Running a longarm quilting business: Q&A with Julie McClannan

September 4, 2018

Julie McClannan is a former third grade teacher turned professional quilter. After years of quilting for herself using her APQS machine she started her quilting business, Quilting By Julie, in 2009. She is based in La Vista, Nebraska, and considers it a blessing to be able to do what she loves for others.

We touched base with her to asked her a few questions about how she got started and what advice she might have for those who are considering starting their own quilting business.

How did you start quilting for other people?

As my retirement from teaching drew closer, I realized I would need something to keep me busy. I had been using my APQS Lenni to quilt my own projects and I had been quilting QOVs for various people. I really enjoyed longarm quilting and decided doing it as a business would be perfect for a retirement occupation.

I mentioned my intentions to the owner of a LQS and she invited me to quilt a sample that had been pieced for display in the shop. She loved what I did on that quilt and began to offer my business card to customers who were looking for a longarmer. That was 8 years ago!

What longarm machine do you use in your business and why did you choose it?

Initially I bought a Lenni, but I upgraded to a Millenium within a couple of years. About four years ago I ugraded again to a Millie with Bliss and Quiltpath.  I visited quilt shows and tried out several brands of longarms before choosing APQS.

I was impressed with every APQS representative I had contact with and over the years I have found their customer service to be outstanding.

Let’s talk more about quilting! What is your favorite batting?

My personal favorite is Hobbs 80/20.

You have your batting cleverly hanging off the wall so you can cut it easily. Can you tell us more about the system you devised?

My husband made the batting rollers and the thread shelf. I love them both. The batting rollers sit on top of a banquet table making it so easy to roll out the batting and cut. So handy!

What is your favorite ruler or gadget at the moment?

I found a magnetic dish that is about 5” by 9” at a local auto supply store.  It has two strong magnets on the bottom that rest on the two front bars of my frame.  I holds hundreds of pins and I can’t imagine quilting without it.

We love your wall of thread! What is your favorite kind of thread to use for your customers?

My favorite threads are So Fine and Bottom Line from Superior Threads but I also have Glide in a few colors and I use Magnaglide bobbins whenever possible.

What are the top three pantograph patterns that you use for your customers?

The ones I have used the most often are Crystal’s Lovely Leaves by Chrystal Smythe, Paisley Allover by Darlene Epp, and Curly Weave by Karen Thompson.

What percentage of your customers are local and what percentage of folks mail you quilts? Which do you prefer?

Probably about 90 percent of my business is from local quilters. I really enjoy face to face time with my customers, so I prefer local people. However, five of my customers have moved away from my area and they continue to ship their quilt tops to me and I am happy to continue quilting for them.

Describe your studio and how you organize your longarm studio.

I am very blessed to have a large studio. It occupies most of the basement level of our ranch style home. It is L shaped so the smaller part of the room is where I store extra batting and supplies. In the large open area I have my domestic sewing machine set up, a desk for my paperwork, a couple of comfy chairs in a corner for visiting with my customers, my longarm and a pingpong table for laying out quilts. Oh, I also have a treadmill that holds a computer shelf so I can exercise while looking for new digital designs etc. I have quilts hanging everywhere, of course.

Do you use an accounting software of some sort to keep track of you invoices?

I am a paper and pencil person (perhaps a holdover from teaching 3rd grade for so many years). I use two-part generic invoices and a business ledger book from the office supply store. It’s simple and it works for me.

What is the best thing about quilting for others?

I really enjoy seeing what other quilters are working on and getting to know each of my customers.  They have become a whole new circle of friends. I love that.

What is the downside to quilting for others?

Occasionally I will have a new customer who complains about other quilters or is difficult to please.  That isn’t fun, but I try to not take it personally and just enjoy the 95 percent of my customers who are positive, appreciative people.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting a longarm quilting business?

I would advise anyone thinking of starting a longarm business to practice, practice, practice. Having confidence in yourself relieves a lot of anxiety in the beginning. Doing charity quilts for others gives you a feel for the sorts of quilts you might get as a business person and the level of expertise of the quilters you will deal with.

Connect with Julie at her website.