Mary Corbet

writer and founder


I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

Contact Mary

Connect with Mary



2024 (60) 2023 (125) 2022 (136) 2021 (130) 2020 (132) 2019 (147) 2018 (146) 2017 (169) 2016 (147) 2015 (246) 2014 (294) 2013 (294) 2012 (305) 2011 (306) 2010 (316) 2009 (367) 2008 (352) 2007 (225) 2006 (139)

Hand Embroidery: Purpose in Relation to Cost


Amazon Books

Oh dear. I seem to be on a contemplative kick – musing still over the whole cost-quality-time-value question of embroidery! If you’re in the mood to join me, do pull up a chair and pour yourself a cup of coffee. (You might need it to stay awake!)

Your comments on the blog articles from Monday and Tuesday have me thinking about a lot of things relating to embroidery and how we value our hand embroidery work. Following up on Tuesday’s discussion of the material cost involved in creating the Medallion Project, another aspect I consider when musing over the notion of Value is…

The Purpose of Hand Embroidery

When I ask myself, “What is the purpose of this hand embroidered item?” the answer will often determine what I put into the project.

To illustrate the point, let’s consider a few situations.

Royal Wedding Photo

AP Photo / Gero Breloer from OregonLive

Imagine a Royal Wedding. It doesn’t take too much imagination these days, given 2011’s widely publicized event in the UK. I’m pretty sure I can safely say that, if this dress had been a cotton frock embellished with plastic beads or DMC memory thread and took a weekend to sew up, while it may have cost less to produce, it would not have been appropriate to the setting or the situation. If nothing else, the public certainly would have been disappointed, and surely the royal family would’ve raised a serious eyebrow (or two)! We all would have recognized an incongruity between the event and the hypothetical frock.

Embroidered Flour Sack Towel

Same argument, different angle: Consider this hand embroidered flour sack towel. It’s meant to be used in the kitchen, to line baskets of food or even to wipe down countertops or dishes. If it were embroidered with real gold threads, something would surely be amiss. If I had invested in real gold threads and put 400 hours into embroidering this flour sack towel to be used in the kitchen, wouldn’t you think I’m missing a stitch or two upstairs somewhere?

Purpose Determines Much

So purpose determines much when looking at the investment (of both money and time) in an embroidery project, and in turn, it effects the value of the piece.

When it comes to ecclesiastical embroidery, which is created for a specific purpose, and which is expected to be appropriate to that purpose, the reason it is expensive is because the materials, the skill, and the time involved to create the piece reflect the appropriateness of the piece to its purpose. The best materials affordable and available are used; a certain skill is required to create the piece; and it usually takes a good amount of time to produce something appropriate for ecclesiastical use.

The Supply Chain

So while it may be surprising to some that the supplies used on the Medallion project seemed expensive, in relation to the purpose of the piece, the cost of supplies is almost negligible.

The cost of goldwork and fine embroidery supplies may seem expensive, but in fact, considering the investment required to produce quality embroidery supplies (usually by small businesses that are taking large risks), considering the skill it takes to create, weave, dye, spin, or even “engineer” threads or fabric that are beautiful, that are a joy to work with, and that will withstand the test of time, and considering the cost of raw goods and the cost of labor in markets where quality control actually exists, the ultimate cost to the consumer for quality needlework supplies should not be too surprising.

This doesn’t mean that I use the same quality of supplies for every single stitched item I make. (Remember the kitchen towel?) It just means that purpose is one facet of the whole question in determining what I put into a project.

As for the cost of labor (time and skill), that’s a whole different question, and one we can chat about later, if there’s interest. It seems to be a predominate point of curiosity among many stitchers or Makers-of-Things-by-Hand. It’s certainly another aspect of the whole question of Value, but it, too, is a multi-faceted question. I thoroughly agree that the hand embroiderer today creating something that is truly of value doesn’t necessarily get paid its “value.” But then again… what the embroiderer deems fair and what the market or consumer seems fair is another question, too.

And all this being said, the exact financial compensation for the medallion project is really neither here nor there, in the scheme of things. I will tell you this: I am fully compensated for the work I put into it. But that statement doesn’t necessarily involve a massive financial figure! There are other forms of compensation, when it comes to making something like this.

As always, comments, insights, musings, thoughts – all are welcome! Have your say below!

If you’d like access to all the tips and techniques discussed in the Medallion Project, including complete step-by-step coverage of the Tudor-Style Rose, conveniently collected in one document, interlinked, referenced, and indexed, why not add the Marian Medallion Project e-book to your library? It’s packed full of all kinds of embroidery tips for undertaking a project like this, all in a convenient electronic format for easy searching.


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


(61) Comments

  1. Compensated indeed. I personally derive so much pleasure from the ‘act’ of doing a project that it makes the $$ compensation secondary. I just decide to add the savings in healthcare bills due to contentment and peace to the ‘income’ I find while pursuing my love of handwork!

  2. Dear Mary,
    I am glad that you are fully compensated for your work on the medallion.
    And I am wondering how many ecclesiastical embroiderers there are today? Goldwork can be done by the skilled but isn’t this medallion more than work. You have installed what the medallion means, its purpose and it is understandable that no monetary exchange can value that rare commodity,
    I look forward to further view points to ponder and discuss.

