As the busiest time of year for those of us in this line of work is upon us, I’ve been driven to think again about why I do this and why the public often view craft fairs as something akin to a car boot sale.
I set up my little ‘shop for the day’ with care each weekend. The table layout varies each time depending on the spot I have been allocated and the size of table.
Sitting at a craft market meeting the public I find myself answering questions about aspects of my work, often until I’m hoarse and my face is tired of smiling. When people first stop at my stall I try to guess whether they are the type who wishes to engage or someone who wants to be left to their own devices. The engagers are often the easiest as conversation can roll and tumble from general chat to the specifics of how I weave, spin and make felt. The quiet ones are tricky and much harder to read.
As they handle a scarf and peek at the price tag, I gently explain that each scarf takes a total of about 20 hours of work. This involves washing raw fleece, dyeing, carding, spinning and weaving which leaves me with around £2 an hour for the item ( I leave them to make this calculation themselves). Knitted items work out even worse with about 40 hours spent on a shawl knitted from handspun yarns – a statistic which shoppers are always surprised by. I don’t feel that £40 -£60 is a very high price to pay for something totally unique which has been made with love and care from sustainable local sources. In the high street stores there are mass produced scarves for similar prices but noone questions these in the same way they question pricing at a craft fair. It seems to me that when people enter a craft fair or market, they automatically assume they will find bargains and seem to forget they are dealing with very small businesses run by individuals with a passion for their product. I have had customers haggle over the price of items – would they do this in a high street chain?
As makers there is constantly a feeling of having to justify our prices. Yet how do you explain that each item has taken hours of planning, designing, sourcing colours, sourcing materials? That is where the value of a handmade item really lies but it’s impossible to explain in a couple of sentences. I like to think that some hint of this process shines through in a finished scarf, handbag or small felted item.
It’s wonderful when someone stops at your stall and you can see them drinking in the colours, textures and designs. It makes me very happy that I can share my love of wool and maybe even introduce someone else to a new hobby which will enhance their life in some small way. Reviving a heritage skill such as spinning also gives a sense of purpose and sharing it with visitors,old and young, to my stall is always fun.
Those conversations are the ones which remind me why I continue to do this work and still get pleasure from it. When someone zooms in on a handmade piece and instantly falls in love with it, then I feel good about parting with something in which I have invested a small part of myself in some strange way. When someone is reminded of days long gone when they watched their grandmother spinning then I’m happy that I took them on that little journey into their youth.
And so I continue along the same woolly path I have trodden for about 7 years now……..