As Director of Artist Relations at 20×200, an online art market, Carrie Strine is involved with the business of art all day long. In her free time Carrie is an exceptionally skilled quilter. Her textile work is meticulous and beautiful and although she could build a business around it she’s made the conscious choice not to.
“Growing up in the Etsy and Renegade age I know the potential very well,” Carrie says. “I paid my rent through grad school pedaling knitting patterns, knits and handspun yarn.”
Now, though, craft plays a very different role in Carrie’s life. Although she shows and sells her work from time to time, she’s chosen not to grow it into a business. “My work and connection to it is intensely personal, and I prefer to slowly hand stitch or hand quilt whenever I can. It’s really selfish in the end, as the idea of streamlining my designs and working for cost efficiencies is truly uninspiring to me. Even focusing on selling patterns right now feels like a distraction from the real work that draws me.”
Carrie is certainly not alone in her desire to keep craft personal. That desire can be a hard sell today, though, especially when the people around you know that in a matter of just a few minutes and at very little cost you can set up a shop online and be in business.
Veronica Stienburg does several different crafts from tatting to hand sewing to crochet. “I also often bring in the various stuffed animals and other things I make to show some of my co-workers,” she says. “I get asked every time why I don’t sell my crafts. Every time!”
Veronica strives to preserve the personal nature of what she makes, and the special place that making plays in her life. “Sewing and crafts are my release. My mood visibly improves if I do some sort of craft every day or a few times a week…Sometimes the more people ask and the more craft blogs I read I start to wonder if maybe I should be selling my crafts, but I like choosing what I make and not making the same thing a million times. I make a lot of gifts, especially for my nieces and friends children and I love picking the perfect project for that person, choosing the fabric with them in mind and having the recipient at the back of mind as I work on the project.”
That sense of personal relationship and meditative relaxation that comes from crafting is a feeling that many makers feel they need in their daily lives, and would lose if they began selling the results of their making.
Rachel Cohen designs paper dolls. When she gives her magnetic paper dolls away as gifts, people inevitably ask her, “Why don’t you sell your work on Etsy?”
For Rachel, her work fulfills her in a way that has nothing to do with money. “I have a full-time job that I love and work hard at doing well. When I get off work, I want to relax and draw some paper dolls, not deal with running a business,” she explains.”I can’t imagine worrying about shipping costs, vendors fees, or customer service when I could be sitting comfortably on my couch with my sketchbook drawing pretty fantasy dresses…If I have to draw, than will I still be able to find it as relaxing as I do now?”
Many crafters relish using fine materials, or focusing on a more unusual or unpopular design. They’d rather choose materials and subject matter based sheerly on their own love and enjoyment, rather than focusing on trends and figuring out a cost basis.
Lorraine Teigland designs sewing patterns and cardboard projects, documenting her work on her blog, IkatBag. Although she sells some patterns and has been published a few times, Lorraine feels that the push of a marketplace and a set of deadlines can hamper the satisfaction that comes with creative expression.
“On a good day, I consider myself quite efficient and organized, mostly because of my experience growing up and working in Singapore, where everyone is efficient and organized, or at least it’s how the country is run,” she explains. “I could never apply that to the creative side of my personality. Ideas need time to percolate and you can’t just say, ‘Okay, I need to make 5 stuffed animals that turn inside out for this magazine. Step to it! Let’s make it happen in three business days!'”
Although it’s true that sites like Etsy have made it very easy to start a business now, Lorraine says that with that ease comes additional pressure.
“The level of competition and the sources of inspiration are infinitely greater. This means a higher likelihood of falling into already established niches, and thus into oblivion…If you are up to the challenge, this can stretch you like nothing else, and push the boundaries of your work and imagination…But this also means that it is harder to excel, period. And it is harder to fail. And if you care that people notice you are not excelling or are failing, this can be debilitating and crippling.”
Rachel definitely feels some of that fear. “What if my work isn’t worth to the public what I think it should be worth? If I’m charging money, than don’t I owe my customers nothing but my best? How can I do my best all the time?” Although she might one day like to begin selling her paper dolls as a business, these feelings of doubt are a stumbling block that she’s not sure she wants to overcome.
Our relationship to the things we make changes once we begin to sell them. What was once an entirely personal, meditative act becomes public and driven by motives that aren’t entirely our own. Even in a day in which setting up a business is quick and painless, for many crafters doing so would be an unwelcome shift.
Carrie put her love of sewing for herself this way, “My mind can be unclouded by any desires or tastes other than my own. The magic of making can happen without a single pressure, and it brings me peace and meditation each day.”