  3. Hi Mary,
    Besides getting paid money wise, just the pride and enjoyment is worth far more. When I stitch I really feel peaceful. My mind calms down my body relaxes. And time flies by. So you have to enjoy what you do from a towel to a medallion its all worth it. So like you wrote, you have to put it all in perspective.
    I would love to see the cassock after the Medallion is sewn on.

  4. Loved your thoughts today! I agree with you fully and it was so well put! Your workmanship is beautiful to behold and is enhanced by your choice of threads and fabric. Thanks for helping me step up my desire to create pieces that are meant for the long term.

  5. Mary- May I elaborate on a specific point: that is, what the final price becomes; because, frankly, some people want to know.
    As a sewist instructor, and a professional contractor myself, I seldom share that type of information with anyone but my own immediate students, and only with those students who intend to go into business for themselves. I feel it is a trade secret, even though many of my past retail and wholesale customers knew what I was charging them, I still don’t share my price list with others. Even among my own students, some have no intention of working at it, keeping it as a hobby. Of the others, I only give out price lists to the appropriate learners – such as alterations lists to bridal seamstresses and upholstery pricing to drapery makers, etc.
    Whether you share your own information is of course up to you, but I wanted to speak up about this topic.

  6. Mary,

    I agree that the purpose of a project plays a big role in the value of the piece. I for one has given only 5 pieces of my work to others and do not even try to put a dollar value on the pieces since they are priceless in my mind. However, a few people have asked that I make them something specific and I’ve alsways said not due to the value issue.

    I’d love to learn more about how you “value” the entire piece from supplies, time, purpose and effort.

    Love reading your articles every morning – thanks

  7. This work of art is an offering of religious devotion to your Creator. The medallion puts me mind of the materials and skill that were put into the original Tabernacle. They too used real gold thread as well as other precious metals and gems in the hands of skilled artisans.

    Mary, you were very gracious in responding to such personal inquiries. I admire your restraint.

  8. Hello, Mary, I was surprised that the materials cost so little. It’s a work of art emphasizing quality of workmanship which requires quality of materials. It’s the sort of piece stitchers 100 years from now will marvel at, much as we now marvel at gorgeous pieces of embroidered clothing or other items now housed in museums. It also will serve as inspiration for future generations of needleworkers.

  9. I’ve always looked upon my embroidery, or anyone’s for that matter, as a labor of love. We could never expect monetary compensation for the amount of hours we might put into an item. I believe that most of us do it for the sheer enjoyment and satisfaction of a ‘job well done’.

  10. I can totally see that as a mother. I don’t get paid cash and there is no amount of cash that could mathematically compensate (in a Mr. Spock way) for all that I do. On the other hand no amount of paper money could ever satisfy like one hug or kiss. It’s the same for me as far as embroidery. Cost factors in but there is nothing like the satisfaction of seeing someone’s face light up as they look for the first time at an object that has been created for them.

  11. Having been a maker of things handmade for years I believe it is impossible to put a monetary value to any of these things in today’s market. Competing with “Made in China” at the discount store. ? Today a lot of us have been taught you can get serviceable without paying an arm and a leg. So those of us who put hours of time and materials into a project should not do it for the bottom line dollar value. We do it because we love it and therefore we satisfy something in our souls. And we come to an agreement on payment that satisfies ourselves and the market. I believe we should always be compensated for our expenses. There is not enough money in the world to pay for our time and skill. We cannot put a fair market value price on that.

  12. Hi
    This discussion interests me as I am a handspinner, weaver, quilter, stitcher – and I have just got addicted to Zentangling.
    I think it was the Zentangles that made me think about why I do things. I do a lot of things because I love the process and using good materials/ or in my case, nice tools, makes the process more pleasurable. If some of the things are saleable – they can help support my habit – and I do have a few things that I make specifically for sale. But I realize that it is the process and not necessarily the product – though that is important – that I really enjoy.
    I remember when I taught students to sew – and if they had a piece of fabric they really loved, they were more likely to finish and wear the item they had made.
    Thanks for this forum and the great website.

  13. I think you are saying there is a lot of value in just creating a beautiful item. I cross stitch/embroider because I enjoy making something pretty (even if it is just in my eyes). I think that satisfaction has to be a part of the overall compensation for any article.

  14. Hi Mary,

    Well, consider this now pricewise. A round of golf at Pebble Beach Golf Course is well in excess of $300 for maybe four hours. I think the medallion is a bargain cost wise compared to a round of golf at Pebble Beach.

    Helen in SWFL

  15. I like what you say about compensation not necessarily being financial. Creating a thing of beauty has its own payment, especially if that thing has a particular purpose. I once embroidered some vestments for an Orthodox priest and gained enormous satisfaction from seeing them in church. I wasn’t paid a penny and didn’t mind.
    Thanks again for sharing your work with us. I can spot the professional teacher in the way you show how things are done!

  16. I am currently x stitching a ludo board on one side with a snakes & ladder board on the other for my grandchildren. The cost of doing and time spent doing this does not come into it as it is done with love for them despite some people saying “Oh you could just buy one” for them.

