Tuesday, July 2, 2013

the handmade revolution

FAIR WARNING: long post and huge soapbox ahead. continue at your own risk.
this is not where this post was going to go when i made these dresses.

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this is not where this post was going to go when i posted the photo on instagram.


this is not where this post was going to go when i took the photos of my girls wearing these dresses.

bow dress2bow dress3

but somewhere along the line things changed. and this post became something completely different.
here’s the thing: these dresses were inspired by the dresses made by jessica at dreamcatcher baby. and i had all intentions of saying that in the original post—credit where it’s due.

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i competed against jessica in sewvivor, and she did awesome. she was selling these adorable baby girl dresses and coordinating boy bowties at the time, and shortly after sewvivor ended her dresses got picked up and “pinned” by a big name blogger…and the rest was history. jessica’s business has virtually (literally and figuratively) exploded over the last few months. she’s got pre-orders, pre-sales, dresses that sell out as fast as her two little hands can make them (whilst juggling a husband, young son and newborn baby boy).
and rightly so: her dresses are impeccably made, and her fabric choices and pattern mixing is top notch. the bows on the fronts of the dresses always have the pattern perfectly centered—a little detail a fellow seamstress can appreciate. it speaks to an extra minute or two spent planning, rather than just churning these bad boys out as fast as she possibly can—chopping that fabric whichever way gets the most cuts out of each yard.

unfortunately, the supply/demand ratio and the popularity of her dresses make their price out of my reach.
fortunately, i sew.
so i made my own version of her adorable dresses for my littles. what i planned on doing was posting about them with a link to her shop for anyone interested.

no tutorial.

why not?

truth bomb:
i’ve copied/been inspired by/whatever you want to call it etsy sellers in the past. sometimes i post the things i make-most times i don’t. there are many things i make that never see the light of blogging. they’re for my own personal enjoyment, and too close to someone’s hard won success in their little shop. i can’t justify telling someone else how to do these things, at the expense of another’s livelihood.

(image source)

but then that raises the question: where’s the line? when is it okay to say “hey i copied this from XYZ shop and here’s a tutorial to make your own” and when is it not? because isn’t that like…80% of what’s blogged?

in the blogging world it seems like a rather unspoken rule that that copy-and-paste type inspiration is okay if you’re taking from the big guys: the anthropologies, the pottery barns, the west elms. but not from the little guys: the etsy sellers, the big cartel sellers, the independent pattern makers.
i admit—this is kind of the line i follow to. but why is that okay? i’m not being smart—i genuinely want to know why and when this is okay. is it because we’re taking from a faceless “big corporation” vs. just one or two or three people working in the back bedroom of their suburban home?

and then the reverse comes in to play: the accusations of stores like urban outfitters ripping off the hard work and content of etsy sellers. (go ahead and google…there’s a ton of it out there).

when i see a must-have pillow at Big Store selling for $45 i think hey, i could do that in my home for $5 worth of supplies, and tell other people how to do it on my blog! when i see a cute or funny printable on etsy for $20+ i think hey, i could do that on photoshop in my bed and print it out and it’s costing me like 50 cents for paper and ink …and not show anyone.

again: stick it to the Big Stores, protect the little guy.

same with dream catcher baby’s dresses: i love them. but they are far out of my reach—especially for two (or three…or four…) of them. and here’s the part where i have drop another brutal truth bomb, knowing that jessica may well read this—they’re really very basic sundresses…empire waist, full skirt, bow on bodice. any home sewist with basic knowledge can make it on their own quickly and easily. my first dress from measurements to finished hem took just over an hour—while i did 10 other things in the meantime. and i did a similarly shaped dress last summer—same basic idea, just without the big bow on the front.

but that’s really beside the point, isn’t it?
the reality is ease of creation < how much people are willing to pay.

someecards.com - When you said (image source)

the fact that i can make this dress myself cheaper than i can buy one from her basically has nothing to do with the dresses jessica is successfully selling. because as long as there are people out there willing to fork over the money for a Dream Catcher Baby original, then she’s fine.

but then…again i ask—where’s the line? if i post a tutorial showing how to make an easy high waisted, full skirted sundress, am i stealing from her? what if i add a bow to the front? what if i make the bow and dress two different fabrics? at what point am i “stealing” from her? and how much do i have to change to make it “mine”? and is it different if i open up my own etsy shop and sell something similar?


