Friday, 29 April 2011

Crafting and Fair Prices (again), part V

I left off yesterday with the question of an hour spent doing something that is part of general education and an hour spent doing something that you invested a lot of time for learning is really the same value.

If everybody knew that they will never get reimbursed for the time spent on learning a trade, on developing something, but only on the hours and materials used for actually producing the developed thing - what would happen? Would you like to spend a year living off your savings, knowing that you will never ever get back what you spent? Can anybody afford that?

If learning and researching and developing new solutions do not hold the promise of reaping the benefits of hard work and lean living later on, they lose a lot of their charm. If you could work one hundred hours on improving a loom to work half as fast again on the new loom, would you do that to churn out half as much cloth again - but lose the hundred hours and not get more value for your work, because you are paid in time-swap values, and not by metres of cloth? You lose one hundred hours' worth of value. Or you could use your old loom and get time-swap value for these hundred hours. It's an easy choice, I think.

Learning, reasearching, improving things and trying out new solutions is a cornerstone of our western culture. Learning of - apprenticing for - a specialised skill is the very foundation of our society. Division of labour means that I do not have to do my own dyeing, my own planting of food and harvesting, my own blacksmith work and tanning work - I find a trade that matches my interests and talents, and then I can trade with others. Everybody wins, because everybody gets better quality items: Fabric that is spun and woven properly and holds up to wear; crops that are healthy and nutritious because they were grown by an expert; knives that will cut through material, holding a good edge for a good while. Humans are not totally stupid all of the time, and I am convinced division of labour set in at a very, very early stage. It's just natural to ask your neighbour if he or she would be willing to tan this piece of hide for you, when in exchange you can retouche their household's flint scrapers into that new, more efficient form.

Learning, researching and developing have always been a valuable investment in our culture - because they hold the promise of more benefits later on. Of reimbursement. Because we are not calculating hours spent on producing something - we are calculating value of products. And that value of products is more than just the sum of time spent on the piece and materials used for making it - it's also the creativity of the maker, the years of research and experience, the special talent. And, of course, something can rise in value because it is coveted by a society and sink in value because it is not.

The value of an item is never objective. It is always a very subjective thing, and it can be vastly influenced by a person's current situation. If you are stranded in a desert and you really, really need water, you will probably be willing to pay a much higher price for it.

There's a scene in Out of Gas from Firefly that does say this beautifully: "Catalyzer's a nothing part, Captain." "It's nothing 'til you don't got one. Then it appears to be everything."

And this is the basic problem, and the ultimate opportunity as well. If we are trading value of products, I have to decide upon a thing's value for me and my situation, and that will tell me if the price asked - no matter in what form that price is to be paid - is acceptable for me. To evaluate the price of an item, I have to know a bit about it and its quality - whether the material and the production quality are good, and whether it will be as practical or decorative or whatever as it should be.

For this, I need to know things about the item. That will be no problem if it is something that I commonly work with - like textile or a textile tool; I know what I am looking for and I know what to look out for. But with something that I am no expert in? That's where I have to rely on the craftsperson selling to me. Or the sales agent. Or whoever does the selling - to give me good advice about the thing I need and to help me find the best match for my needs, for a price fair to everybody concerned. And then it's up to me to decide whether I want to pay this price or not.

continue with part VI of this series

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Crafting and Fair Prices (again), part IV

read the start of this series 

Now... if things only were simple.

I have written about fair pricing for crafts, and I have written about values attributed to crafting work today, and organic cotton (and I can't believe that I never wrote about that before!) and things have sparked lively discussions both here and on Facebook (you will need to log in to Facebook to see these).

One thing that has come up in the FB discussions is the possibility to just swap time worked - ten hours of work for ten hours of work - plus reimbursement for the materials used by the other person for your piece.

That can be a valid option, and I know that "timeswaps" like that are successfully done both in Living History groups and associations and in private organisations, like Local Exchange Trading Systems. Those swappings of time value work on the basis of an hour spent being an hour spent, regardless of whether you are cooking and baking, working in the garden, butchering a pig, making a Fabergé egg, repairing a car, re-wiring the installation in a building, or writing a short story.

