How Not to Do a Commission

Follow these hot tips for an authentically frustrating and stressful experience!

First, make sure the client is a friend of a family member – this means that backing out or saying “no” is that bit harder.  Oh, and they’re only paying for the materials, not your time.

Next, make sure the client has no idea what you do or how a quilt is constructed.  Ideally, they should also have no idea about size, colour or design and no apparent interest in discussing any of these points.

Lastly, time the commission so that it coincides perfectly with a really stressful event in your own life, such as a house move that falls through *after* you moved out of your old place.

Congratulations!  Now you’re all set for maximum hair-pulling and ARGH! moments!  😀

Grizzling aside, I think it actually came out ok:

These are also the only WIP shots I have of this quilt, since I only got re-united with my camera a few days ago.  I usually like to have a good progression of WIP pictures, but it simply wasn’t possible this time.  🙁  The brief was for a “king-size” quilt for a wedding at the end of August.  However, I couldn’t get any dimensions other than the standard measurements for a UK king-size mattress, which I based the size of the centre panel on.  And I did manage to eventually get a colour brief of “maybe blue, definitely NOT brown” and some fabric picks to work with.  I took it upon myself to throw in some cream-coloured fabric to warm things up a smidge.  Given the circumstances, I shamelessly chose the simplest design I could think of – rail fence with some sashing.  I think it actually took me longer to figure out how to sort out the sequence of 2″ squares around the centre than it did to piece the rails together.

With the borders, the quilt has ended up being approximately 80″ x 90″, so it’s a bit on the small size for a “proper” king-sized quilt, but there should be at least a bit of spare quilt to hang over the edge of the bed.  It’s also easily the largest thing I have quilted to date.  Nearly all of the construction and quilting was done while camping out for three weeks with my aunt and uncle, so I’m feeling like it’s lucky there’s a quilt at all.  Also, I now feel I very much owe my aunt and uncle a quilt too – this beast would never have reached the quilting stage if they hadn’t engineered a chance for me to borrow the floor of the local village hall to do the pin-basting on and let me take over half their dining table and living room with quilting stuffs.


The rail-fence centre is quilted in straight lines, with some wavy lines courtesy of the pre-programmed stitches of the Pfaff.  Originally, it was all going to be only straight lines everywhere, but the cream border was crying out for something extra and luckily I’d bought some cream-coloured thread of exactly the right shade and weight, so I essayed a filler design of leaves to hold everything down and give it a necessary finished look.


It came out pretty well, I think, and I discovered an important truth about leaves – they can be almost any shape at all, but if they have a sort of point and a mid-vein then they’ll look like a leaf!  I call this the “Quilter’s Fancy” Tree, aka the Lolwat? Vine.

It’s almost complete now – all that’s left is hand-finishing the binding, which I’m about half-way through already, and burying some thread ends from the quilting on the stripy outer edges.  And I should probably sort out some manner of label to add to the back, once I discover the names of the happy couple…

Linking up with WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced, Let’s Bee Social, Free-Motion Mavericks (when it goes live), Can I Get A Whoop Whoop (when it goes live), TGIFF (when it goes live; I ought to be done with the binding by then!)

23 thoughts on “How Not to Do a Commission”

  1. That sounds like a nightmare of over-generosity. I think it’s perfectly fair to ask for monetary compensation that goes beyond covering material costs. After all, if a family member is a doctor, they probably don’t give you free office visits. If they work as a landscaper, they would not be keen to complete your yard just because you purchased the trees and rocks. How many professional photographers, related or not, are good with, “Here’s a disk. I won’t be paying you because I’ll print out the photos at Sam’s Club.”? It might bring about some understanding of your talent and process too, when a price quote includes at least minimum wage. I figures if that scares them off because it isn’t worth it to them, then it isn’t worth it to me either. The quilt looks great though!

    1. You make an excellent point. I wanted to say no to the whole thing. I wanted to say no very badly. I *knew* agreeing to the project while knowing about the move was a huge mistake. In theory we were supposed to be lodging with the person in question for several weeks while we sorted out the move into a new place, so the quilt was to be a sort of payment in kind. Alas, neither the lodging nor the new house actually came to be. :/ I wish that I’d been more organised with tracking the time spent on it; it might not have been much help this time, but would be excellent info to have for the next time someone has a “bright idea”. Even in the limited time I’ve been making quilts, I’ve found that non-crafters really struggle to understand the real value of a hand-crafted item (of any craft, not just quilts), and I realise that I haven’t done much in this instance to mitigate that. 🙁

      Thanks for the comment on the quilt, though – I’m pleased with it even though it’s had a troubled birth! 🙂

  2. The quilt is gorgeous! Sometimes simple is just perfect. I loved your ‘tutorial’ too, though I’m guessing it was more fun to read about it than it was to live through it!