so what prompted all this? well, jessica had quite the blowup on her instagram account not long ago. the pictures have since been deleted—and i don’t blame her. a comment from one person along the lines of “i wish you weren’t so expensive and i wish i had money” spiraled out of control—people attacking her prices and people defending her work.

the one comment that really got to me was someone who said basically “i can make 2 or 3 of these dresses at home for the price she’s charging.”

i’ll admit it—when i saw what she’s getting for these dresses i almost choked. whoa!

but let’s stop and think about it for a second: yes. you or i can run out to the fabric store and buy the yard of fabric and fat quarter and (using a coupon OF COURSE) whip up one or two of these dresses for a mere what…$6? go crazy—buy designer—$12?

so we can sniff down our noses at the etsy sellers and their foolish customers and post comments like “bah. made it myself for 1/32nd of the price you fools are paying.”

but now…what if someone wants to pay you to make one for their daughter.

well now. suddenly you are spending your time picking just the right fabrics for her daughter. and sewing for her daughter. and pressing it and packaging it and mailing it. oh, wait. now you’re in it for $18 or $20 with shipping because boxes and pretty tissue paper don’t grow on trees…and you still didn’t charge anything for your time. cause you’re nice like that.

and now everyone LOVES your two dresses. and LOTS of people want them. yayyyy me! kermit arms all over! so now you’re buying bolts of fabric and storing them in your home, and your sewing machine and your serger are churning away for hours each day…oops—gotta get them serviced at $100 each—and you’re spending hours listing each dress on etsy and driving to the post office and communicating with Susie from Nebraska who wants this one for her sister’s wedding but can you make the bow a little bigger and can the fabric be a touch bluer and can i have it in 3 days? and then etsy takes a cut. and paypal

takes a cut. and uncle sam takes a cut.

how much is your time worth?
because after you dish out for ALL of that, you still have yourself to pay. this isn’t charity. this isn’t dressing other people’s children out of the kindness of your heart.
ask yourself: what do i make at my job per hour? why should a seamstress’ time be worth any less?
sewing isn’t some magical art. this isn’t sleeping beauty, i don’t have a magic wand to conjure up dresses with. it’s real HARD, frustrating, tiring WORK. you get cramped hands from cutting, painful sewer’s back from leaning over your machine for hours, a tired brain from figuring and measuring and all.the.math.

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if you can do it yourself—rock on with your bad self. i can, and i did. but if you can’t, and you’d like me to do it for you—THIS is how much it will cost. and if you don’t like that well then have a nice day no hard feelings.

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if you want to scoff at a handmade dress because you can buy a dress at walmart for $8 then go ahead and go to walmart and buy your $8 dress. maybe you want to take a look at the non-monetary ‘cost’ of that dress before you get up on that high horse you’re riding, though.

because guess what—jessica can make 2 or 3 of these dresses FOR HERSELF very easily too. but if you want her to give up her free time—her time spent with her babies and man—her time spent watching dvr’d reruns and double fisting popcorn in her sweats on the couch—then THIS is how much it will cost you. and she shouldn’t have to apologize for that.

truth bomb #3: i’m as guilty as the next seamstress of under valuing myself. when people ask me to do work and offer to pay me i mentally tally up hours and then tell them a number…much less. and that’s why i find myself sewing for people late at night, hand stitching things for what amounts to $3 or $5 per hour. would you work for that? my husband just gave my sewing-freely-for-others-self the smackdown. no more, he said. at least for now. i’ve taken on too many things and stressed myself out over them too much lately.

alida makes
wrote a post about this a few weeks ago. it’s a good read.

sooo…where do we go from here? i’m curious what your thoughts are on the matter. let’s talk.

disclaimer: if i’ve ever sewn for you…know that i did it happily and enjoyed doing it. i’m not talking about you, or us, in any of this. :)
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  1. I love your blog. And I LOVE these discussions. A month or so ago imagine gnats had a similar question on her Facebook page. Where's the line? When is it okay to replicate another's work? Is it okay to create a pattern or free tutorial based on another design -- independent or big-box store? A fascinating discussion ensued.

