Monday, June 27, 2011


As I sit here on this beautiful summer evening, kids running through the sprinkler after dinner and a happy lazy cat at my side, I cannot shake a bit of discontent that grabbed hold of me over the weekend.

The Sunday paper is usually chock full of advertisements, most of which I don't even really look at. However, Owen's new school requires a uniform so I have been glancing through the Sears ad because I know they carry the requisite pants and shirts. That's when I ran across this:

I had to take a closer look. Do you see that?

A king size quilt at an "everyday" price of less than twenty dollars. And the picture depicts these quilts:

I have been struggling with my own reaction to this advertisement for many reasons.

As someone who enjoys the creative outlet of sewing and quilting, it disturbs me to think that there are some (likely many) people who are being led to believe that a king size quilt costs only twenty bucks. For those of us who enjoy sewing and quilting (and cough fabric hoarding cough), we know that we would be hard pressed to purchase enough fabric for a king size quilt for that price, let alone the batting and thread. And perhaps most importantly: our time.

Granted, the quality of these quilts is probably not all that great. The material is likely not "quilt store quality" and the workmanship is surely not what I would expect from a handcrafted item. But for many people this will be their experience of a quilt.

On the one hand, it's great that so many people can afford to add a quilt to their lives. But it does make me wonder about the very real people who are manufacturing these quilts. If companies are able to sell the quilts for twenty dollars and they are still making a profit then what are the workers taking home?

Then there is the dilemma that many of us face, which is how do I value my own work? I know this is something that I struggle with. I have a teeny tiny etsy shop and I struggle with pricing every time I list something. I wonder if I am expected to compete with large stores carrying mass produced items. If I can go to ABC Store and get a little zippered makeup pouch for $4.99 (or less), how can I possibly expect to charge $15 for my handmade patchwork version? Is the average consumer going to understand the time involved? Or the fact that I used some prized rare Japanese fabrics? Will they notice the care that was taken or the attention to detail? I just don't know.

For me, this type of thinking tends to make me undervalue my work. I have a hard time asking a fair price for something because I get stuck between wanting to be fairly compensated for my time and talent and wanting to make sure I can actually sell whatever it is.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to educating both consumers and crafters. Not only do consumers need to understand what is really involved in creating a handmade item (from quality materials to the time and expertise involved in making the item) but artists and crafters also need to not sell themselves short. The work that we do is worthwhile. In a world that is overrun with stuff, a world that is constantly evolving into sameness (the same big box stores, the same chain restaurants, the same clothing chains, the same grocery stores), the ability to be truly unique is a dying art.

Handmade items are a reflection of the person who made them, not the factory that produced them. Practically speaking, how do we educate people about our art and craft? When millions of people see an ad for a twenty dollar king size quilt, how do they learn the value of a beautifully crafted handmade quilt if it costs hundreds? How do artists and crafters learn to value their work so that they no longer feel compelled to pay themselves little to nothing for their efforts?

These are the thoughts swirling around my head on this beautiful evening. What are your thoughts?


  1. Well it's hard to see a $20 "quilt" but hopefully over time people will learn quality. Mind you I think that we need these knock off things for kids on their own for the first time and starting out families. Yet hopefully once things get rolling - they may want something better. Ugh. . I feel ya for sure.

  2. Great post! I was thinking something similar when I saw "quilts" at Wal-Mart the other day for around $25. They were not really quilts, although they were labeled as such. It looked like the entire front was one large printed panel, or maybe a few, but much of the "piecework" was printed on the fabric. Still, it does make you think how much the worker is making (or not making) if the finished products are so cheap. And it makes me sad to think that some people will only have those types of quilts in their lives.

  3. Great post. I cringe at these things too, but then catch myself buying the two dollar whatever and wonder if that is much better. We're having garage sale soon and I'm focusing more on keeping the unique us stuff and less of the box box. And of course I try to make quilts for friends and educate them that way!

  4. i know exactly what you mean - we talk about this a lot at home, as i'm passionate about not buying things on the cheap just because it's cheaper. i value local, hand-made and organic items and try to purchase those things whenever possible. it makes me very sad that it's always got to be about "save, save, save" - i know people want to save money, and it's tough at any economic time, but it's the tricky world of consumerism.

  5. I agree completely! I lost my brick and mortal store when we could not compete - price wise- with discount stores. It is hard to educate people on quality when the economic times are so tough. We just have to keep at it. I also think a great way to educate it to be an example, so I try to keep that in mind too.

