Wintry Making

I’ve been in all sorts lately thinking about my craft practice, and how to prioritise what to make first (I can hear everyone laughing). I’ve been working through a few things in my mind and my problem has begun to emerge: I began making and creating things when Nell was born, nine years ago. I was inspired to begin by a combination of things, mainly a deep desire to be creative and carve myself out from within the daily confines of motherhood, and secondly a growing unease around the amount of “stuff” brought into our lives with the introduction of a baby. I knew I was having an impact on the environment, I knew the decisions I made and the purchases I invested in made a difference to our footprint. I knew that my daily decisions around clothing and food (however tiny) made an impact on real people, many of whom are being exploited and underpaid just so I can have my kid wearing a pink unicorn cardigan. Watch this documentary on fast fashion and I’ll step down from my soapbox. I wanted to make some of Nell’s clothes to avoid having to purchase things that were made unethically, and to try to utilise materials that were no longer being used (I first started sewing with secondhand sheets). I quickly learned that craft was not only improving our home lives and increasing the ethical choices we could make on a daily basis, it was also enormously beneficial to my mental health. It was (and still is) my meditation.

Fast forward a year or so and suddenly I could sew and crochet and I was selling my handmade items. That was nearly a decade ago now! Looking back I can’t believe I once lived a life where I outsourced everything – food, clothing, gifts – and I didn’t know how to make a single thing.

I have reached a crossroads though, where I am still making on the daily, but the balance has shifted and my family aren’t always benefiting from these skills I have acquired. For example, if I have plenty of custom orders, and I usually have enough to keep me busy in the small amount of time I have to pursue such projects, then these orders take priority over say, mending, or making new school leggings for the girls. I have been caught out a number of times and have had to purchase something that I have the skills to make, because I am lacking in time.

On one hand being able to make and sell things has created a lovely little channel of pocket money which helps to support my family and for which I am very grateful. I’m also promoting the environmental benefits of purchasing handmade and allowing other families an opportunity to purchase locally and ethically made items. On the other, I am not always able to make the choices that I promote, and that first drew me to learn these skills, if my time is being taken up making things to sell to other people.

Add to this jumble part time work, writing projects, and general life and craft seems like a real luxury.

So. I’m setting myself a few priorities and getting my craft organised. Number one on the list is fairly obvious… When I fold the washing I see holes in the knees of 90% of the leggings we own. So this pattern is a must for me this winter (and I just noticed it is currently on sale). They are so fast to whip up, and when you really examine it, I dare say it would be faster for me to stay home and cut and sew three pairs of these than it would be to get in my car, go to the shops, search and be distracted and blinded by the white lights, purchase and come home again. I should time it and see.

Secondly, in May I had every intention of making myself this dress to wear to my cousin’s wedding which has now been and gone. I bought the pattern and this material (swoon!) and it is still sitting in my mending basket of all places. So by Spring I’d like to see this dress hanging in my wardrobe, please. I also have this coat pattern ready and waiting, but realistically this might be one to make over January 2020 so it’s ready for Autumn next year.

Other than that, I have this pattern sitting in my studio, along with a few metres of this luxurious linen. I promised to make these pants for my Mum in January 2018. I reckon I should work on getting these ready for her birthday: December 2019… (sorry Mum).

Then there are gifts. I had a sweet period where all my gifts were handmade (amazing how many kids’ parties you need to buy gifts for when you have three kids!), and going back to work along with other stuff sent this little rhythm to the bottom of the basket (I know I don’t have to explain all this, you guys get it!). I spoke to my aunty on the phone yesterday who also loves making all her Christmas presents and said we should get together to plan our our Christmas makes (don’t kill me for mentioning Christmas) so that we can make it a reality to give handmade gifts this year. I’ve also got a few friends who have just had babies and have managed to make a couple of things for those new babes. Being ahead of the game is surely the way to go here.

This list is enough to keep me busy until the end of the year, along with custom orders and life. What are you making this Winter? Do you have lists that you write for each season or do you just make whatever it is that takes your fancy?

Did you enjoy this post? I’m revamping my newsletter, if you’d like to receive it sign up here.

Charging for Handmade Items

I’m writing this on the cusp of my own dilemmas on this very topic. I’ve been chatting lately with other friends who make and sell handmade things, about how we come to pick the price we are happy to make and sell for. You’d think it would be relatively straightforward, but I think for many creative people this is a real clincher – especially when you are not making and selling purely as a hobby, but the money you make actually helps to feed your family!

Last night I was sent a message on instagram asking for a custom order item I don’t make very often. I was caught between these two thoughts, one: feeling super excited that someone wanted to order something from me, so I had better not charge too much otherwise I might miss out on a sale, and two: gently reminding myself of the cost of materials, along with time to make the item. How would I decide what to quote? What if it was too much?

When I am pricing an item, there are a number of things to consider. While I know I’ll never get paid an award hourly rate, I do need to be paid enough for it to be worth my time and energy. As much as I absolutely love creating and making things, I don’t have the time or inclination to do it for free. If that were the case, I have plenty of children and family members I could make for to satisfy my urges. What I am paid needs to compensate for the time away from my family and the cost of the materials, in a way that I am comfortable with and don’t end up with a deficit.

I think sometimes the fear of missing a sale or the fear that our handmade items aren’t worth it, or won’t be valued, can easily fall into the trap of undercharging. The problem with this is it is rarely sustainable and sooner or later leads to burn out. I used to fall into this trap often by undercharging, finding myself up at all hours of the night, neglecting my other responsibilities stitching or crafting away at something begrudgingly. The joy was suddenly sapped out of what was usually an enjoyable process for me. There were even times when I ended up losing money in the beginning as much as I am embarrassed to admit it.

People who don’t know or care much about what it takes to make a handmade item, will never value the price of a handmade item. If they want something cheap and made in a hurry, they can go to any big chain store. In saying that, though, it often surprises me that people are willing to throw $40 at a stock standard, made overseas hat from a big name brand at a shopping centre, but will scoff at the idea of paying that for an individual, high quality, locally made hat. This makes absolutely no sense to me.

Here are just a couple of links that can help you to  both understand the value of handmade items, along with some guides to charging for your handmade items.

:: The True Cost – a documentary about the exploitation of both people and the environment in the fashion industry. A must watch if you want to know where your clothes really come from, and what you are personally supporting with every dollar you spend.

:: Tips for pricing your handmade goods – an article by Ashely Martineau

:: A simple formula for pricing your work – by Danielle Maveal on the etsy website

There are so many other things you could research to find out more on this topic – the benefits of a local and capsule wardrobe, the benefits of wearing organic clothing, the benefits of supporting local businesses — all of these things will help you to either price your own items or understand why handmade and locally created items and crafts should be celebrated.

I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts in the comments.