One BadAss Market, coming up!

Maddie-Pre-nap

If you don’t know this lovely lady, do let me introduce you: she’s Maddie Kertay of the BadAss Quilters Society.

Maddie is a force of quilting energy, and sweetly caters to many of us who consider ourselves on the fringes of that unfortunate sector of quilting that thinks it OWNS the Quilt Police. You know the one… it stares you down when you use a little salty language (Pardon your French? That didn’t sound like French to ME). At BadAss, Maddie has made a home for a more relaxed approach, full of bright images and positive reinforcement no matter how straight (or not) your seams are.

The Houston Quilt Market is nearly upon us, and of course, Maddie decided to put on a party. She has put together a networking event for everyone, where we get to eat fab snacks, play business card swap, and listen to people talk about stuff they think is important in our industry. The line up of speakers is sweet, and I’m thrilled to say she’s letting me have the microphone for a few minutes to talk about that thing I’m always talking about – art and craft have VALUE.

The official title of the gig is the BadAss Quilters Society Networking Gala – The Big Wing-Ding! Follow that link to read more about it. And yes, she’ll add me to the official published line-up as soon as I email her one of the photos that my pal Larry took of me last week! (Yes… I procrastinated getting head shots done… doesn’t everyone?!)

Not going to Market? Fret not! Maddie is going to videotape all of us (gulp!) and make it available for you. I hear there might even be some live streaming! So go follow her post to keep up with the latest, or catch her on Facebook here.

Oh… and about that head shot… what do you think? Me and the Ultimate Power Tool! Yeah!

Sam Hunter HS1

What’s it worth? Part 2 – A Bigger Picture

LedgerBook3

Last November I dashed off a blog post about calculating the value of a handmade quilt. At the time, it got modest attention, but in January the post saw a flurry of views, most of them coming from Pinterest, and a week later, Ravelry (it seems that this question applies to more than just quilting in the world of the handcrafted item). And then a week or so ago, it exploded across Facebook, resulting in a landslide of comments coming to my inbox.

Thank you! I loved reading what you had to say.

This is something I’ve thought about deeply over the years I’ve been making quilts, and by the responses from so many people, I’m far from the only one. Many of you wrote to tell stories of the times you were offered a pittance for the beauties you’ve made.

We have some obvious passion here, so let’s have a dialog about this. I’m really interested in your thoughts, and I want to use this social group-think to advance my perceptions, and so that I can be part of what turns the tide to a higher regard for what we do.

So first of all – a couple of ground rules. By DIALOG, I mean a well-reasoned conversation of give and take, where we address the concepts rather than nit-pick people’s grammatical prowess (or how homely their dog is). I am, after all, inviting you into my house for a chat, and in my house we play nice in disagreement. I find myself wanting to say up front that OF COURSE I don’t speak for everyone (how on earth could I?) and OF COURSE my generalizations don’t apply to everyone (how on earth could they?) And for the record, OF COURSE I’m a feminist – as in a person who will fight for the rights of women (aren’t you?) and OF COURSE I’m not uptight about profanity! And that said, if you hate what I write, please just quit reading and unsubscribe – no fanfare needed. Please don’t be the person who keeps watching porn so they can keep protesting how terrible it is!

So let’s begin!

I recently read a wonderful quote about complaining… don’t complain – either fix it or let it go. I’m not willing to let go of the idea that we can elevate the perception of the value of a quilt (and for the sake of ease I’m going to use “quilt” instead of “handcrafted item” but feel free to substitute what works for you – my intent is inclusive). So how do we fix this?

I think we have several perceptions to work on – external and internal – and by that I mean what others think of what we do, and what we think about it ourselves. 

So in the world of external perceptions, it seems that people think what we make does not have the value of a living wage. And when we try to claim that wage, there is outrage and disbelief, and even smack-down – like we have no right to even ask for payment. How did we get to place where we will pay a plumber $40 an hour, and deny a quilt-maker $5 an hour?

I think part of it is good old fashioned patriarchy: the guys got to set the rules about men’s work having a higher value a while back and the mostly female craft world is still playing by them. Some of us willingly, the rest of us because that’s often still the playing field available. Men in general don’t seem to have an issue with monetizing things – for example: a friend told me about the time she got into jewelry making. She made some beautiful earrings, and showed them to her husband, saying wouldn’t this be a cool gift for so-and-so? Her husband immediately asked where she was going to sell them. Women in general have not been cultured to think this way, and many of us still need to drop-kick the idea that earning good money is a sordid affair.

