It’s exciting to see the topic of selling handcrafted items for decent money rise up in the consciousness of our industry. I believe that the more we talk about it, the better it will be for all.
I was sent a recent post from Kate Chiconi, from which I pulled this quote (emphasis mine) regarding getting paid well for a quilt:
But I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no point counting the hours I spend in my enjoyment and expecting a return on investment. All that would achieve is a deep sense of despondency at how poorly I’m rewarded, whereas in fact the reward lies in the process and the pleasure my handwork gives, not the monetary reward. Fortunately, I’m not dependent on my sewing to support myself, unlike some of my forebears!
While I’m glad Kate understands the “despondency” of being low-balled for her work, and I’m thrilled she enjoys her process, I think she is missing the fact that her contemporary peers try to make livings with a needle, too.
For many of us, it’s REALLY tough to place a price on what we do. It engages all sorts of discomfort in our esteem, and often leaves us open to criticism and ridicule for daring to challenge the notion that it’s OK for artists to starve. Our love for what we do is called into question when we monetize it. And for we ladies, there’s an added layer of judgment about being uppity and “not nice” when you try to be business-like.
So we don’t do it. We shrink back when asking for a fair price. We do funky math and discount the cost of the materials because we already owned them (unwilling to point out that to replace them will cost good money.) We weakly defend the idea that you can love something AND make money at it (and why the hell is this only a conversation in the arts? I don’t see bankers struggling with this at all.) And the most corrosive lie we can tell is “I don’t need the money.”
It’s a great one to hide behind… not only does it make you sound fortunate, it colors you as generous and altruistic. You’re doing the would-be buyers a favor by leaving some cash in their wallets.
But while it might help you, and maybe get you a modest sale, it actually hurts all your sew-sisters and -brothers. YOU might not need the money, but I certainly do, and I’m not the only one. If you don’t educate buyers as to a fair price, then the knowledge of what that is will not permeate our art-buying culture. And we all suffer for it.
Even if you don’t need the money, PLEASE charge it. Donate the cash to children’s arts programs or your favorite charity if you need to get it out of your account. If you still don’t want to do that, please AT LEAST give the buyers a detailed invoice showing the depth of the discount they receive. Education is the easiest thing we can do to change this.
Kate ends with this:
We create because we can and because we must. Monetary reward is just a very pleasant fringe benefit…
Pleasure in my process is certainly important. But no one quilts for cash without enjoying their process – it’s just too damned hard. However, we can’t pay the rent in satisfaction, nor should we be expected to. Money isn’t a fringe benefit in the arts, it’s what feeds the family. Just like in other careers.
I agree absolutely. I’ve just added your blog to the link of blogs on mine.
Yes! Glad you took on the “love what I’m doing so that should be satisfaction enough” garbage rationale. It is usually said with a certain snobby air like if you work for a living you must be poor and in desperate need. Whether I am poor or not is not the issue. If I want to replace what I have used to create something then I need to make at least, if not more, money to cover the replacement cost. Well said! I love your WASWI.
I have been approached several times about doing stuff for people to purchase. I politely decline. Sometimes I think about and then decide no every time for the very reasons you are describing. I do however state what it would cost for me to consider any of these said projects for money. I have yet to have one person say “oh ok that’s fine lets do it”. I work full time other than the sewing and just do not want the drama. I would not however charge less for anything. I would rather donate then have to argue over price, or just say no as I am doing. If you want a project by me you will have to pay for it to be worth the stress of doing it with the rest of my life I have going on. Just to cover the fabric and notions automatically bumps the price up. I am not going to cut my own throat. I guess one way to actually show someone the cost is to have them purchase the supplies their self and just charge time only. I still think you would come out less. You would have to have them get needles, thread, etc. The truth is this is a hobby for me and it is a very expensive hobby!
It really is!
I know this is preaching to the choir but I gotta add this. A while ago; I was commissioned to make some t-shirt quilts. Since the commission came straight to me and I presumed the woman had already searched online and decided NOT to go to the t-shirt-quilt-orama for hers; I priced accordingly. I did give her a price break given that she wanted 5 of them. What was rather uncool is that after our transaction was complete; her gifts were given and loved; one of her relatives wanted one too so she gladly gave him my number… and told him the price. (she neglected to tell me that part)
Needless to say he was rather taken aback when I quoted him the regular price for one. I quickly realized she must have told him what she paid per quilt and naturally; he thought that was a great deal! He was even a bit angry about even after I explained that she got that price as she purchased 5 quilts, not just one. I told him his best bet would be to go online and get one there.
I decided that I wouldn’t take a commission like this again unless it was a close friend. I will say that while the quilt-o-rama types online look inexpensive, once you go thru all the steps and add the quilting, backing, batting, etc. (all of which are extra $) you get closer to a reasonable cost. They don’t charge for having to cut all the shirts up; back them with cotton interfacing (at 10 bucks a yard) What must be difficult for most of us with domestic machines taking the odd commission for this type of quilt is that we simply can make it as cheaply as them. They are companies with employees and longarms with pre-programmed stitch patterns. As I think about it, it might as well be a bed spread you get at Target!
