Monday, August 06, 2007

The Handmade Factor

Chale Show was a scorcher on Saturday and Sunday, but not as busy as last year.
I persevered with some Wensleydale I bought in 2006. The people selling it had had it processed into a washed roving at a small mill on the mainland, but there was a lot of VM (Vegetable Matter) amongst it and it was quite matted in parts. I bought it when I was newbie spinner. I know better nowadays. It was hardly worth the effort it took to get it to this state.

It felt very itchy as I wound it into a skein. As a colleague suggested, it might improve with washing and a lot of fabric softener. I thought I might dye it, but it's a nice warm cream colour so it seems a shame. The processing seems to have ruined the qualities of the fleece somewhat. Of course I'm not sure if this was a shearling fleece or not, so it could be the innate quality of the fleece. Although most Wensleydale I've encountered during my time as a spinner has been as soft as Blue-faced Leicester to the touch.

While at the show I was approached by a rep from a local company looking to supplement sales from its store in Ryde with natural Island-made products. She was interested in natural dyed handspun knitting yarn, and whether as a group we generated any handspun yarn for sale. I gave her my card and finally agreed that I'd mention it at our next meeting. I'm not sure she quite grasped what I told her about the labour-intensive process of hand produced yarn and the prohibitive costs it would entail.

As this is a particular soap-box subject dear to my heart, I sat and actually thought about it.

Working things out roughly in my head:

Material Costs: Fibre, dyestuff, mordant.

Labour: Spinning, pre-mordant of yarn(?), prep of dyebath, dyeing, washing, drying, labelling.

Overheads: Heating, lighting, transportation.

The selling price of 50 grams of hand-dyed handspun produced this way would be at least half a days work + costs + overheads. As I said before, unrealistically prohibitive.

What sort of return would you get once the retailer had battled you down to a wholesale price? You'd be paying them to take the yarn off your hands!!

Hence the reason that hardly any yarn or fabric is produced in the UK today, despite us being the main producer of wool for centuries and the industrial North churning out millions of yards of cotton and woollen fabric in the 19th century.

It's a sad fact that many people's buying experiences are of ridiculously inexpensive mass produced imports, and they are so far removed from the actual 'making' processes that take place in textile production; they simply can't imagine why you couldn't hand over a beautiful ball of handcrafted yarn for £3.50.

How often I've heard people walking around Craft Fairs commenting incredulously at the prices being asked for handcrafted items. As a maker, it can be totally disheartening, and it only seems to either drive people out of the creative arts altogether with the eventual loss of the traditional skills; or drive the prices down ridiculously low to selling the items at the cost of materials with no labour charged at all!

I look forward to the time when running with the herd is no longer de rigeur, and people seek out the unique and the handmade and are willing to pay a fair price for the privilege.........

*end of rant*


My latest spinning includes the finished silk cap I prepared on the tutorial last week plied with some merino. I then plied the excess merino with some left over kingfisher silk for a contrast (just a small skein of this).


On Friday I visited the exhibition of Vectis Quilters at the beautiful Botanic Gardens at Ventnor.

Unfortunately my camera battery died shortly after I took these shots, so I can't show the variety of quilts on show, more's the pity. There were some beautiful examples, and the hours of labour were very evident in all of them.

1 comment:

Artis-Anne said...

I am so with you re this rant . I too have been approached a couple of times re selling my handspun , hand dyed and hand knitted items and at first I was thriled that someone really liked them but like yourself I sat down and thought of how labour intensive it is and even at the minimum hourly wage you would never even sell them let alone make money. I met a guy in Scotland who I won't name but he was getting his handspun from I have to say poorer parts of this country and China and he called it fair trade !!
I also agree re the Wensleydale and the fact that now a year on we are far more selective in choosing our fleece and yes it should be soft .
Love your latest spinning and the colours are divine