Running a longarm quilting business: Q&A with Mandy Applebee
We set aside some time recently to talk to Mandy Applebee of Yellow House Quilts. She lives in central New York state and runs her successful business while being an incredible mom to two adorable boys. We’ve asked her a number of questions to get a better sense of how her longarm quilting business has enriched her world and her family.
How did you get into quilting for other people?
It wasn’t my intention to quilt for others when I started machine quilting, I merely wanted to finish things for myself and my mom. When I figured out how to run my machine and people saw what I did they asked me to do projects for them. It has snowballed from there.
How long have you been quilting for others?
I received my first client quilt in late 2005, however I was afraid to quilt it until over a year later. I didn’t feel I was good enough until then. I still learn more and more everyday with every quilt I finish but if I hadn’t finally taken the plunge and started into that first quilt, for that absolutely patient client I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to travel this amazing journey!
What types of quilting do you most often do for your customers?
I would say my work is 90 percent custom. I carved a niche in my area for custom work. It seems that’s what people look for me for. Somedays I would prefer a creative vacation to just do some edge to edge work but once I do that I find myself quickly bored…I was clearly meant to do custom work!
What longarm machine do you use in your business and why did you choose it?
I use a 2012 Freedom SR with an L bobbin. I spent three years shopping for a machine, testing out every brand before finding my partner, Freida. I chose her because of her big neck space and lighter weight. L bobbin was also an intentional choice because I knew I was going to be doing a lot of small detail work. The smaller bobbin gives me the increased precision to maintain perfect tension.
What is your favorite batting?
I can use any batting my clients bring me. I carry Quilters Dream products for my own projects or clients who wish to purchase from me. My personal first choice is Quilters Dream Green Polyester batting for most quilts, and wool for my show quilts. Sometimes I use 80-20 cotton/poly for more traditional quilts. I love the idea of using recycled materials whenever I can, and I like the minimal shrinkage from polyester batting for modern quilts.
What is your favorite thread? I
carry and use all Fil-Tec Glide threads in my studio. The threads are tri-lobal polyester and come in over 250 different colors. I have used all the different lines of thread Fil-Tec carries and I love them all. I haven’t ever needed another type of thread.
What is your favorite ruler or gadget right now?
I spent the money last year and purchased solid stacked circles in a range of sizes. I use them all the time for all sorts of different designs. Prior to that I had nesting circles and I struggled with them, they weren’t comfortable in my hand. The stacked circles are a challenge to store but the gain is worth it. My other favorite is a 6-inch straight edge from Quilters Apothecary that has a little handle on it. The handle has taught me not to have a death grip on my ruler which was a problem when I started doing ruler work causing me pain in my wrists and hands.
What percentage of your customers are local and what percentage of folks mail you quilts? Which do you prefer?
I would say 75 percent of my customers are local (within three hours of me), although some of them drop quilts off and I ship them back. The other 25 percent are from all over the country, including Alaska. I am willing to ship to anywhere. I don’t have a preference when I work with a client. We communicate often during the process by email and text message so it doesn’t matter if they are local or miles away. We can still get done what needs to be done, I am accessible.
Describe your studio and how you organize your longarm studio.
My studio is very small. I took my sons closet from his room to make enough room for my 12-foot frame when I bought Freida. Freida is also on casters because I have to wheel the machine forward against my ironing station, or back against my fabric storage, depending on which side of the machine I need to be working from. My studio is very organized. I have thread on one wall arranged by color. Beneath my machine my husband built me a rack which stores 2 rolls of batting. I have a basket which holds my plastic sections for my Leader Grips, a few pantographs, and a pile of quilts which I use when I teach classes around my area.
What is the best thing about quilting for others?
The best thing about quilting for others is the people I have met. I have some of the most wonderful clients who have become friends, and grown with me as I worked thru this business. I am so grateful! I also really enjoy being challenged to work outside of my comfort zone on quilts which are a new style, and on projects that really push me.
What is a downside to quilting for others?
The downside of quilting for others is occasionally the people, although nearly everyone I have met through quilting has been wonderful, at times everyone runs into a “bad egg.” I suppose even those more challenging, opinionated and picky clients have helped me grow as a quilter.
Timelines make me nervous, and it seems everyone thinks they can deliver a quilt three days before Christmas and I can have it back in time. I have also learned to never give a firm date to finish a quilt, because a client will call every day for the three weeks before the date I gave them to ask if it is finished yet.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting a longarm quilting business?
It isn’t as easy as you think. You will face challenges, you will struggle and you will fail sometimes. Join a community of quilters in person or online, look for help. Walk away when you are frustrated. When you come back nine times out of 10 you can find the solution or you will discover you don’t have to rip out a design.
Never stop learning, take all the classes you can. Classes are available online and in person, choose in-person, hands-on when you can. Read books, magazines and articles. Meet other longarm quilters – they will help you work through a problem, plan a design, or maybe talk you off a ledge when things go catywompus and you are too invested to see the way out. You will need them and the best part is they will be there for you because quilters are amazing people.
What do you wish you knew now about running your business that you didn’t know before?
The most important thing I wish I had known was how much I would love the job and how much I would love the community. There are so many amazing people willing to help if you need it, all you need to do is ask!
This business is so much more than just quilting all day … the business stuff isn’t my favorite. I don’t enjoy keeping records, or keeping tax documents straight. It took me a while to perfect my intake process for a new quilt, and find ways to save time in organization and labeling.
I wish I had known just how much space you need to store tools, and client batting, as well as their tops.
What is something you wish you had in your longarm studio to make things easier?
SPACE … I long for a room/space big enough to house my machine without needing to move it and have room for a table and chairs to meet clients, a large area to hang the quilt that is coming up next in my quilting queue so I can study at it and start planning. My current wall is small and oh so hard to get to! I wish I had some beautiful windows to provide lots of light. I have my studio all planned out, someday I will build it I hope!
Thanks so much for spending the time answering all of our questions today, Mandy! If you’d like to connect with Mandy you can find her on Instagram, or Pinterest as YHQNY, and on Facebook as Yellow House Quilts.