How Much Are You Worth?


What is the true cost of handmade items at a show?  I’m not really talking about taking a bead and sticking it on an ear wire. There’s almost no training or skill involved in that.  There’s not much honing of a craft going on there.  Though it does take time to assemble, it’s small and not considered skilled labor.

How much do you make an hour for your expertise?  How much should a hand crafter make per hour?  What is right for a living wage?  It’s easy to forget sometimes the nature of how some jobs work.  In many jobs, you get paid a set wage + benefits.  Some jobs involve a commission, which is generally highly taxed by the government even if it is really what you feed yourself with.  Other jobs, like waiting tables, are often half of minimum wage with the expectation that you will make up the rest in tips.  That was a rude awakening when I landed my first waiting job right out of college.  I was taxed out of my $2.13 an hour each week as if it were twice that, because it’s assumed I would make up the other half of minimum wage on tips.  And I didn’t.  Sigh, those were the days.

So how much should a hand crafter make?  Well, one obvious thing to consider is the cost of table fees to get into the show in the first place.  Just here in Austin, there are shows that range from $40 a table to over $3000.  It’s a chunk of change, and somewhat of a gamble playing the odds whether you will sell something at the venue or not.  Space rental is not cheap.  Neither is security, electricity or many other expenses people might not think of.  If you take credit cards, you have expenses there as well.

You have the cost of materials as overhead.  When it comes to yarn, it’s interesting to me that so many buyers really have no idea how much yarn can cost these days.  To buy enough to create a garment is a pretty substantial chunk.  Are we using “That Old 70′s Yarn?”  Or something nicer like silk or cashmere or even a microfiber?  Either way, it’s way more now than it was when I was a kid.

Then there’s the amount of materials as well.  Just because a hat you find at WalMart cost $5 doesn’t mean it has a comparable amount of fiber in it to something handmade.  Nor does it mean the yarn can be purchased in the US for so little either.  Where many often use one yarn for a design, I often use three myself.  So that’s a jump in cost for me.  Plus there’s the value of other elements, like antique buttons or sterling silver findings.

And then we come to the aspect of time and of skill.  What would you pay an expert to do and what would you pay a beginner?  There should be a difference.  There’s something to be said for a skill that has been honed over time.  Because the quality of labor is much different.  Why should an expert be paid the same as a beginner?  There’s a reason why we pay doctors what we do, they are highly educated, trained and skilled.

But let’s say we have a beginner.  Federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.  Even people receiving training to flip burgers get at least minimum wage.  If an item requires $30 of materials and takes 4 hours to make, you have at minimum a $59 item, before taxes.  Right?  What if you decide not to charge minimum wage?  Even at $5 an hour (a minimum suggestion from Crochet Liberation Front founder, Laurie Wheeler), you still have a $50 price tag.  At minimum.  For beginner grade work.

I like some points Laurie made on this subject in previous years on the Crochet Liberation Front forum, “The best way I know of raising the value of anything, is to value it yourself.” 

Followed up in her article last year “At What Price?” Laurie has this to say:

“FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS FUZZY DO NOT…and I repeat…DO NOT UNDERSELL YOUR WORK!!  …. Materials + Time x Skill = $$…. Time is valuable. Especially in today’s fast paced world, time is PRECIOUS, your time is VALUABLE. If you spend 2hrs on a  hat and you spent $3 on the materials and you only charge $4.00, $3.00 covers the materials and you just made FIFTY CENTS an hour. Really?  You are not a SWEATSHOP…You are WORTH more than that… “

Also, I’ve heard many women make comments that should never be made, like: “Oh but I enjoy doing this so I don’t charge very much.”  WHAT? Seriously? Did I just hear that?  SO you should only get paid for what you don’t derive a sense of satisfaction from?  (I’ve never heard a man say something like this, btw.)  If you’ve ever been guilty of saying something like that, stop and consider the craziness of what you’re suggesting.  Not to mention how it undervalues the work of all hand crafters when you do that, including the ones who rely on selling their wares to put food on the table.  Just because you don’t have to rely on it to feed your kids, doesn’t mean you should undersell your work.

Factors to keep in mind as you consider pricing also include rarity, how labor intensive, precision of the work, and expertise and range of experience. Some items, you’ll have to judge.  You may have to tweak your prices or process a bit here and there.  Just because you are capable of making wash cloths out of cashmere doesn’t mean it’s practical and that everyone will buy one for what it’s worth or at all.  Hmmm… So maybe there’s a cap there somewhere on what kind of materials you expect to use for what items and the price range most of your customers will fall into?