Even amongst my sewist brother and sisters; there is pricing disparity given to what equipment we have. I would give my eye teeth for a longarm, trust me; and I mean no disrespect but it seems that those fortunate souls that have longarms can charge less overall than what I would charge to quilt given the time savings and pre-programming ability of their machines. (do I have that wrong? or are there patterns you pre-load and let the machine run by itself?) Though I suppose somewhere you need to calculate the cost of that machine into your quotes, yes?
On a regular domestic, you are man handling that giant ass queen or king size quilt through a 4″ or 5″ harp. It takes longer to quilt it and there is more room for little errors, that extra time is more costly in the final analysis.
One last question; If I am Van Gogh; I can charge gazillions; since I’m just me I wouldn’t presume to do that. How do you determine what to charge based on who you are in the quilt world? If you have been published? If you have won awards? If you’ve written books yourself? If you show one quilt a year at your local guild show or multiple quilts all over the continent? Shouldn’t there be a sort of ‘base rate’ on that and how do you determine when you’ve moved up?
A couple of comments — first on longarms, they vary a fair amount on capability. I don’t have computer-driven quilting. I can choose to do free-motion quilting or use pantographs, which still requires me to be there and actively running the machine. Not saying this to complain, just to describe! And yes, they do run up to programmable for at least the quilting function. I don’t actually know what the high end is, as I’ll never be buying that.
Second, the only quilts anyone has ever ASKED me to make for them have been t-shirt quilts. I’ve been asked several times to make them. I have said “no” every time. I don’t like them, they require a different skill set than mine, and none of these people who asked would be interested in paying, family members all. There are people who do it and are good at it and are glad to, and I’ve told my family members they should find those people.
One of the most important things we can do is say NO to the worst kind of customer, or the kind of work that isn’t in the range of our best superpowers
Pricing is tricky. Long-arm machines can cost $20K, so yes, I would expect to see the price of that investment reflected in the charges (just like in any other business – think about all the equipment ANY profession invests in). A friend of mine once said that half of her customers thought she was a deal, and the other half thought she was expensive, and that she thought that was a pretty good balance to aim for, and that she put her prices up when ever the “deal” percentage got bigger. I think you also have to consider the kind of work you *want* to do. If you hate doing a thing and will only do it for big $$, then charge the $$ as then you’ll hate doing it less. I do believe there should be a minimum, though. This idea that we should trump each other by limbo-ing cheaper is nuts… its a race to the sweatshop fueled by a soup kitchen.
Well said. Maybe if we continue to bang the drum, people will hear.
Gifts are fine, but please please please demand what you’re worth when you sell, what we’re all worth…and it ain’t nothing.
I agree. I had a relative tell me at Christmas time she didn’t buy a ready made apron at a well known shop in Branson, MO because it was too expensive! I was going to make one for her in addition to her costume for our Christmas program at church but was ill at the time our family had our apron contest. I was going to charge her $20 for fabric & time if I made it. So it worked out. People who go out to eat 3- 6 times a week are the ones who make the most fuss. I am worth the money. Just as if my relative gave me voice or piano lessons I would expect the going rates.
I’m all for a little “friends and family” discount, I just think you have to inform the friends and family! But yes, people pay other people to cook for them a lot – can’t understand why paying people to sew for them is so foreign!
Well said, Sam! l just love it when I see a “WASWI” email from you in my inbox. Better Half and I have picked up this drumbeat and referring quilters back to your website/WASWI page to help bolster their courage when setting prices for customers. We both belong to several Facebook quilting groups and every day someone asks what to charge for a commissioned quilt. The range of answers is ASTONISHING. In some cases it’s come down to a handful of women (and it’s always women doing this; never a man) who try to out-do each other on how LITTLE they charge. (“I can buy the fabrics and make the queen size quilt for $80!” “Oh yeah, well *I* can do it for $75!” “That’s nothing. *I* can do a KING for $45!!!!!!”) We just keep posting your WASWI link in hopes some in the “audience” will wake up and take action. Or at least think about it. And by the way, let me thank you once again for the Excel worksheets you put together to help us all price our work. 🙂 All I can say is THANK YOU – YOU ROCK!
I know! I’m not sure about this race to the bottom at all – it will end up being a sweatshop funded by a soup kitchen!
Firstly, I would like to say that I feel uncomfortable with the fact that, instead of commenting on Kate’s blog with your thoughts and giving her the chance to reply, you have taken chunks of her post and used them on your own blog, naming her as the source, but without entering into any dialogue with her.
Kate has not said she does not work, she has simply said she does not produce quilts as a source of income. I know she loves to create them and has chosen to give them to her family members and friends and has made one or two to grace the bunks of servicemen on active duty. She has acknowledged in her post that there are people who are considered artists and can command high prices for their work but doesn’t include herself in that category.
I understand completely the need to recognise the value of hand crafted items and if customers can be found who appreciate the work that has gone into something and are willing to pay the price it deserves that is wonderful. However, there are far more people sewing, knitting, crocheting, painting and baking for their own pleasure and for the benefit of their friends and family than want to earn an income from these pursuits and, if they do try to recoup some money in order to continue with their hobby, I think it is rather harsh to criticize them for it.
