My handmade soapbox

Sunday, August 19, 2012

My affinity for handmade runs wide and deep. 

Northern Virginia, the place where I live, has a different feel than the southern, western and eastern portions of the state. It seems to me, as if life here moves at a very fast pace and all things are tainted by the odor of politics. 

My craft, rooted in tradition, is misplaced in an environment of continuous negotiation and motion. The art of sewing, is best appreciated by those who value time, or aptly, its relationship to the past. 

Our grandmothers sewed because they or their mothers worked in the garment factories that clothed the people of America. Later in life, they continued to sew, even in the absence of such work --- simply because they enjoyed creating. They took pride in making beautiful things for those that they loved. As do I.

In a broad sense, everything is “handmade”. It’s unlikely a robot produced the shirt you are wearing now. A person, or collection of people made that garment. Someone created the design, choose the fabric, threaded the machine, guided the stitches and snipped the loose ends. 

There is value in that process. Absolute value. 

What would you charge to complete the same process? Two dollars? Ten? Of course not! Logically, you would take into consideration the cost of materials and the time it takes you to make. 

After six years, I am what some would categorize as an expert in my craft. I have logged more than 10,000 hours sewing and am very comfortable with the work that I do. My best selling product, the XL Ultimate Diaper Bag, takes on average 4.5 hours to complete and requires just under 5 yards of fabric. 

Good quality cotton material, which can be machine washed, and result in a long wearing product, costs about $12 per yard, including shipping. The hardware which is incorporated into the design, totals $8 and the interfacing, $5. Labor is calculated at $20 per hour. Bear in mind, no one actually makes $20 per hour. We have two part-time employees, pay rent for the studio, insurance and taxes.

Cost to Make
Labor $90
Materials $73
Total $163

Is that reasonable? I think so. 

Yesterday, in the studio, I overheard a mother in a harsh scolding tone say, “I am not going to pay $30 for that bag.” Obviously, she was frustrated. I doubt that it had anything to do with my product, or her daughter’s desire for a new bag; but, more likely, an external factor which neither of us could control. I am compassionate and I get that, I do. 

What happened next, sorta surprised me. I spent the next few hours, thinking about the value of my own purchases, calculating the labor and material costs. Then began to consider the maker, in most cases, whom I did not have the opportunity to meet. Who are they? Do they have children? How many years have they been sewing? How did they learn? What kind of machine do they use? Do they like their job? 

Then there’s me --- a maker out of place --- sitting at my hot pink sewing table, doing what I love most, ready to share my story and listen to yours. 

While, there is tremendous value in everything handmade, greater value, sustaining the term “handmade” can found in the connections which are forged as a direct result of the craft. 

[Stepping down, off my soapbox]

Create a wall of inspiration

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I love consignment shops. You just never know what you may find. My late Grandma Bonnie, the ultimate collector, believed wholeheartedly that "one man's trash is another man's treasure." While I don't take my collecting to the extreme, like Grandma *might* have, there is absolutely value in reusing, repurposing and recycling.

One of my favorite thrifty stops, is "The Very Thing Consignments" in Haymarket, Virginia. On a recent visit, I happened upon a sweet book of quotes. Collecting words of wisdom ---to fill my soul and randomly spew at my offspring--- is yet another passion I have.

Inspired by the thoughts inside, I knew this little book should be mine and I knew exactly to do with it.

Admittedly, my daughter, Megan was a wee bit surprised as I began separating the spine from the pages. At least until, I told her she could select her favorite quotes and a colorful frame for each.

Pleased with her work, we used double stick tape and arranged them randomly on an otherwise barren wall; which will forever more be known as "our wall of inspiration".

"Make something good today" and "Work hard and be nice to people" are my favorites. How about you?