High Value ♥ vs Low Value $

No, I’m not talking about colour-rich versus de-saturated fabric prints.

Screen shot 2014-09-10 at 3.54.08 PM Screen shot 2015-02-14 at 2.52.35 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 3.01.55 pm Screen shot 2015-02-14 at 2.53.40 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 3.02.47 pm Screen shot 2015-02-14 at 2.51.58 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 3.02.22 pmI’m talking about the perceived value of our handwork.

A recent post has raised the interesting question of whether the hours we spend working on our quilts could ever be recouped in the event that we wanted to sell our work. I no longer do. I know that many, many people make quilts on commission. Some are considered artists and command impressive prices. The rest of us, and I include myself, having sold a fair few quilts in my time, could not hope to recoup a reasonable hourly rate for the time we put into our works of the heart. This applies particularly to items like large quilts which are entirely hand-pieced and hand-quilted. Too few people can afford the true cost of a quit. Too many of us make them…

I think perhaps we have to move away from the idea of our time as the thing with value, and start perceiving the item we make as the thing with value. And that value is only equal to what someone else is prepared or able to pay.

I’m compulsive. I would make quilts anyway, and I enjoy the process, so that has value for me. 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, for me, lies in the process and the pleasure my handwork gives, not the monetary reward. Which is why I no longer sell. Fortunately, I’m not dependent on my sewing to support myself, unlike some of my forebears!

These photos are of a few things handmade by me or members of my extended family. You’re looking at embroidery, patchwork, pyrography and crochet.

What you don’t see are the drawings, paintings, carvings, cabinetmaking, boatbuilding, wooden puppets, dollhouses, dressmaking, knitting, felting, drawn-thread work, tapestry, bobbin lace, tatting, pottery, marquetry, weaving and leatherwork, to name just the ones I can bring to mind. I’m sure there are others; we’re a creative lot.

Some were sold for far less than the value of their man-hours, but gave both buyer and seller pleasure. Some were made as gifts, more valuable to their receiver than anything that could be bought in the shops. Some were made as a technical challenge, an exercise in self-discipline and patience or as a learning process. Others were work for hands that did not like to keep still.

We create because we can and because we must. For me and many others, monetary reward is just a very pleasant fringe benefit…

Do you produce something that takes huge amounts of time to make, and have you been disappointed in what it has earned you? Or do you, like me, find that the journey and the pleasure your work gives is the point?  I’d love to hear what you think.

NOTE: if you have read this post, please consider also viewing a follow-up, here.

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25 thoughts on “High Value ♥ vs Low Value $

  1. mdlonnie says:

    Beautifully expressed!
    It has somehow become a sign of the times to assume value refers only to dollars. Gifting, for me, has the greatest value.

  2. I wrote a whole blog post-worth of response to this. 🙂 So I think I will preserve it and actually publish it as a post. This is an important topic and I’m glad you brought it up.

  3. EllaDee says:

    Fantastic post, and topic. Well worth discussion. And I could probably write a blog post on it too, but I’ll be brief for now at least…
    When I asked the question, I was simply curious, as quilting is very much an unknown to me, but it appears technical, creative and time consuming. I admire what you & other quilters create. I’ve seen quilts with price tags of $800, which I think is quite modest. I have a friend who’s an artist, and she sells artworks for similar prices and more.
    If I was a wealthier woman, just because I could I would support artists and craft people who perpetuate these arts. And also farmers and producers of good food. I try to do that now, within my means.
    Many of the beautiful old handicrafts I encounter make a living for the op-second hand-antique stores selling them… their travels make me a little sad but at least they are going to good homes where I hope they’ll be appreciated. As you say, the reason for their being, in the first place.

    • katechiconi says:

      Thank you for sparking the whole topic! I never usually consider how long things take in terms of hours or days; it’s simply done. From a long career where every minute of every day was a billable expense, to my current life, where I have the huge luxury of time to think, read, create and contemplate is a large step and I must say I now prefer to think of my handwork as a journey, a process, rather than being goal and budget driven, which is how it would be if I still sold my quilts.

  4. wombatquilts says:

    I have been having this conversation quite a bit, particularly since Sam Hunter, who is responsible for the “We are Sew Worth It” conversation, became a friend. Women’s handcraft is undervalued and people need educating about the value of the work we do. I will continue trying to educate, while still giving away my quilts! I think the education is important and I agree that our quilts, our work, is worth it.

    • katechiconi says:

      I don’t know anyone who can afford to pay the ‘proper’ price for my quilts. I put so many hours of work into them, despite being a fast worker, that they simply become unaffordable to most people if I were to charge a reasonable rate for my hours. Women’s handwork should be properly paid if it is bought and sold. But I think there are too many quilters in the world for too small an audience of those who want and can afford to pay a good price for our work. Does this mean I should stop making quilts? No, I don’t think it does, I simply prefer to adjust my point of view. Not everyone is going to agree with me, and I don’t expect it, but my point of view enables me to feel OK about spending such a lot of time on creating something beautiful without a financial return.

  5. I have never sold a thing. As you say, ‘We create because we can and because we must.’ I give things away all the time, but often to other crafty types who I know will appreciate it.
    I had two quilts professionally valued recently out of curiosity.

