Business Spotlight: Q&A with Jenny Clark Quilting
Jenny Clark finds joy in watching her customer’s faces light up when they see their finished quilt tops after she has worked her magic with her APQS Mille. She proves that word of mouth is a great way to draw in new machine quilting clients. We wanted to find out more about her business Jenny Clark Quilting and recently sat down to ask Jenny some questions about how she got started.
How did you get started quilting for other people?
Once I bought my longarm and took some time to practice on many of my own quilts, I had a couple of ladies ask me if I’d be willing to quilt some of their quilts. I worked part-time at a little quilt shop and retreat center teaching quilting and embroidery classes, so I had some exposure to my students and word of mouth. After I quilted a few quilts for others, and they saw my results, the word got out that I was taking customer quilts, I started to get busy. That was five years ago.
What types of quilting do you most often for your customers?
The majority of the quilting I do is custom for Quiltworx quilts. I occasionally will get an edge-to-edge quilt that I will use a panto on.
What longarm machine do you use in your business and why did you choose it?
I have an APQS Millie. I upgraded to Bliss and added an Intelliquilter system in late 2018. I learned how to longarm on a Gammill and was originally wanting to get a Gammill, but then I did some research, read reviews and recommendations online, and tested other machines at quilt shows. I found that I really wanted an APQS machine for their excellent customer service and easy maintenance as well as longevity that everyone online boasted about. I found out that the owner of the quilt shop I worked at was ready to sell hers and so I bought it …. and it’s still running strong!
What is your favorite batting?
I love Hobbs 80/20 for most of my quilting, but I also like to use Quilters Dream Poly when I have it available
What is your favorite thread?
Glide and Magna-glide bobbins
What is your favorite ruler or gadget right now?
My favorite ruler is my 3 1/2” x 12 1/2” creative grids quick trim ruler. My go-to gadget for my longarm is my laser pointer to use when tracing out blocks for custom quilting. I also love the Easy Press Fabric treatment & pen for pressing seams and Seam Align glue by Acorn Precision Piecing Products. They are my new favorite “go to” for assembling my quilts.
What are the top three pantograph patterns you use for your customers?
I really like the Time Warp digitized panto, by Patricia Ritter for quilting Bargello quilts. And I like the bubble vines meander panto by Nancy Haake of Wasatch Quilting. Also, I really like to use the Falling Snow E2E panto by Christy Dillon from My Creative Stitches for winter or holiday-themed quilts.
I mostly use custom digitized designs. I like the Dream Big designs by Nancy Haacke of Wasatch Quilting for quilting up the Dream Big panels and I really like the digitized design for the Quiltworx Dinner Plate Dahlia by Carrie Barone of Peak to Prairie Quilting.
What percentage of your customers are local and what percentage of folks mail you quilts? Which do you prefer?
Probably about 90 percent are local. I’ve just started to get quilts mailed to me for custom quilting for Quiltworx designs. I imagine that as time goes on I will get more quilts mailed to me. It’s nice to be able to meet customers in person to discuss their quilt and the design preferences, but I’m finding it just as easy for the mailed ones by using text messaging for discussing options.
Describe your longarm studio and how you organize it.
My sewing and longarm studios are in the same area. I have a basement in my house, so I’ve pretty much taken that over. I have a Baby Lock Destiny in a Koala desk that I do the majority of my sewing and embroidery on. I also have a Bernina 475 that I use to take to my classes and retreats. I have a cutting table that I use to cut out my kits that I make and sell on my website. My longarm is on caster wheels, so when I’m quilting, I roll it out to the middle of my room, then roll it back up against a wall when I’m done. It’s a 14-foot frame, so it takes up quite a bit of my room when it’s out. I have several of my quilts hanging on the walls around my room so it keeps me happy and inspired when I’m sewing and quilting.
What is the best thing about quilting for others?
I love to see their reaction when they get their quilt back. I have a lot of customers who say: “Do your magic, I trust your choices,” so I have the freedom to pick the design and the thread colors. When they see the finished quilt, it gives me a sense of pride and joy to see how happy they are with my work.
What is a downside to quilting for others?
The biggest downside I have, just as many other longarmers, is that I don’t get enough time to work on my own quilts. I try to balance my time so that I work on customer quilts during the day, and then work on some of my own projects “after duty hours” in the evenings. I’m a certified Quiltworx instructor, so there are many times when I’m trying to get a sample finished for a class, and also have a deadline looming to get a quilt back to a customer, that I end up staying up late into the night or early morning to get things finished. I know I’m not alone in that sadly, as I hear and read stories of others in the same boat!
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting a longarm quilting business?
Make sure that it’s something that you really enjoy and are ready to start. I love longarm quilting and enjoy finishing up quilts for people. But, I also know it can be time-consuming and it takes you away from your own quilting projects. Do your research and try out and test machines before you pick your machine. Make sure you have support for maintenance or supplies you’ll need once you get your machine. Talk to others in your area to see what works for them and to see what the demand and volume of quilts are in your area. It’s not for everyone and you need to be prepared for the ups and downs. Don’t quit your day job until you get busy enough to support whatever income you need to support yourself.
What do you wish you knew now about running your business that you didn’t know before?
One thing I learned early on is that you need to know how to fix a quilt that’s not square. I practiced on a lot of charity quilts before getting really serious into custom quilting. Sometimes you have to be creative, but as a new longarm quilter, I was quite nervous when I found the quilt to not be square. I still get nervous if I run into a quilt that has issues, but I just take my time and try to figure that out BEFORE I get it loaded onto my frame!
Another thing that I wish I would have been better prepared for is how to be organized. As I’ve started getting busier and having more quilts in the line up waiting to be quilted, I really didn’t know a good way to keep organized and on track to see what I was working on, what was next, and what to expect in the future. Also, some customers had definite hard due dates, other customers were “no rush”, but I didn’t want to take too long, so I had to balance my time between those and figure out how to estimate when I would have a quilt done for a customer. I thought I was a pretty organized person, but I’ve found it difficult to stay organized and stay on track. That led me to reach out and ask what other longarm quilters were using to keep on top of things. I found the easiest way for me to stay organized is by using a big dry erase board that I have posted right up in front of my longarm so I can quickly and easily see what I have coming up and what due dates are coming close. I’m still trying to get my estimated time frame better, I’m getting there. Each quilt has its own unique characteristics…especially the Quiltworx custom quilts and applique quilts…they take a bit longer than I estimate, so I need to get better at that!
What is something you wish you had in your longarm studio to make things easier?
Right now I’m doing all my invoices with Microsoft Excel. Eventually, I would like to get some business software like Machine Quilters Business Manager software or something like it so I can be a little more organized and automated. Also…I wish I could clone myself so I could get twice as much done!! LOL 😊
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about your business or about the machine quilting business in general?
Yes! I’m a Quiltworx certified instructor. I specialize mostly in Quiltworx custom quilts. However, I can also do other custom quilts like applique quilts and Dream Big panels, and any digitized edge to edge…not just custom quilts. I can also free motion quilt feathers and swirls, etc, which is what I was doing prior to getting the Intelliquilter up and running. In addition to longarm quilting, I teach quilting workshops locally and can travel to guilds and retreats as requested. I offer kit cutting services where you send me your kit or your own fabrics and I will cut all of your fabrics and papers (mainly for Quiltworx kits) and get your kit back to you fully cut and organized and ready to sew. I also sell quilt kits and patterns on my website, and I have very limited fabric yardage, a few Dream Big panels, and the Precision Piecing Products.