The Unspoken Rules of Quilt Shop Etiquette

It’s been a long while since I’ve thrown up the Grumpy Quilter logo on my blog.  However, the time has come, and I need to get this off my chest, not only for myself but also for my friends who either work in a quilt shop or own a quilt shop.  I have never owned a quilt shop, but have worked in one, have friends who are employed at a quilt shop, have friends who own a quilt shop, and have certainly spent enough time in a quilt shop to speak with authority on this subject:  Quilt Shop Etiquette. 

You wouldn’t think of eating in a restaurant with your mouth open or talking loudly or running after a waitperson to get their attention or leave after you’ve ordered because you think the prices are too high (at least I sincerely hope you wouldn’t). Just like there are certain rules of etiquette for restaurants, there are certain standards of comportment for quilt shops.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed some quilt shop customers’ behavior which has left me flabbergasted.  Then, I thought to myself, “Self, maybe these dear people have never been enlightened to proper quilt shop etiquette.  Why don’t you give these folks a heads up?”  So, consider this blog my attempt to educate those fabric consumers who may not know The Unspoken Rules of Quilt Shop Etiquette.

  1.  There are guidelines for behavior outside the quilt shop.  Just in case you don’t know, quilt shop employees and owners have a life outside the retail establishment.  They have families, other interests, obligations, etc., just like you do.  So, if you see them outside the quilt shop, it may not be the best time to ask questions about a fabric line, a pattern, a class, or complain about something in the shop.  Say hi, smile, and move on.  Chances are after dealing with retail issues all week, the owner or employee really doesn’t want to talk about quilting for a bit. 

Sometimes the quilt store employee/owner may give you information about the shop and then it’s okay to proceed with a quilty conversation.  For instance, I have a dear, dear friend who is employed by a large quilt/fabric store.  I see this person usually at least once a week and we text back and forth almost every day.  If she gives me some quilty information, I may ask questions, but it doesn’t take up our entire interaction. 

Just be aware of the situation and be sensitive to the fact they may not want to “talk shop.” 

  •  There are guidelines for behavior inside the quilt shop.  First, let me give you some cold, hard facts about quilt shop revenue.  According to the American Retailer, most quilt shop owners only keep 1%-3% of any fabric sale.  So, let’s set up this scenario:  You decide you want to make a queen-sized quilt.  You don’t have a pattern in mind, but you know the quilt shop you frequent has lots of patterns.  Once you enter the door, either the owner or employee greets you and finds out your plans.  Patterns are pulled out.   Decisions are made.  Fabric is auditioned, photographed, discarded, substituted, and finalized.  By this point, there’s a good (and realistic) chance the employee or owner has spent two to three hours with you.  Equally realistic, the final costs may come to $350.  Yes, this can be considered a chunk of change.  However, also realize if the store owner makes 1%-3% net on the sale, this only comes to $3.50 — $10.50.  If it’s the employee who made the sale, they’ve only earned $1 — $3 per hour on your purchase. 

It’s no wonder more and more brick-and-mortar quilt stores are closing their store fronts and moving to on-line sales only. 

And before you wonder if this is truly a realistic scenario, let me remind you, at one point I was a part-time quilt shop employee (mainly to support my habit).  I cannot begin to tell you how many times I had worked with a customer in this same situation, only to be told right before I started to cut the fabric, “Don’t bother.  I’m sure Walmart or some shop on the internet has the same fabric and pattern for less money.”  The matter was made infinitely worse if they blatantly shopped the internet while I waited on them. 


For everyone’s sake, don’t be this customer.  You just really injured your relationship with the quilt shop (i.e. don’t expect to have the welcome mat rolled out the next time you come in the shop), you’ve wasted the owner’s or the employee’s time they needed to help other customers or fill orders, and the fabric at the big box stores isn’t close to the quality of quilting cottons.  The courteous thing is to walk out with something, no matter the reason for the visit.  It doesn’t have to be an expensive purchase.  It can be a marking pen, pins, or needles.   I’ll issue a Zone of Truth here:  This is what really bothers me about shop hops and the Row-by-Row experience.  These events are coordinated with the thought they will help quilt store owners stay afloat during what is considered the slow time of year – summer.  The idea is customers will come into the shop to either get their shop hop passports stamped or pick up their Row-by-Row pattern.  Quite often this is all they leave with – and both items are free.  No purchases are made. 

