Tuesday, December 1, 2009

You Can't Make That Yourself For Less

You can always tell whether a person is an artsy pants if you are out together, you point at a particularly lovely object (and this could be anything, from a felted flowers garland, to a textured canvas, a wooden sculpture, an embroidered napkin) and the person with you recoils in horror at the pricetag and spitefully tells you that: ‘You can make that yourself for a lot less than that’. Shops, advertising, marketing and 'stuff' do not catch this type of Sherlocks out I am telling you.

The ‘you can make that yourself for a lot less than that’ brigade is usually constituted by tightasses who do not like to part with money as a general rule. These are the sort of people who will gorge themselves to sick point on free sarnies at the church festival but who will quite happily go hungry for 24+ hours if those same sarnies are for sale at 50p each, or even less. They hand out cards instead of posting them and they conveniently forget birthdays. These ain’t people who are patrons to the arts or artists. I recommend avoiding them at all costs.

Most importantly, they are people who have never ever tried their hand at making anything. Whether the item in question is a knitted scarf or a clay spoon does not matter; only the tight and the clueless, the hopeless, the arts-uninitiated ever say ‘you can make that yourself for less’. This is a fact, not an opinion, and I am going to show you why.

A few weeks back I started work on an advent calendar. I am very passionate about advent calendars you see, because it seems to me like the possibilities are so varied that one could spend a whole year making advent calendars while using items as unrelated as fabric and cork, tin and wood, paper and glitter, stone and glass and so on and so forth. In fact, I can think of many more things off the top of my head: melamine and dead leaves, yarn and ribbon, pegs and hooks, paper butterflies and papier marché birds, buttons and pins, tags and stickers... It just thrills me to bits.

One day while walking around Knutsford, I had an epiphany involving a cork pinboard, some Christmas fabric and lots of little numbered bags held up by ribbon hooked on silver pins. I went off and started buying my supplies. I was even a little smug when I left a local stationery shop with the cork pinboard for which I had only shelled out a miserable £ 3 (please note: it was on sale at 50% off).

Three weeks, and many hours of cutting, sewing, gluing and finishing later, and I have a unique advent calendar that I very satisfactorily hung up on Monday evening in preparation for The Big Day, today. But has this calendar cost me less than anything similar I’ve seen in John Lewis, Laura Ashley, House of Fraser, Selfridges, Paperchase or the ubiquitous charity shops? Has it heck:

cork board, half price £ 3
cotton thread £ 1.50
backing fabric £ 5
bag fabric £ 7
gold glitter £ 5
glue £ 4
ribbon £ 5
pins £ 3
chocolates £ 3

not budgeted for because I already had them:

hot pink backing fabric for bags
one other reel of cotton thread
silver thread for embroidery of numbers
green felt for numbers
special glue for back of pins
Heat-and-Bond reel for stitch-less hems and borders
needles, cutting mat and rotary cutter

So the total for my home-made advent calendar is £ 36.50, with my time, naturally, unaccounted for, as I regard the process as a free add-on to the pleasure of the making. Yet, I saw beautiful advent calendars made of felt and with tons of embellishments yesterday for only £ 10. The wooden ones at £ 25 and £ 30 are cheaper than mine.

If I were to continue this joyful pastime at the sewing machine and were to make, say, a small stocking, I would spent another £ 10 worth of fabrics, probably felt, and extra for a couple of embellishments, perhaps a hole-punch that could create a motif around the folded-over edge and a thick ribbon that would run lengthwise and across the top for hanging. How about a lovely two-coloured longline cardigan with belt? Or a small quilt to throw on the sofa? How much do you think the crochet blanket I am making will have cost in the end? £ 30? Yeah right.

The other day I was leafing through the Brora winter catalogue, ogling a beautiful cashmere blanket that only costs £ 350. Yes, I am saying only for a purpose there. If I were to knit myself the same in, let’s say, Debbie Bliss’s pure cashmere at £ 10 a hank, and with one hank measuring a very modest 41m, I would need hundreds to hit blanket-size, even in the very simple stockinette stitch. My ‘you could make that yourself for less’ cashmere blanket would cost me more than a Hermès one.

So, no, there is not much out there which you can make yourself for less. In fact, while I concede that there may be something, quite frankly, I cannot think of anything. And next time you hear that stupid litany... just roll your eyes and buy whatever it is you want to buy.
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