Monday, November 21, 2011

time cost benefit game and quality in handmade

with Esme sick (although she seems better again than yesterday and fell asleep in my lap a few minutes ago) I am getting ranty.... don't worry, the pictures and projects will continue at a later date. I've been thinking a lot about what I want to make, and why, and how for the coming winter...

read this article by Somer The true cost of handmade. Loved the article, and the comments that followed. And it is true - handmade costs more simply in the time factor, the knowledge, the doing it over again and again after you have figured it out the first time. It is the love and the cost factor of what else you could be doing - if your goal is to make money at it. Many people can't afford to buy those things - but it doesn't make the product any less worthy. It just makes that particular microeconomy (handmade high end) a little slower until other people can afford to buy more of what they see and want over what they need and are doing without. And many window shoppers will just want to see your item so they can make it themselves... I am often guilty of that myself, but never to the artist's face. Nothing made in 'inspiration' will ever be the same as the item you made originally. If someone does not want to pay the price for that item - it is 'ok'.. they don't have to. There are stores that sell mass-produced items - and those items are far less expensive in cash wise, but far less rich to begin with in many other ways.

Now, I want to say something about that, as well. I do really enjoy making what I can for our household. It is nice to look around (like yesterday's post) and count up the items in use that are handmade. Mark and I count the materials for these things, when bought, as an investment, just as we count Esme's books and my sewing patterns as investments for the future. The one thing I don't count for my own 'goods' is my time, but am often told that I should. I see that I am gaining two (and a half) large benefits by making the item myself...

1.) The Time Cost Benefit Game: I do not have to spend time finding an item that is what I want, at what I will pay for it, that fits and does it's job. I don't 'like' shopping finished goods.... it's not fun for me. For many people it is. When I carefully select materials and a project, a lot of the game is now 'my job' - to make it fit, to make it do what it is supposed to, to keep the materials cost within that window of what I would pay.

When there is something that I really need to purchase - like shoes, that game of 'where can I find what I want, that will last 'x' amount of time, and do I have the time today to look for it? becomes a chore and a hassle. I have to decide when time is running thin do I want to keep looking in this store or go home and play with Esme? Do I have the luxury of waiting to find what I want or do I have to settle for this object in front of me? I hate that game. It gets even worse when there are dressing rooms involved. Add a toddler into that game and I don't want to play at ALL. I'm glad I don't have to for most things. Now all of that sounds like I'm very 'picky' and even finicky... well, when I have to buy something to fill a need like toddler shoes, yes- I am picky. Now when Esme receives a pair of shoes for Christmas and they fit, it is a whole different ideal. It removes the time issue entirely, all of the social choice of 'time at home' or 'time at store' There is the warm fuzzy thought that someone else put their time into the choice, even if the item is secondhand. I do like perusing secondhand stores, book sales and flea markets with Esme by my side, finding little treasures and sometimes even materials to remake into other things. When we are doing this as an activity it is 'fun'.. but it is not something I seek to do by myself. Maybe that is the nomad in me... I will have to return to that part of the paradox later...

2.) Workmanship and Quality: I can pick good quality materials, and not settle for what is already made. I can take extra time to reinforce things. If it comes down to it, I can repair a seam or a button when it comes off and even put the buttons in a place that is more ergodynamic. I can arrange this pattern so that the dress lasts a year, although it might be on my third try. I can and do make several versions of the same item, time and materials willing, to solve problems of fit, design, etc.... When the shirt from the store gets a hole in it at three months old and starts ripping at the seams at four months old... there is no reproach for that except replacing it. And to decide to take it to the bench and make it myself, make it better or... play the game above. I really wonder where the idea of quality is going - but I understand that I am part of the problem as well, because I will not often pay for high quality. Few of the 'high quality' items I have ever paid highly for have delivered on their promise (except for that one sweater in high school... ) For this point I will add that is the reason I usually buy my clothes secondhand or on clearance. If the secondhand item has existed several years of someone else and ended in this condition - it is probably of decent quality. If it is on clearance, the investment has been reduced.

2.5) Enjoyment of Accomplishing the Task: I can only count this as half because it is half joy and half worry. I worry that I spend too much on the materials, or that it will not work as well as I want, or that I really needed to make this two weeks ago and am just now getting to it.... But the joy really makes it worth continuing.

So, yes I do really respect other people's patterns and crafts and art -- but I'm not a good supporter of that art economy. If I could do more barter and trade (like the early days at Etsy, before the CPSIA for lead-testing included handmade toys that never had lead to begin with etc. came out) I would be more interested in buying other art again. Right now I can afford to browse the patterns and buy one when I really need it or feel it is too good to pass up etc... And I will buy fabric and yarn when something really strikes me and I have the spare money to add to my stash... but mostly it is about making what is needed and wanted in our lives, getting ideas and/or playing the Time/Cost game to go find what we cannot make. I am really glad there are places like Etsy and Ebay to go peruse for these supplies and ideas, and that other artists are able to take the time and love and materials to produce complicated things for sale there.

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