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Priorities and Commissioned Work


Honestly this is something I struggle with deeply, for a number of reasons. The phrase, "You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give," implies balance, order, an equal exchange. None of these exist in my artistic or entrepreneurship endeavors right now. Let me break this down a bit.

You make a living by what you get. When do I get paid right now? When I sell finished quilts, goods or fabric. That's all well and good. I feel like I am making as many finished goods as I can. Doing that takes a lot of time and energy. There are people who balk at the prices on my pillows or quilts, not understanding what goes into them. I tell myself that's fine because those aren't my customers. The people who purchase my finished goods understand and appreciate the value of the time and materials that go into them. As for the fabric, it's a fickle market. It's sales and marketing and finding just the right customer who needs just that right fabric at the right time.

Do I have people who want to pay for other things? Yes, in fact I've turned down close to a dozen requests over the past week to mend clothes, family heirlooms, create curtains, cover furniture and custom pillows for rooms with materials I don't have. I wish I had the time to give to the dear friends and family who make these requests, but I am not a seamstress or home decorator. My time, from 4:30 am to 10:00 pm is accounted for daily, with specific tasks and projects I need to get done. It makes me tempted to share the popular meme, " Asking a quilter to hem your pants is like asking Picasso to paint your garage." No, I don't think my skills are anywhere near Picasso level, but I do already have plenty on my plate. Yes, I have a sewing machine, but I'm sorry that doesn't make my calendar magically open up.

Right now I just I cannot take on any more commissioned work. In the past, when I have tried to help people with these kind of projects, they always get insulted when I explain how much they would actually cost. Yes, there's a reason why seamstresses and home decorators charge what they do. They need to make a living. I do too.

I'm sure at this point in this post you think I'm just a snob with a sewing machine. I assure you that is not the case. In addition to all the reasons above for not being able to take on every personal project people would like me to, I have a deep fear that no matter what I do or make it won't meet their expectations. I have always been one to make things my own way, I don't abide by quilt police rules, and I just think that my perception of my work is not the same as what other people see. I'm afraid that whenever I do projects like these people will think they aren't what they wanted. I'd rather make something that meets my expectations, then offer it up for others than do custom work. I hope that makes as much sense as it does in my head.

So, the second part of that phrase is, "you make a life by what you give." I'm sure the first part of this post makes it sound like I'm just all kinds of grubby and greedy. Asking for compensation for your work is what work is though. I got into this business because I want to see every baby wrapped in love, but that doesn't mean I can single handedly finance that. Last year I donated over $200 worth of finished goods to different charity fundraisers. I gifted dozens of handmade masks to family. I donated fabric to charitable causes. I gave masks to the organizers of crafts shows I was in. I had to start saying no to all the requests at some point.

So, I have to reflect about what I am giving. When I give finished pillows and quilts that means I'm also giving all of the time and materials that it took to make them. When I switched from working in education to being self employed one of the primary factors was wanting to spend more time with my children. However, as I find myself working at 5:00 am and late into the evening, I really have to consider what my time is being spent on. I've had to learn to limit what I say yes to so that I can get the things done I need to . I've just about come to terms that I will always feel guilty about not being able to give enough, do enough and make enough for everyone. I think it's more important that I give myself to the things that are my priorities first, my family and my sanity. I wish I could make all the things for everyone, but I can't.

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