Friday, June 15, 2018

Your Creative License: Why Investing In Your Quilting Hobby is NOT a Waste of Money

A few days ago, a fellow quilter posted in one of the online Bernina forums that her husband was getting on her case to start selling some of her handmade projects at craft fairs in order to justify her ongoing fabric expenditures.  My response to her post seemed to resonate with a lot of people, so I'd like to share those thoughts here on my blog as well for all of my readers who are not members of the Bernina forum.  As always, your friends are my friends -- feel free to share this with your guild or with your quilter/sewist/crafty friends as long as you credit me as the source and include a link back to this blog.

So, the initial question on that Yahoo! forum was "how do I price my quilted placemats, wallhangings, etc. so that they sell," but what really jumped out at me was her explanation that "DH (Dear Husband) is complaining about all the fabric purchases coming in... and not selling any of the stuff I make."

When You Turn Your Hobby Into a Business, You LOSE Your Hobby

Now, I want to be clear that I have nothing at all against the many women and men who have sewing and craft related businesses.  However, I can tell you from personal experience that when you turn your hobby into a business you totally LOSE your hobby.  And this is not just me telling you this -- I hear this over and over again from professional longarm quilters, pattern designers, quilting teachers and authors, that they spend so much time and energy working on customer projects, class samples, and scrambling to meet magazine deadlines that they rarely have time to make anything for themselves anymore.  When it's a hobby, there are no deadlines.  You make whatever you want to make, using colors and patterns that appeal to you, exploring new techniques that intrigue you, without worrying about whether you're making something that has mass appeal to potential customers.  If you get bored or frustrated with a project, you can set it aside and work on something else instead.  If you make a mistake, it can be a "creative opportunity" because you aren't bound by a contract to make something that looks exactly like the drawing or pattern that your customer signed off on.  If you make a really big, disastrous mistake and it's your hobby, you can chalk it up to a learning experience and move on, without having to worry about what you'll tell the customer, or all of your profits going down the drain.  

Successful Businesses Don't PRICE Items to Sell, They MAKE Items to Sell

In order to have a successful business sewing handmade items, it's not just a question of PRICING items to sell, but MAKING items to sell -- that is, evaluating the current trends and fashions in home design and making things that people are wanting to buy right now even if these projects are boring as heck and do not appeal to us personally. Take placemats for example, since that was one of the projects the quilter in the forum had enjoyed making but had difficulty selling at the craft fair: The quilted placemats in Ballard Designs, Williams Sonoma, and Pottery Barn are pretty boring, muted solid color fabrics in beige, white, sage green, maybe a pale yellow. Maybe a red holly print at Christmas and a brick orange/rust for Thanksgiving, but that's about the extent of the excitement:
Williams Sonoma Vine Floral Boutis Quilted Placemat, Set of Four for $59.95
There's nothing WRONG with that placemat.  Williams Sonoma sells a lot of them because they are neutral enough to work in most people's kitchens, whether their style is traditional or contemporary, and that's what people are buying now. Cheap imported products are so readily available that it is difficult to sell small quilted items at a high enough price even to recoup the cost of your fabrics, let alone your time. Yes, we quilters can tell the difference in quality between the set of 6 placemats for $40 at Bed Bath & Beyond (less the 20% off coupon, of course), or even the pricier set of 4 placemats for $60 for sale at Williams Sonoma, but quilters won't pay that much because we can make it ourselves out of our own favorite fabrics, and nonquilters are only interested in whether the color looks good in their kitchen and wanting to pay as little as possible.  

You might be able to sell more interesting projects if you concentrate on baby/children's items or holiday decorations, such as baby quilts, Christmas tree skirts, etc.  But even then, you run into the problem of non-quilting customers' unrealistic price expectations based on the artificially low price of cheap imported goods in stores.  They'll buy the Santa Claus Christmas tree skirt at Pottery Barn in the end because it cost less than the fabric for your handmade tree skirt Several quilters have told me that they stopped participating in craft fairs and bazaars because most of the "customers" who stopped at their booth confessed that they were "just looking for ideas."

Craft Businesses Make What Customers Want to Buy, Not Necessarily What They Want to Make
For those who are willing to make the necessary creative sacrifices and give up their hobby in order to pursue a handmade craft business, I strongly suggest networking with others in the craft industry for best practices and mutual support.  The Craft Industry Alliance is a great place to start.  But what about the rest of us?  