Because the work time invested is the same. Easy concept. No debates, no haggling, no unfair de-valueing of the housewife's baking a cake.

But is it really the same value? Or are we getting into the next bit of trouble and unfairness here?

I learned how to cook - well, the basics at least - by helping my mum and grandma at home, when I was young. I also learned how to bake cakes. My dad taught me how to gut a fish. I learned how to pull weeds in the garden and how to use a power tool for drilling and sawing. I learned how to thread a needle, sew on a button and mend a rip in a garment. I also know how to fold a napkin into a pleasing shape.
Those are basic skills that I gleaned either because it was part of my general education and the process of my growing up. Learning these things were a part of daily life, no big chunk of extra time set aside for them - just an hour here or there maybe, or a cooking procedure that took a minute longer.

Then I went to university to study medieval archaeology. I studied for years, learning things every day, honing my academic skills, writing a master's thesis and, later, writing a phd thesis. I went on conferences and I toured Scandinavia to get in contact with colleagues and to see medieval garments in museum depots. I worked on how to reconstruct medieval tailoring for years, doing test run after test run, buying fabrics and threads for this work. I wrote on my phd thesis for four years, after all the years of study before that. I did not get a funding, or a stipend, or any other money from the community or state or economy - my family supported me during that time, and I know I am insanely lucky to have such a wonderful family.

But does this mean that one hour that I spend baking a rhubarb pie after looking up the recipe in the internet really the same worth as one hour I spend teaching the medieval tailoring techniques that I reconstructed? Where is the worth of all those years? Should ten years of work to develop something not also be honoured in some way? Ten years of daily costs for food, lodgings, work utensils and supplies for research? Who pays for these? If I can work for thirty years now, shouldn't I be able to get back the expenses for the ten years spent preparing beforehand? Wouldn't that mean that I have to charge one-and-a-third hour time value for each hour I spend now doing the things that I learned and prepared for in these ten years?

continue with part V of this series

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Crafting and Fair Prices (again), part III

read the start of this series

I'm now going to wander a bit - but I'm still staying the same problem range. Because the question that will come up eventually when talking about crafts and pricing - especially textile crafts - is... why? Why is it so hard to ask realistic prices? Why does textile have to be so cheap?

The problem we have now is that what most potential customers deem a "fair price" is a price not too far from the cheap, store-bought, drenched-with-child-worker-sweat-and-blood stuff.
I recently saw a shop offering t-shirts for adults for 2.50 Euros apiece.
How can a t-shirt be sold for 2.50 Euros? How can that bring profit all along the chain - the shop, the transport, the spinning and knitting or weaving process, the dyeing, the planting and harvesting of the fibres? For 2.50 Euros end-user price, somebody has to lose somewhere out there. If not more somebodies.

And the end-user prices that are so low also affect the view of hand-crafted textiles. If next to no money is charged for something store-bought that is fashionable, new and about perfect, people ask themselves why they should fork out more money for a rustic handmade garment or textile? After all, Granny used to knit, and she just gave her stuff away like that. And you can buy an item like that in store Y for so much less money!

The thing that gets forgotten in this chain of thought? If you can buy a textile item or garment really cheap, somebody always loses. In one case, it's the crafter who loses money, time and self-esteem. In the other case, it's the farmers and workers in third-world countries. Farming cotton, the number one vegetable fibre today, is still mostly done with manual labor - and with a waste of resources that is nauseating. Oh, and let's throw in some bondage and slavery while we're at it, plus a lot of pesticides because cotton is really quite a finicky plant.

White Gold - the true cost of cotton from Environmental Justice Foundation on Vimeo.

If you are a textile crafter and buy ultra-cheap clothing, you help making those farmers lose. And you lose as well - because every single garment sold because it's so cheap will make the great chain stores want to sell more garments at that cheap price (or even cheaper). And this reinforces the communal impression that textiles are not worth much - or anything.

If you are a textile crafter and buy textile things at a price under value, you undervalue your own line of work. Your own set of skills. Your own use of time.

It's your own choice whether to do that or not.

continue with part IV of this series

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Crafting and Fair Prices (again), part II

read part I of this series

So... you know what your hourly rate should be to live off your crafts about as comfortably as you live off your job now.* You might have calculated how much to charge for a typical item that you make.