There’s also travel time, packing materials and postage.  If I’m doing custom orders and find myself driving all over town from yarn shop to yarn shop trying to find what will make my customer happy, it becomes an expense that has to be accounted for, because they want a custom item and not something I have ready to go.  And it requires me to take time off from my regular business and work only for them until they get what they want.  That can be a lot of time, especially if they don’t really know what they want or it’s difficult to secure!  Think about the fees you would pay a graphic artist when you don’t have a clear idea of what you want.  Usually you get one or two proofs and that’s it.  Consider that custom handmade should not be much different.

So when you’re pricing, you have a lot to consider for variables.  And once you have that, stick with it and do not let buyers bargain with you.  Not only is it poor form at shows, but when you do it, you give people permission to essentially cut your pay!  Set a fair and reasonable price, based on the variables we’re discussing and decide ahead of the show how you will deal with such requests.  If you want to offer a discount for multiple purchases, that can be nice, but price your individual items accordingly so you are still coming out on top in the end. Do not stoop to the rude folks either.  They are not your market.  Be polite, but do not waste your time on them.  You want to know at the end of the year, after all those last-minute material purchases and all the time invested and you sit down to do those taxes, that it was worth it.  If you never stand up for yourself, who will?

Now that you’ve read all this and taken stock, how much are you worth?  Think about it and add to the discussion in the comments!  :D


If you liked this article, you might also like: When Artists Hear “I Can Make That.

Go ahead and click a link below to “share this.”  You know you want to!  : )

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24 Comments

Filed under crochet, Crochet Community, Crochet Education, Doing the Show Circuit

24 responses to “How Much Are You Worth?

  1. Excellent post Julia :D As always I support this kind of discussion. We must value what we do.

  2. traciecrochets

    A-freaking-men! This is also why I had to quit doing craft shows. I couldn’t compete with the older women who would sell a twin-sized afghan for $20. And these were beautiful, detailed afghans that they said they “would have made anyway”. Ugh. I just had to stop.

    • I like juried shows as they tend to have fewer issues with this sort of thing. Usually better planning on the part of the show owners as well. Actually, that’s a whole ‘nother article. Responsibilities of a show organizer. Some are good and others not.

  3. You are right, the best is to find the market you belong to and do business with people who know what they are dealing with.

  4. kiwigal58

    THANK YOU, I wish that some of the people who look at our handmade one off items, then make a smart-ass remark to their friend about ‘Ohh, but I could get this at **** cheaper than that’ Really, well then bugger off and stop cluttering up my area, I have real customers that understand the value of what I do!!

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  6. Kinnicchick

    Fantastic post. I haven’t really done any shows for years because of the same smart-ass remarks mentioned by kiwigal58. Seriously? Then head back to the big-box stores and buy that crap. What are you doing looking at handmade? I gave up.

    Perhaps now is the time to start getting back into it as it seems more people are starting to value hand made as it should be? (Please tell me this is true.)

    • I think there are pockets of this in some areas where handmade thrives more than others. On the one hand, when people are out of work, they’re going to go for the cheapest. On the other, I see a growing distaste for cheap quality, yellow pencil outlooks, etc.. As I overheard once, “I may be poor, but I have more self-respect than to be cheap!” I thought that was kind of interesting. Either way, part of what we’re also talking about is behavior and people who don’t seem to get how rude they are. I wrote an article along those lines two years ago. “When Artists Hear ‘I Can Make That!’”

      Thanks for your supportive comments!

  7. Mharti

    Fantastic article!!! Thanks!

  8. I needed to hear this today! I’m not much for fiber arts, but i do a lot of work with paintings on feathers and sculptural things. It’s always been very hard for me to price my work, how much is enough and what is over-priced.

    I have started to notice that in the Native American Museum I work in, that there has been a gradual increase over the past few years of people appreciating handmade/crafted materials and willing to pay the price for something done by a master.

    • Good! I’m glad it was encouraging AmberRoses! Whatever our expertise, it’s important to value our time and what it took to get us to the point of skill we have developed over time. As our expertise/mastery increases, so should our value.

      In Austin I see a general drive for handcrafted items, I think in part driven by the general spectrum of individuality that thrives here. And more and more I see a growing taste for more masterful quality work in any field. There’s less desire for “stuff” just ‘cuz and more desire for quality with meaning. I gotta think that’s a good thing.

  9. GMI

    Thanks a lot! This is a fantastic website!

  10. Well said! What makes me laugh is how little people are prepared to pay for an item which is quite often unique. It’s an insult to the crafter’s intelligence and hard work.