  6. wow ~ great post. This is a topic I have so much passion about ~ I can't even put into words how frustrating these things are... and how sad it is that slavery is running rampant because of our desire to save a little money!!
    Sometimes less is more! :)

  7. I think you have to separate your work entirely from mass produced stuff, hard though it is. I know pricing is a struggle but I see stuff on Etsy so under priced for the work and materials it makes we want to cry for the maker! Hand made is one of a kind every time and sells to a select audience so can never be pile it high and sell it cheap. Education is a long process I guess, people tend to think with their wallet especially when times are tough.

  8. I am not going to lie, I have purchased several quilts cheap like these. I knew that they would not last long (and they didn't); but, I needed something for at that time and moment. They are crap with a capital C. and usually do not survive after several washings. In other words, they begin to fall apart at the seams and whatnot. They are poorly made products and worst, foreign made which usually translates to cheap labor. Sad.

  9. Those $20 quilts are technically quilts but aren't anywhere near a "real" quilt. The top is printed on PFP Poly fabric to look like pieced and then the sandwich is quilted together on huge rolls by an automated quilter. The labor costs are very low because there aren't any laborers... or rather very few. The materials are inexpensive (loose weave, poly fill, etc) and because the factory min orders are probably high they can sell each item for less as they make half a bizallion of them. And BTW Sears has been selling these for at least the past 20 years...

    Now comparing that directly with a one of a kind, hand crafted quilt is like comparing a plastic Big Wheel to a Lamborghini. They are not in the same class. So you need to understand that when you're selling on Etsy your target demographic isn't the Big Wheel set, but those with an already more refined taste and understanding of what it might take to actually construct a beautiful piece of art that we just happen to sleep under.

    For me personally, I feel you need to pick your battle. You can spend your energy educating people what a real quilt is*, what the value of it is, or you can spend your energy making and selling them. You're unlikely to succeed in convincing any meaningful percentage of the Big Wheel Set to part with more then $20 for a quilt if they can get it cheep, save a buck and *don't care* all that much about quality. To disassociate yourself from the passion of the craft to cooly market to a discerning customer will help you make a profit. Target marketing is a proven winner.

    *Not to say it's not a noble endeavor but probably one that won't make you very much $$. You can (and should) however use your hangtag to your advantage and put as many points of value on it as possible. For example, the front of the hangtag is your business name, logo, contact info etc. the back would list all the wonderful things about your product:
    *Hand stitched details
    *Rare custom fabrics imported from Japan
    *Zippered closure for securing items
    *Locker Loop to make storage a snap

  10. As far as how to price your quilts that's a bit more black and white. You need to break down all the components and figure out how much it'll cost. A crude example is below, if you pay yourself $15 an hour a 45" square quilt should run near $50 for something simple. There's no way to compete with automated off shore manufacturing so don't even try. Try your best however to complete with others in the same market as yourself but don't sell yourself short either. It is a poor business decision to give away your labour. What's the point of working if you're paying yourself? So value yourself and your labor and target your market and you'll do okay.

    Baby Quilt Calculator

    Materials Unit Price
    Top 1 yd $8.50 $8.50
    Batting 1 $9.99 $9.99
    Backing 1 $7.00 $7.00
    Binding 3.5 $1.50 $5.25
    Thread 0.1 $6.00 $0.60

    Labor Hour Price
    Purchase 0.16 $15.00 $2.40
    Washing 0.25 $15.00 $3.75
    Ironing 0.25 $15.00 $3.75
    Cutting 0.16 $15.00 $2.40
    Sewing 0.50 $15.00 $7.50

    Packaging Unit Price
    Ribbon 2.5 $0.50 $1.25
    Hangtag 1 $0.25 $0.25
    Loop Label 1 $0.50 $0.50


    BTW, to your point, "If companies are able to sell the quilts for twenty dollars and they are still making a profit then what are the workers taking home?"
    The average Chinese worker makes barely $400 a month, Honduras $230 and in India $120, all major textile, garment and apparel manufacturing areas of the globe. There is an interesting trend however in the business to see some of the manufacturing come back to the states as the places like China start to go from third world economies to first.

    Okay, I think I've rambled on quite enough... it's just it's all stuff I think about too. I wish I had abetter answer for how to educate the masses about the quality of a hand crafted item over mass produced goods.


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