    • katechiconi says:

      I prefer to give away, I admit. No time pressure, you can make what you like, and it’s always greatly appreciated! Were you pleasantly surprised or a bit disappointed at the valuations? I ask because I suspect we all have our own built-in gauge of worth when it comes to our work, and I wonder how accurate it is judged against a professional appraisal.

  6. Interesting topic. I’ve started 2 responses already but deleted them – will put something coherent together when I get a quiet moment later. x

    • katechiconi says:

      It’s obviously of interest to quite a few people, and for a variety of reasons! Perhaps if I needed to earn my living from my handwork I’d think differently, but I suspect that I wouldn’t cost my work on an hourly rate basis. On the other side of the coin, I don’t want to be regulated by those who do! There’s a school of thought that says that those who give their work away or assign low prices to it devalue the market for those who do sell their work. And I will always continue to give away my work or accept token payment because I want people to be able to enjoy my quilts even if they can’t pay ‘market rate’.

  7. That is exactly my philosophy, Kate. As Jock says, quilting and poetry- writing keep me off the streets and out of mischief! I have sold a fair few quilts, and asked a price that enabled me to continue to buy fabric and equipment. Nowadays, I mostly give them away. There is no money in poetry and no poetry in money.

    I am compelled by lifelong habit to keep my hands busy, specially now that my body lets me down more often than not, so the pleasure of doing creative hand work is a bonus

    • katechiconi says:

      Well said. This whole debate was sparked by another commenter asking if I’d calculated how many hours I’d spent on Worldwide Friends. I hadn’t, and when I did, it made me realise that a quilt like that could never be viable as a commercial item. So it’s just as well I don’t do commercial work… I greatly respect those who do make a living from quiltmaking, but it’s not for me, and the analysis needed to cost and plan a quilt for sale does not make me happy, so I won’t do it any more.

  8. claire93 says:

    I often send my sister photos of things I’ve made and she always asks “how much could you sell it for?”. She doesn’t understand that’s not what I do what I do ^^ I don’t count the hours or the supplies that go into a project. For me, a homemade gift is the most precious gift because it is made with love and patience – and you can’t put a price tag on that!

  9. tialys says:

    Funny this should come up now as I was just thinking along these lines the day before yesterday when I bought a large, beautiful crochet blanket in the junk shop. I don’t crochet but I often see crochet blankets in the charity shop going for a few euros and I usually buy them just because I feel sad that all that work has gone into something just to end up on a dusty shelf in a junk shop. I know crochet granny blankets don’t cost as much to make in time or money as a quilt but the principle is the same. Mr. T. is always saying I should cost in the time something takes me when I sell anything – not full blown quilts though as my quilting stitches are nowhere near good enough – but I tell him it wouldn’t be a viable proposition and, anyway, I only make things I enjoy making so I am happy if I get back the cost of the materials. Of course, women’s crafts in particular are undervalued but as has been said above, those of us who are fortunate enough not to have to earn a living from it, usually do it because we can and we must.

    • katechiconi says:

      Very true. And it’s not just those crafts which are traditionally the province of women which are undervalued. No-one wants to pay for exquisite cabinetmaking any longer when they can buy something adequate but cheap from Ikea. No-one wants handmade wooden boats, or toys or carvings either, because they’re just too expensive, and because our society no longer values things that last for generations. You simply have to do these things for love.

  10. Kirsten says:

    This is the eternal debate and one I have come across several times! It’s strange isn’t it, people will pay hundreds of pounds for a hand-made pair of shoes but yet when it comes to something that is seen as more of a hobby activity, they want it cheap (er than it should be). I don’t think it helps with the onslaught of retailers that churn things out and charge pennies for them. Items are seen as disposable rather than appreciating the work and creativity that went into making it and paying a realistic price for that. As someone who will pay more for an item that will last it is frustrating to see this happen. Although I read the other day that apparently society is changing and people are slowly coming out of the disposable age. Maybe it is all circular . . .

  11. This is something I needed to read right now. You’ve set it out so clearly. What a welcome contrast to the money-is-everything world we live in.

    I haven’t sold what I’ve made, other than a brief period of making sock monsters to raise money for a charity. I guess what I’ve learned is to use better discernment about gifts and to let all hopes that they’ll be used go! I once lovingly made a pieced quilt as a gift for a close family member’s wedding. Years later when we helped them move to another house it was dragged out of a closet, still unused, so it could be wrapped around a mirrored piece of furniture to keep it from breaking, and dragged onto the moving truck.

    • katechiconi says:

      I think there should be some sort of unwritten rule that unwanted/unloved/unused handmade gifts can be reclaimed after a year by their maker!
      I applaud all those women working hard to change perceptions of women’s handwork, but the simple lack of a target audience with (a) the income to afford a ‘proper’ price and (b) an appreciation of the work that went into a quilt is for me the thing that will forever stand in their way. Too many quilters, not enough cashed up buyers…

  12. […] recall that I wrote a post on the topic of subjective value in quilting, saying that I prefer doing it now for love instead of money, trying not to attach […]

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