Another part is the availability of cheaply made goods – stuff that comes from overseas, made for barely subsistence wages in developing countries. We’ve become used to a $6 T-shirt, and a $100 bed-in-a-bag (sheets, pillowcases and comforter, all Martha-matchy-matchy). The general public is so removed from a truly handmade item that they have no frame of reference. A quilt is a quilt is a quilt, right? While we were getting used to the low prices, we got used to the lack of quality – the T-shirt lasts only a season, the bedding maybe two or three before the colors are out of fashion and the fraying begins. And thus spins the wheel of planned obsolescence and consumerism (and this is such a huge topic that I’ll just poke it and move on rather than disappearing down that particular rabbit-hole today!)

These factors also weigh on our internal perceptions. In a culture that has bred a disregard for the work made by women, we’ve adapted to the discomfort of this particular pot of boiling water like the proverbial frog.  And in a lot of cases, we’re not being held down by the old rulebook as much as we’re pushing our own heads under the bubbles. How many times have you seen a woman give away something too cheaply? How many times have you been told by a woman that what you made isn’t worth what should be charged? How many times have you thought “She’s asking WHAT for that?” and walked on to the next booth?

I’m treading carefully here because, like many of you, I’ve given my time and fabric to some wonderfully worthy causes. I believe in the karmic value of these gifts, and I can’t imagine how the world would look without the thousands of quilts (pillowcases/knitted hats/etc) made by the big hearts and nimble hands of We Who Make Stuff. These are specifically not the quilts I’m talking about, though I do wonder if the fact that we give these so freely doesn’t hurt our cause.

I am talking about the fact that many women don’t value the work of other women. We secretly roll our eyes at prices we feel are uppity, rather than honestly calculate what it took to make it. We don’t support other makers by paying a fair price for what they make – instead we think, hell, I can make that at home, forgetting that it’s not just the materials in the price tag but the creativity and hours of construction too. Of course you can make it cheaper – you’re not charging yourself for the time. We guilt trip our friends who skip the charity sewing day into feeling like they grew horns and a tail for choosing to sew on something of their own instead. We photocopy patterns to distribute amongst our group, rather than honor the effort it took to get it into our hands by buying a second copy. We cave when someone barters us down, not because the barter is fair, but because we’ve been told that looking like we have a spine is unattractive. We hush our friends into caving too. As guild program chairs, we grumble that the speaker who would like to stay in a hotel (rather than a member’s home) is a bit big for her pantyhose. Just last week I got asked to lower my teaching price for a guild I’m told can well afford me (and I know from research that my price is hardly out of line).

On my original post, quilt appraiser Bill Volckening commented “Quiltmakers are intelligent enough to know how to produce cost-effective quilts for the realm of commerce, should they wish to do that, but they don’t seem to wish to do that.”

I concur that we women are incredibly smart and creative in our business endeavors. But I would argue that making the quilts cost effective is the only part of the equation (and before you pillory Bill, it was not the only point he made – go read up before your fingers leap to the keyboard). There’s only so much money to be saved on materials and only so much time to be efficiently squeezed unless we think that creating a different breed of sweatshop is a good thing. The root of it is a bigger game… we have to UP our own perception of worth, and we have to UP our support of others that are doing the same, and BE SUPPORTED in this by ALL, men and women both. That cost-effective price that Bill speaks of needs to go UP, up far enough to support the making of the quilt, and it can’t all be done on the shoulders of efficiency and sale fabric.

So I go back to my original call of action… keep records to accurately calculate your price. State and own your worth. Make sure your under-informed customer gets some the education as part of the transaction. And even if you have to settle for less, do it less often, and never without the lesson. I get that we can’t change this all in a weekend, but I bet we can up the game together.

And I really, really would love to read your thoughts!

madeleine_albright_quote-1

Image credits here and here.

What’s it worth?

This morning I caught a post on a quilting Facebook feed… a member posted a picture of a delightful baby quilt and asked what she should charge the neighbor that just asked to buy it from her. She mentioned that the quilt was made from a panel with pieced borders, and that the quilting was done in threads to match the fabric colors (oh, the thread changes!). She mentioned she was thinking $85. A fellow poster thought $100 was better. Another said it depends on the closeness of the friendship.

First of all… I’m not naming names here because I don’t want this person to feel pilloried – far from it, I absolutely appreciate her question and have one heck of an opinion about how it should be answered… a rather, ahem, shall we say passionate opinion – you are warned! Her question, which I hear dozens of times a year, is absolutely legitimate. How does one price a handmade piece of work?

