27 November, 2010

Crafting and money

As I was driving along the other day I started to wonder about crafting and how much it costs. I think it was the product of some of the spending I've been doing recently on bits and bobs I deem necessary for whatever I'm doing - thread, invisible zipper foot (I'm going to conquer my fear of the invisible zipper shortly!), fabric, ribbon, little bag frames... Ok, so only some of it is necessary! But jeez, even decent Guterman thread is fairly pricey when you add it all up. And then at the stitch 'n bitch night on Tuesday the conversation passed over the amount people will spend on wool or fabric and how that shocks other people who don't know how much a lovely skein or a metre of designer fabric goes for.  There was also a comment on a beautiful wreath at Martha Stewart about the price of the components that got me thinking.

So what I was thinking was whether this new crafting resurgence is essentially a middle-class thing? When it's cheaper to buy most of your clothing than make it, and buy a quilt than make it - and pretty much everything else - is it just an indulgence to make it yourself at twice the price and think yourself clever?  It's sort of like when I was first at University and some of my classmates were exploring being modern versions of hippies and living alternative lifestyles and striving to look and be different and non-consumerist it was pretty obvious that the only reason they wanted to live like that was because they didn't have to - their parents were able to subsidise them. Anyone who was truly poor was trying desperately NOT to live like that.

When I look at some of the lovely quilting sites where the most gorgeous things are made from beautiful designer fabrics hot off the presses I often wonder at the money that goes into making them - definitely out of reach of many people, especially these days. These are the quilts and blogs of the affluent and educated.  I don't actually have an issue with that, it just makes me think about whether there is a divide in the crafting world between the haves and the have-nots just as there is in the real world (for lack of a better term!).

I suppose this is a bit of an unfocused ramble because I was also negotiating roundabouts and intersections and other drivers at the time, but I'd love to hear anyone else's thoughts on this - even if it's just to tell me I'm delusional!


  1. It's so true. I make things because I see the beautiful things that others make and am inspired to have a go... But it's not cheap - especially here in Australia, designer fabrics are ridiculously expensive! So I try and content myself with a fat quarter or half yard here and there, and then have the occasional splurge and order stuff online from the US. I'm actually just starting a shop at madeit.com.au in an effort to fund (or justify) my crafting addiction!!!

  2. I don't think you're delusional, you're right on the money. I can stop off at Spotlight for some elastic and thread and be thirty bucks lighter on the way out (supermarket factor - go in for one thing, and come out with five). Perhaps upcycling and repurposing appeals more to the Kiwi DIY mentality... so maybe it's not only a class thing, but a culture thing? My mum still keeps elastic, buttons and other notions and useful bits from worn out clothing, wrapping paper, ribbons and paper bags - I'm getting better at looking at things now, before they get tossed out. I love the designer stuff, but I love looking at repurposed things more.

  3. No, you're not delusional. Some stuff is just way too expensive and sometimes people have just way too much stuff. I tried to go on a craft diet a while back and kept track of everything I spent on craft (all receipts into a tin for 3 months). I tried to be restrained because I knew I was keeping track. In the end it turned out I was spending $45 a week on craft. That was certainly far too much in our little house but everything was an "I just need.."

    Sometimes it helps to think about the total cost of a project before starting. I am working on a cushion cover that I thought would be thrifty - thrifted tapestry$5, Linen surround and back $35, Fabric to make custom inner $20, thrifted down to fill $3. All of a sudden my $5 cushion doesn't look very thrifty at all. I wish I had though of that to start with.

  4. This is a really interesting post. I work part time in a quilt and yarn shop. We cater to the top end of the market and sell designer fabrics and yarns. I know its possible to get cheaper stuff from Spotlight or Knitworld, but there will always be a market for beautiful quality things (whatever it costs).

    I made a comment to a friend the other day that its rather ironic that quilting came about as a way to reuse scraps of fabric and turn clothing not fit for mending (again) to some use - because 100 years ago or more new fabric was very expensive and sometimes unobtainable - especially in the Colonies. How funny then that some quilters these days buy all new designer fabrics....and seriously wouldn't have much change out of $500 for a queen sized quilt. Perhaps then there is a 'class' of people who can afford to do that - but I feel as though they a the 'instant gratification' crafters. They see something in a book and they want it, the exact same fabrics, same design, machine quilted and wham bam and hang the cost.

    Thats not everyone though. For myself, if I didn't work in a quilter's shop and get a staff discount I could afford to indulge my passion as much as I do. However, I still use vintage sheets, fabric offcuts and my husband's old shirts in my quilting and other crafts. And I prefer to quilt by hand - a lot of my customers look at me like I'm mad (they send theirs out to get machine quilted), but for me hand quilting is the point.

    I craft because it keeps me balanced, its for me and I'm making something lasting and from my heart and hands, so I don't angst about the cost of a designer fat quater here and there. Its true I do make things to sell (and that helps to offset the cost of my passion), but even when I haven't I've kept my hands busy with whatever I can lay my hands on!

