Archive for June, 2017

Artwork is Work

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen quite a few posts popping up on my personal Facebook page feed touching on the topic of paying a fair price for artwork — and I use “artwork” in the broadest sense to include drawing and painting, photography, writing, and what I’ll call fabric art (costuming and clothes making, embroidery, etc.).

The problem of artists being asked to provide their products and services for free has long been an issue, but a related issue — the one I saw being addressed on Facebook — is establishing what it really costs for artwork. Back when I was doing clothing as part of the business, I noticed that more and more often, someone would look at one of my pieces and then check out the price tag, at which point their smile of admiration would turn into a skeptical frown and they’d say, “Ooh, that’s expensive.”

I’d usually let the comment pass and resign myself to the fact this person wasn’t going to buy the piece, but inside I was always thinking, “No, it’s priced exactly how it should be priced.”

But even that wasn’t quite true; my pieces were priced lower than they should have been. Nearly all clothing costs less than it should, and that was part of the problem: the average person has gotten spoiled by getting their daily clothing for cheap, so unless they’re looking to buy a “designer” piece — the kind of clothing that rationalizes its exorbitant cost by slapping a big-name label on it — they’re going to get sticker shock over anything that’s handmade by a single person.

This excellent article breaks down the cost of making clothing by hand,¬†and why you’re probably still underpaying for handmade clothing, and it made me think about the breakdown of doing business for me. I don’t get the sticker shock reaction as often, but it does happen on occasion when someone comes to me looking for custom patch work.

(I’m not going to go quite as in-depth on the math as the linked article, so don’t worry; there will be no math.)

The first step in the custom patch process is digitizing an image, which I do by loading a JPEG into my embroidery program and converting the design by hand. Yes, by hand. Mine is not the kind of program that magically transforms an image into an embroidery file (and if any such program exists, I’m unaware of it).

I charge a flat fee of $20. If you poke around on Etsy you can find people offering the same services for as little as $5, so it could be argued that I am overcharging. I instead argue that anyone digitizing images for $5 is grossly undercharging for their services. I did some research and found professional embroidery shops that charge a digitizing fee based on how many stitches the design comes out to.

One shop I found charged a sliding scale fee per 1,000 stitches; the more stitches involved in the design, the lower per-thousand-stitches fee the customer paid, but that could still add up. Their minimum fee was $24 for a 3,000 stitch design — four dollars more than what I charge for any design, regardless of size.

To help put this in a little context, I took a look at the Knope/Wyatt campaign pin-style patch that’s running on my machine as I write this. That design, which is fully embroidered, is a little over 12,000 stitches. At market value, the cost for simply digitizing that design would be $115 — $95 more than I would charge.

Most of the custom requests I get are for fairly simple designs that take me about two hours to digitize. At the federal minimum wage, I should make $14.50 for that work — but as we can glean from the information I’ve already provided, digitizing embroidery designs is not a minimum wage job; it’s skilled labor, as my clothing-making contemporary noted, and the going rate for skilled labor is more along the lines of $25 an hour. Ergo, a two-hour digitizing job should cost the customer $50, not $20.

Bear in mind, this is a very streamlined example of a custom commission. Often a customer wants some adjustments made to the design, which means I have to go back in and play with it — sometimes extensively — so that’s more labor hours covered by the $20 fee. The customer continues to get a bargain.

That, however, is not the end of the labor component, which is factored into the cost of the patch itself. Making a patch involves prep work — hand-cutting blanks and stabilizer, ironing the stabilizer to the fabric, loading the machine’s embroidery hoop with stabilizer, and threading the machine — and then running the patch itself, which very rarely goes smoothly. Thread runs out mid-project and has to be replaced. The machines have to be periodically cleaned out and oiled. It is not a set-it-and-forget-it process.

And then there are the unexpected issues that pop up. Even the cleanest designs can “hiccup” on the machine, and in a best case scenario, I simply re-thread a needle and push a button and everything is fine from there on out. In a worst case scenario, I have to perform minor surgery on the machine to clear a thread tangle, and then clean up the botched stitching on the patch so I can try again — and that doesn’t always work, which means I have to scrap that patch and start over, and that means I’ve just lost even more time.

All this doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that I have to pay retail, or close to, for all my materials. Getting a line on wholesalers is tough for a very small business (believe me, I’ve tried), so I have to rely on sales and coupons to keep down costs, for myself and, by extension, for my customers.

Could I lower my prices more? Sure — if I didn’t want to actually make money on my business.

Yes, what I do is my art, but it’s also my business. It’s part of how I make a living. A lot of people make their living off their art, and they too often undervalue their art, so please think twice before complaining that someone is overcharging for their hand-crafted wares.

No, it’s isn’t expensive. It’s priced exactly how it should be priced.

Except that it isn’t.

Artwork is work. Always pay artists what they are worth.


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RIP Adam West

We were saddened to hear of Adam West’s passing over the weekend, so we’d like to simply thank him for entertaining us as Batman, the Gray Ghost, Mayor Adam West, and yes, Captain Tom Churchman in “Zombie Nightmare” (MST3K version, of course), and for giving us one of the greatest lines in cinematic history, as immortalized in this (retired) patch design of ours…

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Have you seen Wonder Woman yet? Did you love it as much as I did? It’s been a week since I saw it and I’m still talking about it, so this week I’m spotlighting some items that should be of interest to fellow fans of the Princess of Themyscira.

We debuted the Amazon Fandom Pride Patch ($7) quite some time ago, but now seems like a great time to reintroduce everyone to it. This is a great little accessory to add to a jacket or bag.

Next, for all you women who, like me, love superheroines, check out the Superhero Geek Merit Badges ($8), which come in both genders and in white or POC variations. Representation matters!




Finally, we pay tribute to another awesome warrior princess in the Amazon mold: Xena! Lucy Lawless’s iconic character filled that too-long gap between the end of Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman TV series and the Gal Gadot movie by giving us a strong, smart, sexy, and yes, skilled hero to admire.

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