As I sit here on this beautiful summer evening, kids running through the sprinkler after dinner and a happy lazy cat at my side, I cannot shake a bit of discontent that grabbed hold of me over the weekend.
The Sunday paper is usually chock full of advertisements, most of which I don't even really look at. However, Owen's new school requires a uniform so I have been glancing through the Sears ad because I know they carry the requisite pants and shirts. That's when I ran across this:
I had to take a closer look. Do you see that?
A king size quilt at an "everyday" price of less than twenty dollars. And the picture depicts these quilts:
I have been struggling with my own reaction to this advertisement for many reasons.
As someone who enjoys the creative outlet of sewing and quilting, it disturbs me to think that there are some (likely many) people who are being led to believe that a king size quilt costs only twenty bucks. For those of us who enjoy sewing and quilting (and cough fabric hoarding cough), we know that we would be hard pressed to purchase enough fabric for a king size quilt for that price, let alone the batting and thread. And perhaps most importantly: our time.
Granted, the quality of these quilts is probably not all that great. The material is likely not "quilt store quality" and the workmanship is surely not what I would expect from a handcrafted item. But for many people this will be their experience of a quilt.
On the one hand, it's great that so many people can afford to add a quilt to their lives. But it does make me wonder about the very real people who are manufacturing these quilts. If companies are able to sell the quilts for twenty dollars and they are still making a profit then what are the workers taking home?
Then there is the dilemma that many of us face, which is how do I value my own work? I know this is something that I struggle with. I have a teeny tiny etsy shop and I struggle with pricing every time I list something. I wonder if I am expected to compete with large stores carrying mass produced items. If I can go to ABC Store and get a little zippered makeup pouch for $4.99 (or less), how can I possibly expect to charge $15 for my handmade patchwork version? Is the average consumer going to understand the time involved? Or the fact that I used some prized rare Japanese fabrics? Will they notice the care that was taken or the attention to detail? I just don't know.
For me, this type of thinking tends to make me undervalue my work. I have a hard time asking a fair price for something because I get stuck between wanting to be fairly compensated for my time and talent and wanting to make sure I can actually sell whatever it is.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to educating both consumers and crafters. Not only do consumers need to understand what is really involved in creating a handmade item (from quality materials to the time and expertise involved in making the item) but artists and crafters also need to not sell themselves short. The work that we do is worthwhile. In a world that is overrun with stuff, a world that is constantly evolving into sameness (the same big box stores, the same chain restaurants, the same clothing chains, the same grocery stores), the ability to be truly unique is a dying art.
Handmade items are a reflection of the person who made them, not the factory that produced them. Practically speaking, how do we educate people about our art and craft? When millions of people see an ad for a twenty dollar king size quilt, how do they learn the value of a beautifully crafted handmade quilt if it costs hundreds? How do artists and crafters learn to value their work so that they no longer feel compelled to pay themselves little to nothing for their efforts?
These are the thoughts swirling around my head on this beautiful evening. What are your thoughts?