Again, don’t be this customer.  The purchase doesn’t have to be large or expensive.  A few dollars here and there during the slow time of the year goes a long way in keeping the quilt shop’s doors open. 

Now let’s talk about special orders.  Sometimes when you’re making a quilt, you need a special fabric.  The store may have had this material in stock at one time or it may not have enough for your needs.  You may have searched in vain for a substitute or for other locations which may have the fabric.  Nothing worked and now you ask the shop owner if they will special order the fabric for you.

If you have a good relationship with the shop, chances are the owner will do his or her best to make this happen.  They will do this as a favor for you – their loyal customer and friend.  Now you need to know how to handle this situation to maintain this relationship.  If an entire bolt is ordered, realize this means 12-15 yards of the fabric is now winging its way to the shop.  You need to prepare yourself to purchase the entire bolt, because the shop owner may not sell the remaining fabric after they’ve given you the actual yardage you need.  If the owner insists this is not necessary, at least buy five yards to make it worth their effort. 

Also keep in mind as much as you love your LQS, other people love it just as much as you do.  This means at any given time you decide to visit your favorite quilt shop, other quilters may also be there.  No matter how good a customer you are, no matter how much of your paycheck resides in the shop owner’s till, wait your turn.  You may know how much you spend at the shop.  And the owner certainly does.  However, those customers there who are ahead of you have absolutely no idea.  If you try to jump ahead of them, it will make you look like an awful person and if the quilt shop owner acquiesces, it makes them look like they play favorites.  This will leave a bad taste in the mouths of the other customers, and they’ll be less likely to return.  Then the store owner loses revenue.  If you absolutely can’t wait, tell the owner and plan to return a bit later.  Trust me, you’ll earn major brownie points. 

And while we’re discussing shopping etiquette, let’s talk about the quilt shop employees.  You may be BFFs with the owner.  You may know the owner by name, know their kids’ names, even their grandkids’ names.  However, when you come in the shop and she or he is busy with another customer or involved with something else (because bookkeeping, ordering, and payroll must be done), don’t demand ask for the owner to wait on you.  A quilt shop owner employs others who may know more about quilting than they do.  And quite often this is the case.  Trust me, an employee can often have better input than the owner.  They may have quilted longer, had more quilt education, or be better at picking fabrics.  Don’t turn your nose up when an employee offers to wait on you.  Treat them with kindness and respect.  Trust me when I tell you they do a great job and will go out of their way to make sure you’re happy.

Lastly, let me hit three other personal responsibility items.  You could be the best quilt shop customer ever, but if you neglect the following three details, your best-customer-ever status will quickly disappear:

  1.  Come prepared.

Know what you want and have the needed information with you so the quilt shop can make sure you leave happy.  For instance, if you need border fabric for your quilt, know how much you need and at least have a picture of the quilt center on your phone to reference the colors.  The best-case scenario is to have the center with you.  If you need backing, know how big your quilt is.  Don’t expect the quilt store owner or employees to read minds or be psychic.  If you need to match your focus fabric, at least have a picture or a swatch of it with you.  Just because the shop had the exact same fabric two weeks ago doesn’t necessarily mean they have it now.    If you’re starting a new quilt, have the pattern with you or be prepared to find one at the shop. 

In other words, do your homework.  This ensures you leave happy, and no one is frustrated.

  •  Note the layout of the shop and respect it.

Most of the time, even the smallest quilt shop will have a designated area for cutting, another area for auditioning fabric, and possibly a classroom area which serves as a place for consultation or problem solving.  Respect the layout – it’s there for a reason.  Don’t audition fabrics in the cutting area.  Don’t have lengthy consultations or problem-solving sessions at the fabric audition area.  If you’re at a new quilt store (or one which is new to you), ask where the designated locations are.  This is important because generally a layout is in place to control traffic and over-crowding.  And if a shop is super-busy, it’s often critical these areas are respected. 

  •  Realize the quilt shop owner or the employees may not be conversant with all quilting techniques or sewing machines.

I can tell you how to find out what sewing machines your LQS is familiar with:  Look what’s at the entrance of the shop.  If a fabric store sells machines, they’re in broad view as soon as you step into the store.  Why?  Remember what I told you about net fabric sales – that it’s generally only 1%-3% of the total purchase?  Not so with sewing machines.  Usually the biggest net sales are made from sewing machines.  Those will be out front and center of the LQS, set up and ready for you to try.  If you have the brand sewing machine the shop sells, the owner and the store employees will be very, very familiar with that brand and can help you with nearly any issue you have. 

