have never had paid sponsorships on my own blog, I have paid other bloggers to advertise when I was doing the online quilt shop thing full time. Here’s what my button looked like:

christaquilts-banner-175x175-20130315If you think of going this route, my best advice would be to put together a media kit with your advertising rates and exactly what you will offer in exchange. For me personally, I loved bloggers who would offer a discount for booking several month’s advertising up front. That encouraged me to sponsor them for a longer period of time. I don’t currently advertise on blogs anymore since I’ve taken my business in a new direction, but it was fun to interact with the bloggers when I did. ๐Ÿ™‚

Affiliate Links

Affiliate links are links to products, services, or stores where bloggers get a commission when someone clicks on their link, goes to the linked website, and makes a purchase.ย  I think these can be very effective as long as they are not too “in your face” and as long as what’s being talked about in the blog post does not sound like a commercial.

craftsy-logoThe most effective links are when a blogger links to a product or service that he/she actually uses. Then it’s more like a helpful lead, rather than a blatant promotion. Some of the more popular affiliate links are to Amazon and Craftsy, but most larger business offer them, so it’s worth checking into if that’s something you are interested in. Some companies also offer affiliate links embedded with photos, but I personally think that’s pushing it a little too far.

Product Reviews

Many times companies like to reach out to bloggers by sending them free products like fabric, tools and supplies for them to use and review. While I have never received monetary compensation for any product review I’ve written, I’ve received a few fun freebies on occasion (though most of my reviews are non-sponsored – they are just for fun!) For me personally, I would never review a product that isn’t related to quilting, or anything I’m not actually interested in.

20140602_sizzix_fabiA fun freebie I received in exchange for a product review on another company’s website.

Don’t be shy about contacting the company whose products you are interested in. I’ve gotten many a free quilting book by reaching out to the publisher and offering an honest review in exchange for a copy of the book. I think that’s been a fun, fair trade. ๐Ÿ™‚ย  Plus it gives me more fun things to share on my blog!

Paid Posts

In my experience, I’ve never received any money for any posts I have written directly on my own blog. However, as many of you know, I blog for Craftsy and I do receive a small fee for each post that’s published on their blog, so that’s kind of fun.

I also have a couple of friends who have been successful writing for larger crafting and sewing blogs on a pay for post basis. If that’s something that appeals to you, start contacting these companies and letting them know you are interested. They are always looking for fresh, new content to share and it’s also a way for you to gain more exposure.

These are just a few ways I know about to monetize your blog. I did a quick google search for “monetizing your blog” and found several articles that delve into this topic in more detail. Here are a few (non-sponsored!!) links you can try for further reading:

Click here for the start of this series.


How To Make Quilting Your Business #9 – Entering Quilt Shows

Thank you for continuing with me on my journey exploring different ways to make quilting your business. Quilting is such a vibrant industry with an incredibly supportive community surrounding it. Some people quilt for business and others for pleasure, ensuring that this highly addictive hobby will continue to thrive!

20140423_quilting_for_show_bookQuilting for Show by Karen McTavish is a wonderful resource!

Quilting for Show

Today I’d like to address the topic of quilting for show. Can you really make money entering your quilts in shows? Yes, you can – but it can be a lot of work, with no guarantee of success. Whereas in most other areas of the quilting industry you can earn guaranteed income by working hard and following one of several paths to success, winning monetary awards by entering your quilts into shows can sometimes be pretty arbitrary.

RibbonsI’ve won numerous awards for my quilts in shows, just not much money!

Don’t get me wrong – I think anyone who ever wins an award for their quilt is well deserved! But whether or not your entry wins can often times depend on who’s doing the judging, what the category structure is, and how the competition stacks up in any given show. As someone once said, “It’s all a big crap-shoot anyhoo!” Moreover, not all shows hand out monetary awards, and some shows only offer cash prizes for the overall winners.