Now you face the "competition". To recap the comment by Stephanie Ann that sparked all this:
I run into this problem when pricing knitted items. I know I've worked X amount of hours on a project but know shop Y is selling theirs at prices so low.

I hear in the crafting community you should set a fair price or eventually you will not make enough to stay in business. I think it is probably true. 

Competition, in that case, is shop Y selling at low price - probably much too low a price. And this is the point in time where you face a hard decision:

Will you undervalue your time, your work and your skill to help keep handcrafted things low in prestige and esteem in our community? Will you match the prices of shop Y or crafter Z regardless of your own calculations and your knowledge about fair pricing for the time and skill involved?

Or will you value your own work and your own time and skill, and set fair and realistic prices for the things you craft? This might not sell a lot of items - but the persons who buy them will appreciate the craftspersonship involved and appreciate that hand-crafting does take more time. Selling an item at a fair price will feel a lot different from selling an underpriced, undervalued item.

If you do not need to sell pieces to make a living, this decision should not be hard for you. And if you do feel pressure to sell something because you need to gain additional money, consider this:

Continually under-pricing, under-valuing and under-estimating yourself will diminish your own intrinsic value-system of crafted items. And after a while, it will eat at your soul and your self-esteem. Underpricing yourself can also lead to a customer taking one look at your wares and turning away - not because it is too pricey, but because it is too cheap. "Something has to be wrong with that, it's too cheap" would be the thought in their heads when they turn away. If your prices are too low, you will get stamped as a silly hobbyist that has no idea about what is involved in crafting professionally, but still wants to sell - and selling items is professional behaviour, because it makes the crafting your profession. Every person selling too cheap instead helps to undermine the market for professional crafters that have no other job. And they are thus taking part not only in lessening the value of crafts, but also in diminishing professional level skill and knowledge - because these two can only develop properly if you can work at a craft as your main job.

So if you price realistically and sell, everything is fine. If you do not sell... there can be many reasons. "The price is too high" is usually not the right reason to blame. And whether you do not make enough money because you do not sell many realistically priced items or because you fling away your items at a ridiculously low price, the outcome is the very same - not enough money. But with a sale of a fairly priced item, you will at least feel good about that sale.

* It's probably time for a little side note here, just to make sure there are no misunderstandings: I am presupposing that if you are calculating prices or wages for your crafting, your craft skill level is on a level with your skill in your current, normal, day job. I am also presupposing that the virtual or actual crafted items we are talking about are a good quality, well-made and well-designed. We are not talking about a first try in some discipline here, but about developed, trained crafting of high quality - professional or semi-professional level. Though I absolutely think that you should value the time and effort gone into a first try or something that did not come out just as it should have!

read part III of of this series

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Crafting and Fair Prices (again), part I

My post about handspun yarn and pricing got the following comment by Stephanie Ann:

I run into this problem when pricing knitted items. I know I've worked X amount of hours on a project but know shop Y is selling theirs at prices so low.

I hear in the crafting community you should set a fair price or eventually you will not make enough to stay in business. I think it is probably true. 
and since I found myself writing far more as an answer than should go in the comments sections, I'm just writing here now.

Yes, people in the crafting community often have their prices way too low. There's others with prices way too high, too - but those are few and far in between.

A professional crafter is a person having a freelance business. And they should calculate their prices accordingly - if you are a skilled crafter with a professional level of quality and you work 40 hours a week, you should be able to live off your earnings and pay your bills as well as put a little aside for disaster and old age. Just like you'd expect for somebody working a full job as an employee, right?

If you are interested in how much you would need to charge for your crafts, you can do the calculations yourself. Add up the costs of your material, the costs of energy (if you need power tools, fuel, heating, electrical lighting), and the costs of your tools. That's your basic material cost for your item. Now... if you have a day job, calculate what you are getting per hour - just roughly, so it's enough to divide your monthly gross wages by the amount of hours you work each month.
Depending on your line of work and the employer's taxes and social securities involved, you do cost your employer a good bit more than that - take your gross income per hour and take it times 1.5 or times 2. That is what you cost per hour. That is what you would need to charge per hour, in addition to the basic material cost for the items you make.

