Monday, September 20, 2010

creating stuff from scratch

Our October sock KAL is still open to joiners! Visit our group on Ravelry and say which socks you think you'll be doing. The options include Ploughed Acre Knee Socks from Knit Green, Mary Jane Socks from Fiber Gathering, and three other pairs of socks: Molly Baby Socks (an interesting sock knit on straight needles, ideal for toddlers or kids, available both on Ravelry and my website), Heart's Ease Socks, a stranded knitting pattern available on Ravelry, my website, and at a special rate here, and finally, these Polka Dot Socks, available on Ravelry, my website, in Tops and Toes, a book available for sale, and also at Knit Picks online.

Now, on to our regular post...last night, after a busy day, I couldn't sleep. This may have been because of a supposedly decaffeinated cappucino I had after a dinner out, or because my charming Professor had a stuffy nose and was snoring to beat the band. (It happens sometimes to the best of us!)

I got up and wove on my loom in the next room. At first I worried the noise would wake somebody up, but one human and two dogs slumbered on, so the weaving happened for about an hour until I could fall asleep. I was thinking particularly about is a partial quote from a comment, but the sentiment is pretty common:

"I... would love to see more pictures and details. That's something I'm interested in doing as well."

I struggle with this kind of request. On one hand, many of the things I do--teaching, fiber arts (spinning, weaving, knitting, dyeing), writing, etc. --are things that I believe should be within reach for many people. What I mean by that is that people have lots of potential. As a teacher, I believe that I can help people learn, whether I am teaching them to write, or doing a Religious Studies workshop, or teaching them to spin. I believe that for a determined person, many things are possible.

On the other hand, at the same time, we all have gifts. These are things we're good at when compared to other people. Do we deserve to be compensated specially for our gifts? Should we use our gifts in our professional lives? Should our gifts be our livelihood?

Many of the things that might be called my "strengths" are things that are traditionally offered for free or for less than a fair wage. For instance, for many generations, women passed along their fiber art skills to their friends, neighbors and children. These same women were sometimes were natural born teachers. Eventually, women teachers were paid for their work in school houses all over North America...and often earned much less than male school teachers. The same is true, of course, for instruction in religious topics. Even though I have an academic graduate degree in this, many times this sort of knowledge is offered up for free.

Sometimes I'm paid to teach for a short time, and then someone (without this training) concludes that it would be better and easier if they did this for free...and I'm relieved of my "duties."

So, the question becomes--how much information should I offer for free? I think there are several options, using a fiber arts context as an example:
1) Pretend it is all top secret, and offer very little. (this looks stingy..)
2) Write up the instructions for any projects I mention, and try to sell them.
3) Offer all the information for free, with the understanding that not everybody has the same gifts and that somehow good fortune will come to me through this notion.

What is the answer? Well, lately I have been creating finished fiber arts goods for a juried craft sale. It's called the Handmade Holiday Sale (this is from last year's sale) and it will be held in November at the West End Cultural Centre here in Winnipeg. It is run by the Manitoba Craft Council and I applied and competed to be accepted into this juried event. The rugs you've seen me feature on the website will be for sale there.

Anybody could make these rugs. Anybody who:
-sourced mill ends and locally made materials
-used handspun and knew how to spin to produce weaving materials
-hand-dyed materials to the right colors for the rugs in question
-had a floor loom suitable for creating rugs
-could do a simple weave or twill tie up
-could refer to a few books on rug weaving
-could find the time to produce one to two rugs a week whenever possible!

I really believe that anyone with reasonable intelligence and determination can learn most anything. The question for me as a teacher is, at what level do I start explaining things? Do I start with learning to spin, weave or knit? Do I start with "this is the tie up for this particular loom?" I am not sure.

Of course, beyond this is the question I have to face as a freelancer and small business owner. How will I earn a living doing things like this? When is it worthwhile to ask for compensation? What should I give away for free? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this...

More next time on our beautiful new sukkah--Sukkot starts this week!

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Blogger Jody said...

I understand completely what you are saying Joanne and I agree. It made me think of something that happened about 5 years ago. I was selling my handknit socks ( I didn't spin then so it was commercial sock yarn used). These socks were colourwork and very lovely. A woman picked a pair up and inspected them. I wasn't asking alot considering the work involved. She said " Why would I pay this price for these socks when I can buy several pair at Walmart for that price." Gee ya think?

September 20, 2010 at 12:40 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

As an educator I can totally understand your dilemma. As I have entered the realm of professional development after years in the classroom, I have had to determine fees for private consulting. Tough task! The same dilemma occurred when I would tutor students. There are those out there who charge "an arm and a leg" for anything and everything they do. Then there are those who expect everything for nothing. All this to say...You must be comfortable in your soul, your gut, with whatever you decide to do. And remember, that no matter the decision, you will have your supporters and your nay-sayers. Thank you for laying it out there and being honest. My first thoughts would be to offer the basics to begin down the path of spinning and weaving for free and increase your fees as the complexity increases. Or, as a poster I saw in a teaching supplies catalog so eloquently put it: Right answers $20, Wrong answers $5, Dumb looks FREE!

September 20, 2010 at 5:20 PM  
Blogger AdrieneJ said...

I agree with the previous posters, that it can be difficult to get the "non-crafty" world to understand the true value of what you are doing, but can you blame them? If handmade things are not a part of their lives (as is the case with most North American consumers) they simply can not fathom the time and effort it takes to make your rugs. I think the only way to counteract this is to publicize the process - take photos of each step and display them at your booth, along with a sentence describing that step, as well as the date below it (either the actual date, or just "Day 1"). Most people have no idea it takes a couple of months (for me) to knit a sweater, nevermind the time it takes to spin and dye the wool.

I say, push forward, value your work, but make sure the public understands the true value by educating them visually, not just at point of sale.

My two heartfelt cents.

September 21, 2010 at 10:13 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

As the daughter of an art dealer, I would answer the Walmart-sock comments with, and yes, you can buy a cheap poster at Walmart or you can buy an authentic Picasso. They might not quite cost the same, though.

September 21, 2010 at 6:21 PM  

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