Monetary Prizes

That being said, there’s a lot at stake if you decide to pursue the show-quilting route. Large companies (such as AQS and Quilts, Inc. etc.) put up huge rewards for their winners. Best of Show winners at some of the larger venues can earn upwards of $10K to $20 or more per win. Many of these larger value awards are purchase awards which means that if you win, the company gets to keep the quilt and put it on display in their museum. So you may need to balance the desire to win with the willingness to give up your quilt.

However, there are quite a few awards up for grabs at shows all around the country, and most of them do allow you to keep the quilt. Most of these shows are put on annually, so multiply that by the sheer volume of major shows out there and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Most shows allow you to enter your quilt within 2 years of completion, even if it has won awards at other shows.

Super Star by Marilyn BadgerSuperstar quilt by Marilyn Badger. Photo taken by Christa Watson at Road to CA 2012.

One way to look at it is this: if you are pursuing a full time job, you can calculate your hourly rate. Most major award winning quilts can take hundreds of hours to complete. This is a significant amount of time to spend, but it can pay off with just a few “wins.” For example, the beautiful quilt above by Marilyn Badger has won more than a dozen awards at various shows. Not bad for a day job, right?

String of Pearls, Honorable Mention, MQX Portland 2013

String of Pearls by Christa Watson, Honorable Mention, MQX Portland 2013

Don’t overlook the value of placement awards either. Because I just started entering my quilts in national shows last year, I never really paid much attention to the monetary prizes given out for 1st, 2nd or 3rd place finishes. I was super excited when my String of Pearls quilt won an honorable mention along with a $50 check at MQX in 2013. That pretty much covered the cost of shipping there and back, so in a sense I “broke even.”

AQS Paducah Modern 3rd Place

Charming Chevrons by Christa Watson; 3rd Place – Modern; AQS Paducah 2014

But then I was blown away when I learned how much my ribbon for Colorful Chevrons at Paducah earned me. I got a whopping $750 for a 3rd place finish! That definitely covers the cost of shipping for many shows to come, plus maybe even a little travel. I never set out to be a “show” quilter, but that kind of money certainly gives me food for thought. ๐Ÿ™‚

I found it kind of hard to find out the individual amount of monetary awards offered by many of the big name shows. Most of them will mention on their websites how much total prize money is up for grabs (which is pretty generous), but they don’t all list details of specific award amounts per category. However, just for comparison here are a few that I was able to find:

  • My local guild show – $300 each for Best Large Quilt and Best Small Quilt
  • QuiltCon – $5000 Best of Show; $500 – $1000 for 13 specific category prizes
  • Road to CA – $5000 Best of Show; $500 – $1500 for specific awards; $50 – $250 each for placement awards (1st, 2nd, 3rd)
  • AQS – $10k-$20k Best of Show; $3k-$12k for specific prizes; $750 – $1500 placement

As you can see, there are a wide range of prizes given out and I can see why people would pursue show quilting as a serious business!

Cory Allender with her collaboration quilt LilyPad.

My friend Cory (shown above) has collaborated numerous times with her sewing partner(s) to rack up the awards at several venues. Lilypad shown above, won a 2nd place at Road to California in 2013 plus a judges choice ribbon at the Pacific International Quilt show in 2013. She also scored an individual win at the same show for her Lotus Blossom quilt, shown below.

Lotus Blossom

Lotus Blossom by Cory Allender also won judge’s choice at our local show in 2013.

Cory told me that she and her collaboration partner decide ahead of time who will ship the quilt, who will pay the entry fee, and how they will split their winnings. She’s given me a few quilting tips for making award winning quilts, including using a double batting to give the quilt more stability when it hangs. In the near future, she’s going to teach me how she blocks her quilts so that the corners are are nice and square and the quilt hangs flat.

Although I’ll continue to put my quilts in shows here and there, I don’t plan to pursue it as a full-time career. In fact, I was very touched by one of my reader’s comments on my post last week about receiving recognition at Paducah. She said, “thanks for being more wrapped up in your love of quilting than awards.” That thought truly means more to me than any award. ๐Ÿ™‚

Click here for the start of this series.