Now go get yourself a little booklet to jot down the hours you work on a project... I can about guarantee you will be very, very surprised after those calculations. (A project journal to jot down time spent on something plus details and observations, and dates worked on, is a very nifty thing to have anyways - just for yourself. I can absolutely recommend it.)

And this pricing is not including anything to cover the extra risks you have as a freelancer. After all, your employer has to pay you whether things are going well for the company or not - you have security there. If you are freelancer, you cannot assume that you can work for a customer all day, every day, and charge for that. So basically, you will need to recalculate your hourly rate so that it covers the non-paid work as well - your research, your skill enhancements, the time you need for travelling, sourcing materials, free consultations (yes, crafters will need to do that), and so on. You can find a nice little calculator here, for example, if you would like to play around with the idea a little.

So now you know what a fair price for your time would be. Has it surprised you? Is it way, way more than you thought it would be? Face it. That wold be a fair price for an item worked in a professional way, if crafting were your day job.

Now... can you picture somebody happily forking out that money?

(Post will be continued after Easter - regular blogging resumes on April 26. Have a wonderful Easter weekend, everybody!)

read part II of this series

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Spinning from Top and the Wandering Draft Zone

For some people, spinning from a wide bit of top - like those bands that you can usually buy, at least here in Germany - can be irksome. The spinning seems to have a tendency to wander from the very tip of the top, where you started, backwards along a thin sliver of the roving. After a while, you realise that while you are still spinning smoothly, you are somewhere along the band of roving, a good bit from where it started.

When spinning on a wheel, with your roving on your lap, this can be irritating. However, you can just take off your wandering yarn with a bit of fluffy roving attached to it, place the fluff over the start of your band, and spin (and maybe wander) on.

The situation is not as nice when you are spinning with hand-spindle and distaff. Here, spinning is much easier and smoother when you really stay at the tip of your top - because otherwise, you would need to unwind the roving from the distaff, and the free tip will then hang in the way and become mangled over time. Which leads to two questions: Why does the wandering draft happen, and what to do to avoid it?

Wandering draft can happen easily on the wide band of roving because it's just that - roving, with all the fibres aligned in one direction. The drafting zone you have when spinning, especially when spinning finer yarn, is a not very wide triangle - the upper part of the "fibre triangle" that is often praised as the effect that shows your ratio between twist and draft is good. Let's say your drafting triangle has an upper edge about 4 cm wide. Your industrially prepared top is much wider than that; when I spread out mine to a thin, draft-triangle thickness, it is about 25 cm wide.

Wandering draft usually happens when you spin on the fibres at one edge of the band. Think of your band as a rectangle and start on a corner, and you are practically guaranteed a wandering draft.
Why? Because on that wide stretch of fibres that are all aligned perpendicular to the top tip (can you tell I'm amused by that expression?), it's beyond easy for your drafting triangle to eat itself upwards along the band of fibres. The fibres right above your drafting zone on the band flow into the triangle naturally. After feeding from the same bit for only a short while, the edge you are spinning from is already different from the main top front edge. If you spin here for a bit longer, your triangle wanders back, eating itself along the edge of your roving - further back than a staple length, which is the length in which you could still transition to fibres from the main top tip. In effect, you have separated a bit of the band from the main part and are now spinning along that much smaller sliver of roving. And once this separation has happened, you need to jump back to the main edge as described above, because you cannot just smoothly glide back to the  main edge.

So how can you keep from wandering like that?
There are two basic approaches that you can use: Change your style of drafting, or change the thickness of the roving.
If you watch out for the wandering tendency while spinning, you can make the drafting zone wander back and forth along the edge of the roving. This is easy if the difference between your roving width and the drafting triangle width is small, but gets harder with a very large difference. When you catch the backwards wandering early, you can gently pull your drafting zone back towards the top tip and proceed from there. Keeping the tip of top nicely (but not firmly) together into - more or less - a point makes this much easier, because it prevents you from spinning just at the "corner" of your band of roving. With a bit of practice, this control of your drafting area and shifting it before wandering draft zone occurs gets easier and easier.

