in which i teach myself a lesson

A few weeks ago, when my planning first began for the RAINBOWS + ROLLERSKATES party this weekend, I pinned this felt delight to my gay gay gay gay gay gay gay Pinterest board.


Adorable, right? Yes. And inspiring. I was so inspired that I did what most handmade artists and crafters hate - with good reason - I said to myself, "self, you could totally make this...or something like it!"

But of course, as things usually go, I forgot and busied myself with other things like rainbow pompoms and zigzag rainbow paper decor and rainbow garland. I forgot all about it until I needed something out of my felt and embroidery drawer, and saw my Giant stack of Giant Dwarf felt. OMG RAINBOW BROOCH!

I carefully selected the colors I liked best for the brooch. I meticulously cut the slightly wonky, yet endearing-in-their-imperfection half-moons for the rainbow, and I set out to stitching. Now, I consider myself a pretty proficient stitcher. In fact, I embroider more than I do anything else these days. The construction and completion of an embroidered piece isn't something new to me, but that doesn't mean I wasn't challenged by this effort. It took approximately one episode of Dr. Phil, one hour of the Bachelorette finale, and an entire episode of Intervention to complete this rainbow brooch - that's at least three hours. When I was finished, I took a quick picture with my phone and posted it to Instagram, closed up my embroidery floss box, brushed my teeth and went to bed.

"The gayest brooch I've ever made!"

Instead of falling into a blissful slumber, the pug kept me awake longer than I would've liked (by sitting on my hair and then smacking me on the face with his paw so he could burrow under the covers, if you must know), and I found myself counting rainbows in order to fall asleep. Felt rainbows. Hand-stitched felt rainbow brooches, to be precise. Handmade gets a lot of flack from mainstream consumers, including my own family and friends, for being too expensive. Walk through any craft show and you'll hear murmurs and outright declarations by weekend craft warriors that they "could totally make this at home!" We seem to think that just because we can make things at home, that we also have the drive, creativity ingenuity, skill and time to dedicate to the task.

What I learned with this rainbow project is that I have a great renewed respect for my fellow hand-stitchers, and all handmade artists and crafters, especially the folks who do it full-time. Because it is serious business. I informally broke down the cost of the piece you see here, taking into account all of the time-consuming components of the process, keeping in mind that I always want to pay myself a very reasonable living wage (trust me - I have earned an unliveable wage in my  life, and there is no way I'm going to pay my 30-something self $10/hour):


ETA: I didn't even include the costs and time involved in photographing and editing the image for a webshop, the fees associated with maintaining an online presence, the time involved in posting the item to the shop and the materials and the time involved in mailing it to wherever it needs to go when sold.

This project, for all intents and purposes, is not easy. It's incredibly time consuming and required a lot more engineering than you would expect. And I'm an VERY crafty person (fourth generation, I always say). The fact that felt/stitch mavens like Laura of Lupin, Betty Octopus, September House, Littlest Bean, Sew Sweet Stitches, and all of the awesome stitchers out there charge a mere percentage of that total above for their pieces should boggle your mind. And then you should bow in appreciation that they keep their prices so accessible.

The rainbow brooch, in more detail.

Now, I do understand that, with time and innovation, the streamlining of costs and processes does occur and the creation of new pieces doesn't cost as much as my one-off little rainbow did. But the fact remains that if we're interested in high quality, highly unique handmade products, we're going to have to pay more than what one would pay for something similar yet mass-produced, or even made by ourselves at home. The fact that less expensive options exist out there does not mean that the people responsible for pricing the goods are just being nicer or more reasonable, either. In many cases, and especially when purchased wholesale for places like World Market, Anthropologie and Pottery Barn, we're saying it's acceptable to devalue the hard work of poor handcrafters and artisans all over the world.

This is a story told many times before. I felt like this experience with the rainbow brooch really reemphasized these things for me, though. I genuinely believe there is a lesson in just about every experience for everyone, and in this one I re-learned that handmade is important, that the vast majority of handmade goods are very fairly (too fairly!) priced, and doing it ourselves is not always the fastest, cheapest or most expertly made solution. Oh, and that stealing ideas/inspiration from other handmakers to "just make it [your]self at home" costs more than you might think.

2 comments:

  1. As someone who specializes in a particular craft, I have accepted that I don't have to be good at everything. I am creating all day. Sometimes I just wanna have something. Even if I could make it, unless it's actually a fun time for me, I probably won't. And yes to a living wage. 1000 times yes.

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  2. Oh Meagan this is a really interesting post, as I'm coming from the perspective of a full time crafter( I actually live in the same city as Bettyoctopus). It drives me totally mental to hear people muttering that they could make it themselves...most of the time I distract myself from a flash of mad rage by picturing them actually making it, an then I have an inner laugh.

    Most crafters pay themselves way too little, and people still think it's over priced.
    I wrote a blog post about this topic recently.
    http://nicedaydesigns-ruth.blogspot.com/2011/08/angry-rant.html

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