How Much? Pricing Handwovens
Every weaver or maker should consider the question, "how much?"
If you're weaving to sell, knowing the fair market value of your work is essential.
But even if you never intend to sell your work, calculating its value can bring you a new appreciation of the things you make.
Let's say you've been weaving scarves. You show off your latest piece to a friend and they ask: "How much?" If you haven't been doing production work, you may not keep track of time or expenses. You weave because you love it, not with the intention to sell. How would you begin to answer the question?
Feeling flattered, you might blurt out a price that seems reasonable, but actually highly undervalues the energy, time, and expense that went into the piece. In that moment, it's not only your friend who is now looking at your scarf and not seeing its true worth. In a subtle, but real way, you're now undervaluing it, too.
Knowing how to make something is a valuable skill. When we know the fair market value of our own work, we can appreciate the work and value of other makers. More than that, it can give us a new appreciation of our own.
Weavers who sell work as their livelihood, or to supplement their income, keep track of time and expenses. They fairly price their goods to reflect the energy that goes into the piece. If you under-price a weaving of similar quality and effort, then customers may come to expect they can buy a handwoven scarf for much less than its real value, undermining the work of weavers who rely on the sales income of their work.
Handweaving, as an art form, is often not valued as highly as other media such as painting, art glass, jewelry, and woodworking. Part of the way to address this is for weavers to educate the public about the effort and artistry that goes into our work. In a recent conversation with a with a composer and aeronautical engineer, I described my process of designing and creating cloth, and it was a revelation to them.
Another question you may be asked about your work is: "How long did it take to weave that?" If you can reply, "between the design process, preparing the loom and materials, weaving and finishing, it took me eighteen hours to weave this rug," that is valuable information for the asker. It educates potential customers on how to evaluate the prices of handwovens they admire, whether your own or those of others.
Here are some other possible scenarios:
You make handwoven gifts. Your niece receives a baby blanket. Her friend sees the blanket and wants to buy one. You have actually woven three extra from the same warp to have on hand for future gifts, and would be happy to sell her one. Keeping track of your time and expenses will allow you to quote a fair price to your customer, something more than "just paying for the yarn."
Your guild's annual show and sale is approaching. You are encouraged by a guild member to weave scarves for the sale like the attractive one you shared at the show-and-tell last month. Keeping records will allow you to price your scarves fairly so they stand up to the pricing of other weavers who regularly sells scarves at shows.
Your local hospice organization is having an art-auction fundraiser. You are asked to donate an item. On the donation form you need to quote the value and minimum bid. You want to give a high quality, eye-catching piece to grab the attention of bidders and raise as much money as possible for the hospice. Pulling a price out of the air isn't fair to you, the bidders, or the organization.
Record keeping was engrained in me from my 4-H days where detailed records were kept for each project because the work was to be judged at the county fair. The business classes that were part of my art-school curriculum also encouraged documentation, written and photographed, of all the work we produced, whether we intended to sell our work, take commissions, teach, or work in an arts organization.
The focus of my weaving life thus far has been teaching, not selling. But my diligence at record keeping—as if I'm going to sell every piece I make—builds a great foundation when I do a commission or a show. I glean valuable information from the eighteen years worth of records I have stored chronologically in three-ring binders.
At a recent show where I offered machine needle-felted items in addition to woven ones, I used my weaving records from past table-runner projects to inform my design process for the felted runner. I wanted a design that I could make and sell at one-third to one-half the price of a woven runner so I could offer potential customers two different price points. The cost and labor calculations from past records helped me determine the level of detail in the design and kinds of materials I could use to achieve a unique machine needle-felted runner at the desired price point.
I developed my Cost and Labor Worksheet for Weaving Projects while I was in school and needed to keep track of time and expenses for class assignments. I've modified it over the years as my career progressed. It can serve as a template for you to create a record-keeping document that reflects how you work and what you make.
