Business Spotlight: Q&A with Darlene Peyton of Expressions of Love Quilting Company
Darlene Peyton of Expressions of Love Quilting Company is a great example of how everyone can build their own machine quilting business to suit the size and time commitment they desire. For Darlene, she considers her quilting business to be a side hustle that is more of a part-time business that suits her perfectly. She has a lovely studio out of her home in Virginia. We sat down with Darlene to find out more about how she got started and what she loves about her small business.
How did you get into quilting for other people?
I quilted my first quilt by hand. It took three years and I completed it in 2009. I decided that it was entirely too long to wait for a completed quilt! The woman who taught me how to quilt was a professional longarm quilter and made money quilting. I decided I wanted a longarm, but I needed it to pay for itself. So, after some research, I learned the biggest complaint of clients was that it took too long to get their quilts back. I decided the market could stand one more longarm quilter. So, in the fall of 2010, I purchased my APQS Millennium with the Automatic Fabric Advance, Glide Stitch System and Bliss Track system.
What types of quilting do you most often for your customers?
Most of my quilting is edge-to-edge with pantographs. I have some done some custom work and a few full custom projects. Full custom takes a while and most clients aren’t interested in paying for labor-intensive work. I’ve created one whole cloth wall-hanging as a gift. That was fun and challenging!
What longarm machine do you use in your business and why did you choose it?
I did some research and found that APQS held their resale value much better than other brands. APQS was hosting a Road Show not far from home and I went for information only. There was another longarm professional there checking out the latest features to add to her Millennium. She talked me right into the Millennium that day! I’ve since gone to shows and classes and tried using other machines…there’s just no competition for my Millie! Thank you, Georgene!!!
What is your favorite batting?
My favorite batting is Quilters Dream – most any of their products. I mostly use 80/20 Natural Cotton but love the lightweight, warmth, and loft of their wool batting.
What is your favorite thread?
I prefer Superior Threads and use SoFine! and Bottom Line quite often. If I want to show off the quilting design, I may use Omni.
What is your favorite ruler or gadget right now?
I guess you grow with your tools. I found a precision equal spacing tool called M-Power Point 2 Point MK2 Layout Tool. You simply fan it out to your block and it shows you equal spacing within that block for precision tool work. It’s great because if a block is slightly off due to inaccurate piecing, I can usually work the design in without the naked eye even noticing the difference.
What are the top three pantograph patterns that you use for your customers?
This is a hard question to answer because I’m always buying new pantos and want to try them all! My Circle Lord template Sakura is often requested.
What percentage of your customers are local and what percentage of folks mail you quilts? Which do you prefer?
All my business is local. I don’t aggressively try to expand my business because I have another business and my life is the typical “sandwich generation.” I look forward to the day of being able to grow more than by word-of-mouth.
Describe your studio and how you organize your longarm studio.
My studio is one half of a two-car garage finished off with temperature control. I also have a 10’ by 20’ shed that contains tubs of fabric (my stash). I have two machines set up in the studio. My Bernina 765SE with a custom cabinet made from new red toolboxes by my husband. It’s been shared around the world and women everywhere are asking their husbands to make one for them! The other machine is a Bernina 1130 – my workhorse.
My longarm, Millie, sits in the middle of the room with Circle Lord templates stored under her table. I use two 4’ folding tables together that function as my cutting table. I have found lingerie chests ideal to hold my thread and to protect it from sunlight. I purposely put pegboard above my painted OSB walls to be able to hang tools. I use foam interlocking mats to walk on when using a pantograph, but then can be taken up if I’m using my quilting stool. In another corner, I have a t-shirt press – a must-have for t-shirt quilts!
Do you use an accounting software of some sort to keep track of your invoices?
I generate manual invoices and track income, expenses, and taxes in Quicken. My business is not so large as to need something more sophisticated.
What is the best thing about quilting for others?
I enjoy seeing their eyes light up at their finished product. A quilt is an expression of love…all the way down to the binding!
What is a downside to quilting for others?
The fear of something happening while their special quilt is in my care can create stress for the longarm quilter…especially a new longarm quilter. As professionals, we take every precaution to keep their quilt safe, but it’s always in the back of my mind.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting a longarm quilting business?
Start with the equipment you can afford. I have a well-established business that I could take profits from and purchase my longarm machine. Once I purchased the longarm, I then used all that profit to build my “tool chest” over eight years. It’s a commitment of time and resources, so you want to be serious about the business.
What do you wish you knew now about running your business that you didn’t know before?
It takes longer to acquire the skills than I realized. In researching pricing for my work, I didn’t feel I could price like other longarm quilters because I didn’t have the experience they have. So I priced lower and have raised my prices slightly over time. If I had it to do again, I’d price at the market prices and then offer a “new-client discount.”
What is something you wish you had in your longarm studio to make things easier?
I wish I had a little more space to walk around both ends of my longarm. Right now, I can only walk around one side.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about your business or about the machine quilting business in general?
Enjoy your business! Understand that once your equipment is paid off, you can do as much or as little in your business as you want. Seasons of life come and demands on your time change with life. Right now, my family priorities are high, so I do not push my business on media outlets. This allows me the freedom to care for my family as well as still enjoy my business. The pressure of backed-up quilt orders and family needs can take the enjoyment out of my business.