Pricing Handmade Items

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A discussion I watched recently during an online class prompted me to write this post.  I’ve read and seen many things giving hints about how to set prices for handcrafted items, and I’ve written before about the pricing of handmade quilts from my perspective.

But in this discussion, a fellow participant was frustrated that every time she asks an instructor for specific guidelines for pricing her handmade items she gets vague rather than concise answers, most often hearing that it’s up to the individual crafter to decide.  This makes her feel like no one wants to help.

I’ve also read things about the importance of sellers pricing items according to a reasonable hourly wage for all the time going into the project because if they don’t, they somehow de-value the work of others who do charge higher prices.

So I wanted to give my own perspective on this matter, without numbers and formulas, as food for thought.

I believe that our personal pricing systems depend largely on our reasons for crafting.  I’m not trying to make a living selling crafts.

I find enjoyment and fulfillment in being creative and making things.  My crafting hobbies keep me busy and give me something to look forward to each day.  They are a form of relaxation and entertainment for me, they keep my mind focussed on new ideas, and they give me an outlet to express myself in an artistic way, according to my own ability and style.  When I’m making something, a lot of what I do is fun and necessary for my own well-being and mental health.  I’m going to make things whether or not I ever sell them.

Because a lot of the time spent making things is for my own enjoyment, if I sell a finished item I don’t worry about putting a price on every hour spent making it, simply because if I weren’t doing crafts, I would be doing something else that might be costing me just as much time and money to fill my days!  So part of it is for my own benefit and it’s hard to put a price on that.

When I’m performing a direct service for someone else – such as custom quilting – while it’s still enjoyable (I wouldn’t do it otherwise!) I can more easily put a price on it because of the time involved from start to finish.  I can set a price based on hours, or size of the project and I look at that differently than I do my general crafting time.  People might ask here why I don’t do the same hourly calculation with all the items I sell, but hopefully by the end of the post you will have the answer 🙂

When pricing items for sale I take into account the following things:

  • I always cover the cost of all materials that go into the project,
  • I calculate the hours I spend quilting it (this is something I can calculate by the hour as I do if I’m custom quilting for others)
  • I consider the marketability of the item

Marketability is perhaps the most important to me personally and here’s why:

I know that most of the quilts I sell are technically “worth” more than what I charge.  I also know that if I lived in a big city with a huge market of buyers having a wide variety of personal tastes I could sell my quilts at higher prices. and still regularly move my stock.

As it is, I have to consider that pricing them high enough to get what they’re actually worth will mean selling far fewer than I currently sell and possibly selling none, while pricing them at a reasonable price for the market allows me to make some profit, and sell more quilts.  As I said, I’m going to make them anyway because I love the craft, so my goal is to have fun, cover costs and have my hobby pay for itself without cutting into my household budget.  I’m not keen on filling up a room with valuable quilts that aren’t moving and then trying to justify buying supplies to make more!  I rarely make a quilt because I want to keep it; most often I want to try out new ideas and designs, with the intention of selling them when finished.

Selling my items the way I do more than pays for my hobby and that’s fine for me.  Sure, it would be nice to be able to get the price they are actually worth after all the time spent on them, but if the only thing not completely covered in the price is a portion of my own time – time spent enjoying myself and doing what I love (while watching my favourite old TV shows or listening to music!) – then that’s OK by me.

For someone who is trying to make a living selling their crafts, my system will not work.  Their reasons for crafting are different; their needs are different.

But I don’t agree that my system of pricing is unfair to those who do charge the higher prices for items of similar quality and workmanship.  I think it’s up to each person how they will handle their own business/pricing and what their own time is worth.  As with any other business, there are differences and competition and everything that goes along with that.

I don’t like to think of myself in competition with others though, because that’s not my jam when it comes to crafting.  I make what I like to make and if someone likes it enough to buy it, great.  If not, then that’s OK too.  Just as my style of custom quilting isn’t something everyone wishes to pay for and that’s OK with me too!  I do what I enjoy and I don’t take on projects I don’t want to do, because I’m not trying to make a living.  If what I do isn’t fun, I’m not going to do it.

The other thing to remember is that handcrafted items should really be seen as art pieces, unique and appealing to personal tastes.  And the value of a piece of art is most often based on whatever someone is willing to pay for it.  So I could calculate that one of my quilts is actually worth $600 from start to finish, but if no one ever buys it, it isn’t worth much sitting on my shelf if it isn’t one I wanted to keep anyway!  And yes, you CAN have too many quilts!  It’s all about perspective …

Getting back to the class discussion and the lady who was frustrated, I don’t think there is anyone who can tell another person what to charge for their handmade items, which is why she never gets a definite answer.

If you want to make a living, you have to decide what kind of hourly wage you want to get and calculate every bit of time you spend to set your price on the finished item.  And if you can’t sell your item at that price, then maybe selling crafts isn’t the job you need to make your living.

For example, I’ve heard well known quilters say they tend to build their businesses on writing books and teaching classes on quilting rather than selling their actual quilts, because the prices they would have to charge would be higher than most customers would want to pay.

I don’t place myself in their category but, using a similar mentality, if I included in my prices all the time I spend cutting, sewing, pressing, sandwiching, and binding in addition to the cost of materials and quilting time I already charge for, I don’t think I would ever sell a quilt!  Plus, I would be focussing so much on keeping track of calculations that I wouldn’t be able to relax and have fun, so that definitely wouldn’t help me meet my goals.

Bottom line: it’s a personal choice based on individual factors.

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