If the quilts and table runners and wall hangings that we labor over and invest so much of our disposable income, time, and energy making don't sell at the craft fair, does that mean all that money we spent on fabric was wasted?  

I think it's healthier to think of our quilts and other handmade projects as BYPRODUCTS of a creative hobby that confers many health benefits. Our hobby is relaxing. It lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, anxiety and depression, and the ongoing learning and problem-solving that is so much a part of sewing and quilting keeps our minds sharp and wards off cognitive decline, especially as we get older. It gets us out of the house to go to quilt shows, to take classes, or to go fabric shopping. It fosters social connections with other quilters. Creative hobbies are also cathartic, helping us work through painful emotions of grief and trauma. A recent study found that people who spend 2 hours per day on a hobby were a whopping 21% less likely to die prematurely than those who did not have a hobby. SO... All that money you are spending on fabric is ACTUALLY a wise investment in your health and well-being. 

The money you are spending on fabric is only a fraction of what would otherwise be spent on high blood pressure medication, antidepressants/anti anxiety meds, psychotherapy, or needing nursing home care sooner due to to cognitive decline and memory problems. You are investing in a couple extra years to live, and abetter quality of life for more of those years than you would otherwise have. You are investing in being around for a couple more family weddings, a few more graduations and birthdays, the chance to hold another great-grandchild in your arms. What price can you put on that? 

If your hobby was golf or fly fishing, you would get many of the same benefits that you get from sewing and quilting, and you would probably spend just as much money (or more!) on fly fishing equipment, golf clubs, club memberships and greens fees, but you would have nothing at all to show for your hobby except a shelf full of Hole In One trophies and photos from the day you caught the biggest fish. 

The "Quilts" of a Golf Hobby
Suppose we totalled up all the money all the money this golfer spent on his (or her) hobby over the years -- all the money spent on club memberships, clubs, bags, shoes, apparel, lessons, driving range practice, caddy and cart fees, tournaments, balls, etc.  According to a 2009 American Golfer survey, the average golfer plays a round of golf about once per week and spends about $3,000 per year on his/her hobby, with some of the more avid golfers in the survey reporting that they spent $15,000 or more.  If we added up all of that money and divided it by the number of Hole In One trophies on the shelf, we could conclude that the golfer spent thousands of dollars on each little plastic trophy! Get out there and sell those plastic trophies at the craft bazaar, Mr. Golfer!! :-) 

Can You Spot the Golf Trophy Table At the Craft Bazaar?  Neither Can I!
Because the quilts and wall hangings and placemats you make are really just the trophies and souvenirs of your creative hobby that is conferring tremendous mental and physical health benefits, increasing your life expectancy, and improving your quality of life. If you want to sell your "trophies" and someone else wants to buy them, that's fine and dandy.  Whether you sell a quilt or gift it to a loved one, it feels good to know that you have made something that brings love, comfort, beauty, and utility to another human being.  However, if you want total creative control to make the projects you want to make in the way that you want to make them, if you don't feel like trying to make it into a business, or if you've attempted to sell items at a craft fair and it didn't go well for you, that does NOT mean your creative life as a waste of money spent on fabric. 

I think we women can be particularly hard on ourselves about investing in our own self care.  I don't think I have ever heard a male quilter talk about Quilt Guilt the way women quilters do.  We have this ideal of the Selfless Mother to live up to, the Giving Tree who gives up her leaves, fruit, limbs and trunk for her family until there is nothing left of her but a stump (SERIOUSLY, Shel Silverstein??!!).

The Ideal Wife and Mother Is a TREE STUMP
But, as the flight attendants remind us, we need to put on our own oxygen masks before we can help others.  A tree stump isn't going to be much help in a family emergency!  And, if all else fails -- if your significant other still gives you grief about the cost of your sewing hobby even after you share all these wonderful studies and statistics with him, I have one more argument for you:

Happy stitching, everyone!

I'm linking up with:


Unknown said...

Thank you for all these wonderful arguments.

lvkwilt said...

I was asked many years ago by a boss to make quilts for his two granddaughters. It took me nine months and taught me a very valuable lesson. I don't make quilts for others--they don't appreciate the time or money put into even a baby quilt. I do love to make quilts for loved ones and charity quilts. I say do what you love and enjoy your HOBBY! Great post!

Barbara Sindlinger said...

Well said. Our guild does have a boutique but luckily we price things pretty reasonably and those that want a big quilts we have that option too. However those sales are rare but it does help to show them the actual price of what a lot of the products should sell for and what a deal there getting with the other stuff. We do very well and we do have a lot of great city support. However personally, I would never do this for a job. I think you are very right that I would soon hate it.

