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Taking The Leap: Advice from a Professional Longarm Quilter

Posted by Shelly Pagliai on Sep 30th 2022


Twenty-three years ago today, I started my little pattern company in my sewing room, while also working a full-time job as a computer technician. Since I did it from my own studio in my spare time, it wasn’t super scary, and I started out very, very small. I simply wanted to be able to sell my patterns, officially collect sales tax, have a real business name, and do things legally — I figured it was time to turn my hobby into a real business.

The IRS has a three-out-of-five rule, meaning that your business can only take a loss for three out of five years before they declassify you as a business and you have to go back to hobby status, so this also gave me a deadline for seeing if I could actually make it as a business.

I was also teaching classes, selling a few notions and kits while vending at local shows, and selling a few finished quilts (and doing a few commissions). Yes, all in my spare time. I didn’t get my longarm machine until 10 years later. (And we’ll talk about those multiple revenue streams in another article.)

Thankfully, as I added more patterns and classes to my line-up, my business grew enough to be legitimate, and look at me now — 23 years later — I’m doing it full-time and still going strong!

In my book, Quilting for Hire, I mention that starting out small and slowly is a good thing. And that is true. If you try to do it all right from the start, you’re setting yourself up for failure and extreme burnout.


But also, don’t let fear keep you from starting. After all, you have three years to turn a profit! Trust me, that time will fly by, but if you keep your nose to the grindstone and pay attention and do the work, you’ll make it just fine.

Chapter One of my book is called “What You Should Know Before You Take the Leap”, and it’s chock full of questions to ask yourself. If you’re working your way through the book, don’t skip this part. It may seem hard to answer some of the questions, but you need to do it. Get out a notebook, and write. Write out your answers to the questions (there are places in the book for you to fill in some of your answers), write down any ideas that come to mind, write about what problems you might possibly encounter or any hurdles you need to overcome. Write whatever pops into your head regarding starting or building your longarm business, and use this information to help you on your journey. Putting it on paper will ensure that you know about it, that you are aware of it, and won’t forget to take it into account as you work on your business.

If you already have a functioning business of quilting for hire, these questions are still valuable as you go forward. They can help you re-examine where you are now versus where you’d like to go in the future. Maybe there are some things you haven’t thought of? Things you need to add or subtract? Change of direction, maybe? This chapter will help you think of all that.

I state at the beginning of the book: “Pretend you’re sitting with me having a chat. You’ve told me that you want to start a longarm business, and I’m asking you all these questions. What would you tell me?”

You can buy the book HERE. And I’d be happy to answer any questions you have. [Use this link to ask Shelly a question.]



Shelly Pagliai is a newly discovered designer from Wien, Missouri. She has designed quilts and block-of-the-month patterns for various shops and is a talented machine quilter who has had her work shown all over the country. The Kansas City Star was fortunate to have her as the designer for its 2015 block-of-the-month feature, "Hazel’s Diary." She is a professional longarm quilter and owner of Prairie Moon Quilts.

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