Commissions – General

Commissions , to do one or not, can be a vexed question.

I know some people will never take them on. Others seem to work mostly designing things for others. I’m in between, as I enjoy the challenge of an occasional commission, meeting the hopes of a client, within their budget if that is a concern. As long as it fits with the kind of work I was planning to be doing, anyway.

A woman once rang offering good money for me to make a Heritage or Heirloom bedspread (using cream satins and laces, pearl buttons, bows, and other sentimental mush in effect) It is not at all the kind of thing I have ever done, so I don’t know why she called me ( did she want to be able to say she had an “Alison Schwabe” in her possession? I wish more people felt that way …) but I did put her in touch with someone who really liked working that way, and was happy to do what she wanted.

Anyway, “Misssion Beach”, 1995, (pictured) was not a commission, but led to one.

A couple had seen my quilt in a gallery, and the savvy owner let them take it to try in their home ( this hugely increases the chance of a sale) Then they asked the owner to contact me with two questions: could the quilt be hung up the other way? and could the price be reduced to fit their tight budget? NO on both counts! My answer carefully explained that to do this without the side bits flopping over and always looking terrible, the peaky bits would need to be deconstructed, stiffening inserted and the edges re-finished again, making a fair bit of tedious finicky work, which I could do just fine, but for which I’d have to charge a certain large sum in addition to the purchase price.

One of the most irregular shaped quilts I have ever made, Mission Beach is one of my most important, landmark quilts, and has always been a real favourite. It was designed to hang the specific way it shows above – it suggests a 3-d wave through which stringers of seaweed can be seen – lots of very glittery machine embroidery to suggest wateriness, although it hangs absolutely flat against the wall (black here) Several potential buyers hummed and haahed (over the price, but I would never reduce it) and in about 2003 it was bought by a Perth woman to give to her yachting husband. Many of the irregular shaped bits on each side are cut and shaped to just hang. If hung the other way they would just flop over. But, the real question was why did they think it needed to be up the other way? I went with the gallery owner to these people’s home, and we saw at once what the problem was: to the right of where they hoped to hang it, was a large picture window, and the lines of the quilt’s design took the eye out of the window in a rather disconcerting way. Hanging up the other way the attention of the eye stayed in the room (which of course defeats the purpose of the picture window, but I do remember it being unsettling) We talked a while, I had several other watery things to show them, they clearly wanted blues and greens, and then we got to price – they couldn’t afford it. But they could afford something around 2/3 the price – the outcome was we agreed to a commission. Deposit, contact, once isgned and sealed I made them one in blues and greens, with less complex piecing, rather like a curved “Waterweave” but with a strongly curved design lines heading back the other direction. Lots of peaky bits top and bottom, they loved it, it looked terrific on their wall, and I hope theyr’e still enjoying it. I really enjoyed working with those people.

But I have experienced people being very difficult, and believe that a serious deposit or design fee, and a signed contract can help to avoid pitfalls. In 1993 there was a Denver couple who contacted me, well she did, about the possibility of designing and making a contemporary quilt for their new home. Once I received her design fee check, non refundable, I drove up to see the house and hear her plans. The house was gorgeous, drop dead modern, with huge picture windows overlooking the kind of view money can buy in Colorado, and one which couldn’t be built out. There were several great dramatic contemporary ceramic pieces and a couple of lovely pictures on the wall. Money plus taste – a nice combination.

She was all gung-ho, and I left there with photos of the room, wall plans etc, ideas starting to form already on the way home (nearly an hour’s drive each way) I mailed her some design ideas and was called up again to meet her husband this time. I took some quilts to give him some idea of the kind of thing I could do, prices, quality of finish and how these things hang. As he looked and cast my works aside one by one, almost rudely, it became clear that these two were nowhere near being on the same page – not even in the same chapter. In fact, a tension between them suggested he already thought she’d spent quite enough …. so as I realised I couldn’t work with these two, probably ever, I stood up, thanked them for their time, said that since they each saw things so differently just now, they were not ready to commission anything, and so I could not work with them at the moment Before leaving I suggested they contact me again whenever they had reached agreement, and we could talk again. Of course, I never heard from them – we moved away a few months later anyway, and the stupid woman is probably still wasting his money.

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