If you’re a crafter, you’ve probably heard at least once, “You should sell [insert item of craft here], you’d make heaps of money!”
I know I’ve heard it a ton of times. It’s an innocent comment, but there’s a harsh reality to it.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve seen some amazing works being sold at conventions, in Etsy stores, in markets, and seen so many brilliant ideas on Instagram that have inspired me. I’m not saying it’s not possible to turn craft into a business – but realistically, if it’s something that’s done as a hobby, it’s next to impossible to actually turn that into a profit.
I showed someone one of my Heaven and Earth Designs charts, once, and she wanted me to do one for her. If you’re a cross stitcher, you’re aware of how amazingly detailed those charts are – and just how much time and effort goes into them. I’ve been working on one of them for two years already (admittedly, it’s because I have Crafting ADD and keep changing projects). There are some who can smash one out in a few months, but that’s definitely the rarity. And there are so many hours that go into that work. Let’s not even talk about the cost of the materials themselves – you’re looking around $25 minimum for the fabric, then the cost of the threads. 44c in the US still adds up to about $40 by the time you include all of the skeins, and if you’re in Australia, you’re looking closer to a dollar per skein. When I kitted up Red Riding Hood, that was about $55 that I spent on the threads (thank you, Christmas money), and that was when Lincraft had their 40% off yearly sale.
You’re a quilter? A lot of patterns call for a fat quarter bundle, and they can average about $100 each. Add in the threads, the binding, the backing fabric, and the batting, and your price tag has gone up exponentially.
That’s just the materials. How then, do you work out how much to charge? I’ve seen numbers tossed around for cross stitching, where often 1c per stitch is the ‘guideline’. Great for smaller pieces. A Heaven and Earth Design chart? Their minis average around 70,000 stitches. What about their “regular” charts, or their large sized ones. Do you charge a set fee, or an hourly rate?
That being said, a lot of people who do craft as their hobby don’t do it for the money, they do it for their love of the craft, and the enjoyment of being able to hand craft someone as a gift. It’s not about expecting the recipient to know just how much time has gone into it, and expecting a gushing thank you, because to be honest, I don’t expect people who don’t craft to appreciate the intricacies of cross stitch, or embroidery, or quilting, but it’s about knowing I’ve made something for them that is unique, and one of a kind, and it’s not something they can just wander down to the local shopping centre and buy as a mass produced item.
Now that I’ve seriously gotten back into craft (and the growing stash in my craft room can attest to that), I look at patterns with an eye for making it for someone, not just something that I’d like. I made a number of projects for friends and family last year for birthdays and for Christmas. Sure, it took me ages, and made me pull my hair out when I realised I had a deadline approaching, and sure, it would have been a hell of a lot easier to just go and buy something, but I didn’t want to. I saw patterns, went in my mind, “Oh, that would be perfect for X”, and bought them. I’ve already come across a number of ideas for presents for this year, and it’s already February. The life of a crafter means that hand made gifts have a longer lead time and need more planning. The perfect pattern, the perfect fabric – and then you have to make it.
When I gave my presents, the reactions varied. They ranged from understanding just how much work went into it, to just a genuine thank you and knowing it was hand made and a sincere appreciation of the presents – and that’s honestly all I wanted.
And then there’s instances where I didn’t get an acknowledgement, let alone a thank you.
And that upsets me. Hours – weeks of work, and no comment. I’m not expecting a critique, for someone to comment on the satin stitch (passable) or the chain stitch (tiny), but just a simple thank you. Hand made craft items don’t have a determined value, but they’re still a gift.
Ultimately, though, this is where the problem lies with selling hand made items. There’s no set value. Do you charge materials + time spent + an hourly rate? What may be the true cost of making something, may be realistically far too high. You could charge just materials, and maybe a little more, but this certainly wouldn’t cover expenses if this was your primary source of income. And you also have to take into account just how long it takes to make one item, whether this is an individual or a few of the same, and how quickly and easily you can produce them. If you’re going to be making a quilt, that’s not just something you can churn out overnight (and if you can, serious props to you).
I’m not saying it’s not possible to sell your items and turn what was a hobby into a stream of income – but it’s certainly not as easy as just “you could make money from this, you should sell them!”