Saturday, January 14, 2012

How to Avoid a Problem Shipment (or what I learned from my terrifying evening!)

WARNING:  This is a long post. Make yourself a cup of tea/coffee before you sit down to tackle this blog!

Coneflower Fiesta, one of the quilts is the problem shipment
Terror, that's what I felt when I learned that my complete show of quilts, packed in 8 boxes had been delivered to house several blocks away, and were sitting outside all day.  It was time to change how I ship and return-ship my quilts. When you are preparing to ship a quilt, think of the awful things that could happen to it, in transit, and after it arrives at the destination. How can you wrap it to protect it as best as you can? I thought I had taken care of everything!
Have a written appraisal for proof of quilt value
 1. Have your important quilts, (the ones that travel to shows, contests and exhibits) APPRAISED.  Fortunately I began having them appraised about 5 years ago. Find a qualified appraiser to create a written (not verbal) appraisal of your work. If a quilt is lost you must be able to prove what your quilt is worth. Just because you think your quilt is worth $10,000 your insurance company might think it is only worth $500.
Insure your quilts.  Talk to your agent to determine the correct coverage for you.

2. Insure your quilts.  Once they leave your home and are entered into a quilt show your home owners policy no longer covers them.  Check this with your insurance carrier to be sure.  I have an "inland marine" policy that covers items that travel.  If you regularly ship your quilts, you must carry your own insurance!  Years ago I gave up trying to insure each shipment when I went to the shipping counter. That is when I began insuring my work privately.  Shippers will usually state somewhere that they will not insure one-of-a-kind or works of art. 

This is a page from my Quilt Inventory notebook. I keep track of every quilt I've made, size, year, description, price, and eventually its new owner.

3. How much to your insure your quilts for? In the beginning I sent my agent an inventory of what I owned, to use as a starting point.  Tell them how much your work travels, how much is out on the road at any one time, and keep them updated every year or so with what the total value is.  Let's say you have $100,000 of quilts in your closet, your agent will figure out how often the stuff moves, how much to insure on your premises, how much is in transit, and how much is at another location on display.  The insurance company will figure out what dollar amount will cover the possible risks. This may take a few days to be determined.  Make sure your agent thoroughly understands what you are doing with your quilts.
The quilt is rolled around a tube, wrapped in a plastic sheet, ends tied securely. Place an address label on the outside of the "tootsie roll"

4. Pack your quilts carefully avoiding wrinkles and creases.  Always enclose the folded or rolled quilt in a heavy plastic bag, or in a large sheet of plastic. When rolling my quilts I slice open a heavy garbage bag so it becomes a long flat piece, snugly roll up the quilt, and tootsie roll the ends. Think of what might happen to the box with a quilt in it.  It could get dumped out of the box into a puddle, the box could fall off the truck and get run over and the list goes on.......  A heavy plastic bag when securely wrapped around the quilt can protect it when it is dropped on the ground, in a puddle or left to sit in the snow.  These things happen. A container from a traveling show once opened up at a shipping warehouse, the quilts dumped out on the dirty floor, 2 of the 8-10 quilts in the container had to go to a textile conservator to be cleaned, the shipper paid for it.

These telescoping boxes made the round trip from Wisconsin to LaConner WA and back
5. Use a strong cardboard box, they may be reused, but after two round trips I recycle the boxes.  I have found using telescoping boxes by U-Line #4872 easy to use, but not inexpensive.  You change the length of the box to fit the quilt.  If the box is beat-up before it leaves your home, it will really be in bad shape when it arrives at its destination.

6. Choose a shipper that services your area.  I will continue to use UPS, I think they provide a great service, and I will continue to entrust my quilts to their drivers and trucks. Take advantage of the tracking that your shipper offers.  You can check on the progress of your boxes at the end of each work day. With UPS there is no charge for this service. If you like another shipper, and you trust them, get to know their counter people, and set up an account with them. If you get to know the employees they will be extremely helpful when you run into problems.

