Forewarning! This article is kind of dry!
I will go over most of the associated costs to give you a better idea of what it takes to create my quilted acrylic painted canvas artwork.
There was a very large amount of startup cost involved with this undertaking, because I had never tried anything this complex, before.
When I first started sewing, I purchased an inexpensive, entry level computerized Brother sewing machine. It was about $129 and lasted roughly 2 years. I had also realized that I was starting to outgrow it's capabilities.
Sewing Machine and Maintenance
I researched sewing machines over a couple of weeks and stumbled across the Juki and decided on the mid-priced 400 HZL and it was $900. Sewing machines need a lot of care. In fact, you really need to have a service performed every so often- just like a car! Lint builds up, which can increase internal heat. Electronics do not like that! Performance will start dropping and sooner or later, it will simply die. Maintenance costs can range between $100 - $150.
Rulers, Self Healing Cutting Mats, Rotary Cutters & Blades
In order to accurately measure and cut fabric, you need hard, wide and rigid rulers. These range from $25-$60, depending on the size. You find yourself needing a variety of rulers.
A special kind of cutting mat is needed. These are called self-healing mats. The largest, 24" x 36", is $54+. They last a long time, but not forever. It also requires a very large surface. I was lucky enough to recently find an excellent adjustable desk at Michael's for $99. It's normally closer to $210.
It's also important to use a good rotary cutter ($29+), which will glide along the ruler. Rotary blades (~$40 for 10 blades) also wear out or develop accidental nicks. Dull rulers will ruin fabric.
Thread, Mono-filament, Cotton Thread, Fabric, Needles, Batting
As fabric and canvas are assembled, it's important to have a variety of thread color. Good thread is not cheap and variety also costs. For instance, a 12 spool package Aurfil 50 weight thread is around $109, while a cheaper set of Connecting Threads brand is $35 for 10 spools.
Some of the applique work I do requires clear mono-filament thread (~$12 for a large spool) to stitch objects onto the canvases or regular fabric, like my sea turtles.
You can't sew without needles. Needles sometimes break, especially while quilting the acrylic painted canvases. Needles also dull over time. There is such a variety of needles available that it's difficult to price. I have been primarily using a 100 needle pack that I purchased on Amazon for around $12.
Fabric. There is a very large variety of cotton fabric. It can range from $3 / yard on sale and up to $16 / yard. Batik fabric is different. It's much more durable and expensive, closer on average to $12 / yard.
Just like regular quilting, there is a layer of batting between the top and back of the piece. Batting varies greatly, depending on the loft (thickness), quantity, width and brand.
Canvas, Foam Boards, Masking Tape, Paint Brushes, Acrylic Paint, GAC-100, Acrylic Finish
I purchase my raw canvas from Blick Art on large spools at upwards of 12 yards (72 inches wide) at a time. Historically, this has been $3.49 / yard. Each finished piece actually uses 3 layers of raw canvas. The painted canvas itself, the backing of the quilted piece and then an additional layer of raw canvas that's used to attach to the frame.
The canvases are prepared with an acrylic liquid called GAC-100 ($60 for 128 ounces.) Some of the process uses a water diluted form, while others are straight GAC-100. Before a canvas can receive acrylic paint, it receives two separate coats with drying time. The first coat users a larger amount than the second coat. Proper coating is very important, so that the acrylic paint does not soak through to the foam board. It will ruin the foam board and the paper will permanently stick to the canvas, destroying the canvas in the process.
The canvases need to be taped with wide masking tape ($3 at Harbor Freight) to foam core boards ($40 for 12 from Amazon) The foam boards are reusable to an extent, but they will eventually wear out.
You can't continue without brushes and paint! Good paint brushes are not cheap. They range from $6 to $22 each and you really need a variety of shapes and styles to vary the strokes on the canvases.
Acrylic paint can be expensive. I've been pretty happy with Blick's line of paints. They have both Studio level ($8 to $30) and student level paints ($4 to $12.) Michael's has pretty good value paints ($4 - $12.)
One brand may not produce exactly what I need, so I sometimes need a higher quality. Standard Golden brand acrylics ($11-$25) are the nicest. They also have a special iridescent paint ($16 to $34.)
Keep in mind that all of these prices are per tube. A rainbow canvas can up upwards of 20 colors.
The finish wall hanging typically needs to have a finish applied to protect it from fading. This is roughly $1 an ounce.
Miter Saw & Blades, Wood, Electric Stapler & Staples
Frame building is really a very different topic! A miter saw must be used to build proper frames for the wall hangings. There is no way around it. My miter saw was $110. While my blade has not worn out yet, it is inevitable. I have not researched blade replacements.
The wood is moderately inexpensive at ~$4 for a 6 foot, 1 inch by 2 inch strip. You do go through these fairly rapidly, depending on the size of the wall hanging. I tend to wait until I have several ready, then cut and build the frames in a single session. This is a little more efficient.
The finished canvases are attached to the frame with an electric staple gun (~$28.) I tend to go through staples relatively fast. These are between $6 and $12 per package, depending on the quantity in the package and the size of the staples.
Time, Skill and Profit Margin
Beyond the tangible costs of the equipment, I also must take into account the time and practice that I have put into my work. Not everyone can make these. Not everyone has developed the skills over time and invested the money into the equipment. I also must be able to make a little money off each these projects to spur my creativity into new and unexpected directions. I will then have artwork available that no one else has ever made- something unique- that you will not be able to find anywhere else, like so Walmart!
I hope this gives you a better idea for why these pieces can be so expensive.