    My opinion was (and is) that I have no problem replicating a look for my own children or myself. I have no problem creating a free tutorial based on a look from a big-box store, especially if it's out of my price range or no longer available for purchase. In my experience, home sewists are reluctant to pay high prices for clothes they can make themselves, so the audience for my tutorials are others who probably wouldn't purchase those things anyway.

    On a related note, I opened an etsy shop a month or so ago, sewing bonnets and dresses from patterns not my own -- with the designers' permission and/or license, of course. You are SO right -- I won't make a dime on them, if they even sell. I did it for fun, so it's okay. But again, my target market is not home sewists. I would be shocked if a home sewist paid my price for a dress.

    We as home sewists should understand better than anyone why handmade costs so much!

    That's all I've got. Thanks for opening up the debate. It's so invigorating to (constructively and kindly) discuss these things!

    1. michelle--first, thanks ;)
      second--you're right. most likely the people who will recreate an item on their own weren't going to/didn't have the means to buy the original anyway.
      i hope you do well with your bonnets and dresses!

  2. This is something I think about all the time. Thanks for encouraging discussion. Also, I am totally guilty of downplaying the hours it takes me to make something and to paying myself $3 to $5 an hour. When people tell me I should quit my day job and just make and sell handmade I just laugh. There is no way I could afford to do that. Right now I sew for fun and if I break even when sewing for friends/family that's o.k. with me.

    1. ha! my mom (who i'm currently making a dress for) said i should sew for people and she'll quit her job and come be my housekeeper while i sew. i laughed and said i'd probably end up owing her more than i make! because people will think $50 for an hour of housekeeping is reasonable...but not $50/hr for a sewist.
      aaaaannd...there's the problem.

  3. My husband just gave my sewing-freely-for-others-self the smackdown too... after stressing for a month over bridesmaid dress alterations and boleros and a flower girl dress. I'm not allowed to sew ANYthing for ANYone without asking him first. And really, it's nice to have that to fall back on when I just don't want to say no.

    Love the thoughts, but I don't have anything to add... other than the fact that I don't have a problem copying other people directly, and even blogging about it, as long as I link to the original. I'm not much of a tutorial-writer though, so that doesn't factor in as much.

    1. YES! isn't it great when our husbands agree to be the bad guy?!?
      and i agree--recreating a look with a link back is a-ok to me. it's the tutorial issue that gets sticky...
      thanks for your thoughts!

  4. OK, I just found your blog and I might think you are so completely awesome... In a completely non-stalker way. I'm also a Shannon, freckled, home-schooling, 3 girls and a boy with my partner of 7 years, I-craft-so-I-don't-need-medication, big-boobed snarky sewist. And, um, TOTAL COPIER. And I copy the swanky stuff to sell to my friends. SO HARD.

    I do have friends who will pay $250 for a custom trenchcoat and she rocks that shit onstage all over the world. And I am averaging about $5 an hour to do it. But I love it and I consider emotional currency a valid method of payment for my loves.

    There is also the whole "Moms work for free" culture that actually makes us feel GUILTY for asking for compensation. Ask yourself, "What would a man charge for doing this?" Or a more salient question, "Would a (straight) man bother doing this at all?" I think not.

    So, to close this longer-than-I-intended comment (plus, HYPHEN PARTY!), I say imitate away! And thank the large corporations for vetting all those design ideas. It's all you, Children's Place!

    1. hahaha! no, YOU'RE awesome! :)
      hmmm...the emotional currency=payment is definitely a valid point. a lot of the work i've done recently has been just that--challenging or fun in it's own way--and that's why i took it on. so the money is more of a bonus at the end. kind of like an "i'd be sewing anyway, so why not at least break even on it" type of monetary reward.
      the ironic thing is my husband does sew for a living (basically). he makes custom furniture for very high end clients. so while i have trouble charging someone $10 or $15 per hour for my work, he routinely charges 10x that much without batting an eyelash. and they pay.
      (ps--hypens! yes! and my overused punctuation of choice: the colon.) (you see what i did there, right?)

  5. I think we either pay for things in time or money. So if you don't have the time to invest to learn the skills to make the $6 dress, then the other option if you must have that dress is to pay the money to someone else for their time.

