Running a Longarm Quilting Business- Q&A with Nancy Kennedy
Editor’s note: Many APQS owners turn their passion for quilting into a profitable business. We decided to sit down with a few of these entrepreneurs to learn more about how they started their businesses and what words of wisdom they have for others who might be considering it.
The third article in our series (catch up and read the first and second ones) is all about Nancy Kennedy from Raleigh, North Carolina. She started her own quilting business – Kennedy Quilting – three years ago and loves the thrill of quilting for others and doing what she is passionate about for a living. Read about her experiences below…
How did you get into quilting for other people?
Several years ago I was doing contract work for a local business that made custom quilts. I ended up doing all of the quilting on their Millie. I had owned a mid-arm machine for years and the transition to a longarm was fairly simple. During this time, I learned the ins and outs of minor repair work (cleaning and oiling) and how to use the Intelliquilter computerized quilting system. I got tired of the long commute and started thinking and dreaming about working out of my home. With the support of my husband and encouragement from Angela Clark, who was opening APQS Raleigh about the same time, I jumped in and haven’t looked back!
How long have you been quilting for others?
Counting the mid-arm years it has been about nine years. I started Kennedy Quilting almost three years ago.
What types of quilting do do most often for your customers?
The majority is computer-driven pantograph/edge-to-edge quilting using my Intelliquilter Classic system. I do quite a bit of free motion quilting for another business that makes t-shirt and memory quilts.
What longarm machine do you use in your business and why did you choose it?
I have a 2014 Millennium on a 12′ frame with the Bliss Track System and Auto Quilt Advance. I was very familiar with this machine and nothing that I saw in my research at quilt shows could compare. With a life time warranty, and great local service (which I haven’t needed), the choice was an easy one.
What is your favorite batting?
I would have to say I’m a big fan of Warm and White batting. The color works well for most of the quilts that I do and I keep a roll available for customers.
What is your favorite thread?
I use A&E Perma Core thread for almost all of my quilting. I also like Superior So Fine. They both work very well on my machine.
What is your favorite ruler or gadget right now?
Calling my Intelliquilter a gadget doesn’t do it justice but I use it daily and am constantly amazed at what it can do. Because I use an IQ I haven’t had a need to purchase quilting rulers but I am fascinated by the work that can be done with them.
What are the top three pantograph patterns that you use for your customers?
Gosh, that’s a tough one! I use so many and my customers have the final say in what they want. Looking back at pictures I have to say that Slick and Embellish (by Hermione Agee) and Chantilly (by Patricia Ritter and Leisha Farnsworth) have been used quite frequently.
What percentage of your customers are local and what percentage of folks mail you quilts? Which do you prefer?
Almost all of my customers are local or within a short drive of my studio. I am a volunteer quilter for The National Quilts of Valor Organization so all of those quilts are mailed to me. I like being able to discuss my customers vision for their quilt and pick out patterns and thread colors in person but have been successful with a few quilts being mailed to me. Good communication is essential.
Describe your studio and how you organize your longarm studio.
I attached a picture of my studio which I refer to as my Quilting Castle. (Princess Millie resides there!!!). It is in a sun room that we added to the back of our house when our four children were teenagers and needed a spot to hang out. It turns out that many of the features we incorporated when designing this room-outside entrance, hardwood floors, lots of windows, and close access to the kitchen (coffee!!) have served me well in a quilting studio. Besides my longarm, I have a cutting table, my regular sewing machine, an embroidery machine and space for a couple of my craft hobbies. I also keep a rocking chair/sitting area for those days that I just want to sit and relax.It truly is my ‘Happy Place’.
Do you use an accounting software of some sort to keep track of your invoices?
I use the Numbers program that is part of my Mac. So far, it has served me well.
What is the best thing about quilting for others?
Seeing the smiles on their faces when they see their ‘almost finished’ quilt is heartwarming! Several of my customers have become good friends. We exchange pattern ideas, plants, vegetables from our gardens and eggs.
I love working from home, day or night, and being in charge of my own flexible schedule. I took a few weeks off recently to visit my new grandson, adjusting my schedule as needed. As the saying goes, find your passion and you will never work a day in your life!
What is a downside to quilting for others?
I rarely have time to make large quilts for myself anymore but I do try to keep small projects ready to go.I wish I had time to learn more custom quilting techniques with my Intelliquilter.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting a longarm quilting business?
Take classes, watch videos and practice, practice, practice until you know your machine well. Know your limitations and don’t hesitate to decline a quilt if you are not comfortable with what is requested by your customer. Usually I can head off these issues with the initial phone call but I never hesitate to refer them to other longarm quilters in my area who do excellent custom work if that is what they desire. While having a flexible schedule is great, you still have to stay focused and complete quilts in a timely manner. Much of my return business comes from customers who are happy with my prompt turnaround times, which is usually 2-3 weeks or less.
What do you wish you knew now about running your business that you didn’t know before?
1) I love the creative side of quilting but the “business” details will always be a chore done out of necessity!
2) Who knew how much lint could be generated by quilt batting overnight?
3) Quilting in your PJs at 1 AM is very therapeutic!
What is something you wish you had in your longarm studio to make things easier?
I wish I had an area where I could hang quilts to photograph. My family is more than willing to hold them up for me while I snap a shot on my phone but these pictures rarely do the quilts justice.
A robot that could dust daily would be nice, too. Do Roombas do shelves and machines?
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about your business or about the machine quilting business in general?
A successful business doesn’t happen overnight. If you have the passion for it, go for it!