As the text in the blog header indicates I do absolutely love patchwork and quilting. To me it is a consuming hobby; a very satisfying creative outlet; supplier of a seemingly endless number of learning opportunities; and it also provides social possibilities too – friendships develop through local quilt groups, workshops and online. As a hobby it is not cheap and it can take up quite a lot of space… To fund my obsession and to prevent my home being over run with fabric and completed projects I have endeavored to sell some of the patchwork related items I make. These attempts have met with varying levels of success/failure and even some guilt.
Selling craft is tough! As Melanie so eloquently explains in a series of posts: more often than not handmade crafts are undervalued by both sellers and buyers. Finding the right market/clients is difficult and can lead makers to drop prices well below that which would secure a ‘living wage’. This can result in ‘hobby maker-sellers’ (like myself) undermining the market for professional crafters. This argument in particular has made me feel guilty about attempting to sell my quilts at what amounts to little more than cost price. Although, having observed and reflected upon the canny success of some quilt makers I have been feeling less troubled about this lately. Looking at the websites of innovative, professional quilt makers I see they have moved from selling their quilts to using their quilts to advertise their patterns, fabric ranges, classes (real time and on-line) and lectures. Once a good reputation and a large enough following have been established, enterprising quilters are able to obtain the endorsement and sponsorship of fabric designers and retailers, making quilts to showcase new lines of fabric. Others branch out to provide longarm quilting services, become fabric/notion retailers, author books, write articles for magazines and are invited to design and publish quilt patterns, and some gain revenue from commercial advertising space on their blogs.
Having sold a reasonable number of items, and applying some of what I’ve understood about marketing to my ‘hobby maker-seller’ status I am moving away from being content with selling at only a little more than cost price (sometimes less once venue costs, machine wear and tear, electricity etc are included). It was paying the 20% commission on each item sold in the pop-up shop that acted as my wake-up call. Whilst enjoying selling on a much more successful scale than anything I’d tried previously, I was basically charging nothing for my time and receiving even less.
I am wrestling to reconcile what happens in my sewing room: is it about doing my hobby or about ‘running a business’? I need to sort this out as I don’t want to be using time ineffectively. Do I really need to be taking time to sort out the SEO on the items in my Etsy shop or be figuring out how to acquire a client database or keeping my Facebook page up to date or struggling to understand financial spreadsheets? A couple of months ago I asked my prayer partners to pray with me about the way my business (‘business’ said very tentatively) should develop, if at all. Well! Be careful what you
wish pray for is the first lesson learned! These past few weeks I have been provided with, and taken, several opportunities to move on a few steps; developing my ‘brand’; designing and making ‘products’ for the soon to be reopened pop-up craft shop; and preparing examples and course notes for classes at Purple Stitches, a local quilt shop.
But now I have to admit I’m tired and full of self doubt *sigh*. What does this mean? Am I going down the wrong path or is the oft repeated school report phrase ‘lacking self confidence’ still true? Or maybe I’m just experiencing the tough ‘downside’ of pushing a retail idea forward into the public domain? It is hard work!
Writing all this is helping me to work through some of the muddle in my brain (take a look at the photo to see this muddle working it’s way into my sewing room!). My enjoyment of patchwork and quilting hasn’t diminished; my head is full of half-formed patterns, designs and projects; I do enjoy making things to sell; I don’t have a clear ‘vision’ of what my business would look like, do I need ‘vision’ to move forwards?; the P&Q bloggers who are developing their hobby into a commercial venture appear to be enjoying what they do; there doesn’t have to be a clear division between sewing for pleasure and sewing for business; sometimes working to deadlines and adapting projects/ideas to suit clients can make sewing more business than pleasure; then, advancing a business can bring much needed funds for ‘pleasure sewing’; I really enjoy sharing new ideas and skills, taking classes is a good option for me…
I wonder if anyone who has been patient enough to get to the end of this ramble of a post is at a similar point in the growth of a hobby/business? Maybe you’ve taken it beyond this point and worked through the process of putting what you do for pleasure into a commercial context? Has it been difficult to reconcile the two? Or is it just a privilege to call something we love doing ‘work’ and therefore no distinctions need be made?
Linking my finishes with Amanda Jean at Finish It Up Friday