  17. Well put, Mary. Don’t forget that there’s another consideration and that’s lifespan. The towel’s lifespan will be considerably less than that of the medallion’s which may be a couple hundred years. We have many embroideries from centuries ago and with today’s knowledge of conservation can expect that your medallion will be here for a long time. That being so, the cost of supplies or workmanship is negligible.

    Also, your piece is a work of art and is therefore priceless.

  18. Mary,

    I don’t think that the Medallion project expenses were out of line by any means. Good heavens, with that much work involved one should use the finest and best materials available. The results were wonderful and magnificent.

    I am working on kitchen towels, which will serve a different purpose, and had a quick question. I am not using knots on the backside. Instead, I am following the techniques from your website — backstitches and buried tails. Are these going to hold up okay with repeated washings and clean-up use?

    Thank you so much Mary for your great insights and inspiration,

    Shelia in Oklahoma

  19. Sorry, I know I usually keep my mouth shut, and I have posted a few thoughts since you finished your (lovely by the way) medallion. I have a few more. I do understand where you’re coming from, but I would say “theoretically perfect” wedding and not royal or hollywood wedding. The reason being is that so many of those couples wind up in divorce court in less than a decade, making the extravagance a (often HUGE) waste of money. Therefore depending on how long the marriage lasts, perhaps DMC and plastic beads WOULD be appropriate, only time can determine that. I have an aunt who is on her fifth husband for example, and from that one of my ideas about the many causes of the high divorce rate is that because many brides expect an extravagant wedding thier marriages begin with large debt. She has begun 5 with large debt, swearing that this would be her “last”. Two of her kids are now on spouse 2, and have the same attitude. I have more opinions about that but this is an embroidery blog so I will move on.

    Second, this is my “hope chest” theory, if DMC over a long period is all you can afford, it would certainly be “worth more” than the “it’s just money”, throw away hollywood wedding dress with silk and pearls. In that case, likely the dress means more to the artists than the wearer. I say this because when my parents married the only money they spent was at city hall for the license etc. The ceremony was in her grandparents back yard, she wore the same (cotton) dress she had worn to both her and my fathers senior proms, had a veil borrowed from a friends mother, the food was prepared by both families (including the cake) and they have now been married close to 4 decades, and will likely remain so until the universe evaporates.

    Third, I have no doubt that in the past and today, “fashionable people” are more than happy to spend money on an expensive article of clothing, regardless of the the actual material cost of the garment due to whose name is on it, or how “fashionable” it was before “fashion designers” existed as we know them. For example if that flour sack towel had Grant Woods name on it, people would pay an arm and a leg for it, regardless of what it was made of. Doubtless if you (for example) turned that purse into a handbag and they KNEW how much it was worth (say 3600$ at minimum wage for labor) they would certainly not be upset about paying the same as what they pay for the designer purses they insist on having, but they would BRAG that it was worth 4000$ but I got it for 140$ (example) They do not brag about thier designer purses beyond the name because they know it is, for materials and labor worth much less than what they paid for it.

    Next, age, likely as time (and technology) progresses your medallion will be worth more later than now. Take the Bayeaux tapestry for example, (except in size) wool and linen is not all that impressive now, but the fact that it is a millenia old is what makes it so wonderful. It gives the embroideresses of today a bit of a pat on the back in a matter of speaking, you know, a bit of something to “remember” them by, since there are 2 or 3 theories and no real determination about who actually made the Bayeaux tapestry. As for size, another impressive bit is that they could get that much of something together in the few years it took to complete it. I mean now, we have machines to make the floss and wire for our projects, and they had to make it themselves or buy it from a specific place, and even “dye lots” in large enough quantities for 250 feet of linen were horribly limited if non-existant, so they had to “make do” with availability. We have to do much less of that. Who knows what the future will think of our percieved “problems”. Most people (not embroideresses of course) would look at modern items and the bayeux tapestry, and would likely think the modern silk and goldwork is nicer because the design on the tapestry looks “childish” and today there are computer programs that can turn photos into needlpoint or cross stitch charts. few people realize that when they do that, they are taking old samplers, the bayeux tapestry, and other museum pieces out of context, especially since they don’t know anything about what problems modern embroideresses have to deal with, since many have never seen embroidery in action.

    1. Oh, and one thing I forgot. I think all embroideresses are “missing a stitch or two” upstairs in one way or another. I mean I stitched a dung beetle (long story)to give as a christmas gift (they loved it). I am sure some embroideress could think up some justification for a 400hour silk and goldwork towel. ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. I read this whole thing and laughed out loud! There may be a few brides only deserving of some hot-glued sparkly spangles and beads, but society loves pomp and circumstance, and who can resist embellishing up a totally white dress? But I defend the artists right to practice perfection of their chosen craft. Many of Mary Corbett’s needlework pieces will become historical treasures in the future, and those items that do, will credit their long shelf life to the pristine materials used, and the care and nature of her applied workmanship.

  20. I think your phrase ‘withstand the test of time’ is terribly relevant both to cost and appropriateness- after all, a towel doesn’t have to last 50 years, by golly, if the Vestments lasted any less your customer would have something to say about it!

    And in a way, that is why we work by hand too, for the pleasure and the purpoise of a useful item well-made. For Quilts, and dressmaking, which would by my areas.