If you don’t have the store’s brand, the quilt shop staff may not be able to help you.  For example, if you have a problem with a consistent ¼-inch seam allowance, they will probably give you generic advice, such as “move your needle over,” but they may not be able to tell you how to do this on your machine. 

Don’t get upset.  Go home and boot up your internet machine.  Search for your machine’s manual. Find out how to move the needle. This is why God gave us Google. 

Likewise, don’t expect all of the store’s employees to be familiar with every quilting technique.  Chances are there will be some folks proficient in the major quilting techniques such as color choice, piecing, and hand and machine applique.  But other more obscure methods like broderie perse or trapunto?  Maybe not.  But again, that’s why God gave us Google.  Go home and use it.

Okay.  End of rant.  I honestly don’t complain too much, but this is one of those times.  Having been a quilt store employee as well as a customer, I can understand the frustrations on both ends.  However, some of our behaviors have gotten out of hand.  I have noticed since we’ve been released from COVID lockdowns, everyone’s patience seems a little worse for the wear.  Take a deep breath and realize it’s usually not the store owner’s or the employees’ fault.  Quilt shop owners are like other business owners right now – it’s difficult to find help.  There may be lines at the register and the cutting table and fabric is not immune to supply-side logistic nightmares. 

Just …. Be kind everyone to everybody.  Take a deep breath and be kind.

Love and Stitches,


21 replies on “The Unspoken Rules of Quilt Shop Etiquette”

Excellent blog. I have seen every scenario you have stated over the last couple of years. One you missed was to be asked when the next sale is or that item you wanted is coming in. We may know the sale dates, but if you want, buy it now because more than likely it will be gone at time of sale. And for items ordered, we are at mercy of place we ordered and the transportation services. It make take 3 days to arrive or 3 weeks, you never know. I hope lots of people read this blog and will be more understanding of quilt shop etiquette.

Everyone is at the mercy of the supply chain right now. And it seems no one has any patience. I just want folks to be more kind to each other. We haven’t lived through scenarios like this before and it’s not “us” that’s the issue. The problems are way further up the food chain.

Unfortunately quilt shops are going down the same path as other small craft and hobby businesses. Online retail has more options and better prices. This isn’t new news. The only way to differentiate your shop from cyberspace is to offer what cannot be purchased online. The only example I can think of is classes. However, even this service is in direct competition with YouTube channels. I’ve seen my favorite stain glass store close and several fabric stores close. You need to retool yourself. What was is no longer. I teach graduate level courses in technology and innovation courses. Providing a list of behavior requirements to shop at your store is Unfortunately not the answer to business downturns. 🙁

No, it’s not. However, what I was referencing was how little net income is actually made from fabric sales. Add it the gross cost of employees (wages, taxes, workers comp), and it’s truly no wonder brick-and-mortar stores are closing left and right. If a small shop turns to on-line sales only, they can cut down on some employee costs. I am legitimately anxious that as we’re losing more and more actual fabric stores, we’re losing a bit of our quilting culture.

I know about Broderie Perse. My former quilt guild didn’t. I tried to explain. They didn’t get it. They wanted more info. I couldn’t fond anything. So, I’m shocked you know it! Lol can you do a blog on it?

Sure! Keep in mind I have six blogs written in advance, so it will be several weeks until your topic comes up, but I’ll be happy to do it! Thanks for reading and thanks for the suggestion!


Please don’t ask the shop if the price on the bolt if that is the price for the whole bolt. Walmart sells there fabric by the yard. Why would a quilt shop sell it differently. I really hate this.

Why would it be bad for someone to ask a question, particularly a clarifying question? If your purpose in writing this post is to help newcomers to quilting become accustomed to quilt shops, this isn’t a good way to do it.
LQS don’t need to feel bad about some folks being priced out of their shops, but you shouldn’t alienate future customers just so current customers can feel superior.

I do think most quilt shops go out of their way to make beginners feel welcome, especially if the person lets the quilt shop know they’re a beginner. Conversely, I’ve been in some quilt shops where the owners and employees hedge toward the snooty side (and I haven’t returned). Overall, I believe if you let the shop know you’re new to the craft, they’ll go out of their way to be helpful.