How to Make Quilting Your Business #8 โ€“ Designing Patterns

Welcome to my continuing series on How to Make Quilting Your Business. I’ve been designing my own quilts for nearly as long as I’ve been quilting, but only recently decided to start turning them into actual patterns for sale.

Modern XMy latest PDF pattern design – Modern X

First, I had to get over the idea that I thought it was somehow “cheating” for me to charge people money to tell them how many squares and triangles to cut out of a yard of fabric! I really enjoy figuring out the math when it comes to calculating yardage requirements, but I know not everyone feels the same way.

I recently I had a great discussion with my friend Lee Heinrich (a prolific pattern designer and recent book author) and she convinced me that it’s okay for me to share my knowledge and get paid for it. She told me that some people’s brains just don’t work that way and they are more than willing to pay for it. I finally get that now – thanks, Lee!

Vintage Quilt RevivalVintage Quilt Revival, co-authored by three talented pattern designers Katie, Lee, and Faith. See where pattern design can ultimately take you?

Today’s topic can be narrowed down to two main ideas: (1) designing the quilt (for business or even just for personal use) and (2) producing and selling the pattern.

Designing Quilt Patterns

When it comes to designing original patterns, there are a myriad of technological choices out there. It can be as basic as sketching your ideas out on graph paper, or as advanced as using specific design software.

Personally I use EQ7 for all my designs. My favorite aspect of the software is that I can import swatches of fabric from any manufacturer into the program. Although I’m by no means an expert, it’s been easy enough for me to learn the basics of what I want to do. I can even design modern “improv” blocks. ๐Ÿ™‚ (I know – that’s kind of an oxymoron, right?)

spiraling_color_choicesI like to finalize my design digitally before I try it out in fabric. This was my working sketch that ultimately led to a darker background for Spiraling Out of Control.

Another good choice for computerized design is Adobe Illustrator. Several very talented designer friends of mine swear by this program and their work speaks for itself:

Turning Cartwheels

ย Cartwheels by Lee Heinrich, designed in Adobe Illustrator

20140401_lindsey_qalLindsey’s latest pattern – designed using Adobe Illustrator

No matter which software you use (or none at all), once you have the basic “sketch” nailed down, you’ll need to do something with those designs to turn them into an actual pattern. I use simple word processing software. I copy and paste my EQ7 images into a Word document and then add text where needed. It’s very basic and gets the job done and at this point matches my skill set. ๐Ÿ™‚

Christa Quilts Herringbone Gray Matters MoreHerringbone, designed by me in EQ7. Graphic designers from Camelot Fabrics imported my sketches and instructions into their layout software to create a professional pattern.

If you’d like a more professional look, you can import your design images into a higher-end layout and publishing software such as Adobe In-design or Microsoft Publisher. This is on my “to learn” list!

You can also opt to hire a graphic designer if you plan to produce mass quantities of a particular pattern. However, Lee’s advice is to just bite the bullet and learn the software. She states, “It will really cut into your profit margins if you have to pay a designer every time you have a new pattern that’s ready to release or you need to make changes to existing patterns.”

Modern Log Cabin Rough SketchMy current quilt on my “virtual” design wall. I’m working on the pattern for it now.

Selling Quilt Patterns

Once you’ve created your patterns, the next step is to start selling them! I asked Lee if it’s really necessary to sell printed patterns, or if PDF’s will suffice. This was her answer, “I absolutely think someone can get away with selling only PDF versions of patterns. PDFs are great because there’s practically no overhead, no page limitations, and you don’t have to rely on distributors to get them out there. But it’s important to understand that PDF patterns and paper patterns reach completely different audiences, at least for the time being.”

