Saturday, June 16, 2007

Why I Prefer Office Work

When people who don't know much about quilting look at quilts you've made, they will almost always say something along the lines of "Have you ever thought about doing this for a living?"

Now, I used to really lay into people who asked questions like this, which may explain why I have so few friends from my 20s. These days, I can recognize the question for what it is, a very kind way of saying "Gosh, to my untrained eye, your work seems very professional. Or at least I'm willing to pretend it does." And I'll respond, depending on how interested the complimenter really appears, by explaining one or more of the reasons I would never, ever, ever think about doing this for a living:

1. Competence: If you are telling me I should do this for a living, I can assure you I am nowhere as good as you think I am. As I have emphasized before on this blog, in fact, my skills are well below those of the average serious amateur. Just as an exercise, let's compare my most recent full-sized piece (left) with a standard, middle-of-the-pack piece from the 2006 Pacific Northwest Quiltfest (right):

See what I'm saying? So, thanks, but let's just keep our feet on the ground, here.....

2. Quality of Life: Five or ten hours a week, at a leisurely pace, it's a great way to relax. Forty hours a week, with a mortgage hanging over your head, it sounds like an especially lonely and nerve-wracking express route to repetitive stress disabilities.

3. What? And give up my lucrative social work career? You may have seen price tags on sale quilts, and made the superficially logical conclusion that "Quilts are expensive, therefore selling quilts must be a good way to make a lot of money." Or, on the other hand, you might be one of the people who have said something to me like "my cousin is having a baby, and I'd love to give her a quilt. If I gave you the fabric, would you make something for me? I could give you a little money for it."

Well, let's run the numbers. We'll take the little crib quilt I discussed last week as an example:

Materials: Well, I said that this one was basically free, but what I meant is that I didn't have to go out and buy anything specifically for this quilt. Of course, all of the fabric had to be purchased at some point. Conservatively, the material in a quilt like this, some of which is high-quality quilting fabric and some of which is cheapo JoAnnes-quality stuff, would run around $15. Toss in another $3 for thread and batting. And, if we're going to have a proper economic analysis, we should add a materials cost for use of tools, sewing machine, storage cabinets, blades, needles, pins, oil, and all of the other apparatus that keeps the quilting enterprise moving forward. Call it $2 for a nice round $20.

(As for the idea of "I'll give you the fabric" -- well, no you won't. Fabric selection is probably the most important single step of the process, and if you need MY services you aren't to be trusted with it.)

Labor: As close as I remember, I worked on this for 3 hours on Sunday the 3rd, an hour on Monday the 4th, two hours each on Wednesday and Thursday, and another hour on Friday the 8th. That's, let's see, nine hours.

Now, here in the great state of Oregon, minimum wage is $7.80 per hour of labor. So, you would need to pay me at least $70.20. Now honestly, I'm used to making a little more than that per hour, but that's cool. After all, I'm doing what I love, right? I should be paying YOU!

Total: But I'm not. So, for this absolutely minimal quilt, the lowest price I could POSSIBLY ask would be $90.20.

So, My Point Is....

If you've ever suggested I quilt for a living: Even if it sounded like a pleasant way to make a living, the business plan would never fly. I couldn't price the quilts high enough to pay for their own construction.

If you've ever casually asked me to throw together a quilt for you: If you've got the wherewithal to cover materials plus $20/hour -- the minimum I would ask for working on your project instead of mine -- let's talk! Otherwise, this perfectly serviceable set of baby blankets I found on the Wal-Mart website might be a good choice. Four for $8.88!


Jennifer said...

For fun, I just checked out the price of handmade quilts on ebay. They're incredibly cheap! What are we doing making our own? ;-)

The skill level difference between us might best be described by the fact that nobody has ever asked me why I don't go professional. (Okay, my husband has suggested I sell quilts, but I think he sees that as a way of recouping some of the costs of material.) This means it's really a moot point that it would either be hard for me to let a quilt go because if I've made it, I tend to have invested myself in it, or it would be hard for me to make it in the first place if I knew it was going to go up for adoption, as it were, in the first place.

That said, there's a quilt sale around here at one of the festivals or fairs where I can examine what's actually selling and think, wow, wall quilts in geometric shapes and bright colors do quite well, no matter how simple the pattern. . . people want something pretty to hang in their living room! If I made a couple of those, that might cover my stash costs for the year. . .

I wouldn't really do it, though, or at least not right now, and your point about it killing the joy is well taken!

Rebel said...

So they do that with quilting too - I guess it says something that no one has ever suggested I quit my day-job and quilt for a living! :P Although someone once asked me if I was making a quilt because it was cheaper than buying a comforter. LOL! Oh man! I didn't have the heart to tell her how much a yard of fabric cost!

But we get that "you should sell this" a *lot* as knitters. With the same economic analysis, your basic no-frills wool scarf comes out to upwards of $80. Lots of people suggest selling hand knitted goods, but no one wants to pay what it's worth. (which of course begs the question of how walmart is able to sell "comperable" items at such 'everyday low prices' - but I won't go there).

You left out one of the biggest arguements in my book, my emotional attachment to the elusive finished-object I love my crafts - my finished objects are like my babies. Are you suggesting I *sell* my babies??? After all the time & effort & tears they put me through? No, I might give them away to people I love, who I know will love & cherish them as I would have. But sell them? To a stranger??? No way!

The [Cherry] Ride said...

Thanks for the education!

Libby said...

Well speaking as a quilter who also has a "lucrative" career in social work, I have to say selling quilts has been a temptation - not to replace my job, but to supplement it. But yeah, I don't know.

Funny how making a quilt has become such an expensive undertaking when it used to be the ultimate in thrift.

michael5000 said...

@Jennifer -- Yes, many handmade quilts on Ebay ARE incredibly cheap. Part of this can be explained by their craftsmanship and overall aesthetic, which I would describe as "craptacular." But even at that, there is an unmistakeable whiff of sweatshop in any handquilted king size blanket that sells for $50. But I have to say, I salute the average consumer for apparently being able to tell the difference.

@Rebel -- You are right, of course: the babies are not for sale. That is so fundamental I forgot to mention it.

@[Cherry] -- In return for the Wacko Macko recipe, it's the least I could do.

@Libby -- You're right, the whole practice of making quilts from premium whole cloth is kinda, as they say, bass ackward. I occasionally make a salvage quilt out of scrap denim, and recently I'm keeping a collection of throwaway and found fabrics for the same purpose. It's a way of making a utility quilt (that you can take camping, for instance) while doing a little shout out to our more practical quilting ancestors.

Feed Dog said...

Great points. I guess people are trying to pay a compliment when they say we should sell our quilts, but it's such a frustrating thing to hear. And it's often one of the first things people think to say, as if quilting wouldn't be worth doing if it couldn't rake in cash. As my mother warned me when I first started, you don't quilt to save [or earn] money!

Kim West said...

Great post!! I have said many of these points to others. I made one commission quilt where she sent me the fabrics. I will never ever ever do a commission piece again unless *I* help with fabric selection. You know, I got $70 for that piece and I should have gotten more; it was a very difficult pattern that I designed specifically for her fabric (she wanted the horrible fabric to not be cut and was 10" square). I got the money, but nothing was ever said to me directly about the quilt.