Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thoughts on crafting

As I sit, unraveling and deconstructing wool sweaters and other wool clothing, I think of the people that put it together in the first place.  Most of it, well, all of it, is made somewhere else.  China is the most common place for modern clothing, vintage finds come from a greater variety of places. Perhaps  I'll start making note of where each piece was constructed.  Most of the sweaters are knit by machine, and sewn together with a chain stitch that is very easy to undo if you start in the right place.  The tricky places are where lots of pieces meet--under the arms, top of shoulder, etc.  I can imagine a woman sitting at the chain stitch machine who has done the job so many times she can get all those pieces to line up just right quickly and easily.  I wonder what she is paid?  A pittance, I suspect.  I think of her as I try to price the items I make.  Do I try to match the other prices on Etsy?  Do I try to price under others?  Does the value of my hat seem greater it I charge more?  Does it seem "cheap" if I charge less?   It is the same hat--but marketing is much more about perceived value than real value.   Is my time really worth any more than the pittance that woman was paid? 

I'm getting the raw materials I'm using for very little.  I've had very good luck at church garage sales over the summer.  I try to go during the last hour.  Most churches are raising money for a service or mission project, but during the last hour they just want to get rid of the items left.  I've bought bags full of wool for 2.00.  That is pounds of yarn, or enough felt for 8 hat and mitten sets, with a lot left over for birds, ornaments, flowers, etc. etc.    So all I really need to charge for is my time and creativity.  I'm not looking to get rich off this adventure.  I'm just looking to make up for part of the pay I'll lose when, and if, I retire.   So, when I wait to contribute to the mission or service project so I can get the most wool for my few dollars, I feel a bit of guilt.  It is more than offset by the virtue I feel as I reuse great wool--wool that is left behind after everyone else has been through the piles of clothes at the garage sale.  I even have clothing from a church clothing give-away.  A friend waits 'till the event is over, and saves the wool for me.  She says nobody wants the wool sweaters since they can't be thrown in the wash as easily as synthetics.  So, in a way, wool has a lesser perceived value than synthetic to the demographic that can't afford to send clothes to the dry cleaners. 

The store that has purchased some of my things sits right across the street from the 10,000 Villages store in Columbus.   In a really really small way, I'm in direct competition with artisans from all over the world that rely on their crafting income for basic necessities.  I'm just looking to supplement an adequate retirement check.  (Of course, if I can supplement that check, I'll have money to spend at 10,000 Villages...)  Now I'm starting to over think.  So I'll stop. 

Finally, I have a very real connection to the woman at the factory sewing machine, making a pittance, because she needs that pittance.  That woman, or in my case girl, was my mother.  My mother left school at 13 to do piece-work at home, and a year later, when she was finally old enough, she started work in a clothing factory outside Philadelphia.  It was 1931.  She gave her entire paycheck to her dad until she was 20.  She finally left home and went to high school when she was 21.  How much has changed in our world since then.    I choose to sit at my sewing machine.  In fact, I find it the most soothing, satisfying thing I've done in the past few years.  Well, second to playing the violin.  If I wanted to work in a clothing factory, I couldn't find one.  And I wouldn't be able to regulate the temperature, listen to the music I want to, take a break when I want, or fuss over which buttons to put where. 

This is what I think about as I craft.