Oct 29, 2013

we are $ew worth it

Sam Hunter is trying to start a movement. (Kinda like Tom's, but think hands, not feet).

Sam wants to educate the world about the value of handmade goods - a movement she's calling "We are $ew worth it!" The whole goal is to share what goes into making a handmade good (via time and materials) and by doing so, hopefully improve the value of that good.

I get asked all the time if I ever sell my work. The answer is yes, maybe. I've put some of my quilts on Etsy, but none have sold and I don't have any expectations that they will ever sell. And that's okay, actually. You never asked me to make it - and therefore you owe me nothing. You are not responsible for my art.

Selling art has never been easy. So many great artists throughout time suffered dearly during their lifetimes, never making a cent, and that dynamic is not going to change anytime soon. But we can always try.

When it comes to quilts as art, (whether they hang on the wall or sit the bed), people think, oh I can make that, or I can get something like it at one of the big box stores for a fraction of the price. Yes, you can. People do it everyday. Go for it.

But a few of us bring decades of expertise and talent, and spend hours and hours on our quilts, and we'd like to pursue selling quilts as art. So, how do we put a value on a piece of art? What's it worth?

Sam's movement offers a solution.

I recently heard Sam speak at the Bad Ass Quilters Society event. She shared her formula for pricing the quilts we make by hand in our homes (it can be applied to others arts as well).  It is a basic time and materials formula with special consideration for quilts, fabric and the years of experience each sewer brings to a project. Sam's post last year went viral... not a surprise.

I'll recap, but you can read Sam's original post here.


1. First: cost of materials... and people, this means ALL the materials, please! For example, a typical 48 x 60 inch quilt has ~$72.00 worth of fabric (and that is fairly conservative). If you use a lot of specialty fabrics, and layer on applique, which most art quilters do, then you will invest considerably more in fabrics. The thread I use averages between $9.00-$15.00 a spool, and I use lots of thread in each quilt. Yes, I can buy it cheaper, but I want the best quality material for the job, because I care about the end product.  Then you have needles (several for each project), batting, embellishment, adhesives, stabilizers, embroidery floss, etc. A sewing machine to make the thing... and you do NOT want to know how much my sewing machine cost! But hey, without it I would not be able to produce the art quilts that I am making. Then there are a myriad of other tools, which are completely not optional to make the thing. You can go on and on...  Add up those bits.

2. Other half is time. I see art quilts selling at prices that I know means those artists are working for about .25 cents an hour. This is not an exaggeration!  Sam's formula is a good one - check it out. She is striving for us to get to $20 / hour. Emphasis on the striving.... Yippee.

Again, all of this is not your problem and I am not laying blame at all. There is no need for blame - it is what it is.

$ew Worth It! is not about getting more money, because in reality that is not going to happen.

Rather, it is a movement to disclose what goes into a handmade good. We put it out there, and then you can decide the value.

Years ago, when we were on a vacation... we walked by a group of artists painting outside and selling their work to tourists.  I wanted to purchase this lovely little water color. While I was looking, a lady came up and asked the artist if he would take $5 for the painting. The asking price was $12. He said yes and put the money in his pocket. No smile. No thrill there. Just a sale.  Seriously, $5 for an original painting? I choose the one I wanted and handed him $15. I smiled and started to walk away. He stopped me and said thank you in a way that I know he meant it and that was good enough for me. That $15 dollar painting is one of my favorites - and the reason has nothing to do with price. If I can spend $15 on a hamburger and drink, I can certainly invest the same on an original work of art that will make me happy for years to come.

What's it worth? To me, it's worth plenty.

Thanks for reading. Go to Sam's blog. Share this with others if you are so inclined.

We are "$ew Worth It!"


  1. Great post! I make and sell quilts and whilst I don't have decades of experience behind me (although I have been sewing for decades) I do value the time and skill I put in and I do consider my work art. I hate underpricing my work, it is completely demoralising and kills my enthusiasm. I hope that this $ew worth it campaign takes off. I enjoyed reading Sam's post a few months back and it's a great reference. I wish all quilters had the confidence to ask what they're worth.

    1. It does take a lot of confidence to ask what you're worth, but educating people can be very helpful. That's what I like about this campaign - the least we can do is explain what goes into a work of art. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Great Post! I recently commissioned an artist to do a piece of work for me. I had seen her work, I liked her work and I had an idea in my head that I knew she could put on paper with her quill.

    She did a FANTASTIC job. The set of four drawings she did for me were perfect. Then I asked her how much she wanted for them. Mind you, this is not the normal order of things but she had never sold her art before and didn't "know what to charge". She asked for $40. $10 each. I had already decided they were easily worth $25 each, so I paid her $100. Because that's what she should be charging. After discussing why I was paying what I did, we did some math. After supplies, she made just over $22 per hour.

    She is now beginning to sell her art, and mass produce it in the form of gift cards, etc. Yeah, sell those for $8 each. Sell the cards for $1.25. But. I have ORIGINALS. Her hand, real ink, real paper. Not printed by a computer. And nobody else will ever have the set I have.

    1. Hey Paul. Thanks for your comments. So true. This plays out over and over. I have artists in my family and they are asked repeatedly to work for free. Doing simple math really helps! And cool that you have the originals, which will always priceless, of course.

  3. Finally! A while ago, a lady wanted to commission me to make a t-shirt quilt. After I reviewed the cost of supplies, the lady said that is way more than she wanted to spend. I hadn't even gotten to the time involved. That was the end of that. I am not working for free.

    1. Yuki: good for you! There is no justification for working for free... unless we willingly choose to do so (for charity for instance). But if we have a choice... educating people about time and materials is part of the answer.

  4. Good stuff. Sam's follow-up post is great too -- especially the part about how accustomed to bargain-shop prices we are. So many of us complain about how we can't afford to spend $$ on items, yet we gobble up the cheap stuff like candy. We need to be cognizant of the overhead costs of a sweatshop in a developing country versus an artisan paying first world costs for materials. Regarding the first post, about pricing, I've found that when I factor in all my costs, I end up cutting that price in half just to come up with what seems like a reasonable number. That number, however, is at least double what customers have in their mind to pay. Needless to say, in my decades of work as a quilter and artist, I have yet to sell anything that wasn't quite small and therefore in the $200 or less price range. Tangentially, there's also a disconnect between what we are willing to pay, and the conceptual effort behind the work -- all that navel gazing, education, and skill-honing. I've been told I gave no place in the fabric design world because I attempted to call attention to the worth of the designer's time rather than glorify the producer.

    1. * I HAVE no place in the fabric design world. Sorry about the bad typing.

    2. Kristin: Thanks for your comments. This is such a hot issue from all sides - buyer and seller.