    I do think the modern craft movement is less about saving money than it is about having fun, creating, gift giving and all the satisfaction that goes in to creating something solid and lasting and cherished. So I guess in a hobby sense it is a 'middle class thing' - as would be holding a gym/golf club membership or building model trains or boating - it all costs money.

    However I think crafting at its core is about creativity, not how much you spent on the materials....or it should be! Sorry that was a ramble, but you did have some interesting points. Its made me think about starting some kind of regular post on thirfty crafting.

  5. I think you are right, unfortunately.
    Sewing/crafting has always been about bargains for me, but I learned it from my depression-era grandmothers so I think those go hand-in-hand! I hardly walk into fabric stores anymore, mostly I scour flea markets, second hand and antique stores for supplies. Quality definitely doesn't eaqual cost! :)

  6. I think it does play a part in the crafting resurgence, but I also wonder if this whole slow living movement and being "green" also have roles. I'm pretty certain that there are some crafters out there who collect craft supplies and do nothing with them (I should know, I was one of them!) as if to fulfill some sort of need, there are some who earnestly use what they buy though spending hundreds and thousands because they want to create what they see in a book or magazine or blog. But there are also some who craft because they don't have the money to buy designer fabrics - these are the ones who I see as being the most creative in reusing and repurposing and reinventing. There's also desire to go back to simpler times when big factories and sweatshop labour didn't produce the quilt that lies on one's bed. I think there are people who truly appreciate the love and work that go into handmade goods. If you look at websites like craftster.org, they're often populated by young crafters - college-age and just beyond - who don't have the funds to buy cashmere yarn or double gauze cotton from Japan, and if they do, they use it in small bits. Yet they create really good quality, attractive things through risk-taking and ingenuity.

  7. I wish my crafting was like that, I just don't seem to come by that kind of thing very often, I'm not great with op shops and don't know a lot of non-crafty people here that would hand on stuff! I obviously need to broaden my circle a bit :)

  8. I think crafting is expensive. I wouldn't class myself as affluent at all, just making do. I usually buy fabric with the funds I make from selling quilts and clothing. I am lucky that not only do we have some good op shops locally, I have good friends who keep an eye out for fabric for me and they often get it before I do :-) I do upcycle alot for clothing, and with quilting there are lots of way to pad out the designer fabrics to make them go a long way.

  9. I really enjoyed reading this as I´ve had these thoughts myself. I think alot of people forget that many crafts evolved from people mending and making do. Despite the limited materials and choices have produced wonderful works of art. Years ago I made quilts and it was a principle of mine to use recycled fabrics I felt that was the whole point - although I did buy cheaper cotton fabrics if I didn´t have enough. The more I got into it the more I could see it was a huge industry almost competative in a way. I felt envious of those artisans who paid hundreds of dollars for supplies and appeared in competitions and magazines. it seemed quilt making had turned into something else and an aesthetic had evolved that had more to do with a `middle class idea of rustic life and designer fabrics` than having a talent to creative something beautiful from nothing. I depend on the middle classes to buy my products and of course I am grateful but I have alot of soul searching as to how much I compromise my skill and art to fit in with what people expect rather than what is true to the medium and craft and its origins.
    Why did I stop making quilts? I was in a store in Sweden that has imported Indian furnishings and clothes and there were quilts made of exquisite sari silks for around $50 and if I wasn´t a quiltmaker I would have bought one because they were inexpensive and beautiful (maybe not so well made). That´s what most of us do with low incomes, buy mass produced look alikes, unfortunate but an economic reality. Producing and buying hand made goods has turned into a middle class movement- there are good and bad sides but I´m always left wondering where I fit in. Thank you for this interesting discussion.

  10. You've made some great points too! And I think you really hit the nail on the head with your comment that crafting in some ways is like having a gym membership - it's that kind of attitude to craft (vis-a-vis money) that I was trying to articulate, it can be like a club that costs money to join. It doesn't have to be I know, but those eye-candy blogs can certainly make you feel that way sometimes. Thanks for the comment!

  11. I read this post a few days ago and have been thinking of it ever since. There are some great points below, I think the most unfortunate aspect of quilting for me is the astronomical price for fabric in AUS. Fabric that my mom purchases in the US for $7.95 per yard, sells in AUS for $28 per meter. I've looked into this extensively, the distributors of fabric in AUS sell their fabric by the meter at essentially the same price you can purchase it for retail in the US. This doesn't make sense to me, sends me online to buy fabric and generally annoys me. Looking at some of the amazing quilts I see online, making them with fabric bought in the US is usually a quarter of the price. Slightly off topic from some of the topics below but just my thoughts! -kb

  12. wow, it seems this topic has hit a nerve, Jacqui. Places like Spotlight make me a bit uneasy; they really cash in on people's lack of time and skills. I prefer going across the road to the emporium, where everything is a bit cheaper and more random. I find crafting is so much more exciting when you use what you have, instead of going out to buy everything you need. I know I have quite a large stash, but I've been lucky enough to find most of my craft supplies in the op shops and emporiums around Auckland.

