Saturday, 6 September 2008

Handmade in dollars and sense

I’ve often wondered what one of my embroideries or quilts is worth in monetary terms. As in, should I ever want to sell one, what would be a reasonable asking price?

I do a lot of browsing on Etsy.com and I’m often shocked at the prices – not because they’re too high, but because for the most part they’re too low.

From a purely business point of view, price needs to take into account materials, overheads and, most importantly, labour. Take, for example, this quilt:


I’m guesstimating the time it took me to piece the top at about 500 hours – this excludes preparation, cutting, sandwiching, hand quilting and binding time. Tack on another 100 hours for that. Say I value my time at £15 an hour. That brings my labour cost alone to £9 000. Add a minimum of £100 for 100% cotton fabric, including backing and binding fabric. And another £20 for cotton batting and thread. That’s £9 120, excluding overheads. Using the standard retail pricing formula of 3 x (materials, labour and other costs) brings the retail price to £27 360.

Would you pay that for this quilt? Honestly, I’m not sure that I could afford it. But that’s what it is worth.

I realise I’ve chosen my most time-intensive quilt to date to illustrate my point, but it makes you think. Especially when quilts are being sold online for anywhere from £5 for baby quilts to £200 for double bed quilts. The most expensive I’ve come across recently was £320 for a king-size bed quilt. Buyers are having a laugh.

It brings the question of craft as art to mind. Why is an intricate and creative piece of embroidery more often than not viewed as nice, but not worth much more than the fabric it’s stitched on, while random splashes of paint on a giant canvas and a bit of waffle to back it up are capable of commanding up to six figures?

And why are there so few master craftsmen and women in the world today. Less than 100 years ago, these were lucrative and desirable professions. Could it be because it’s no longer possible to make a living from craft alone?

Mass production, information and technology have ridden roughshod over previously essential trades. Handmade has become a hobby, rather than a necessity. And those who create by hand need to command more respect when it comes to putting a price on their time and talent – or risk undervaluing their own efforts, as well as undercutting those of others in the handmade sector.

10 comments:

serenitymeadow said...

As a hand-quilter, I totally agree with you. And I must tell you, you do really lovely embroidery work.

Cassie said...

First time I have visited your blog and I love it! Your embroidery is absolutely gorgeous. And you are right about the amount of time put into our projects. With two little ones at home it takes me about 500 hours to complete anything. I will definately visit again.

Jenny said...

I agree we crafters undervalue ourselves and generally because what we do is a 'hobby' we think the work has no great worth. I've resolved not to give away what I do. I'll happily make gifts for family and friends but if I sell or receive commissions its at a reasonable rate or not at all. Your work is beautiful by the way.

1/4 of an inch said...

They are really great points you make and I am often perplexed by the value of our art as well...but look at Denyse Schmidt...her work is amazing, they are pieced by her and quilted by Amish women and she is able to command extraordinary prices...successfully!!! I love your work and will now add you to my new blog!

Tilly said...

I agree. Hand crafted items are priceless really. I guess the problem is that it's so easy to buy cheap imported handcrafted items. The people who create them are often not able to achieve a true price for them and this makes people believe that items should be relatively inexpensive. Your quilt is amazing. I don't think I'd ever be able to let it go, whatever the price. I knitted a cardigan for Miss Muffett when she was a baby. It took me so long and was such an achievement for me that I'll never let it go!

Gunnels blog said...

Yes, I agree! You can newer ewer take out the right price for a hand crafted work.

Thansk for your commetn on my blog! You are doing very beutiful work herre. LOve your quilt

Lil D said...

Um, I can't afford a $9120 quilt.

I think it's simply a problem with competition and perception. These days people are so used to disposable mass-produced cheap items, that many have trouble identifying quality anyway.

I think only another crafter has a true idea of how much time and effort goes into making many items. I usually chicken out of giving handmade things as gifts, even.

Concha said...

Thanks for this post! I have thought about this problem so often and I always come to the same conclusion as yourself...

The thing about buying handmade is that it's always too expensive for who's buying and too cheap for who's selling... :(

Pfeiffer Photos said...

At 600+ hours of hand work, I know I couldn't afford it but it's a very pretty piece of work! And, yes, some (not all) Etsians charge too low for much of what is offered in their shops.

Leanne said...

Love your post...we live in a disposable world..where nothing is meant to last. That is why handcrafting is dying....you can buy cheap mass produced items that just get thrown away. We soon wouldn't have a past as it will all be at the rubbish dump.