miscellaneous · musings · sewing

Market groupie

It’s pretty obvious isn’t it.  Even to me.  Yes, I am a market groupie.  I started attending craft markets about fifteen years ago, when there weren’t many operating in and around Melbourne.  Now it’s like there is a market somewhere nearby every weekend, often on both days.  I do wonder if we have reached the point of craft market overload.  Nevertheless, I do often find myself at a craft market, and sometimes I even buy something.  Well, I almost always buy something to eat – Cathie from Melbourne Epicure has been at a few of the markets I’ve attended this month and makes divine tarts, cupcakes and biscuits – and Clare is always at me to buy something for her.  But I generally manage to restrain myself – after all, isn’t the crafter’s mantra “but I could make that myself”?  I did recently buy these beautiful brooches from Cam at CurlyPops and received a lovely soap in pouch from Felicity of Flicketysplitts.

CurlyPops brooches and Flickettysplits soap bag by you.

I have had numerous compliments on those brooches!  Thanks Cam!  I bought one of Felicity’s Hoots (this one is called Salmon Ella Hoot) for a friend’s 1 year old.

Salmon Ella Hoot by Flicketysplits by you.

I love that she can play peekaboo with the wings – the 1 year old has a 3 year old sister and I’m sure that there will be plenty of fun between the two with Hoot.

Because I attend so many craft markets, I am definitely starting to see the same things over and over.  That’s not a criticism, more an observation.  Many of the items for sale are beautiful and well made.  Some need improvement.  Some are vastly overpriced for what is involved.  Most are vastly underpriced for what is involved.  Running a craft market stall must be a terribly difficult way to make a living – even to make decent pocketmoney.  I know how long it takes to make many of those items that are for sale!  I know what the materials cost – not just the fabrics, but the interfacings, the fusibles, the hardware, the labels, the business cards. 

People often say to me “why don’t you have a market stall and sell those bags you make/things you crochet/clothes you sew?”  Other than not liking to make things production-style, I simply cannot see how it could be profitable.  It takes me three to five hours to make a bag with a number of pockets, layers of interfacing and wadding, hardware, zips, topstitching etc, including the time spent on cutting out, pressing etc, not just the sewing time.  Add to that the cost of materials and I cannot see how anyone would pay approx $120 or more for a fabric bag made by me.  Because I would definitely want to charge at least the same amount per hour that I receive at my day job – my time is precious to me! 

Many of you do sell what you make – why?  From an entirely selfish perspective I am glad that you do as I enjoy my market jaunts.  But do you think that it is worth it?  What does everyone else think?   


35 thoughts on “Market groupie

  1. Ha ha! Salmon Ella! Love it.

    I’ve never done markets, but I am thinking of applying for a big market in September for the experience, if nothing else.

    But I do sell on Etsy, and I do that mainly for fun. I think I love the fabrics I use more that the sewing, but it’s a bit of a kick when people love what you make, buy it, and use it! The biggest ego boost is seeing photos on knitting blogs of my sunnyboys lines up in a row. The pride is somewhat akin to seeing your first child go off to school, I imagine 😉

  2. I always think about it… but I never do. Mainly I think it’s the time factor – I simply don’t have the time to make lots and lots of things, enough for a market stall. I make things for people I love but that’s about it. My day job is creatively crafty – maybe I need a break when I go home and the thought of crafting for sale would be akin to homework? Not sure. At the moment I’m happy just making for me.

  3. I love doing the markets – not because they make money for me, I’m sure that when everything is taken into consideration I actually run at a loss. But I am a compulsive crafter, and if I didn’t do the markets I wouldn’t have any room in my house because it would be jammed full of products! There are only so many things you can give away to people. Plus there’s something about sending out a little bit of happiness into the world … when someone loves something I’ve made, loves it enough to want to own it, that’s a much better motivator than the money or time aspect of things. AND I get to meet lots of other lovely crafty souls, which is fantastic. So overall, it’s nothing about the money but more about the whole picture. Does that make sense??

  4. I sell at markets every week and I absolutely love it. I trade at the same market and get lots of repeat business and really appreciate how much people appreciate my craft. I’m forunate that my toys have been well-received and I’ve managed to create a thriving way of life. I’m not going to get rich, but I’m certainly not hurting… even when you account for time, overhead, supplies, wear&tear on my machine and such.