    So basically I’m agreeing with everything you’ve said!

    One thing I try to keep in mind when I’ve sold a piece of work which I know I’ve not been nearly compensated for is this: I ENJOYED making it. I try to keep costs down a bit too with that angle—just a thought!

  21. Mary, the points you make regarding the value of embroidery work are sound. One must consider the purpose of an embroidered piece and the materials used. The skill of the embroiderer and the time it took to complete the project are also very important factors. We must remember that cost and value are two different things. The price you can fetch for a handmade item is determined by what someone is willing to pay for it, not by how much it cost to make. That’s why we won’t get rich making things by hand and selling them to the public. The price we must ask (if we pay ourselves for our time) is just too high and our ability to make a large quantity by hand (necessary to make the venture profitable) too difficult. Our reward is in doing the work itself and prizing it above all our “store bought” possessions because it’s made with love.

  22. A group of friends discussed your posting of the materials cost for the medallion project, and frankly, we were all surprised at how LITTLE the cost was! As we have all worked with gold, silk, and other costly materials over the years, we realize that our passion is not an inexpensive one. But when one figures out the enjoyment and pleasure received from the investment, it is, to paraphrase the commercial, PRICELESS!

    Keep sending these great thought subjects, Mary. We thoroughly enjoy each and every newsletter.


  23. hola Mary..el traductor no es muy compatble,,
    Mi opinion al momento de tomar en cuenta el valor ,de bordado a maquina o mano,,,no hay donde perderce,,a mano es algo unico ,y trabajado en un buen material mejor vale la pena su invercion ..y siempre hay manos muy diestras
    vez se puee trabajar con el material y crear
    un abrazo

  24. So how do we come up with the “market” value? Making a quilt? Besides the fabric and time – it is a beloved niece I am making it for. Or qui lted wool art wall hangings with hand embroidery? How do you come up with an acurate value?

    I deal with this problem daily and don’t know.

  25. Mary, I agree completely with your comment on there being more than one form of compensation. Some things we do just for the love of doing. Or for the love of the recipient. Then there are those projects that we do that we have not so much emotional investment in (sure, we are loving the process, but we are not “attached” to the item) so the monetary reimbursement will be higher by comparison. As needleworkers, I think we often don’t charge as much to do a project we are emotionally invested in. The doing is our reward. But having said all that ๐Ÿ™‚ I would be interested in learning how you (and others) charge for your work. The piece I mentioned in my former comment, I figured the labor at minimum wage. I felt that was very low, since I was completely ignoring my “skill level” – the more skill you have, the more you “should” get paid. I don’t do commission work because I seem to lose the pleasure of the process if I am working on something I “have” to do. I have tried, but all the fun goes out of it. It’s nice to see others who can balance the two. Is there a secret to doing that? lol Perhaps that’s a topic for another column.

  26. Aloha Mary,
    Our own personal standards usually dictates how we approach a project. We have to happy with what we produce taking into account what it is for or how it will be used.
    Honestly, that medallion is beautiful. I have been looking at opus anglicanum for years and had often wondered if anyone could produce work like that today. The answer is “yes”.
    Keep up the good work.

  27. Mary, I’m curious about whether you know the person who will wear this? Or if his/her specific church/religion is close to your heart? That would certainly go a long way toward non-monetary motivation, or at least compensation. What satisfaction you must derive from such a work. Awe inspiring. JaneS

  28. Maybe everyone is commented out! I admit I didn’t read all the comments in the past couple of posts. My first thought was that a few hundred dollars was a good price to pay for materials that kept you busy for months.

    My position is that the primary reason for hand embroidery, or any handicraft (or really anything at all), is for the enjoyment of doing it. What we do with the end result is really secondary.

    That is not to say that the finished product has no value, but I do think that the value of the product is proportional to the amount of joy that went into it’s production. If it is our own work that we are using ourselves, then we have the happy memory of making it. If it is for someone else I believe the feelings that went into it are apparent to those who have eyes to see it.

  29. Interesting thoughts. I always considered my embroidery (sewing, crochet, etc) as a form or therapy. So the purpose of all the time I spend making hand made things, is to keep me sane. Some times it works.

  30. Hi Mary,
    What a great post today! I feel the same as you. We get more fron embroidery than just financial compensation- it feeds my soul.

    Laurie in Mississauga.

  31. Quality of compensation and attached value is totally subjective…for some things we can only be paid in money, but for others the quality of the experience, the joy of the relationship or the activity itself creates a payoff that cannot be quantified. Most of us will never be paid in $ for our stitching – but we find ourselves rewarded well enough to pick up the needle time and again – knowing that whatever money we have spent on a project, its creation and completion is satisfying enough to make us go out and repeat it.

  32. Dear Mary,
    While I agree that purpose largely determins what wil be put into a project, I would never wipe my coutertop with your embroidered sackcloth towel! It’s far tot pretty for that. As far as the medallion goes, I imagine that working on such a beautiful piece with the best materials is part of the compensation. But I can’t speak from experience, as I’ve never made anything like it. Thank you for sharing the process, and the final result.