    As for stealing - if your actions are causing someone else to lose out, that's where the waters start to get muddy for me. If I'm knocking off Anthro, it probably isn't causing them to lose sales or for their designer to lose their job. If I'm opening an etsy shop selling the exact same items as someone else, though, that's where I think it's shady. And I've seen people do that - copying down to the logo and listing style and fabric choice - the exact.same.thing as someone else. But I also think (hope) karma comes back to bite those people.

    1. yes--time or money. it's one or the other. the clothes we make might cost little in terms of dollars, but they have our hours--and our blood, sweat and tears.

      and i think your point of "causing someone else to lose out" is a valid one. that's my concern, too. thanks.

    2. Yeah, I like Melissa's point here. I think our sewing blog community is so small and interconnected, we have to be really careful about this type of thing, or other mamas trying to make their way WILL lose out. That's where the responsibility falls on us to "make it different" if we're going to do a tutorial/pattern. If you offer a free tutorial that's the same thing as what another gal has worked hard to bring to market as a pattern, it's just not cool. I'm a huge believer in "credit where credit is due" and staying informed, though not to the point where I go crazy. And I think it depends on the design, too. A simple elastic-waist skirt is a simple skirt. But there are designs that are so unique to the maker, it's obvious when they're copied. That gets fuzzy too. Lots of gray here, man, lots of gray.

  6. Yeah. You're right.
    That is all.

    OH, and I love the dresses :)

    1. haha! thank you for your well-thought-out additions to our discussion. ;)
      thanks kim!

  7. Yep, yeppity, yep. To it all. Was recently in a same boat situation and almost wrote an identical post. My basic thought is, if some one is going to go out of their way to buy the fabric, draft the pattern, and "copy" the design . . . they weren't going to pay out the money for the original in the first place. Hence, not taking business away. Most of the world does not have the kind of money it takes to buy designer clothing for their children. We still deserve cute clothing and if we can sew them, all the better. That's my line and I'm sticking to it.

    1. yes you're right. an above commenter had the same thought. the issue for me is giving other people detailed instructions for doing the same.
      like melly said above -- i don't think my tutorial on recreating a baby gap dress is making any corporate fashion designer get the ax. there will always be people buying the baby gap version.
      it's harder when i see something in Little Seller Etsy Shop that i love and recreate for my kiddos. do i share? or not? because many times the people buying from etsy are also the craftier people. hmmmmm....

  8. Great post. This summer I started making swimsuits for my daughters and for me. My husband said something on the lines of "you could go into business making them." Well I have now made a few for friends and charged them appropriately. My husband was surprised by the price I charged. I responded "I don't work for free" and neither should any seamstress or crafter. If people think "I could make that for less blah blah blah" then they should go do it themselves and be quiet. They are paying for my time and skill, just as you pay anyone who provides a service whether it be a mechanic, a doctor, a housekeeper, or a babysitter. There's no difference.

    1. YES! the ole 'you can go into business making these ___"! like nails on a chalkboard. can i? really? NOPE.
      good on you for charging what you're worth!!

  9. Fantastic post Shannon! The myriad of reasons you listed are the reasons why I don't knit for a living. I hand knit socks and toys and wee baby sweaters as gifts for the people I love. If I started charging for my time (average pair of socks takes around 20 hours to make times $20 per hour - I don't work for free...), postage ($5), supplies ($20) those hand knit socks would cost about $425 a pair. It seems backwards to a lot of people that I'd rather give it away than charge for it. The joy I derive from the tiny little stitches on impossibly small needles would turn to hatred because I'd be forced to do it even if I didn't feel like it. I am the master of my own knitting. I do it when, where and how I want and give away or keep whatever I want.

    As far as copying designs... I'm all for sticking it to the man. Big business is a snare and a racket in my opinion. You copying a pillow design and posting it on your blog isn't going to hurt their bottom line one bit, so I say go for it.

    I don't see any issue with using an Etsy design for inspiration in your own work either, but I agree with you not posting a tutorial on it. I don't know how or if your doing so would hurt a small business. Honestly, skills like sewing and knitting are going the way of the dodo these days and some people would rather just pay to have someone do it for them (even if given the instructions).

