Mary Corbet

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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

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Hand Embroidery: Purpose in Relation to Cost


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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.


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(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