  33. Last time your site rejected me for “no e-mail address. The value of embroidery as well as
    sewing purificators and other altar linens, is saving money and a good fit for our rector,Carol who is 6’2” when making vestments and paraments. No matter how lavish the gold
    and silks it is cheaper than the ready made from luterigical suppliers.

  34. I agree with the person who said that the actual price of each item we custom make is a proprietary trade secret. I sew and quilt for others as well as teach and as long as both the customer and the laborer are happy with the price, it is really no one else’s business. I also know that we should create a rate for our services that is equal to our ability in the marketplace. If for sentimental or professional reasons we choose to offer services for less than our market rate or if fortunate enough to discover more than we originally expected (tips, are a joyful gift) in the envelope, as long as we receive enough to feel it was worth the effort and both parties are happy, that is the value. When we contract with someone for any reason, it is only right to do our best work and accept what they offered in return regardless of what that price may be and it is often quite different between different artists in different parts of the country as well as even in our own neighborhoods.

    Purpose does make a difference,and our time and effort should be equal to the task, but we must also remember that a church that asks a Vacation Bible School class to create an altar cloth will use it to worship just as they will use one made by a professional seamstress or embroider. Skill and notoriety of the artist may make a difference for the price, but the use of the item may be the same. I would expect to pay a whole lot more for a Van Gough or Rembrandt than I would for a piece of my child’s artwork, but I still will put both of them up on the wall and on any given day I may value one more than the other.

  35. Your feelings and thoughts about what you creat are explained so well. They are absolutely correct and should always be part of the equation when starting and executing a piece of handwork, be it embroidery, crochet, knitting or any other made by hand project. Art comes in many forms and the dedication and talent involved will always come through if you use beautiful products that we now have available to us. I also have found that when you use quality materials, what ever the medium, the beauty of that material brings out our best effort to do justice to it. There will be someone 50 years from now hold this beautiful medallion and wonder about the person that created it. You are now a part of someones life in the future. You do beautiful work, it is an inspiration for the rest of us to try harder.

  36. Mary, thank you once again for being so patient with enquiring minds, however, I feel what you pay or are paid is of little consequence to anyone but yourself. The beauty and pride of what you have achieved in your LOVE OF EMBROIDERY should be enough explanation to anyone who has had the opportunity of sharing this Medallions road with you, why dont they think of the teaching you have shared with us day after day and what that would cost them instead. Thank you once again for your sharing and beautiful work, looking forward to whatever comes next.

  37. Hi Mary,
    First I would like to say how beautiful your medallion is. As for compensation for doing it, well I’m pleased you received a worthy amount, it is certainly deserved. I have recently embroidered a stole for a priest. The latest issue of Inspirations magazine from Country Bumpkin has in fact printed a small article about it. I receive very little for the work I do, but I guess the fact that something I’ve made will be seen by many and hopefully used for many years is compensation enough. Non stitchers can never appreciate the time and effort that goes into any of our creations. I rarely sell anything I make. I give them as gifts, especially the little hand smocked dresses I make, that way I don’t have the uncomfortable feeling that someone feels I’ve been greedy and overcharged them. It’s not easy though. How do we put a true price on the items we make, whether it’s a small cloth or something as intricate as your medallion?

  38. After getting one shot of your working table, I am now thinking of, how huge your orts bin will look after completing this project. It can sure make some mini projects or some nice motifs.

    Talking about the purpose of spending the money on something. It is OK as long as one can afford.
    And I am sure there is a matter of passion for every artist. I have few works that cost me less. And on other hand, the one that cost me more…. I still like those cost me less because of the purpose or time invested or the inexpensive vision you have in mind, when you need to create something.

    The goldwork because of the cost you always will keep it covered, with the fear of even touching and feeling it. Opposed to that, the cotton work, you can touch, feel, and even cuddle with them. I will say I like goldwork. But I love the simple but elegant cotton works…

  39. Oh dear, this is a vexed question indeed.

    On the one hand, we are saying that we don’t charge ‘real’ amounts for our labour because we derive satisfaction from doing it which is worth more than mere money.

    But on the other hand, there are embroiderers out there who, for whatever reason, must rely on their work for income to live on. For those people, a living wage is a necessity and it doesn’t matter a scrap whether or not they derive any secondary benefits from embroidery.

    So the question is: do we all have a responsibility to charge a ‘living wage’ or do we just do our own thing?

  40. I agree with purpose being a consideration in the materials used. Sometimes I don’t charge the full price for the piece I do, I need to do my best for all projects and sometimes the shear pleasure of creating a piece bridges the gap between what I am charging and what the piece is worth in hours and materials.

  41. I’m interested in how you value your labor. EGA (via their insurance) tells you to use minimum wage as an hourly rate which is totally wrong in my opinion because I think it devalues your needlework skills. My husband thinks I need to compare the labor that goes into my needlework as opportunity cost, or what I could have earned in that time had I been employed in my field (Accounting). Most non-embroiderers don’t understand the amount of work or skill that goes into producing any type of embroider and are for the most part unwilling to pay a reasonable price for embroidery (esp. since they can buy mass produced items from China at a fraction of the cost).

