Monday, 23 March 2009

grab a cuppa, pull up a chair and let's have a chat

First off I'd like to say thanks to everyone who texted, phoned, emailed or left a message about yesterday's article. 100% positive feedback. 
That is 100% positive feedback from those that chose to get in touch with me but I am no fool and am quite aware that there are a few people out there who aren't happy about some of the issues raised. Sadly none of them have chosen to enter the conversations here. 
So I thought I might write a bit more and hopefully they might have a think about a few issues that I think are important.

OK, first off the rank, there seems to be a problem over the terms 'Amateur' and 'Professional'. So I've pulled Mr Macquarie off the shelf- when in doubt check the dictionary!
An amateur has two relevant (in this case) definitions, the first is 'one who cultivates any study or art or other activity for personal pleasure instead of professionally or for gain' and the other is 'a superficial or unskilled worker; dabbler'. The latter stings a bit doesn't it? It's the former that I tend to use, the important bit 'instead of.... for gain', that means you aren't selling the things you are making for money or reimbursement of some kind. 
Now if you call yourself a professional then you are 'following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain; one who makes a business of an occupation, etc, especially of an art or sport, in which amateurs engage for amusement or recreation.'
So you've sold something you've made, for money, are you a professional?

Well 'professional' brings some baggage with it. 
You've taken cold hard cash (or Paypal or Spanish Doubloons or .........) and you now have the responsibility to give the government some of that. Remember when you applied for that ABN, registered the name you wanted for your business (could be your blog name but remember it actually has to be registered and confirmed with your state government to be legal- someone else might have it and you might be illegally using it or someone might 'steal' it out from under you) well doing these things brought commitments- things like tax, keeping records of money spent and earned.
There is also the commitment you make to the buyer of the item. This is that the item they are purchasing should be of an agreed quality, that it shouldn't fall apart when they get it home and that it should do what it was sold to do. This can be an area that is somewhat subjective and open to interpretation. Probably easiest to define as 'how would you feel if you got it home and it fell apart?', be honest with yourself about this! Don't settle for the 'but it's handmade' line- handmade should be well-made! 

When you made that 'thing' that you sold, did you work out how much it really cost to make?
Did you buy the components retail? (Remember each piece was therefore twice (or more)the price it would've cost wholesale. 
Did you have to buy a metre when all you wanted was 20cm? 
Did you have to drive for 4 hours to get it? 
Did you have to pay postage if you bought it mail order? 
You made the first few out of some op-shop fabric you had in the cupboard but now you have orders for more and you will need to actually buy fabric at a real price- did you take that into account when you came up with the original price?
You stayed up all night with the lights burning in the spare room that is now your studio, you've been taking internet orders over your broadband connection, you've been using your car to get supplies............ can you see where I'm heading with this? The sales of all your creatively produced items need to be able to contribute to these bills. They need to pay their way!
Did you know that if you sell a product retail with a wholesale component (that is you are selling your wares to a retailer who sells them on to the public) that the final price will be 5x the base cost (materials and labour and utilities). So the (hopefully) 2 1/2x that's coming your way is going to cover costs, profit and a tax component.
Go on have a go! 
How much have you been selling that 'thing' for? 
Have you ever worked out an 'hourly rate'? That's the money you need to get back just for your time (and that includes the 4 hours in the car hunting that special component down). How much do you earn in your 'day job'? What does the government define as a base wage? Rude shock huh? Remember most artists and creative types survive on their part time/full time jobs rather than on their artistic endeavours. 
Realistically, how much do you need to make to survive? 
How much do you need to sell to cover costs? 
So work out an hourly rate and time yourself. Remember making a production run is quicker per unit than doing sampling or making one-offs. 
Sometimes you might need to sell something for a low return but these are products that you intend to sell a lot of, so quantity wins over a high profit. Other times you might find that you can sell something and make more of a return. Swings and roundabouts.

Now about the ethics of being a professional. Have you noticed down the bottom of that pattern you've been using that it says 'This pattern is for personal use only. Do not sell items made from this pattern'. It might even have a Copyright symbol and the designers name and a date, this means that you are not to sell the final product created from the pattern. You can not get monetary gain. You can make it for yourself and to give to your family and friends but that is it. NO GAIN!
Some things I make are part of a long tradition of functional objects, tea cosies are a good example of this. These things are in many ways exempt from copyright in their look, but as I cut my own pattern and chose to create them in a particular manner they become my intellectual property. Many designs have a zeitgeist feel in their development and creation, that is many people come up with similar designs at the same time. Call it fashion. So if you are going to develop a product that is of a recognisable heritage then think how you can make it your own.