This reads like, “Please don’t go into a new-to-you store and have questions about the pricing.” Honestly posts like this are why I shop online. I try to be respectful and understanding in fabric and craft stores and nearly always leave feeling like I’ve inconvenienced the people who work there with my beginner questions. I’ve also worked retail and there is a huge difference between an ignorant customer and a rude customer. This post really conflates the two, and it’s frustrating. There’s this panic about losing quilting culture to the internet… and then in the same post there’s frustration with having to educate people who are new to the hobby. Why would I shop in a store if I know the owner feels this kind of contempt for me?

I do honestly think most quilt shops, when a customer comes in and lets them know their new to the craft, will go out of their way to answer questions and be helpful. At least that’s my experience. I have gone to some LQSs which were downright snooty, but they immediately lost my business.

I work in a quilt store and we love newbies! We have clients who have been with the shop for 40 years and they are old friends. I have been in many quilt shops over the years and very seldom run into any snooty owners/workers. I think the blog is too harsh.

Please note that in my blog I was talking about customers, not quilt shop owners or employees, overall. Most quilt shops are excellent and with yours in business over 40 years, it obviously knows what it’s doing.

Loved the info in the post. I, too, have run into snooty owners/employees….there is a LQS near my inlaws that I made a point of visiting when we were there; at that time, the shop always had a back room with sales tables and bargain bins, which was great for young mom with four kids and little extra spending money. My MIL and I went one trip and no more bargain bins or sales room….I was told real quilters didn’t need sales. I have never returned there, and instead, as my spending money has increased through the years, I have chosen to help other small businesses.

Real quilters don’t need sales? Obviously those shop owners are not living in my or your reality. There was one quilt shop where I live for the longest time — the only one locally — and I went there one day with the sole reason of purchasing a sewing machine. I had cash in hand. However, it was on a Saturday and I was dressed in my “Mom’s Running Errands Clothes”, which meant I was in jeans, a t-shirt, flip flops, and my hair was thrown back in a pony tail. I stated the purpose of my visit, and was quickly shown the cheapest machines in the store and left to wander about with no help. After waiting 10 minutes for a follow-up chat with a salesperson, I walked out and took my money somewhere else. The next shop was thirty minutes away in another town, but I received stellar customer service. I never returned to the other quilt shop.

Also an important point is how to treat fabric in a shop. I’ve worked in fabric and quilt shops over 20 years and get tired of picking up bolts of fabric that customers left on the floor, unrolled into a snarl, stuffed upside down in the wrong place or walked on and marked with footprints. And many quilters expect to be given a couple of extra inches on fabric cuts, when the shop owner doesn’t get that fabric for free. The price of those “extra” inches may be necessary in keeping the shop open–it adds up. Then there is the theft. Sometimes a whole bolt of fabric dissappears off the cardboard, not to mention expensive scissors, patterns and other notions . And speaking of patterns, all the generous sharing of copyrighted patterns among quilters is actually stealing income away from designers, who are often other quilters on a small budget.

My biggest pet peeve among quilters is copying copyrighted patterns and giving those to your friends. Your quilting friends may think it’s great, but it’s literally taking food off the designers’ tables. It’s just wrong, but there’s an entire group of quilters out there you cannot convince otherwise.

Never judge someone by how they look!!! I am a store owner and they can be the richest people in the world. We help the newbies to the most experienced. But what gets us is the customer who comes in and says she’s getting her rulers and other items on Amazon cuz they are cheaper. Then she wants all the help in the world with getting a quilt together and buys very little fabric as she has bought it elsewhere. But we do it….it netted me a long arm quilting sale. Never judge someone as you never know what is going to transpire. Am I frustrated with these customers? Absolutely but I also have my newbies that makes it all better as we have a crib full of sale fabric that we use to help them get started. We educate them on the difference in Walmart fabric and quilting fabric. Hold it up to the light and you can see the difference. They can get started with the crib fabric as it’s 60% off and a nice easy pattern and move up from there. They’re not going to get that at JoAnn or Walmart! OK store owner rant over. Great job on this post ❤️

I think fabric education is so important! Yes, the fabric at a big box store may be cheaper, but you get what you pay for. And overall quilters will not get the help at a BBS that they will at a quilt shop. It sounds like you have a plan on how to help those newbies at a pace and a price they can afford and keep them coming back.

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