    1. I think most of us are just using minimum wage as an easy way to calculate labor and not what actually needs to be calculated. For an experienced embroideress, calculating it as what you would have been paid as an accountant is great except for one thing, (for example) if you are a better accountant than embroideress (or vice versa) it would likely be different. ๐Ÿ™‚

  42. This is a GREAT discussion. Since I can’t speak to embroidery work, let me relate it to what I *do* do. Trust me, it’s relevant.

    I make the occasional jewelry. It’s quite nice, but it’s not the best around and I know it. Despite that, I’m proud of it, and it is well received. But…

    There’s always that nagging little question–How much is it WORTH? I know how much it took in supply costs, I know how long I worked on it, and yet…they don’t sell.

    I get comments like, “Wow. Gorgeous piece, but the price is too high–everyone knows that you crafters are just using the cheapest stuff.”

    “I can go online and buy the components for less.”

    “It’s too cheap for what it is…what’s wrong with it?”

    “Very nice…but why is it the price it is?”

    While I don’t feel obligated to explain to every inquirer my cost structure, I DO feel obligated to be paid reasonably for my time and skills. So what do I do?

    I count up my time, and I say to myself, ‘Just how much of a genius was I on this one?’. If the answer is ‘Not much, just strung everything together’, then I calculate my time at a bit over minimum wage (say, $10/hr).

    If I sat there and worked wire for hours to get the result, and it was a challenge to do, I charge at a higher rate (say, $15/hr).

    If it is custom, then it’s the highest tier I’m willing to be paid, about $20/hr, but it varies according to the complexity.

    When you make something which will be sold, or for which you will be paid, make sure you value YOURSELF as much as you do the materials and delight of accomplishing a goal.

    Crafters, I’ve noticed, are like farmers…we produce a nice product, but we tend to ‘throw in’ our actual time/labor out of habit, or just because it’s so hard to figure out what *really* went into it.

    I think that while we are each going to count it differently, we need to count our time, in labor and skill, in order to know how to approximate the base value of what we are producing.

    Using Mary’s medallion, let’s see. About 450 hours of work, from design to finish. About $300 in materials. Purpose? Vestment, for the ages.

    How much is Mary’s time worth? She had a lot of fun and a lot of frustration; she blogged it and photo’d it, and used it to teach us.

    Were it me, I’d count the blogging/photo part as my bonus, and value the time according to what I did. Mary is one of the top embroidery folks out there–her skills are complete and the result shows it. If I were that good in any ‘non-professional’ field, I’d be paid about $20/hour. Okay, maybe 15. But a whole lot more than minimum wage, for sure!

    Once I calculated the whole shebang, THEN I can sit back and say, “Okay, but what is someone going to expect to PAY for this piece?” Then I can adjust up or down or sideways accordingly.

    1. The jewelery is the same as we have mentioned previously about embroidery. They feel it needs to be cheap because they can buy “””the same””” thing (in thier mind not ours) in the bargain bin at Walmart, and because they have never seen jewelry making (or embroidery) in action they have no idea it took that long to make. I know that more often than not when I tell people who ask how long I have been working on a project thier jaws drop and they look as though thier brains have fallen out because they have never done ANYTHING, EVER that takes longer than a couple of hours to finish. I am sure you have seen that look as well. ๐Ÿ™‚ Just a suggestion, one thing that happens around here is an annual craft fair/bazaar. Artists (I have seen jewelry makers there in the past) of numerous types set up a table or stall in the shopping center and sell thier work. I have spoken to them, and they do say that they usually get better prices at the fairs than online or elsewhere because the people who go to those fairs are looking to buy hand crafted items, and can actually see more than just a photo of what they are buying. So you may want to do a little research and see if there are any in your area and how the whole thing works. I have not seen any embroiderers because they would likely have to work for a couple of years to gather up enough items to sell just to make enough to pay the fee for permission to sell at the bazaar, but the jewelers (and others) I have spoken to indicate that they get together in groups to pay the permission fee, and with several talents available on the table, they usually have something that appeals to most people, so they usually do okay. Though with the recession, it has been a bit “skinny” lately. Anyhow, good luck. ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. I believe that your final statement, onafixedincome, is the whole crux of this subject. Ultimately it comes down to what the market will pay. For example:

      My husband (fine woodworker/sculptor) and I (textile artist) have both had exhibitions in our small town where the prices we were encouraged to charge were a lot lower than we would have been able to charge were we showing in a big city.

      BTW, does anyone else think this subject has been done to death in this forum yet? Maybe it is time we all hung up our typing fingers and gave Mary space to get on with what she does best.

  43. Here’s a point of discussion….I’ve seen a few embroidered pieces for sale (Ebay, Etsy) that have been done by embroiderers at a beginner/low intermediate level of skill – and have charged quite high prices for them.
    How does this affect people who are more experienced and want to sell their pieces? Are they forced to charge even higher prices, to reflect the time they have invested to gain their experience, and produce a higher quality work? Is the target market discerning enough to evaluate embroidery skill? Or should it be a free for all, and we should just be glad that there *is* a market for hand embroidered works??