Thanks for your insight.

Dogwood Lane Rambles said...

I read your post to my wonderful, supportive husband and he is in total agreement. His philosophy is happy wife, happy life. That's why we have been together more than 50 years. Seriously though in spite of his attitude I still feel guilt as if I'm wasting my time or family resources on my hobby and I need to remind myself that I'm worthy of my own passions outside my role of wife and mother/grandmother.

Zafira @Zarkadia said...

Rebecca, that was one hell of a blog post!!! I hate that book...I've never read it to my boy. And I agree in everything you wrote!!! But I do have to remind myself to first put the oxygen mask and then help others, every single day.

laughing gas quilts said...

You are spot on. About 10 years ago I agonized over spending money on a bottom of the line long arm, to be used only for my own quilts. I dithered until a male colleague dragged me over to the computer to see the boat he was considering buying for his fishing hobby. The boat was $250,000, and the longarm $7,000. I went straight home, bought the machine and haven't looked back.
As long as there is food to eat, and a roof over our heads, we should feel free to support our hobbies. They have value.

Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

you are so right - a long time ago I thought I should sell some of my stuff - to justify what I spend I suppose and I found a buyer and almost every year I sell one or two quilts at very good prices and it still doesn't really pay for every thing I spend and I don't give a crap anymore about that! One can never charge what the item is really and truly worth. I like quilting and it is part of my life and I too think it has helped me medically with my chronic health issues -- if I didn't have quilting in my life I would be a depressed person and I was so happy that through my enjoyment in quilting my daughter realized that she too needed a craft to keep her busy and she does have depression and anxiety and is now off of her anxiety meds.
We try to justify our spending and really we do not need to - it helps keep us sane at times. People in sports do not justify their spending

Lisa // Cucicucicoo: Eco Sewing & Crafting said...

Oh, I LOVE this! What a breath of fresh air! And I just love the comparison with golfers. It's so true, and what you say about a hobby no longer being a hobby when you try to sell your work is SO true. This is something that I struggle with, as do a lot of other people I know. Thanks so much for this fantastic post! :) Lisa

Barb said...

Rebecca Grace, I totally agree with everything you said and you said it so well! (I, too, never liked The Giving Tree as children’s literature.) I first read your comments on the Bernina forum and followed the link to your expanded version. I’ve sold my products in the past and doing that provided me with socializing, learning, helping a nonprofit arts organization and a certain “validation” of my skills. It can be fun to sell. It’s also hard work, difficult to sell at the price the products are worth, and I no longer can do it at the pace required. So I continue to socialize with sewing friends, learn (that Bernina 790 is a wonder!) and produce whatever I want at the pace that fits my current life. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and your thoughts with the sewing/embroidering community!

Sara en Marie said...

Nice post. I tend to try to justify my costs on quilting, too, even though I earn the same as my husband, and he has no problems with my spending. To help me he bought me a new sewing machine (to do fmq) this January, from his bonus. So sweet! I do get some return, though, because I also love dressmaking, and have made some really nice, good quality clothing for our family, for not much money (though always more than you'd pay for the really cheap, fast fashion.) Nice blog!

Val's Quilting Studio said...

Hi your golf analogy. I TOTALLY agree that our hobby is art therapy for a huge majority of us. And the longaarm quilters I know who do it for a business, truly enjoy the opportunity it pprovides to leave the cooperative world.

Tu-Na Quilts said...

Yes, yes, yes (can you hear the sounds of loud clapping?)!! Superb comparisons with the hobby of golfing. I winter in a community that offers 92 different clubs and activities, two of which are a huge woodworking shop used by men (no women as of yet), and golfing. Two winters ago I proposed to our board to accept the donation of a longarm quilting machine for our quilters and to put it in one of the hardly used meeting rooms that the quilters could make into their own work space. The board approved the donation but the room that was given to us barely fit the machine at 16' x 7.5'. Now this winter, I've proposed building a building for the quilters (no men as of yet). We now have a new younger board who are listening and I've gathered more of the women to start vocalizing for our own space. I need to read them your post so they start valuing what they do more and what they make.

Anne said...

AMEN sister! I always cringe when I see those memes about hiding fabric purchases from your husband. Ummm... I don't feel the need to hide anything I do for myself from my husband. I spend the bulk of my time and money caring for my family. It's entirely okay to show the same support for myself and my interests.