And this brings us to POD.
POD stands for Point of Difference. What makes your product individual, interesting, unique?
What story are you telling? Are you just 're-packaging' something, putting your brand on it?
Do you have a concept? A theme that runs through the pieces you make?
Will people come out looking for your work? What is your market? Who buys your product?
Are you selling to a small pool of like minded people, is this a 'closed' pool, will it run out one day? Are you inventive enough to come up with fresh ideas- regularly?

OK so I've bombarded you with questions...... are you thinking about them? Are you being realistic about the amateur/professional scale? It is a scale you know, a sliding scale, you don't just end up in one group or the other, you work you way along depending on a multitude of things.
 The main thing is there is no amateur=bad/professional=good part to this. What it is about is that if you want GAIN then you need to treat it seriously and produce work that you have designed and made with integrity and quality. This is were the definition of craft comes in......

Craft can mean 'skill, ingenuity, dexterity; an art requiring special skill, especially manual skill; a handicraft'. Now I know a heap of hugely talented people whose craft and design skills are seriously beyond belief but they without fail consider themselves amateurs because they don't aim to sell their work. They spend their creative time developing their skills and enjoying creating. Excellent! To me craft is all about skill, it's not about expensive branded products as I wrote yesterday. Sadly modern hobby craft is being driven heavily by consumerism, 'buy the equipment, buy the fabric designed by XX, etc', which is a sad indictment of what is meant to be a return to basics movement...... but that's a post for another day.

So I'm going to repeat- you don't need to sell your craftwork to justify why you are doing it! 
You see (and this is the bitter pill)............... 

Not all craft is equal.
(And you know what?-that's just fine!)

Discuss in 500 words.


  1. Excellent post! I was just discussing this very topic at a crafty gathering yesterday. My two cents worth? I think it's great that people are starting to have a go at craft. I don't think it's so great that people are selling things that are poorly made. Lots of people are selling things that are extremely well made too, but there also seems to be a lot out there that is craft that needs more practice and skill. I am an amateur, but I love to sew/crochet/craft - and I hope that my skills are getting better all the time. I have no interest in being a professional in so far as that means selling anything. However, I certainly don't think that you need to be professionally trained in a craft to be superb at doing it - there are very many people out there that do their sewing/knitting/crochet/embroidery/tatting/whatever at home exquisitely but don't shout it loudly. And don't sell it. Interesting that craft seems to have suddenly become "trendy" - because people are still doing what they've always been doing quietly at home. Thanks for prompting stimulating discussion!

  2. Wow, I had no idea the craft world had as many complicated politics/matters as the (fine) art world (don't get offended crafty people, I do think of much 'craft' as 'art'). I guess that's what happens as the industry grows. Take care, next thing you'll be seeing not just badly made objects, but more fakes on the market, just like the art world!

  3. Hi Pene,

    I'm adding my voice to your lively debate! Here goes:

    I like crappy craft - it's often full of good intentions. I like artisan craft - it's full of enviable skill. I like people who bother to have a go. Good on them I say. Keep making stuff. Because the more you make the better you get.

    I think there is heaps of great craft out there - and wonderful crafty people too - and I feel lucky to be part of such a nice community. Call me Pollyanna, but I like to focus on all the great stuff going on in the crafty world at the moment. I'm not into doom and gloom.

    I worry that this debate is just another way that women can judge other women, actually... It feels like a bit of a competitive sport at times.

    I personally don't think the selling crap craft thing is a huge issue. People are smart - it takes about ten minutes flat to realise that you will be living on beans for the rest of your life if you think you can make a living out of craft! And possibly ten seconds to realise something is badly made and you should pop it back on the shelf and move on.

    Surely we need to be kind and inclusive and encouraging and invite other women (people) to explore their creative side and get into making stuff?

    Surely it's not about proving that we are more entitled to craft then the person next to us? That our links to craft are more meaningful. Or that we are cooler, longer serving, more political... more anything? Does that stuff really matter? I don't think it does.

    xx Pip

    ps - i like coffee table books and craft groups - but that's just me!

    pps - i thought you looked nice in your photo - and Cam said you looked Lovely.

  4. For the past 2 years I have made a living selling 'craft'or sewing as I would like to put it. I sell at craft markets and it has taken me 30 years from when I started using a sewing machine to get to where I am now at 41.I am not 'self-taught' instead I have put alot of time, training, money and practice into my now 'job'.I work my butt off, doing what I do, sewing during the week, markets on the weekend.
    So I would also like to have my say.
    If the markets are flooded with people trying to sell things that are badly sewn/made, then people will stop coming to craft markets.
    Maybe it is just me, but I can't understand how someone can even try selling some of these poorly made things. People need to learn/practice their 'craft' to a certain standard before putting their goods out there to sell (I did that). Most importantly it should be of a certain quality for the customer who may buy it.
    Many of my customers tell me how well made my things are,(which always surprises me). So instead maybe I should be thanking all those people with their crooked seams making mine look so'professional'.
    There is so much more I can say on the subject, most of which involves 'blogging'( probably not a good idea on someones 'blog').
    Thank you for your wonderful, articulate words,they needed to be said.

