Running a longarm quilting business: Q&A with Rhonda Coler

March 12, 2019

Rhonda operates her longarm quilting studio out of Sequim, Washington. She has two APQS machines nestled in her beautiful studio which she says is dedicated to her customers and they are always welcome. We sat down with Rhonda to find out more about how she started her longarm quilting business and what advice she’d have for others.

How did you get into quilting for other people?

I was very involved with the local quilt club, and we were tying all of the quilts for our community quilt outreach. After a few practice sheets of muslin, I began taking home community quilts. I wanted to conquer pantographs first, because I knew it would be affordable for clients. Soon, ladies were handing me their quilts on club meeting days, and they paid me! Custom requests came quickly after that. I’m still quilting community quilts.

How long have you been quilting for others?

15 years.

What types of quilting do you do most often for your customers? (panto, custom, light custom, etc.)

More Digital E2E work goes out of my studio because my Millennium is dedicated to them. I always have a custom going and I would categorize most of my custom as show custom or heavy custom/ruler work. I spend more hours each week on custom quilts.

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

I chose a Millennium in 2004 because I loved the lightweight movement across the rails. It’s my Zephyr (from the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s song). I also refer to it as my Whip. In 2017, I added Quilt Path robotics to my Millie. Most recently, in December, I added a 2014 Freddie, which is custom-dedicated.

What is your favorite batting?

Quilters Dream Wool, followed by The Warm Co. 100% cotton, which I obtain locally in Elma, WA.

What is your favorite thread?

Glide is my current favorite. It has a beautiful, subtle sheen. It runs beautifully along with the Magna-Glide bobbins. I also stock 100s of cones of Sew Fine, and lots of King Tut.

What is your favorite ruler or gadget right now?

I’m obsessing with Linda Hrcka’s The Quilted Pineapple curved set and all the things I can do with it. Janet Lee’s Favorite has always been my favorite, too, for line work.

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

Everyone loves Crop Circles, Modern Curves, Karlee Porter designs….anything that looks custom quilted but it’s not…it’s computer!

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

Most of my work is local. I quilt for 3 quilt shops and receive my referrals there. A nice percentage finds me on my social media and business page and ship to me, and I’m hoping that will grow with the addition of my new website.

Describe your longarm studio and how you organize it.

I’m in a nice, cozy 120 square feet. Since acquiring the second longarm, Freddie, my studio is customized just for the longarms and for clients to visit. My Millie and Freddie face each other so I can handle both from the middle of the room. When our new studio is finished, I will have 560 square feet. My palette is neutral, so the quilts on the frames shine (if you can consider Mexicali Turquoise a neutral!).

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

QuickBooks and a great accountant.

What is the best thing about quilting for others?

The quilts! I have quilted some amazing quilts. Many of my clients have pushed me, and without their words of encouragement, support and praise, I would not have the journey that I’ve had.

What is a downside to quilting for others?

Organizing my priorities. I always tend to place clients at the top of the list, which has me quilting weekends fairly often.

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

Come up with a business plan first and foremost. Pick a lane and stay in it. Do well at it for a long time until you are reputable, then add to it. Keep the clients needs first. Always stay in education for your business. Consult an accountant. So many things. Someone needs to run a seminar.

What do you wish you knew now about running your business that you didn’t know before?

How important a website is. I always thought I didn’t need one, because I received lots of business word-of-mouth. But in creating one, I have realized how it legitimizes my business, and makes everything concise for people looking for information. Plus, I have an e-commerce store, which is a nice bonus.

What is something you wish you had in your longarm studio to make things easier?

Just the space. I’m dreaming of a new studio, but it will be detached and have room for design, sewing with others, etc. I joke that because it will be an ADU, it can be our future retirement condo, too. But right now, I’m loving my current setup.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about your business or about the machine quilting business in general?

Enjoy the process, and know you will grow. We are so lucky to be doing what we love for work.

Connect with Rhonda at her website, Instagram, and Facebook.