    1. Thank you! I’ve grumbled a lot, but I learned a lot too and I’m proud of the quilt itself even though the road to the end product has been pretty rocky. 🙂

  3. Oh, my. I thought I could totally relate to this post because I just finished a “commission” quilt for a non-quilter that had lots of moments in the making of it. But I was not in the process of moving. Bravo to you for doing this in the middle of an unsettled time! It looks lovely, and I think the setting really shows off the simple rail fence blocks beautifully. I hope your life has settled down some and that you can continue happily quilting along without all the complications.

    1. Thank you for your comment! Yeah, the quilt without the move or the move without the quilt would have been fine, but both together was…. ufff. In a weird way, it has given me a welcome distraction to focus on, but in another way I could really have done without the extra pressure. Life’s not completely settled yet, but we’re in rental accommodation now and can have some breathing space to sort ourselves out, hopefully. 🙂 Still looking forward to the next quilt(s), and it’s been lovely to have the time to dip my toe back into the quilting community! 😉

  4. Sorry it was such a frustrating experience to go through. On the bright side, you have a lovely finish and it’s a great quilt that you should be proud of. Hopefully with time, you will forget how painful of an experience it was and only look back on the pleasant memories. . .like the finish!

    1. Thank you for the comment! I’m certainly pleased with the quilt – and it has given me more confidence with handling larger projects, so that’s a positive thing too. 🙂

  5. The title of this post is perfect. I know I can relate. When you are a non-quilter there are many aspects that you will just not understand. I enjoy the way you created a new pattern with the squares of blue around the rail fence. Despite the stress of the almost move, the quilt is beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I’m visiting from the TGIFF!

    1. Thank you! It was certainly interesting to see what I could do with quite a limited colour selection. The squares were mostly born of a need to make the centre bigger and use up all the spare strips of blue I had. 🙂

  6. Congrats on such a lovely (near) finish! You client clearly doesn’t deserve it so I suggest you keep it yourself and buy them a cheap one on ebay ;/ I’m joking – but only just…I’ve done this very thing before but without the added bonus of a house move and I think Afton makes excellent points. On a brighter note, this quilt has turned out really beautifully and I’m sure the couple will treasure it for years to come 🙂

    1. Thanks, lol! Funnily enough, the lady at the fabric shop said something similar to the client when we went to choose fabrics. But hey, at least now I have a better idea of how long a big quilt takes me when I’m focussed on it, and I should be in a better position to estimate actual costs of labour if it happens again. 🙂 In fact, I’m slightly planning on doing a similar-sized quilt for my aunt and uncle and taking exact notes of costs and times while making it, to use as a yard-stick. They were completely awesome about us staying with them and, since they’ve watched me wrestle with this project, I know that they’ll definitely appreciate the time and effort. 🙂

  7. The quilt is lovely. I am sorry about ALL the challenges associated with making it. Thanks for sharing the lessons you learned from the experience.

    1. Thank you! It has certainly been a learning experience, and it would be unfair for me to claim that it has been all bad. A quilt has emerged and I am proud of it, which is the most important thing for me. 🙂

  8. Wow!! Well done! I think you did a great job with the quilt. You should have really kept it for yourself 🙂


    1. Lol, thanks! 🙂 Perhaps I ought to finish a quilt for me soon, then I’ll feel better.

  9. ok.. i am a guy. Don’t ask how i ended up on this site but.. here i am.
    Call me old fashion, i like the weight and feel of a quilt and as my mom quilts, i have an appreciate of the time, energy and love that goes into one. But as a guy, i’m not particularly fond of flowers, pastels or the more traditional quilt patterns. But this!!.. with the pattern and colors, this is a masculine quilt I could live with. Thank you for showing me such a thing exists and keep up the great work.

    1. Hey, I don’t judge, I’m just thrilled to have visitors! 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting, what you’ve said really means a lot to me because quilting often isn’t a very manly thing (it can be, but you have to work at it), and since this is a wedding gift for someone’s grandson I didn’t want it to be overwhelmingly girly-girly despite the quite floral fabric choices. So thank you for allaying my worries there! 🙂

  10. Hello Heulwen,

    What a nightmare! You need a holiday after all that. There is no need to fell bad about being a bit grumpy about the whole situation. It’s allowed. You deserve a medal.

    The finished design has that clean cut cool Scandinavian look, which fits in with modern or old fashioned furnishings – and what’s more Will likes it because it’s not girly.

    Love the leaves! Watch it, they’re addictive.

    Thank you for linking up with Free Motion Mavericks!

    Love, Muv

    1. Thanks Muv! Alas no holiday, but I did go to my cousin’s wedding, so that was nice. (I owe them a quilt too at some point – is there ever an end? lol!)

      Scandinavian? Hmmm, hadn’t thought of it like that, but I see what you mean. 🙂 I know absolutely nothing about the recipients so I just tried to make the most “neutral” design I could, and funnily it seems to have worked.

      You’re right about the leaves, I can see myself doing lots more of those in the future. 😀

  11. Well, for all the frustration I think it turned out beautifully! And adding the squares in the border really adds a nice dimension to the quilt.

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