It Costs WHAT!!!!

When we purchase a product or even consider a quilting class or workshop, we have an idea in our mind what it should cost and we would like to spend.  Of course, we would always like to spend as little as possible.  On the other hand, even when we pay little, we want high quality and value.

Why is it that sewing machines, embroidery machines, longarm machines, and even some classes and workshops cost so much?  Are they really worth that much?

Cost vs Value – Machines

Sewing machines have a very long history going back to 1846 with Elias Howe’s patent ofantique sewing machine the first practical sewing machine.  These machines were revolutionary and a huge improvement over hand stitching.  Can you imagine creating the wardrobe we enjoy today stitching all of those garments by hand?  Or even hand stitching the long dresses worn in the 1800’s? When sewing machines came out, women immediately could see their value.  They were a huge time saver allowing them to be much more productive making more clothing, giving them more time to work on other necessary tasks,or even allowing time to enjoy craft sewing.

Although the first machines were expensive at $300 ($10,000 in today’s money), Merritt Singer perfected the sewing machine and began selling them for $125 ($4,166 in today’s money). Singer offered the very first “buy now and make payments” ever was on any product.  What a novel and savvy business idea so that women could benefit from the use of the sewing machine while paying for it, possibly by making things for others.  Regardless of the cost of the sewing machine, it was worth the purchase because of the value it brought.

Fast forward to today’s sewing machines.  Quality sewing machines have many features that we enjoy, zig-zag stitching which offers many specialty and decorative stitches, needle down, scissors (we do love those!), a longer sewing bed, and more.  Could we do without those features?  Of course, but do we want to do without them?  NO, we love those features because they make our sewing more pleasurable, even easier and more productive.  Sewing machine manufacturers have noticed and designed machines with features we WANT.

How many of us have an embroidery machine, or a sewing machine with an embroidery

Nolting Longarm System with optional light bar

unit?  These machines are not cheap.  In fact, many cost more than most mid-range longarm systems, including the Nolting longarm CLX model I sell.  At quilt shows prospects are often shocked to find out that they could actually purchase a full longarm system (machine and frame) for what they paid for their embroidery sewing machine.  Are these machines and systems just expensive, high mark up, high dollar items, or is there more to the story?

Every product on the market, including sewing machines, embroidery machines, and longarm and computer guided systems have evolved from their simpler and less expensive counterpart, to what we see for sale today.  Over the years there has been a lot of changes, improvements, additions of features, and incorporation of electronic technology replacing mechanical in the product.  The total product costs include design and development, purchasing the raw materials, manufacturing costs, labor, overhead, transportation, and a little profit for manufacturer and seller.  This all add up.  The question is, do we find value and benefit in these improvements?  If the answer is “yes” and we want those improvements, then we must pay the price to have them.  In fact, to be truthful, our machines today are a value.  Based on pricing in the 1800’s converted to today’s dollars, many of these machines would cost between $30,000 and $40,000 for the basics!

Cost vs Value – Classes and Workshops

Now, what about workshops and classes?  A half day longarm hands-on class at a national quilt show will cost $200 or more.  Other classes will cost from $50 to $125.  Why so expensive?  (1) The show must cover its costs, venue, overhead, and profit.  (2) The teacher has expenses that include travel and lodging at the show and he/she expects to earn some money, not just cover expenses.  In fact, for some of these teachers, this is their only income, while others teach in addition to quilting, digitizing, or making show quilts.

Hands on technique workshop at Genesee Valley QuiltFest 2017

When you take any class or workshop, what are you really paying for?  Experience and knowledge.  That teacher has spent a lot of time, often many years, acquiring knowledge, practicing the skills, and developing techniques that they are willing to share with you.  You are actually buying years of experience.  Perhaps with time, a lot of time, you might stumble onto the techniques, and with a lot of practice get sort of good.  But, by taking a class and learning up front what works well, you can shave off years of trial and error and frustration.

Buying Years of Experience

Years ago I owned a carpet cleaning business.  Because my background is in education, naturally I felt learning everything I could about my business would be helpful.  My husband and I took 25 certification courses which were costly, included travel, often long distances to where they were offered, but in the end were the equivalent of a college education.  Because of what we learned, I built a high end, well respected business in our area.  What was more beneficial to my business than even the knowledge and techniques we learned on cleaning and restoration was the value of the experiences shared by our instructors.  We learned so much from our instructors, not only knowledge, but the valuable information they shared on their bad and often costly mistakes.  These were experiences we definitely did not want to repeat.  As a result, we were much smarter and more profitable in business early on because we didn’t make those same mistakes ourselves.

The same is true of the value of classes and workshops for quilters, regardless of the class or workshop.  It may be a class teaching a different technique, hands-on class, computer guided workshop, longarm class, or even an introductory how to use it class.  There is something to be gained from every workshop or class.  When you pay for that class or workshop, you are buying the years of experience of that teacher.  That knowledge and experience took time, often a long time and expense for them to acquire, and it can be valuable to you.

