Thursday, August 27, 2009

How do you price your handmade items?

I'm often asked by knitters, spinners and felters how to price the items they want to sell and since this question was also raised at Felter's Fling earlier this week I thought I'd share my thoughts and those that were discussed at Fling.
Most customers who have approached me about this seem to have heard that the rule of thumb is to ask 3 times your materials cost. I've never understood where that came from! In my experience, there is just no basis for that at all. Some crafts require relatively little material cost and are labor intensive whereas others are quick, buy costly in materials!
I've always looked at the time it takes me to make the item...that includes the time to dye the fiber and the fabric, do my test swatches for color/shrinkage, design the piece, layout and felt the piece and sew or trim it....and mulitply these hours by my rate per hour (how you come up with that is another issue entirely!). Then I add in my materials cost and something for my overhead cost which in my mind includes the cost of the dyes used, the propane gas for the tank, electricity. And then I'd add in any extra marketing costs....did I print up post cards for the gallery show to send out or hand out at the event or did I take out an ad?
When asked this same question at Fling, our instructor seemed to have the same approach to figuring her starting cost although she also added in the time and financial investment in workshops taken honing the skills over the years as well as the investment in R&D - you know, all those items you "experimented" on to get to the pieces you're selling. So all that comes to your "wholesale" price - what you'd sell it for directly to the buyer. Then she suggested doubling that total figure for a retail situation (i.e. if instead of selling it directly you are selling it thru a craft shop or gallery). She also had a friends discount for a while...the "mate rate"...until that got a little awkward.
I also think there is a much more ambiguous factor that I believe some artisans manage to work in to their price. So this "X" factor is how much BEYOND the starting figure you come up with based on the considerations mentioned above that you can ask (and get) because of the uniqueness and originality and scarcity of your product. My friend Linda commented that this X factor is what one can get for your stuff AFTER you die....and its higher if you die tragically and at a young age!
Of course the bottom line is that your success is a function of the know it's all about supply and demand . And demand is a function of WHO is shopping and that's why its important to know YOUR market. You can underprice yourself out of a market you know. As the instructor said....when one of her items isn't selling, she marks it up!
What are your thoughts!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Much needed R&R!

My workspace this past week!

So I missed updating the blog last week because of a little R&R at our family place on Lake Sebago, Maine. If you've never been there, you must go. It is the most beautiful crystal clear water and sandy bottom of any lake I've ever visited-except perhaps for Lake Louise which was far too cold to swim in! But of course I'm biased having spent every summer of my life there and by all the years of fond memories...summer long card tournaments (a canasta-like game called Sanba), learning the butterfly stroke from a distant cousin, jarts contests over happy hour, the treasure hunts my aunt always ran using tricky limericks she'd write that sent us running for clues from the beach to the house, all the way to the point, and even out to the mailbox, plus waking to the revelry call of the bugle at Camp O-At-Ka (which is a boys camp just next door that my great grandfather -who was Episcopal bishop of Maine -helped get started). Ahh, summer fun!
Anyway, its not summer without a visit to Sebago and it's always a great time for me to get some relaxed knitting done for the store and it's a great place to contemplate life and refresh the spirit for another year.

And, its a time for me to collect lichen for natural dyeing. Lichen needs really clean air and prefers a north (or is it east?) facing exposure near water. Anyway, the woods and rocks around our house and along the point offer a perfect place for it. Since it can take 40 years for lichen (a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and an algae) to grow, you don't pick the lichen, but there are always pieces around the base of the rocks that have fallen off during wind and rain storms (and haven't we had those this summer!). So I always take a bag and walk the trail to the point, side stepping into the woods to search at the bottom of the huge boulders on which the lichen grow. If you search right after a rainstorm, the lichen are green (not tan and black as you see above).

This year I also found another spot for lichen on the way home from Maine in the White Mountains. I always stop at the Wiley House center on Rt 302 in the White Mountains to stretch my legs and let Chloe take a swim in the pond. This year, we also walked a small trail leading from the Wiley house along the river bed, and there were many huge boulders covered with the mamulata (I may have spelled this wrong) lichen that's good for dyeing (the type I collect give the beautiful purple colors and I believe when I took a workshop on lichen dyeing with Karen Casselman all those years ago she referred to this type as mammulata lichen). Anyway, they are the ones pictured above that have the acid orcin in them which when exposed to ammonia (urine if you're a traditionalist) produces the purple dye orchil. I love to see lichen growing, not just for collection purposes since I dye with it infrequently, but becuase they are a sign of REALLY CLEAN AIR.

Remember that if you're going to collect lichen for dyeing, DON'T pick them, but collect the pieces that have fallen off the rock on their own or with the help of mother nature's wind and rain. The fact that they fell off their perch means they weren't healthy anyway and yet they still produce a good purple dye. It may take you a couple of years to collect enough for a dyebath, but as long as the lichen is dry when you put it away, it doesn't go bad or mold.
Ifyou haven't dyed with the lichen yet, here's what I do...
  1. tear up the lichen pieces and put them into a really large jar (a Costco size pickle jar)

  2. cover them with ammonia and cap the jar

  3. let them sit for a couple of days, shaking the jar up twice a day (you need to oxygenate them for the process to occur)

  4. add water to the mix (so the solution is 2:1 ammonia & water) and continue to shake twice a day and let the lichen ferment for 3-4 weeks until you see a good deep purple color.

  5. strain off the lichen, add water enough so that your yarn or fiber is submerged and heat (do not boil) until the dye is set (could be 30-40 mins).