And to note – there is a difference between what it’s WORTH, and what you can ACTUALLY GET for it. So keep that in mind and I’ll address this difference at the end after I show you how I calculate the WORTH part of it:

1. Determine the cost of the goods involved. Fabric is averaging $12 a yard, and even if you bought the fabric years ago, it will still cost you $12 (plus sales tax) a yard to replenish what you used. Same goes for if it came out of your scraps. You still bought the original yardage that the scraps came from… they didn’t give you a 25% discount assuming that a quarter of it would head to your scrap basket! If you got it on sale, wonderful! The savings are for YOU. You hunted it down. And it’s probably the only “freebie” your going get out of this process so take it and run.

2. If you don’t want to count out the yardage of all the little pieces, instead calculate the total area of the quilt top (let’s say it’s 48″ x 60 for a generous lap quilt), and then multiply it by 3 for a simple quilt, and 4 or more for a more complex one – then divide it by 1440, the area of a yard of 40″ fabric. Why these numbers? The fabric it takes to make the top of a simple quilt is about double the surface area because of all the fabric lurking in the seam allowances – and don’t forget the binding! The other “one” is the backing. And use 5 if you paper pieced most of it (because there are way more seams and you have to cut bigger for paper piecing). So for this simple lap quit: 48 x 60 = 2880, 2880 x 3 = 8640, and 8640 / 1440 = 6. So 6 yards at $12 a yard is $72 for materials.

3. Do you wash and iron your fabric before you use it? Add 25% for the time and water and electricity and wear and tear on your (probably expensive) iron and your Netflix subscription for the movies you watch while you iron. Ladies… it’s 2012 and in 2012 we do not iron for free.

4. What did the batting cost? The thread? The embellishments? Add those in. Yes, the thread – because you have to replenish it! And you are probably using a lovely, high quality, long staple cotton goody that can’t be had on sale at the big chain store so yes, you must charge for your thread. And note that there are other consumable products that you could charge for here: machine needles, blades, template plastic, fusible web, etc.

5. Now we get to TIME. How long did it take? Not just the cutting, pressing, sewing, but the “sits and thinks” part of the equation. The pondering, plotting, and extra trips to the store for one more FQ of the perfect print for that corner. The stitching of the binding. The label. All of that. I’m going to, for the sake of easy numbers, say my simple lap quilt took 15 hours – in other words, about a day to choose, cut and piece (assuming all the materials were already in my studio), and another day to layer, quilt and bind. Yes, the binding you do in front of the telly at night is still hours spent on the piece.

6. How much do you think your hourly rate should be? $10? $20? $30? You are certainly worth more than minimum wage. You are a skilled craftsperson. In my case, I’ve been quilting for 25 years and sewing for 43. This is not an insignificant statement. If you hire that depth of skill to lay tile in your house or make cabinets for your kitchen, it will cost you more than $20 an hour. My years of skill ensures the quilt is well constructed, made of quality materials (chosen with a discerning eye and years of practice), and executed with knowledge and a passion for the artistry and craft. This is WORTH a lot. So I’m going to go with $20 an hour for my simple quilt (I would go up for something more complex, and add even more if it was a commission for a pain-in-the-patootie client). Thus – $300 for my labor, and I’m rounding up to $100 for my materials (high quality cotton batting, threads from Aurifil and Isacord, etc). So my lovely little lap quilt is $400.

WORTH vs. What you can get

And I hear you laughing. No one’s gonna give you $400 for that, you say. And you are probably right. But here’s the thing… the fact that society has poo-poohed our grandmas’ prowess with a needle while celebrating their husbands’ prowess with a plow is a sad history that we need to rectify. “Women’s work” has been terribly devalued. And ONLY WE CAN CHANGE THIS. It is up to us to educate the public that what we do has WORTH. And we have to do this with confidence. We have to OWN IT.

So the way I tackle this is to state the gist of my calculations to the person that offers me a department store sale price for my work. I state the price, and then I educate them on what it takes to make a good quilt. The fabric quality. The time. The years I’ve spent honing my craft. I point out that I don’t work for minimum wage as this is much harder than “do you want fries with that?” Then I re-state the price. I own it.

Most of the time they don’t buy, but that’s OK (and if I absolutely want them to have the quilt I give it to them for free). I won’t sell it for less because I feel so very strongly that to sell low is to continue the myth that our work has little value. Either I get what I’m worth or it’s a precious gift. I’m taking a stand for the team, OUR TEAM. Every time we let hours of work out of the house for $5 an hour and free materials without the educational part of the discussion we are letting down the team.

I truly get that our original poster might only be able to squeak $100 out of this sale. And that she might have to put aside any philosophical stands to get her hands on that $100 to shore up the grocery budget (and I have absolutely done this when I needed to). But I really hope she adds the “lesson” to her invoice when she picks up the check!

Update 04.04.13 – What’s It Worth Part 2 – A Bigger Picture