    1. I would think that most people who are buying the EBAY masterpieces (so to speak) do not know how long it took or anything, they are just impressed (and can brag) that it is “hand done” according to the seller. Whether they are hand done or not is another question. Often photos are not good enough to tell. People who have seen embroidery in action (like our families for example) would not be impressed by some of the things on EBAY, and likely the sellers tack on adjectives (exquisite!, stunning! etc) so they can charge more, but really have no idea what an exquisite piece even is. For example, last year my granma wanted to buy a gift for her aunts 90th birthday, did she hunt something down on EBAY? Nope, asked me to make something because she knew she would not be getting a 1$ garage sale, EBAY resale. What I made may not have been a Metropolitan Museum of Art candidate, but she knew exactly what it was and was not.

  44. Mary, I apologise in advance if this is rather long.
    I was surprised to see and open forum on cost for one’s labour.
    In this field it is the same as any tradesman.
    There are shonky trade people and there are those who stand by their work and are of great integrity. Otherwise litigation would be constant.
    I have to agree in part with Laura. She is in business and like anyone who is in business they are there to make money. Their wage.
    This is my price and that is then in the hands of the buyer who can try and get another price.
    Or a contact is drawn up.
    You have already put down in a segment the places you get your products from and that is then up to those who are interested to make enquiries and do the search.
    Unfortunately there are many who will not do much for themselves and expect others to fill their needs.
    I don’t know your business details and I don’t want to, that is your business, but to stay relevant your ability is not in question but your generosity of heart . If anyone wants all the nitty gritty of cost and set up for business they can pay for it and attend one of you classes for a broad outline.
    I do enjoy reading your opinions on products and books it is always so helpful. So much so that I go and look at those items for myself and at times buy. (the budget in mind of course)
    As with Laura I agree I would not be telling all and sundry what the cost of products I used are. Just where I get them.
    You were compensated and not out of pocket then that is that. As to how much in a break down is your business and no one elseโ€™s. It is then up to those who are interested to go see for themselves.
    The second part is the emotional. There is never a price on that …how can there be, it is intangible.
    I know how I feel about my work and even when asked to do something for a cost I really hate at times handing it over.
    I come from a work ethic of “if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well”.
    You most beautiful medallion which I must say I am quite sad that it is now to be handed on. It is like watching a child grow, and leave home. The rational in us says we did the right things and the child is now able to do things for themselves, but as a mother they are forever our babies and we love them. We invested our love and care so we could make a descent and a self reliant adult.
    With our embroidery we see it grow, see mistakes pull it out and do again and move on to the next part. That applies to the greatest to the lesser. We can look and say ,โ€I am well pleased.โ€
    Your medallion may last a 1000 years but is it any better than the simple cloth? Yes, you used more expensive products in the medallion than the cloth, which is of a lesser value.
    I dare say you look at the medallion and you want to touch it gently, and think to yourself, ” oh you are lovely I hope everyone thinks so”, or such. You were well pleased with your endeavour. So you should be. If you get the ahhs and oohs and other admiration calls, you well deserve it.
    The little cloth, so simple and yet so useful. I cannot believe that you did that little towel without care and satisfaction when it was finished. Both are your creations and deserved equal care. If you think about it you can only look at one as it is an adornment, but the towel is so useful and will keep giving until it falls apart. If so that to me would be loving one child more than the other because one was beautiful and the other plain.
    Mary, I am glad I found your blog as it is great place to find out so many things about embroidery.
    A pleasure to read. Your generosity is limitless and we are very lucky to have you out there.
    May you continue to do what you enjoy and enjoy what you do.

  45. Regarding the dollar amount of materials used in needlework projects, I was trying to think of a way to briefly say this the other day without it sounding….snobby? No, that’s not the right word, but close. Blunt – that’s it. Thank you for coming up with a way of putting the point of purpose across clearly.

    As to the labor cost – I’d love to read your thoughts someday. Mine are similar to most comments so far – we do it for love (of recipient and/or just doing needlework), not money. Between “made in China”, and a general lack of appreciation for hand crafted textile items, there’s very little chance to earn a living at needlework for most. It seems that those that do work huge hours designing, teaching, selling, writing, and keeping their name recognition up to snuff, not just the actual stitching. I think part of the problem is we don’t need hugely expensive or dangerous tools like computer diagnostics or saws. I’d guess non-stitchers see needles, scissors and a few threads and think “what’s the big deal?”.

    1. Just Gail,

      To a certain extent you are right. It is just thread and needles and a scissors, but it is also about the fact that we are doing historic tasks in work that is futuristic minded and that we are willing to give our work away. When machinery took over in the industrial revolution the handwork was deemed superfluous to those in industry. Hand crafts became extra-curricular activities to the women of the era which were not considered the major breadwinners, although it was a means of income for many widows, orphans and certainly some longstanding specialists in the trades, but over time these folks become less and less. While we all make gifts for friends and family, when we do not charge for our work and do the work “for the love of it”, although not purposefully, devalue at least in monetary terms the the very work that we are trying to maintain. All work has a monetary value and professional needleworkers need to be compensated just as much as professional plumbers, house painters, and welders. That was the whole point of the Garment Workers Union.

      Unfortunately, now, the billion dollar fabric and sewing industry has all gone mechanical and hand weavers, embroiderers, quilters are now economically artisans in an industry that has gone to the machinery/computer age and people who want that artisan’s work do pay premium prices for it. Yeah for Mary, et al.