The other possibility is the easier way out: Change the size of your sliver of roving. You can do that either by just gently splitting a piece of top into several portions lengthwise, or you can pull or diz it into a slimmer, longer band.
Dizzing is basically a pre-drafting process using a thing with a hole in it - any thing with a hole in it that's small enough to hold comfortably, like a small disc, a spindle whorl, a donut bead, whatever. You feed the very tip of your fibre top through the hole and then use the size of the hole to measure how much fibre is in the new, slimmer band - you gently push the diz into the top until it sits snugly, but not tightly, then grab the fibre just in front of the diz and gently pull. Push diz back along the now drawn-out fibre, pull again. I like to place my carded band on a table, clamp down on it with one flat hand a bit behind the diz for pulling, then use the other hand to pull. There's quite a lot of youtube videos of how to use a diz, though they usually show you how to diz a batt, diz from a drum carder or diz from wool combs. The process and the principle, however, are the same - using a hole of a certain diameter to help you measure out an even amount of fibre along your top. Here's just one example. I find using a diz much, much easier than pulling free-style with only my hands, but that's just me.
In addition, I feel that dizzing out will open the fibre a little already. If you are using industrially prepared wool that has been compressed or stored for a while, this does make a noticeable difference when spinning - the fibres have already been party unstuck from each other after dizzing.

You can experiment to find out how thick or thin you prefer your band of fibre to be for spinning comfortably. And combining the two approaches - learning how to keep the wandering in check and adjusting top size to spinning preferences - is the best and most efficient way. Knowing how to control a thicker bit of roving and how to prevent wandering back is a good skill to have as a spinner.
And the rest is just personal preference. I like to have a sliver that is not too thin, because I get very annoyed when my sliver breaks, and I don't mind taking a little care to prevent wandering backwards of my drafting zone; others like to have a really thin sliver where most of the drafting work is already done. There's no rule, and there's no roving size police - suit yourself. And remember to wind your fibre on a distaff for historically correct hand-spinning.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Colour Dilemma.

As the longterm readers here know, I frequently work together for all things textile with Sabine from the Wollschmiede, my dyer of choice.

Sabine has been working on colour sample cards for her range of colours this winter, and she is currently at sample colour 68 - with more to come in the future, if I know her at all. And she is now getting the first requests for sample cards.
There's a problem, however. Making a sample card takes yarn - and time. Especially time. And providing a sample card or even a full set of sample cards with the full range would be keeping her from other work - and would have to be quite, quite costly.

The obvious solution is to have a digital photo version of the cards, just like a lot of other shops have, where you can download a photo or a .pdf file to see the colour range. But if you have ever taken a look at one of these, you also know the typical disclaimer - your monitor colours may vary, and there's no way to be sure that the colour you see will really be the colour you get. (Well, apart from the obvious slight changes to colours from dye lot to dye lot regardless of whether you do natural or chemical colours.)

This is due to the nature of the colour system used on monitors. The RGB system has three colours, red, green and blue. Mixing these can get you all the other colours (or at least enough that you won't miss any). You can also adjust your monitor settings - there's usually a menu somewhere in the system settings where you find three sliders to change the values (the saturation) of the three colours. (If you want a longer, in-depth explanation, you can find one here at Wikipedia.)

So while your monitor might not show all the colours correctly initially, it is technically possible to adjust the settings to at least get a good, if not perfect, match. High-end monitors and graphics professionals use a calibration device to make sure that what they see is what they will get (even if they print it), but this is of course not feasible for us ordinary mortals.
Now, if I'm only taking a photo for myself, I can always place something colourful that is mine beside the thing and then adjust the monitor (or the colours in the picture) to match my colour-matchy object. But if the thing is to be sent out... that makes things a bit more difficult.

So Sabine and I thought about things, and I finally found a solution. It's the low-key approach (in German, I would jokingly call it a "Hausfrauenlösung" - the housewife's solution, something that is simple and practical yet very effective). The colour match addition to the photo. Something that almost everybody that will be interested in getting the colour sample cards for an order from Sabine will have, or be able to obtain at no additional cost. The Something available almost everywhere in Europe, where it's used in thousands every day. The Something that comes in blue, red and orange as well as two shades of green (one more easily available than the other). The Something with colours fixed and stable enough that it should be possible to get a good match - or at least see how realistic the colours displayed are.