    That said, I like the dresses, I think you did a lovely job on them, and I think you struck the perfect tone in your post.

    1. whoa! $425 a pair! see? i'm shocked--and i know how long this stuff takes, and it still shocks me when you actually break it all down and put numbers on it.
      but i am totally in agreement with you--i'm happy gifting things, because it's a gift. there's no pressure on me that you have to be 100% in love with it because GUESS WHAT? it's a gift! ha!
      also: 'i am the master of my own knitting.' love that. maybe you can embroider me a pillow with that on it? i'll pay you... ;oP

  10. Just wanted to tell you that I appreciate your point of view & support this post whole-heartedly! I am not a seamstress (nor an artist, jewelry-maker, creative-at-all) and sometimes I do find myself "put out" by the pricing of some of these super awesome, pretty much one-of-a-kind, very creative things I want to buy and I make a mental note to try to DIY it in the future. Then reality sets in and after coveting said item for a few weeks and longing to have it draped around my neck, hung on my wall, etc. I realize there is no way on God's green Earth that I will have the time, energy and creativity to recreate what is already done! And most times? I shell out that bit-more-than-I-wanted-to amount of money and am so happy I finally came to that conclusion. My time is worth something & I really love and appreciate how you explain that everyone elses' is too. Super awesome post! Thank you for being open, honest, fair & passionate about this!

    1. i love your comment! thank YOU for appreciating hand made quality, and being willing to pay for it without begrudging the artist who created it! <3

  11. As a mama that wishes more than anything to be the next Dana Made It, this post is legit. I do sew, though I consider myself a mildly talented amateur compared to the sewing mavens I see all the time online. A close friend of mine makes and sells handmade bows at local craft fairs and the like, and she is always upset that there is someone else able to sell basically the exact same thing for a significantly higher price, while hardly anyone buys her cheaper bows. It's really the luck of the draw, getting "chosen" to be one of the sellers that makes it. So the thought of essentially copying a little shops work doesn't bother me as long as it is for me alone, and copying from a chain store to share with others doesn't bother me at all. It just doesn't effect their bottom line in the long run, but that little one-woman-business would get trampled. And worse, upset. The big stores have no one person that will be directly concerned with a little blog post, but in such a small sewing community, the little etsy shop would be wounded.

    And I feel like my post is all over the place but...yeah. I knew what I meant in my head lol.

    1. no way. i totally get it. it's hard to watch other people have success when you know (or believe) that what you're offering is just as good.
      and i think that's the general consensus--copying 'the little guy' for your Own Personal Use is kosher, but don't hurt them.
      see, i'm totally in your head ;)

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  13. Shannon, I read and loved this post last month but forgot to comment until today. My shop has been open less than a week and already I've gotten one comment (from a fellow seller, of all people!) of the "Well, I'm reasonably handy with a sewing machine: I could make that for less." Of course she could. I certainly did. But I'd like to actually pay myself for my designing and sewing time, ya know?

    I'm reading up on marketing and identifying your target customer and I need to keep reminding myself that I (and you, and probably most of the readers of your blog) am not my target customer. My (and likewise Jessica's) target customer is not someone who sews well and enjoys the process: our target customer is someone who can't - or won't - but who values handmade items. The sticky part is when the not-ideal customer, full of creative capacity and opinions, starts critiquing. Oy.

    Pretty sure that made very little sense. Gist: you are awesome and you should feel awesome. Come visit Canada sometime: we'll have a blast. <3

    1. darlene, i headed over to check out your shop. you stuff IS adorable, and i wish you all the best with it. why people feel the need to undercut others i'll never understand. i love what you said: I AM NOT MY TARGET CUSTOMER. because that's what it boils down too.
      you made perfect sense to me, and i'm dusting off my passport now ;oP

  14. I agree with everything you've written. As a non-sewing mom, I'd gladly pay $65 for a handmade dress on Etsy. There is something very special about a piece of clothing that's been made by another mom, and I'm willing to pay for that special something-- not for every dress, but for one special article of clothing a season? Sure. I also love supporting women in business because I think as a whole, we often undervalue our time and work. That article you linked to-- about abusive child labor practices-- is absolutely heartbreaking. I wish there was a way to know for sure that the clothes we buy our babes wasn't made in this manner.


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