      Believe it or not, many of our young students don’t know how to use a compass to make a circle or protractor to measure an angle. Without a computer they are lost. The single hand needle and thread is slowly going the way of the slide rule. It is relegated to the artist level and lost to the mass market. I was even told by a sewing machine dealer that it is a waste of time to buy a mechanical machine because our students will only use a computerized machine.

      This actually makes our hand work worth more in theory and most people ask how much time did it take because they recognize the effort even if they cannot afford to pay for it or think we are nuts to do it. Most people have told me that they understand my rates and do not think them extravagant, but the hand work becomes more than they can afford. As a consumer ed. teacher/stitcher part of my role is to educate those who wonder why it is difficult to do this work. When people discover what it really takes to be a needle artist, seamstress, etc., they are amazed that anyone still does it, but grateful that we do. People who think doing this will be cheaper than going to the department stores or discount houses to buy routine goods are sorely mistaken. Sadly, remember that most of the major artists/composers of their day died with no monetary wealth even though we still enjoy their art. Much of their art was considered folly at the time. How many of us wish we still had Elvis records, our original Barbie dolls, etc. Now these things are not just toys from a dime store, but have real monetary value as antiques. Which pieces of all of us will have that value in the future is yet to be told. I am just glad I have a mom who knits, a M-I-L who crocheted, a sister in law who weaves and I quilt and sew. None of us were able to give up our day jobs, but we have lovely pieces to share. I agree, with the person who commented, it is time to return to talk stitching instead of money once again, but this has been a wonderful discussion.

  46. Hi Mary, very informative and so correct. I love giving hand embroidered pieces to friends and to my sisters. A small doily I embroidered many years ago, and taking instruction from my late Mother about new stitches, was given to my younger sister. Whenever it is placed on the coffee table, her children always remove it when having food or drink on that table so they do not ruin it if spills should occur. Conversely, another sister, well, I am reluctant to give her any hand embroidered items as her cats have not been very nice to the cushions I gifted her a couple of years ago. Behaviour that is not tolerated, by me, of my cats, or my other sisters of their cats.

    As for cost of labour (time & skill) I would love to get into that discussion, but not today as I am smarting from a very disagreeable discussion on this very subject.


    Marian (NZ)

  47. I had the opposite reaction to the cost of the materials for the Medallion. It seems tiny compared to the value the skill & talent required to create it!

  48. I totally agree!!! My feelings are that unless someone has actually tried making the craft they are clueless as to what goes into making the craft. And face it—people are cheap!! They think you should be willing to make something elaborate and then sell it for a couple of dollars. Someone once offered to buy a beaded/tapestry lampshade for $8 after I had put over 30 hrs of beaded into the base, not counting the time it took to cover and bead the fringe for the lampshade, plus the cost of materials. Then she had the nerve to say she could get it for $8 at Walmart so I politely told her to go visit Walmart and pick one up. I am so tired of “Made in China”. I have started to pay close attention to where items (supplies and already made items) come from. Last month I was surprised to find that every single item in the Hobby Lobby craft store had a Made in China sticker on it. And a nursery gift shop had the same situation. I told the cashier of the nursery gift shop why I would not be making a purchase and she said that she felt the same way and was trying to institute a program where local artists/crafters could place their items there on consignment. The general public needs to wake up and see the value in handmade items. Many will become heirlooms that could be passed down through the generations.

  49. Dear Mary,
    I haven’t been to the site since you were halfway through the Medallion Project, and it is So Fabulous!!! I bought your ecclesial (sp?) pattern book PDF some time ago, and have started on the Lamb of God pattern – I suspect I’ll be looking for advice on the wool on the little lamb pretty soon!
    I am writing to say you are so very right about the compensation for all the work done on a piece. I recently finished a 3’x5′ square banner for a religious group. I know they hadn’t much money, but they refused to accept the work as a donation. So I just charged them enough to save face, and I received the joy of their happiness in having a lovely hand made banner. LOL, I even made up a stitch or two, for the gothic lettering.
    Thank you for all that you do here on your site,
    Tracy in FL.

  50. Mary,
    Thats an interesting musing on the value of the embroiderers skill and compensation thereof. I agree, as a hand embroiderer that so much joy derives from the act of creating beauty that we often dont mind a ยฃ or $ value, but i think this is ultimately what will prevent the consumer from ever fully valuing the product and in turn prevent artisans from being able to make a decent living from their art/craft alone. I long to give up my day job and yearn for the time and freedom to do nothing but sew and create, however its almost impossible to make a living in this way. It would be lovely if embroideries were exchanged for the kind of money that paintings can attract.

  51. I think it depends on all the circumstances taken together; my wish is to teach embroidery and take commissions – then my actions will reflect all this; again purpose is at the core how one value his time, resources and handwork;

  52. Would it be possible to have embroidery work done? I would like to stitch hand embroidered tags into a dress, a doll and a hat I’ve made for my great great niece’s first birthday? Please let me know if this is something you would do? And if yes, what would your cost be?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi, Laura – Thanks for asking! I’m not able to take this type of bespoke work at this time, but you could always check to see if you have a local chapter of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America (EGA) near you (if you’re in the States?) and maybe they would be able to recommend someone. Worth a try!

More Comments