Why not all hobbies are business endeavors

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Ok, this post is a rant, but it really is not meant to be unkind. If I thought someone in my life read this and felt like it was directed at them I would die of humiliation. It’s not directed at anyone, nor has anyone in my life offended me, but I do just need to get this off my chest. So here it goes.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a stay-at-home mother in possession of good crafty skills must be in want of a side job.” Oh wait, that’s not true at all. Let me explain.

My life and home are filled with homemade stuff. Curtains, pillows, napkins, tablecloths, hats on top of kids’ heads, socks on my feet–you name it, I’ve sewed it/knitted it/crocheted it. I even blog as as a hobby to document my hobbies. Because that’s fun for me–it’s my pastime. I don’t want to sew as a job. I don’t want to knit as a job. I don’t want to crochet as a job.

It’s not ok to ask someone to sew, knit, crochet or craft for you unless that person has a business or has been known to solicit work before. Asking a person to make something handmade for you is an unacceptable presumption. If you thought someone had a beautifully clean house, you would never ask them to come be your housekeeper. If you thought someone did a nice job painting their woodwork, you would not ask them to come paint yours. If you thought someone had a well-behaved dog, you would not randomly ask if you can pay them to give your dog lessons. (I could go on.) There are exceptions to these, of course, for very close friends or family who have a history of sharing labor and time with each other, but I’m not talking about those exceptions.

I am never bothered when friends or acquaintances compliment my projects, wish they could make those things, wish I would make them one (teasingly), or ask me to teach them how to do something or give advice on a project. (Actually, the opposite–I’m flattered by all those things.) Teaching a friend how to do a skill is well within the scope of friendship. I don’t actually think I’m very good at teaching crafty skills, which is one of the reasons you almost never see tutorials on my blog, but I would never be bothered by someone asking for my help, nor would I ever mind giving it a try. I also love making gifts for friends and relatives. Being able to give handmade gifts is a special joy. People who know they are going to get a gift from me and give me a hint about something handmade they want are just making useful hints. I’m not talking about that.

Asking someone like me to do unsolicited paid work is completely different. I do not like it when people ask me to do jobs for them. I don’t do it, either, because I’m not for hire. I’m not offended, but I just want to explain why it’s not really ok to ask me or any other crafter, even if the intention is good. I went to graduate school at the University of Chicago. I’ve held professional jobs making a reasonable amount of money. My current state of unpaid employment is something my husband and I have put a great deal of thought into. (You can read our reasons for homeschooling here.) Our family budget is not of public concern, nor would it be polite or acceptable for anyone to presume that the amount of money I could make by sewing for someone would be worth the bother to me. Adorable and fashionable clothing and home-furnishings can be purchased at Target. (Talking about the lives of the people who made those items is beyond the scope of this post, but you you probably have a good idea.) Beautiful and high-quality clothing and home-furnishings can also be purchased lots of places from upscale stores to small boutiques or online from domestic sellers on Etsy. When people suggest that I do a sewing project for them, they seem to think they could get a quality, hand-made item from me for under the price of a similar item at Target. Inevitably, they also significantly underestimate the time and effort involved in creating their desired project. In fact, just purchasing good-quality yarns and fabrics often causes home-sewn or knitted items to be more expensive just in materials than their Target counterparts. If I were doing sewing or yarn-craft jobs, I would be forgoing the precious, hard-won moments I wrench from my busy life to enjoy my crafty pursuits, giving up creative control over my projects, and creating an item that would net me (maybe) just enough money to go buy non-handmade items for my own children and gift recipients at Target. I’m profoundly uninterested in doing that.

Some craftspeople and artists decide to transform their skills into businesses, so they sell on Etsy or on their own websites or in stores or boutiques. They make crafting their job. Just like other jobs, they turn part of their day over to the execution of the tasks that encompass their job, and it happens to be crafty-related. That’s terrific, but I don’t want to do that. Being able to do something is not the same thing as being interested in doing that thing as a job. Prices of items on Etsy or of handmade goods in boutiques reflect the amount of time and effort it takes to sew or craft. The prices of domestic-made goods on Etsy are fair, and they reflect the time and materials in the handmade objects.  That’s how selling handmade items can be a living for some people, but it would not be worth it for me. I don’t want to put my children in daycare so I can craft for money.

Here’s a concrete example. I recently sold my fox purse in an online forum for used goods. I blogged about the purse here. I actually made it last winter, I think, and by this fall I was tired of carrying it. It was showing a little wear after 4-6 months of use and had a stain on the handle, which I disclosed in my online ad. I paid $17 for the two pieces of fabric I used to make the bag, then let’s say another few dollars for the other bits–a zipper, 2 D-rings, elastic. thread. I’m not sure how long it took me to design and sew the bag, but I’m going to estimate three hours. This would have been three hours squeeze out over the course of several days and across multiple sittings. It would have been a few minutes while supper was baking, a little time while the baby was napping but after I’d finished shorting laundry, a stolen moment while my oldest answered math questions I’d set her. It was time I spent at the sewing machine sewing instead of keeping my kitchen floor clean, catching up on the church committee work, or grading last week’s spelling work. I could not put a price on that three hours. No amount of money could have made the effort worth it if my project weren’t meant as a treat for myself or someone I love. Yet I felt like the effort was worthwhile to me just for the love of crafting, and the satisfaction of making something just right for myself. I enjoyed envisioning and creating the bag in those stolen moments. I enjoyed carrying it and knowing it was unique. I enjoyed turning $20 in materials into a bag that didn’t come from Target. When I was done using the bag, I asked $10 for it because I thought that was a reasonable price for a used bag with a stain on it–the price had no relation to the value of the bag to me when it was new. I was pleased to sell it almost immediately; I was vastly annoyed to immediately receive solicitations that I make new ones for would-be purchasers. They had no idea how much I’d have had to charge for that bag to make it even remotely worth making it new. The $20-ish dollars in materials plus the $1,000,000 for my time would have undoubtedly seemed outrageous to them (they who expected me to produce more to sell for $10!???). I’m sure the would-be buyers didn’t mean to offend, but just the suggestion made me realize how far afield the perception of the value of handmade items is from their actual value, both in time and money.

So my point is this. If you want handmade items, patronize an established business, art fair, or Etsy. Expect to pay more for the item than you would pay at Target. Do not ask other people to use their crafty skills for you. Do not offer to pay people for items they are not offering for sale. You may mean well enough, but it’s thoughtless and annoying. This is a public service announcement and is intended as enlightenment and explanation, not as chastisement or ridicule. XO

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4 responses »

  1. Very well said. I totally agree with you. My pet hate is when people who know you can sew automatically assume that you will do their mending for them. They need to go pay a mending service.

  2. You go girl!! I just got asked to do some mending for a coworker. I don’t do mending. But in this case I’ll make an exception (as long as they KNOW it’s an exception and not my rule), just because I like his kids 😆 and he asked me in such a humble way – and because I know his wife is trying to learn to sew. But I totally agree with this “rant”!

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