  13. I think I came across as a bit hard-core in my first comment :) Op shops are not for everyone, I agree, and of course you're never guaranteed of getting anything anyway.

    I have been ogling some beautiful fabric on Spoonflower and thinking of getting my own printed there. The quilting fabric is $18 a yard (plus postage), which seems like a lot to me, but then I like the idea of supporting independent designers and getting something unique in the process. So yes, I suppose I'm also guilty of fabric snobbery!

  14. Poverty makes you run out of creativity, because all your creativity goes into surviving. That's it - there is no more room for funny stuff.
    I am not middleclass at all, to be fairly honest - I have no job, my husband works three days a week as a teacher, we have one son. But we are very creative, and the first part of it is for us: scrapping from scrap. So - my husband turns wood. He goes to local thrift shops and asks if they have furniture that is no good to sell anymore. He get's it for free and makes lovely stuff from it. Ofcourse his equipment costed him money (turning bench etc.) but even that he tries to get at a low price. He also gets wood from our local communal greencare folks. They love it when he makes something nice out of a tree that had to go down.
    I have several sewing- and knittingmachines. I bought some of them of the money I got when I was layed off of my last job. I got one Pfaff sewing machine for free. I bought a serger for 35 euro's - is about 50 dollars. My fabrics come from searching the internet for free bags of fabrics, or for low prices from sales and thriftshops. And I go to home-decorating stores and ask for their presentation material, as they are going to dispose of it, anyway. Twice a year I make a little round with my car, do about 3/4 shops and have bags, bags and bags full of beautiful, quality material for patchwork, little projects and even BIG projects. Most of the time there are several curtains in such bags, and I make coats, jackets, skirts and trousers from it for myself. Most of the time they contain children's fabrics, and I make toys, pillows and cuddly's from it. I bought about 100 m. of waistband elastic at a thrift shop about 5 years ago. I need about a yard at a time... It costed me 5 euro's (7,50 dollar). I can do about 5 more years with it (because it is good quality I take it out of used clothing that I don't like anymore. I made lovely skirts out of 2 pairs of trousers this year - I wore the trousers for 5 years, and the bottom was gone (sorry if I get to graphic here). They were wide trousers, so I cut of the legs, turned them upside down, sew them together, added the waistband from one of the t's on to it, and ruffeled a lovely fabric to the hem. Voila.
    What cost's a lot of money is yarn, indeed. But if you look around you, ask around you, let people know you are the crafty kind - things start coming your way. Really they do!

  15. LOL, oh that's so me at Spotlight too! I need to go tomorrow to find some
    orange fabric for binding and some silver embroidery thread - can I come out
    with only those two things? But I do keep buttons and trim from clothes,
    although not usually elastic. I did take zippers out of something once, but
    have never used them again! And now I often keep the fabric if it's useable,
    but the trick is actually using it rather than it moldering in a pile
    somewhere. And I keep wrapping paper and ribbons too, much to my husbands

  16. I wish I had that knack of finding stuff at opshops. Our local ones aren't
    great. Though I sometimes wonder whether, if you paid yourself for your
    time, it works out about the same as buying fabric? All the other benefits
    of recycling and reusing aside that is.

  17. I used to sew clothes to save money too, but now it seems that unless you
    are sewing more high-end clothes then it's not much of a money-saver, if at
    all. And yes, NZ is much less consumerist than North America, although
    that's slowly changing I think. People are so determined to keep up with the
    States or Australia they are losing that #8 wire mentality.

  18. Definitely supply and demand. And I'd guess that there are more fabric
    designers and companies these days simply because there is a good dollar to
    be made. What the true cost of the fabric is I don't know, I would imagine
    that cheaper fabric has hidden costs, even if they are environmental or 20
    years down the line. I know the cheaper fabrics here don't wash and wear
    nearly as well as the more expensive ones, so they may be a bit of a false
    economy in the end. It's so hard to know what a reasonable price is,
    everyone is taking their cut!

    That's interesting what you say about the sponsored blogs. I had been
    thinking about them as businesses who buy fabric and then sell the quilt and
    recoup the costs, I hadn't thought about free fabric but it makes sense. And
    yeah, I'd imagine that making that many quilts to sell would change the way
    you felt about the process, but perhaps it opens up new challenges and
    pleasures that hobbyists don't have. I couldn't do it that's for sure, but
    more power to them if they can do it and successfully!

  19. The fabric can be even more here in NZ so I totally understand what you
    mean! It does change the way you think about making things. I still don't
    understand what drives the price differences between here and online in the
    US at all - there must be a reason. It's not like retailers would be
    charging more than they had to if people can just bring it in from overseas
    with a few clicks of the mouse. Well I'd assume they wouldn't anyways. There
    have been a few times when I've seen projects like bean bags made from Amy
    Butler fabric and loved them, and then the $$ signs pop up in front of my
    eyes and the creative urge dies very quickly! :)



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