Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What's My Worth?

Several weeks ago, right before Yom Kippur, I ran into the husband of a woman I am on a board with at the synagogue.  When I introduced myself, he said, "Wait, are you the one who does embroidery?"  Yes, I am.  "So you are the one who submitted that matzah cover to the state fair and got a ribbon?"  Wow, word travels fast!

He said that he has a project that I might find interesting.  Every year at the Kol Nidre service that starts Yom Kippur, my Jewish community has a tradition in which all of the torahs in the community are carried into the service and up to the bimah [stage].  (At this point, I was assuming that he was going to ask me to carry a torah during the procession.  I would have to politely decline since I haven't lifted weights in a while.)  He went on to say that his family owns a torah that they have always included in the ceremony.

When not in use, a torah is protected with a cloth covering called a mantle.  They are often very ornate, made with fine fabrics and embroidered using goldwork techniques.  During the rest of the year, they can be any color or design, but in the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, synagogues traditionally switch to white mantles to represent our purity after atoning for sins.

Antique reproductions
The man said that he sewed a torah mantle for use during the 10 days with cloth from a wedding dress that had been in his family.  When he first made it, it had a Jewish star and torah stitched on with surface embroidery.  Since then, he has decided that he wants a more complex pattern--more colors, more Jewish symbols.  He has not been able to add more because he doesn't embroider, and he has had trouble finding someone who was both talented and familiar with Jewish symbols.  When he found out about my matzah cover, he decided to ask me.  He said that he could pay me, and we agreed to talk more after the High Holidays.

I was so elated that when I got home, I cranked up my music and danced around.  (Not to Jewish music.  I think it was "Down Under" by Men at Work.)  I felt honored to be asked to work on such an important object, and that someone would actually pay me to do it!  Then it started to sink in . . .

Pay?  PAY?  What on G-d's green earth am I going to charge?

It's a question that every crafter with a home-based business must grapple with at some point.  You have to consider the cost of materials and tools.  You have to decide on a dollar amount for the time you put into the project--your time and effort has value, and the price of the item needs to reflect that. At the same time, we are living in a world where we are so used to mass-produced items that the cost of a handmade item can produce sticker shock.

We were discussing this during brunch at Home Ec because the local library is holding its 2nd annual Arts & Crafts Bazaar.  They are accepting handmade items, which you provide with a suggested price.  The items are then sold at the Bazaar and the money goes to their summer reading program.  Several people said that they had contributed high quality handmade items--both in material and technique--only to discover that the items were sold at less than their suggested price.  This year, they are reconsidering how many items they donate, they are using cheaper or leftover materials, and they are choosing items that don't involve as much of a time commitment to make.  One Home Ec patron said that her friend used to donate knit items to her church's fundraisers, but eventually stopped because she was so hurt by the way that the organizers constantly underpriced her items.  We want to help worthy causes, but we also want our hard work to be adequately recognized.  Non-crafters do not know how many weeks it took you to knit that Fair-Isle hat, or the eye strain and finger pricks you endured while stitching a monogram onto a handkerchief with one strand of floss.

I think it makes sense to tailor your price, crafting technique, and expectations to where your items will end up.  The goal of a fundraiser is to make money for the organization, so items need to be priced to sell that day.  Save the higher quality materials and complex skills for times when customers will be expecting to pay higher prices, such as an Etsy store, a craft fair, or custom work.  Browse the internet to find out what the prices are for similar handmade items.

I also don't know whether I should factor my experience into the price.  I will be putting in my best work, but should I lower the price since I do not have years of experience behind me?

Whatever the answer, I will take care in finding it.  When I receive the torah mantle. I will take it to the owner of Home Ec to ask for advice on materials and tools.  I will keep scouring websites to get ideas on prices, and I will ask for honest opinions from my crafting friends.  Above all, I will see this as an opportunity to grow as a Jewish embroiderer--and that is priceless.

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