So, how do you justify that expense?  There is value and benefit in everything we learn.  I have always felt that no education is ever wasted.  It may not have immediate benefit, but at some point there is an “aha-ha.” moment and you remember something you learned.  When you think about your investment in your sewing “tools,” your sewing or embroidery machine, your longarm, or computer guided system, the cost of the workshop or class is a relatively small investment in its proper use, techniques that could save time or frustrations, or techniques that could expand your skill, capabilities, creativity and enjoyment.  If you own a business, continuing education can be written off as an expense.  And, regardless of whether you own a business or not, the value of what you learn, may in a very short time, have its own rewards.  A new skill or technique correctly learned will offer its own rewards, and for a business owner, it may very shortly return its value with increased efficiency or a new “service” to offer the customer.

It costs WHAT!!!  Don’t count the cost, look at and count the benefits and value.

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Workshop Fun With Joe Cunningham

I belong to a very large quilt club in Rochester, NY, Genesee Valley Quilt Club, that has about 335 members and meets monthly September through June at a very large building. Before the short meeting (about 10 minutes long), there ample time to search the large library borrow books, participate in the block of the month and fat quarter activities, enjoy time chatting with quilting friends new and old, turn in quilts you have made to be given away as “comfort quilts,” sign up for a workshop, check out the free table, or see what a member might have at the “sale” table that month. After the short business meeting is over we enjoy “show and tell” seeing the many comfort quilts turned in (often 40-50) and member show and tell, which is an inspiration to all of us. We take a lunch and take turns providing snacks. After lunch we have a program, usually a presentation by a well-known quilter, often with a slide show and quilt samples.

Each year I try to take at least a couple of workshops to learn new techniques or perfect techniques I already use. Because the club likes to bring in nationally known teachers and lecturers, I had the opportunity to take a class last fall (2015) from Joe Cunningham. Anyone who has been in the quilting world very long knows the names of some of the well-known quilting teachers. Because there are significantly fewer men quilting teachers than women teachers, you are more likely to know their names.

As a vendor (Nolting Longarm) at Quilt Canada in 2014 held at Brock University in St Catharines, Canada, I noticed one day a very tall, slender man strolling down one of the halls where classes were taking place. Later I noticed that same man eating in the dining area. Could it be, yes, it was, Joe Cunningham. Joe was teaching classes at Quilt Canada.

Over the years I have read articles about Joe and his quilts in various quilting magazines. His style is not traditional, not really art, although sometimes, it is simply his style. So, when I had the opportunity to take a class from Joe in Rochester, NY, I immediately signed up. Like most workshops you are provided with a list of supplies that include fabric suggestions, sewing machine, cutting tools, and sewing supplies. Armed with everything I needed or thought I might need, I went to class which was held in a very large meeting room at a church. There was more than enough room for the fifteen or sixteen quilters. Each of us had two large size tables to work on! This was the second workshop that Joe taught, having taught another project the day before.

The workshop with Joe was a joy. It was very laid back, the technique had a few instructions, very few, and the interpretation was left up to the quilter. Joe roamed around the room looking at progress as we made our 6 ½” blocks. Although laid back, there was structure and he did have the clock in mind suggesting that by 2 pm our blocks should be made. If you don’t have 36, use 28 or if you have more, fine. At 2 pm we would start working on arrangement. Thankfully we each had a lot of space to arrange our blocks. Joe would come by and spend several minutes looking at the arrangement, move a few blocks to another spot, maybe back again, but urged us to be open and look at other design options and that it would speak to us when it was done.   What was so interesting was that everyone’s project looked quite different because of the many different kinds of fabric used. Some fabrics were solids, others read as solids, others were prints with a dominant color, how value (relative strength of color compared to other colors) affected the design, every project looked very different. I remember one project in particular made of fuchsia, lime green, gray and black solids. What a modern quilt that was going to be, very striking.

Wow, the arrangement took the rest of the class time. Even then I was not sure I was

Joe Cunningham

Joe serenading us as we work.

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Joe showing us his quilts.

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One of Joe’s quilts using his bias tape technique.

happy with my arrangement and spent at least another hour or more on the design wall at home before deciding that was enough and started stitching the blocks together. Joe did spend a little time talking about finishing, adding borders, or not, and, of course quilting. He had a number of samples to look at which provided lots of inspiration.

As Joe started packing up his quilts for their journey back to California, I learned something about storing quilts. I noticed that he did not fold them nice and even by quarters, then fold again into a nice square. Instead, he flopped one corner over, then another corner over and each corner, rather haphazard, like a child might “fold” something. So I asked. Quite simply, folding haphazardly in different ways each time reduces the fold marks that you often see in quilts that are neatly folded and stored. So, I guess sometimes it is best not to be so neat.

My project is now finished, assembled, quilted, and bound.

My finished quilt "Joe Cunningham" style.

My finished quilt with closeup of binding finish technique.

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Piped binding technique.

The workshop with Joe was one of the most fun filled workshops I have ever taken. Low stress, using a free, no thought cutting technique, an encouragement to think out of the box, and he even serenaded us with his guitar and songs. Thank you, Joe Cunningham for a very enjoyable workshop experience.

Below take a tour with Joe Cunningham in his studio in San Francisco.  And, if you have a chance, sign up to take one of his workshops.

 

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