Based on the sections of my worksheet, here is a body of questions that can help you shape your own cost-and-labor record keeping. They can also help you explore whether you want to sell your work, and if so, how much to charge. Hopefully my questions will spur further questions of your own.
Yarn or fabric can be purchased retail, on sale, wholesale, be rescued or given to you.
- Did I keep the sales receipt for the materials?
- If not, what is the current price from the yarn or fabric store of this item?
- If I were going to make many items, would it be worth setting up a wholesale account with a yarn company?
- What does setting up a wholesale account with a specific company entail?
I purchased this yarn at the guild raffle for $3.00. New, I would pay $25 per pound.
- What cost will I use to determine price, the actual paid or the replacement cost?
The fabric for this rug was given to me years ago.
- Will I omit the cost of the fabric in the sales price, or determine a price per yard?
The yarn or fabric in the original weaving was hand dyed, painted or hand spun.
- Can I take the time and expense this will add to the product I want to sell?
- Do I need to find a commercially dyed/spun/painted alternative?
- Does this hand process "make" the piece?
- What other materials are part of the finished product: beads, thread, water-solvable stabilizer, hanging device, buttons, etc?
Generally, the longer the warp, the less the labor cost per item.
- How many hours can I physically weave in one sitting?
- How many hours do I like to weave?
- How many items do I have time to weave?
- How many items can I stand to weave on one warp?
- What warp length can I skillfully make and dress the loom with?
- What is my weaving speed?
- Do I know the most efficient and effective ways to warp, weave and finish?
- Does the quality of my weaving hold up as I increase my speed?
- Does my equipment support the kind of weaving I want to do?
- Do I like and am I skilled at all the steps of weaving?
- Is there a step I could ask someone to help me with or hire to do for me?
- Is my production weaving fee going to be the same for one-of-a-kind commissions?
As a beginning weaver, you may not have the technical skill of an experienced weaver, but perhaps you have a great eye for color, design, choosing materials, or love of the process. Recognizing your particular gift as a weaver, you build on that, taking classes, or weaving a lot and evaluating your weak points.
Take into consideration the time and training you have put into building your weaving skill when determining an hourly weaving wage.
- What is my current skill level and quality of my work?
- What services and professionals do I value and what do I pay per hour for: housecleaning, piano lessons, yard work, childcare, physical trainer, hairdresser, and wait staff?
- What is the minimum wage in my state?
- Am I selling my work to provide my income, supplement my income, or to purchase materials for my next project?
- How much would I expect to pay a glass artist, metal smith, or woodworker for original, handmade work?
Labor plus materials cost may seem like the final number. But there are a number of other expenses to take into consideration for the grand total.
- Am I going to charge by the square foot or by the item?
- What are my other costs of doing business: labels, business cards, website, postcards, sewing-machine maintenance, a new steam iron, photography, shipping?
- If I'm doing a show, how much is the booth rental fee? Is the commission 15%, 20%, or more, that I pay to the organizing body on my total sales?
- Do I need to purchase a temporary city business license to sell at this event?
- If I'm selling at a gallery, what is the gallery's commission, 40%, 50%?
- How is the gallery promoting my work?
- How is my work displayed?
- Is the gallery solvent? Will I get paid? Will my work be returned if it doesn't sell?
Another way to start learning how much to charge is to ask weavers who do production work or show in galleries how they price their work. They may not give you specifics, but often can offer a framework of how they determine price.
If you are a member of a guild, this could be a great topic for a program or round-table discussion. The question is also discussed regularly on the Internet weaving lists where weavers of all experience levels share their knowledge.
Your individual answer to "how much" will be personal. Having an informed, confident reply will educate the asker. It will give you the satisfaction that whether you decide to sell the piece or not, you have created fabric that is pleasing to the eye and the hand, and also fairly valued for your place in the market.
The Singing Weaver, Nadine travels to teach and uses the internet to inspire and mentor students. She has written books, produced recordings, videos, and leads fiber tours. "I strive to touch each individual by honoring their present abilities, stimulating all of their senses, and guiding them to achieve beyond their expectations."