Hi Tialys – thank you for writing. I’m not criticizing anyone who wants to recoup earnings in their hobby (and if you read carefully, I don’t even tell people to *charge* a high price, I tell them to document the price and the discount so that the buyer is educated as to the true cost – I’m interested in changing the perception that a handcrafted item and something from Target should cost the same). I’m trying to change the game so that the handcrafted makers are respected and compensated. Kate states that she doesn’t care about the compensation, and I obviously differ in this opinion, so she gets to write her thoughts, and I get to write mine 🙂
So, I should have documented the price when I gave my grandmother a quilt? I think you twisted Kate’s words and you owe her an apology. You will find you have a lot of common ground when you pause and read carefully.
Hi Carla – I’m speaking to people who want to sell quilts – if that’s not you, then you’re in the wrong place! I don’t think you should invoice grandma at all, but IF (and only if) communicating the value of the project to her was important to you, you could have the quilt appraised and give her that so she could properly insure it. If grandma appreciates the work, I believe the point is moot. I’m on a campaign to educate people as to the value of the handmade – the people who “get it” don’t need the education.
“It’s a great one to hide behind… not only does it make you sound fortunate, it colors you as generous and altruistic”…your words. How is giving items that one has made to someone else a bad thing? I should charge for giving crocheted hats and mittens to charity? Keeping my hands busy at night after a long day at work doing something I enjoy is a good thing and if others benefit from it, that is wonderful. I take joy from making things for other people who I love. You appear to be generous and altruistic is somehow wrong. I disagree. I make quilts for myself and others. I quilt some quilts on my longarm for free because they belong to very good friends and it is something I want to do. I can charge, but I do not choose to. I guess that makes me generous and altruistic too. If so, then good for me! I have also been asked to make quilts for others and when I give them a fair price, they choose to go another route. That is okay too. Perhaps one should ask permission before lifting another person’s words off of a page without permission. Being a librarian myself, I believe that could be construed as a copyright violation. Quilting and making handmade things is a very personal endeavor. I realize that there are many people who make money from selling their creations and that is something that I have considered as well, but do not choose to do so at this time. There is plenty of room in this large world for all of us. It is about feeling good about yourself and others, not maligning others. Think before you type and press publish. It’s the right thing to do.
Hi Kim – thanks for writing. I *do* “think before I type and press publish.” Kate was writing inclusively (using “we”) to an audience she assumes shares her opinion. I do the same, and my opinion happens to differ. Rather that step into her house/blog and argue with her, I chose to write a dissenting opinion. I’m not in copyright violation – anything said in a public forum is open for fair use according to my friends in journalism – I quoted her words exactly, linked to the source, and noted where I chose to create emphasis to make my point. This is done daily in publications all over the world. Obviously, you care about Kate enough to defend her – she is lucky to have such a good friend! And obviously, you and I don’t feel the same way about these issues either. I appreciate you pointing out the conundrum of what to do about the work we do for charity, and no doubt this will become fodder for more conversation. However I don’t appreciate you trying to threaten me with “copyright violation” nonsense. His is MY house/blog – you are welcome to create dialog here, but not threaten. If you don’t like what I write, then please just leave my house.
Sam, it was not my intent to threaten you at all. You’re right about fair use, however, the blog that you quoted specifically states that all material is copyrighted and permission must be granted to lift something off of the page. I guess that is where consideration of other bloggers come into play and respect for their work. There is no right answer to the question of what to charge for making quilts for others. If i was able to support myself with my work, I would, but I can’t so I have a day job. It is a what the market will bear kind of dilemma in my case. I wish you luck in your quilting business.
I don’t think the “selling” quilting community needs to feel threatened by the “giving” quilting community. The gifted quilts don’t make the quilts for sale any less saleable. I go both ways (no pun intended lol) by selling and giving away my quilts. If I choose to give it away then that’s for me to decided how I do it – I certainly wouldn’t tell that person how much it cost me to make when it’s a gift. It would only embarrass both parties. When I sell a quilt, I don’t back down on the price either. The price is the price and if my client likes my work then they will have no problem paying for it. I do support your “We’re Sew Worth It” campaign as it has taught me to be more confident in my pricing … but not at the expense of someone else’s post / words that was forwarded to you … she wasn’t even on your radar.
I think that the issue is twofold. Non-crafting people are so out of touch with the act of sewing and quilting that they have no understanding of how much quality materials cost and just how much time even the simplest quilt takes to make.
Also, with most of our textile production now happening offshore in the poorest of countries with the lowest of wages and conditions, people have become accustomed to any sewn item being available at K-mart prices. It’s very difficult for a seamstress or quilter to compete with the buying power of an extremely large factory, and the minimum wage in western countries is many many times what the factory workers are paid.
It is a shame that our textile industry has followed this path because ultimately it devalues our work to the point that it not financially viable to pursue a career as a sewist. I completely support your We’re Sew Worth It campaign and wish you every success in spreading your message.