Euro notes.

So here I present to you the Money Matching Scheme for the colour sample cards - and if you like, give the colour adjustment a try and let me know if it worked for you!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Oh the Tiny Fun.

I am sure that knitting for babies is something that oodles of other knitters have discovered for themselves during hundreds of years, and now it was finally my turn. Yes, that was not very long ago, but I think I can be excused for that - after all, I haven't been knitting for so long.

First of all, babies have one definitive asset for being knit for: They are small. Really small. And while knitting something small might be a tad fiddly, it is really fast work - after all, there's so many less stitches in a sock for a 3 months old than a 30 year old.

And secondly (and I think that's even more important), they don't want a say yet in what they will be wearing. As long as it fits (more or less) and is the proper warmth for the ambient temperature, it will be okay.
And they are not walking. Which is the go-ahead, the carte blanche, the glorious licence to do some really outrageous knitting. If the parents are amused by it and like it - that's what the wee one will wear (at least until he or she wiggles out of it).

So... I used part of the weekend for some tongue-in-cheek stealth knitting project. Which is not so far from being finished, though there's still a gazillion of ends to weave in and finishing touches to be done. Photos will follow after the real-life reveal, which will hopefully be soon.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Do you know Sewer's Block?

Do you? No, I don't mean the nasty clump of crud clogging the pipes. I mean Sewer's Block as in Writer's Block - only with sewing work instead of writing.

I think there must be something like it - because yesterday, I finally overcame the hesitation to work on my dress (that has to be finished for Freienfels, because I want to wear it there). Since my upper body has changed a bit during the last two years (damn you, more-or-less-regular gym visits!), combined with shrinkage of cloth in some of the garments, some of my old dresses do not fit so well anymore. That means it's high time for another of St. Elizabeth's dresses to fit me, and I have a gorgeously teal-coloured fabric for that. So I was looking forward to making a teal-coloured dress for a while, until I finally found the time to sit down and start working on it. And then, halfway into cutting... which I have done time and again before, with no problem... I stopped working on it for a while. Procrastination Wave hit me.

Admittedly, it hit me together with a stack of more urgent things (because you know the effect that season start is always soooo far away, right? until it's just, all of a sudden, like, next week?) so it was not a blatant ignoring of the half-cut dress. Not totally, at least; the more urgent things really were more urgent. And since there was no actual pressure, as would be in a time-critical situation (like season starts tomorrow) or similar, I could just put it aside for a while. But after the embroidery workshop in Vienna and finishing the spinning project, I really ran out of reasons not to work on the dress just now.

So I sat down with it yesterday, I cut the second sleeve (that was already marked out) and set it in, I cut the sleeve gores and set those in, I tried it on, and everything is as it should be. And now I'm wondering why I didn't do this oh, weeks ago? More importantly, I'm wondering whether that only happens to me occasionally, or if there are others out there.
Sewer's Block, anyone? And what do you do to get over it?

Thursday, 14 April 2011

When in Doubt...

I think I am now going to invent a new blogging rule. A very easy one. It goes: When in doubt what to blog about, post pictures of yarn.

So I'm doing that. I weighed the skein of yarn yesterday, and it has 65.1 grams on its 595 metres of two-ply.

That's what the skein looks like now:

(Click the pics for the larger versions.)

And then, I just wanted to know. Exactly. So this is what happens if you match a skein of yarn with a visual survey card for threads.

Now these cards are... let's just call them unforgiving. Because you have white threads on black background, and because the threads are absolutely evenly spaced out, you can see every irregularity. You can see them so well that these cards are used for visual survey of machine-spun, industrial yarns - and those have very, very little differences in thickness.

Which means that while the yarn on the card might look quite irregular... I'm actually more or less content with the yarn. There are a few thinner-than-planned-for bits in it, and a few places where the plying could have been more even, but overall, I'd say it is pretty good quality.

And I'll probably hang that skein into my market stall with a note attached to it giving the time that it took to spin it. That should get some reactions - at least from the spinners.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Sheep Farming

Nicely in tune with my wool spinning blog post yesterday, there's a link to an article on today - about medieval sheep farming.