20121018_charmingchevronsCharming Chevrons, my first PDF Pattern design

For the beginning pattern designer, there are several options to get your patterns into the hands of your customers right away! You can sell them yourself on your own website, or from online sites such as Threadbias or Craftsy. I’ve personally chosen to start selling my patterns on Craftsy because there are no selling fees there!


Another fabulous selling model implemented by my friend Alyssa Lichner from Pile O’Fabric is her Aria Lane design company. Alyssa says, “As an independent designer sometimes you want to stop hassling with all the business details and just design! Aria Lane give designers the opportunity to publish patterns without worrying about those details. At Aria Lane we have a very specific modern aesthetic we are trying to achieve for our designs.”

If you have a design in mind that you feel would fit that aesthetic you can learn about the details of designing an Aria Lane pattern here.

20140401_aria_laneAnother fabulous Aria Lane pattern, “Hemispheres” designed by Megan Nichols

I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of this hugely broad topic. Just remember, there are several paths to success, but the first step on that path is to start making. Don’t be afraid to dive in there and learn as you go. That’s usually my method of doing things and so far it’s served me well!

Click here for the start of this series.


How to Make Quilting Your Business #7 โ€“ Teaching Classes

Thanks for continuing to follow along with my Business of Quilting series, exploring ways that you can turn your quilting hobby into a career. Today I will share my experiences as a quilt teacher, probably one of my most favorite jobs in the industry!


Free-motion quilting is one of my favorite subjects to teach!

I began teaching at a little local quilt shop back in 1997, which sadly is now out of business. My mom, a fellow sewing enthusiast (whom I taught to quilt) was browsing the newly opened store when the owner asked her if she had any recommendations for teachers. She replied, “my daughter would be perfect for that!” and the rest is history.

20130927_studentsStudents working on their Charming Chevrons quilts in 2013. We had such fun!

From there, I went on to teach at a larger national chain store and then regularly for my quilting guild over the years. I took little breaks from time to time as I raised my family and dabbled in other things, but I always came back to teaching. I love the personal interactions with my students and the look of joy on their faces when they proudly proclaim, “I made that!”

30140315_kathy_modern_quiltI ran into Kathy, a longtime student of mine, at Road to California. I was excited to see that she was taking an improv log cabin class from the amazing Jacquie Gering!

When I decided to get serious about blogging, that became another avenue in which to share my love of quilting, reaching hundreds (possibly thousands) more through my online quilt alongs.

I’m happy to announce that I will be teaching a regular series of classes later this summer at Quiltique (my favorite LQS). I’ve also been invited to participate in a week-long teaching event on the east coast next year. (I’ll provide more details once contracts are finalized and dates are set.)

20110925_retreat_girlfriendTeaching with a friend is fun, too! This is Stacy, one of my BQF’s (Best Quilting Friend).

All of this background brings me to a few summary points to consider when you embark on your teaching career:

  • Teach what you know, and what you are passionate about. If you aren’t loving it, neither will your students!
  • Decide whether you would like to teach your own designs, or follow someone else’s patterns. Teaching your own ideas can be very liberating, but it’s also a lot more work. Many popular designers and quilting companies usually put together a teaching curriculum you can follow when you teach their patterns.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask! If you have never taught before – don’t be afraid to apply. Quilt shops, guilds, and event planners are always on the lookout for fresh new talent, and enthusiasm really goes a long way!
  • It’s helpful if you can build up a relationship with the company you are seeking to teach for. In fact, many local quilt shops regularly hire their students to teach – what better spokesperson for a shop than someone who is already a big fan?

2014_lauraw_christaAttending workshops with well-known instructors (like Laura Wasilowski) is a great way to polish your teaching skills. Don’t be afraid to work in a different style!