  5. It's getting hot in here... in short, I can see points that I agree with with both Pene (on a standard of quality required for selling/being professional) and Pip (everyone should have a go, and let's not be any more competitive than woman already are), but I would also like to say that I find it simplistic to suggest that we can only ever speak of 'nice' things, and to characterise this post as 'doom and gloom'. I have found that life includes super nice things and super frustrating things, and if I were only ever to talk of the nice things, it would be through increasingly gritted teeth and exclamation marks that didn't ring so much of truth in their intended niceness.
    Sometimes stating a landscape in it's parts of (you know, the old two sides to the same coin) both the good and the fuglies can just be liberating. And yes, it can be a challenge to not do it in an agressive way, and it is important to keep this in mind.
    Keep on trucking, and most of all keep on knitting.
    More tea, Vicar?

  6. Actually - I was not referring to this post - which I think is beautifully written. I was referring to the quotes in the article. Just to clarify.

  7. this isn't about high v low or hobby v professional and my god i dont think it was ever woman against woman (crikey!) - it's about understanding there should be a difference between objects with a price tag and objects that are made for love alone. I understand Pips point that there is a natural atrition (the market will only tolerate badly made work for so long and it aint going to make anyone rich) but surely it stands to reason that if well made, well considered craft specifically developed for a retail market has to sit next to all this dodgy work it will in time become devalued - the word 'handmade' will mean quirky but shoddy. So I think lines get drawn as a way of protecting brands that have been seriously developed by professional makers over extended periods of time. I love coffee table books, softies, blogs and the whole renegade craft spirit too and consider it a vibrant part of the continuing history of craft. But it is refreshing to at last be having a serious conversation online rather than just participating in what has become like one long pretty and quite frankly tiring global show and tell. Ramona

  8. Hooray and Amen to that Ramona!!!
    I couldn't agree more or be more eloquent in my response.
    I'm just so glad that we're all finally airing the dirty laundry and talking with more than pretty pictures... I'm thrilled with the passion in this ruminating and debating because it proves how much craft means to all of us.

  9. Oh and I did want to add that it's fascinating that the media and public's current perception of craft is still so focused on the 'domestic' medium of textiles.

    It would appear that they've both forgotten about ceramics, glass, jewellery (sort of it's Melbourne after all), and wood crafts.
    Maybe we haven't actually shifted the boundaries as far as we thought.

    Or maybe it's just that these crafts usually can't be produced domestically, without training, nor their materials purchased off the shelf at the local Spotlight...

    food for thought though huh.

  10. I confess, I didn't see any Great Controversy in the article at all. Merely a difference in perspective. I also saw no need to choose one position over another -each made valid points according to their point of view. Nothing to get hostile about, surely?

    If anything, I was a little disappointed. I was hoping for something with a little more depth, some genuine debate. Crafting is always so trivilised by the media and, like Ramona, I find the whole quirky happy joy joy thing going on with craft articles patronising and increasingly tedious. If one more journalist refers to crafters as 'crafy girls' I swear to God I'll pull out a crowd pleaser. I may be crafty, but I'm no fucking girl, mate. I've been doing this since I was old enough to hold a needle, it's not a hobby, it's a burning obsession that I will forego food, friends and even sex for. I've had to literally fight to craft in days when it was seen as so unhip that people were threatened by it.

    We are women who craft. We haven't re-invented the wheel, and there is nothing new under the sun. We are simply continuing a tradition that goes further back than any of us can possibly comprehend. Some crafters are masters of technique, others clumsy and unskilled but getting a kick out it, and that's a Good Thing.

    The least we can do now is honour that tradition, even if we don't all agree. A good place to start would be to treat each other with respect. It seems to me that, as crafters, we have more in common than we have differences.

    Oh, and Miss P? Excellent Post. I think, according to your definitions, that I fall into the category of professional dabbler, if such a thing exists. I prefer to think of myself as a textile artist, because I'm full of shit like that.

  11. Oooh, thanks for the thoughts! I would love to make a living from crafting but in the stuff I do? No hope unless I managed to become the next Wollmeise or Sundara and quite frankly, I don't want to be in that position!

  12. i'm just righting to tell you i'm too tired to read all that...hehe glad you liked my blog!

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