I've only taken a short look at it yet, but it promises to be a very interesting read - a report based on data from pipe rolls:

The Winchester pipe rolls provide sufficient data to allow an examination of five areas of policy associated with medieval sheep farming. These are the provision of sires; the construction and maintenance of sheepcotes; the supply of feed to the sheep; the supply of medicaments and veterinary expertise; and the supply of labour devoted to the care and well-being of the flock.
(p. 140).

If you're interested, here's the page with the link to the .pdf file. The article is by Mark Page, published in Agricultural History Review 51:2 (2003), and called The Technology of sheep farming: some evidence from Crawley, Hampshire, 1208-1349.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Fair prices for handspun?

A while ago, I mentioned that I've done a bit of wheel spinning again for a change. After a long while (felt like forever) of spinning to more or less fill two bobbins with single, I'm now in the plying stage.


is what it looked like after two hours of plying work. After three and a half hours of plying, the bobbin was more than full - it had a bulge in the middle. (Of course I forgot that I wanted to take a picture. Only natural to grab the swift right away, right?) The result is 595 metres of 2-ply yarn, and it's roughly about 28 wraps per inch. Since I gave it a soak right away to relax the fresh ply, I can't weigh it yet, since it's not completely dry this morning.

However, the plying time has made me think about pricing of handspun yarn again. Six hundred metres of yarn took three and a half hours of plying. If I do a very rough calculation and suppose that spinning took one and a half times the work time of plying (I'll time a bit of spinning next time), then that means roughly fourteen hours of work total. That is one and a half workdays for sixhundred metres two-ply! And that's wheel spun with industrially prepared merino wool, so no additional prep time required plus a relatively fast and efficient spinning tool.

Fourteen hours work - now what would you pay for a skein of handspun wool like that? Probably not my normal hourly rate times fourteen, and my normal hourly rate is not very high at that. And if you look at etsy or dawanda or any other shop, stall or market, you can see handspun yarn roughly half the length offered up for less than 20 Euro. (Oh, it's hand dyed as well.) Spinning rates seem to go up to a stunning 20 cents per metre - but you can have it cheaper, too.

Now, my little wheel is not the fastest one on this earth, and I'm not trying to spin as fast as humanly possible. But let's do some maths. One hour spinning and plying time taken together will let me end up with about 42 metres of two-ply yarn. If I sell that for 20 cents per metre, I will end up with the stunning sum of 8,40 Euros for one hour of my work. Plus the material needed - and I also need the tool to work with, of course. So let's say eight of the Euros remain as "winnings".

And now there's the snag. While 8 Euro per hour might sound not too bad at the first second, what you technically are as a spinner is... a freelancer. And that means you will have to calculate so that you can pay everything yourself - your health insurance (where usually your work/your boss will pay half, if you have a fixed job), your working tools, your stockpile, your vacations; you will need to make enough money so you can cover the times you are ill or some time off that you need to recover and recharge your batteries. Oh, and maybe some day you wish to be old and pensioned? Go pay for your own pension account, then. And if you make enough money for all of that, keep in mind that you will also have to shunt off the VAT from your selling price - and that's between 15 and 21% in Europe. (In Germany, those 8,40 Euros would mean 7,05 Euros for you.)

That is much, much too little money for that work. Ask any freelancer. Go read any freelance advice column, or webpage. And too little money for work - that's not healthy, and it's not good for the economy nor society. Plus too little money for textile work also furthers the underestimation and the undervalueing of this line of work that is so widespread today.

So... provided every spinner around that sells his or her own handspun yarn (and I'd bet it's mostly female spinners here) doesn't work at least three times faster on their spinning wheels than I do... they sell their work under price. Vastly under price.

That always leaves me more than a little sad. Hand spinners, please value your work correctly!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Spring Song.

It's been really nice and sunny here for several days now, and everything is exploding in bloom - especially those trees that give me hayfever. So while I'm really enjoying the utterly fine weather, I'm also looking forward to some nice, cleansing rain (that is fortunately forecast for tomorrow). And speaking of spring and spring happiness, here's a very good (and evil!) song that we stumbled across this weekend:

Friday, 8 April 2011

Random-ish updates.