  • Understand your priorities. I have to give kudos to Cindy Needham, a fabulous machine quilter from whom I recently took a class. From the beginning she told us “you are my priority!” Throughout the day, she made each of us feel special and was willing to answer any and all questions. I think every person in that class walked away feeling proud of themselves and excited to take more classes!
  • Remember that this is supposed to be fun! The teacher goes a long way towards setting the mood for the class. If you are having fun, so will your students.
  • Continue your quilting education. Take as many classes as you can, both in person and online to stay up with the latest and greatest techniques. You can always pick up tips on presentation, and learn a wide variety of teaching styles from other instructors.
  • Teaching with a buddy can be very rewarding if you don’t want to go it alone. In 2011, I team-taught with my BQF at our guild’s annual retreat. I’m the more outspoken one, so I guided the direction of the class. She’s the quiet, organized one, so she put together all of the kits and kept us on track. Together, we made a great team!

jenna_1st_quiltFamily and friends make great practice teaching subjects.
My daughter was excited to win a ribbon on her very first quilt!

I hope these ideas and my experiences can inspire you to do what you love. Even if you aren’t interested in the business of quilting, hopefully you can better understand what goes on “behind-the scenes!” Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions below so we can all learn from each other. ๐Ÿ™‚

Click here for the start of this series.

Click here for my Craftsy blog post: Make Machine Quilting Your Business

How to Make Quilting Your Business #6 – Selling Your Work

During my many quilt-related business ventures over the years, one of the ways I tried to make money from my craft was by producing quilted items to sell. This led to commission work and then eventually into online fabric sales whichย I blogged about previously.

This is the first book I ever bought when starting my business!

Selling Your Work

In my experience, I found that creating custom quilts on commission paid much better than simply making a bunch of quilts and trying to sell them at craft shows and consignment stores. Smaller items that could be sewn together quickly and sold cheaply performed well, but mass producing these items did not satisfy my need to create. Instead I just felt like a one woman factory. However, I did get a lot of quilting practice from it!

Making quilts for sale was great quilting practice!

Connie Campbell from Freemotion by the River got into the market by creating small quilted items likeย wall hangings, table runners, placemats, and coasters. She started pursuing small venues at first, which weren’t super profitable; however, they did lead to invitations to sell at larger craft shows and stores on a full-time basis. Since that time she’s gone onto other ventures but she’s proof positive that you can sell your wares and make a decent living from it!


Connie still shares with others via her weekly Linky Tuesday party!

Figuring The Cost

In figuring out what to charge, Connie said, “I would always make 3 of an item and figure out the materials used and the time to complete them. I kept a detailed notebook with average fabric prices and amounts needed for my items and kept a timer close-by. I was able to figure out the cost of materials and found wholesale sources for most of my supplies.”

There are always fascinating discussions to be had when it comes to determining a price for your hand-crafted goods. In fact, Josh from Molli Sparkles has held several thought provoking and somewhat controversial blog discussions on how he values his work.

Even simple quilts can be time-consuming to make when working on commission!

In fact, they went viral so quickly that he was able to share more on the subject recently at Sew Mama Sew. He calculated the cost of what it would take to make the simple, yet beautiful quilt above, if he were to be paid for it. The bottom line is this – you need to decide what the market will bear and decide whether or not that is fair compensation for your time.

Getting Started

The explosion of online commerce has made it much easier for artisans to find a wider audience for their work. Talented quilters and sewists can build up a good reputation over time, and word of mouth can spread quickly. A good way to test the waters and see if this is something you’d like to do, is to open up a little shop on Etsy and make a few samples.

etsy_whale_quiltModern Baby Quilt for sale by Home Sewn Studio on Etsy

A good rule of thumb is to give it at least 6 months and then evaluate your progress. Keep an eye out for what others are doing and how they price their items. You never want to undercut anyone or copy others’ creations, but many pattern makers out there are fine with people making a limited number of their designs into items for sale. Just be sure to check first.

As I said at the start of this series, I’ve tried just about every business related quilting topic I’m blogging about, and it’s taken me nearly two decades to finally determine what I’m passionate about (designing and making modern quilts).

I’m hoping that through this series, you’ll find your answers much more quickly than I did!

Click here for the start of this series.