  11. Iin Wibisono

    How about the price of a pattern? How do you determine your price? I am a beginner with only 8 patterns so far and a couple of them are listed for free. I joined several crochet group in social media network and learned that people think even paying $1.50 is too expensive because they can get patterns for free somewhere else. Is pattern writing a good career? How much can you earn and how do you promote your work? Also if a magazine print your patterns, do you get pay? Thanks.

    • Thanks for your question Iin! I hope I can help.

      First, I have to say that I don’t know a single crochet designer who is “well off.” Is it a good career? I think it can be, but I also know that it’s a labor of love and can be a lot of work. It’s not for the faint of heart. I don’t know of any designer who didn’t have to build a reputation first. And it takes a lot of time and/or energy to make it happen. Not to mention, being social.

      Second, those who only want to pay $1.50 per pattern may not be your market. A lot of good designers charge much more and June of Planet June is a good example of a wildly popular crochet designer who’s patterns average $5 or more. And last year she even successfully replaced her day job income one month with her crochet work. (Not sure if she managed that a second month or not, but she wrote an article about the experience).

      There’s also an argument though for selling in larger volume at lower prices. But it can also mean a lot more work. I think you have to gauge your choice based on the quality of your production work as well as your design work. And then stick with it. Your expertise has a value. Is it 45 years of value or 2 years of value? You can have sales sometimes, giveaways, and change your prices whenever you want. But you want to stay mostly consistent so you respect your fans who were willing to pay.

      I’m of the school of thought that difficulty should probably have a say in the price of a pattern. As well as detail of the pattern. A good pattern should have photos and design notes and possibly even crochet symbol charts, etc.. Think book publisher quality. Patterns with that much attention to detail (and sometimes cost in production) should cost more, because the work in the writing, testing and publishing is much more. Patterns that haven’t been tested, barely have any details, etc., they should not be priced as high.

      Find a designer you respect and would like to emulate, and buy one of their patterns to study. Take a look at their pricing, how they write, their attention to details, etc.. It will help you find direction in where you want to be as well.

      Sometimes, just sometimes your design falls into a category that no matter what we would all like, is just not in demand. You will have to decide whether charging a lower price is right or not.

      As far as magazines, it depends on the magazine. Some magazines do not pay, especially new magazines. They just hope that you will appreciate the “exposure.” Other magazines and even yarn manufacturers do pay for your patterns. Each company is going to have its own set of standards and procedures, so you will want to check with them. Your top dogs in the industry, like Crochet Today or Crochet Interweave are going to pay better than others that are not as successful or as well known.

      Lastly, if you are not on http://Ravelry.com yet, I encourage you to join up and join one of the designer groups there. You will get a *lot* of help and info from others just like you, facing the same considerations and challenges, who are in the trenches working right now. If you join up there, you can find me as BikerMom. ;)

      I hope this helps and good luck!

      • Thank you so much for your taking the time and to give me such a comprehensive answer to my questions. I forgot how I found you but surely I have come to the right place to ask my questions. I love hand works and crochet is one of them but only in the past 3 years I am deeply engaged with crochet and yarns and now it has become an obsession in a positive way he he (according to me). I was thinking as long as my stash is not growing as much as the yarn store has, I am still good:-) At the beginning I was a free pattern hunter. I will download every patterns which caught my interest. My folder is overflowing with patterns–but among the dozens I have downloaded, I have only managed to make 2 blankets, a few dollies and a few granny squares. I don’t know what’s wrong with me but whenever the pattern say A I always wanted to do B and I ended up not finishing the projects and frogging it. There is an urging and growing feeling inside me to make something different than the patterns say, and that is how I ended up starting to write my own patterns. I wasn’t really thinking of having a career as pattern maker at the beginning (I am a freelance photographer) but now somehow my love for crochet is chaining me to this new path and I am in love with it.

        I really appreciate your advise and suggestions. I will keep that and the customer n mind when writing my patterns. I will find you in Ravelry.

        Love,Iin

        • Iin, you are not alone. I am a rebel too. Of course, for me it was a little different because I did not learn to read patterns until some 15 years after learning to crochet. So that has a lot to do with it too. BUT…. I rarely follow a recipe to a T. And in my piano work, I was known to do sacrilege things like rewrite Chopin. And I’ve done this in nearly anything I’ve set my hand to, whether because I thought the idea had a good start but not a good finish (like the Chopin piece) or because I needed to accommodate my small hands or whatever. Didn’t matter, I have always felt free to not “follow the rules” in creativity.

          It’s really awesome that you have the photography skills you do to assist you with photos! Not everyone has good photography skills and no matter what handmade/creative field you’re in, good visuals are a must. It’s something I struggle with all the time, because I may be brilliant at crochet, but I’m *not* a photographer. And I’m not the only one.

          Thanks for such a meaningful addition to the conversation!
          ~Jules

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