7. Write down the phone numbers of your shipper in your personal phone book.  If a shipment is missing and you are upset, you may not be able to find the right phone numbers on their website!  So go look for them now.

8. Put your labels on everything.  Print up a good sized fabric label and sew it firmly to the wrong side of your quilt.  Stick an address label on the plastic that covers your quilt.  If the box opens and the contents fall out, there should be a name and contact information right on the plastic covered quilt.  Attach one to the inside of the box too.

9. Never let a quilt out of your control if you don't have GOOD photos of it.

And this is what I  should have done:

10. Always send with "quilt signature required" option.  UPS charges about $4.50 per package for this service. I chose not to do this because of the extra cost.  I figured I would stay home the day the quilts were due and there wouldn't be a problem!  And of course there was.  I never dreamed the driver would deliver all 8 boxes to the wrong address!  The place where they were dropped off, no one was home. With signature required, the driver wouldn't have left them sitting outside.  At least they would be more secure riding in the delivery van. Hopefully someone would have rechecked the address, and brought them to the correct address.

11.  When shipping more than one box, ship them on different days. This way all the boxes won't be riding together. Early in my quilting career, a semi loaded with quilts going to a show, caught fire and burned up. What if your quilts were on that truck?  Can we plan for everything catastrophe?  We need to try.

Several years ago, I was dropping off some packages at the shipper.  It was a warm day and the sun was shining. A semi trailer full of damaged packages had been dropped off, unloaded, and several workers were going through the packages.  A large truck had evidently been in an accident and the boxes looked like they had gotten wet and were twisted and beat up. The workers were deciding, what could be sent on to the recipient, and what would have to be destroyed. All the recipients would have to be notified about their damaged packages. What a mess.  The whole scene made me sick. There must have been some special treasures included in some of those packages, what if your quilt was in that mess?

12.  Robbi Eklow has a different solution.  She rents a mailbox at a service.  When a quilt is delivered to her suite and box number, the carton is safely held  behind the counter until she comes to pick it up. I must point out, that this is not an option at the United States Post Office!  This is a private service offered by UPS or Pack-n-Ship type businesses. This is a good option, for small shipments.  My 8 long boxes would have taken me 2 or 3 trips in the car to get them to my studio, but they would have been safe!

13. I am aware that nobody died and no person was injured, so I have to keep this mess in perspective. Yet I realized that our quilts are great treasures.  If one is lost, a part of the maker disappears with it. A little part of us is stitched into each one we make. Yes, it would help to have an insurance settlement, but nothing can truly replace the thing that we spent so many hours creating.

Keep those quilts safe! Please feel free to add your ideas here.

Ann Fahl


Maria said...

Wow! What a relief! So glad your quilts were safely returned!

Jan Hutchison said...

What a great post , I'm sorry it was inspired by such a scary experience! There is an article in the most recent issue of Machine Quilting Unlimited that has more good information. It details what to look for in a sturdy shipping box and more. Thanks again for all the helpful information!

Karen said...

I doubt that I'll be shipping any quilts but I do really appreciate that you do. I made 2 trips to LaConner (about 45 minute drive) to see your exhibit. I really love your colors, style and subject matter. It would have been interesting to know when each of the quilts were made to understand your artistic progression.

Rachel said...

Thanks for your insights. I'm relieved that it was a "near miss" and not a complete catastrophe. I also recently started shelling out for the "signature required" and feel it is a choice worth the price.

Barbara Strobel Lardon said...

Thank you for taking the time to write this all out.
It certainly is well worth taking the time to assure your quilts get there and back safely and if not are insured correctly.

Jen said...

thank god about your quilts!

annieQ said...

There seems to be no end of things that can go wrong with a shipment. No matter how long I've been quilting and shipping, there is always something else that pops up! One never knows when there will be a surprise!

Ann said...

I'm revisiting this older post because I'm about to send a quilt off. Thank you for the information - I'm sorry you had to deal with what you did but sure appreciate you sharing with us.