I spent most of the workday yesterday getting back on track with the website relaunch that I had prepared for oh, ages ago - new design, new texts, full German and English version. And then it had taken a backseat (think extralong passenger train backseat here) to all the other things going on.

The good news is: I had some nice progress yesterday. And the bad news... there's still a good heap of work to be done on it.

And now to the randomness part, because if I don't write all those random things here and now, I'll have forgotten about them on Monday.
My IMC Leeds programme arrived - and I was really wondering what I would be getting from the UK in book format. Goodness, it's huge! I already knew the conference was gigantic, but a full book just to list the sessions and papers? That really is a little overwhelming. And since I'm a fan of whelm and sometimes even overwhelm, I'm so looking forward to this thing!

It's really getting summery outside, and there's a few patches in the garden that need some urgent de-weeding. But the rest all does fine - we'll have a lot more of the good mint this year than last year, the first tulips (two real and a lot of small wild ones) are already in bloom, and my little tomato seedlings are also coming along very nicely.

The Spinning Experiment Results article is almost finished and sent off to colleagues to give it a read-through - so I'm happily waiting for their feedback now.

And some of you probably remember my post about the medieval underwear from Lengberg a good while ago - there's now been a little TV snippet about it. It will stay online for a few more days on the ORF page. The snippet you want is titled "Tiroler Tanga". The plugin doesn't work for me, unfortunately, so go enjoy it for me!

Update: There's a little arrow on the top right of the video frame - click on that to view it with an external player (windows media player or the like). That will work even if the plugin doesn't.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Video Links.

While I'm getting back on track of work to do after taking yesterday as a day off - things like putting the workshop teaching stuff from the car back inside and where it belongs, writing emails and working a bit on all those other projects that want attention - here's a nice little video with typography that I, you know, thought you might like?

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

I hope you enjoy it!

Or, if you prefer to have something with more archeological content, you can watch the videos about the Staffordshire Hoard conservation works, posted by the Birmingham museum. Here's the first one of their five videos (they have their own youtube channel).

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Back from Austria.

I'm back home from a wonderful trip to Vienna - and now I'm relaxing a bit from the hustle and bustle of the last few days before I sit down to do a few necessary things.

Vienna has two drawbacks, if you ask me: One, it is much too far away; and two, it is much too big. Well, I don't mind the latter so much unless I have to go from here to there in the car. But driving in Vienna... uh. It's huge, there's lots of traffic, and there are sometimes very creative road layout details that can really surprise an unsuspecting person.

Apart from interesting routes in Vienna and a wonderful workshop with highly motivated participants - that bravely fought their way through brick stitch and couched work - I had lots of coffee, some gorgeous chocolate cake, delightful chats, a heavenly mushroom risotto with garlic bread one evening, and generally lots of fun. Oh, and a little field trip to the museum in Asparn where we'll have the Textile Forum in September. Though I had planned to take a lot of photos there, I sort of did forget while I was on site - but at least I took one picture of the house that will be ours for the Forum week:

And we will be next to this gorgeous reconstruction of a celtic sanctuary:

I'm already looking forward to September - I'm convinced we'll all have a wonderful time in Asparn!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Busy busy.

I'm busy as a bee this morning, with all the usual last-minute packing and sorting for a workshop to be done. The printer is churning out my workshop papers right now, there's a goodly sized heap of stuff sitting here waiting to be carried into the car, and I'm all but chomping at the bit to go. And really, really looking forward to getting people to play with gold thread, plant-dyed silks and the best quality linen I've seen in ages. Good materials - good feeling while working.

Since I'll be far from here (why can't Vienna be closer to home?) and will be there some days - a meeting for Textileforum is planned for Monday - there will be no blogging until Wednesday next week. However, if you're in Vienna or close to there, you can stop by on Sunday evening, when there's a little "bazar" starting at about 18:00 in the Tympanum (Eulenspiel) in Prinz-Eugen-Str. 6 in Vienna. You will be able to shop in the book assortment that Gregor from is bringing, as well as browse my collection of odds and ends connected to historical textile techniques.