    I find the markets keep me immersed in my community. I often trade my wares for other things I need/want that I may not otherwise treat myself too. Markets have been good for me, but I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say it’s a very tough gig. We covered just this topic at Sydney Owls last night!

  5. Hi!
    I used to sell things here and there. Usually my husband would bring scarves and bags and necklaces and such to his office and sell for me. I used to work there too. People would see a gift I made and then want one and at some point I had to start to charge people, I can only be so generous. I started selling beaded things to support my yarn habit. I never, ever did any sort of stall for the very reason you have mentioned and I flat out say no to making things for people now, stating I don’t have time, which I really don’t. I won’t sell things anymore. Once it becomes a chore it is no longer a passion and what I do isn’t fun. I agree with you, people either grossly over charge (of course I can see why) or undercharge (me). When I see things that I can make myself I always say to myself “just because I CAN does NOT mean I SHOULD” is this worth it? I CAN cut my daughter’s hair, I went to school. I would rather pay someone to avoid the hassle and mess.

    I also love love love the owl.

  6. I’m strating to sell on Made It and hope to do a market as I don’t have enough storage space for the things I make! Friends get uncomfortable when they get too much given to them, especially if they don’t want it in the first place! At least if someone buys it, they want it and i’ve had fun making it. I don’t ever expect to get back what I put it ie costs.

  7. Interesting post Lara, I know what you mean with regard to time being factored in as to whether it is worth it to sell, I also get comments on selling some of the things I make but as I am not really very creative, more a pattern follower much of what I make could not be sold as the designs are not mine to sell.
    Also with three kids three and under I struggle tokeep up with all I want to make for them and their friends/family members so it leaves me little time.
    I would liek to have a go at it down the track though – much for the same reasons as Amy and Felicity – being involved ina community and for the joy of doing it.
    I guess my fear would be that I might lose some of the joy. Time will tell.
    Anyway – I used one of yoru tutorials tomake up a crochet hook roll – loved the tute and the result so thanks!

  8. Dammit. Wrote a comment and my broken Internets lost it someplace. Anyway, it was just to say that my thoughts pretty closely echo yours on markets. I definitely think we are at saturation point with markets now, and I wonder how long it can keep up, given the same sellers are working many markets, surely they will eventually burn out? I do think the *idea* of selling at craft markets, of people paying me their hard-earned to buy something *I* made, is pretty nice. But in reality, I know that a) I also hate making things production style (have a hard enough time sticking with the same *craft* lately, let alone the same *product*!), and b) the effort:reward ration is definitely not attractive enough. I *do* think that crafters who are selling supplies/kits/etc to other crafters are onto a good thing though, the effort:reward ratio is a bit better. But who knows how long the crafty resurgence will last? Will the bubble burst?!

  9. Lara I was composing a post in my head along very similar lines! Beat me to it. I too am curious about why people sell their craft. Particularly those who sell at markets but also hold a job in another area – given that it’s a very flooded market now. There are some insights in the comments above that can give me more of an idea I guess.

    I DO understand those who are trying to make a living from it – because you’ve got to make a living from something, and I very much admire those who are dedicated to their art, have a vision and a niche, and decide to go for it even though it will never by highly lucrative.

    I admit I like to think about what it would mean to sell stuff, what I would make, etc – but for me it’s all about how cool it would be for people I don’t know to like and own something I made. So basically it’s about ego!!! I know that I’d undercharge on stuff because I’d be more keen for people to buy it than to make a profit or even recoup costs.

    So perhaps I’ll just keep making stuff and do more giveaways.

  10. Great post. I guess I sell at markets because I love making things and as some others have said you can only make so much to keep for yourself, your kids, friends etc. I only do a couple of markets though, not every week but I love the whole market experience, talking to customers, chatting with other sellers etc.

    I have a “real” job and two kids so I’m not doing it to get rich or even support myself but because I love making things. I think I probably do undercharge on things but I feel like I would rather sell it than drag it back home again.

  11. Hmmm…I think that in order to sell handmade goods at a price that the public is willing to pay you need to bulk craft, cut corners or underprice. I’m not satisfied with the bulk craft or the cutting corners. It’s important to me to be proud of the things I make. Too much of the underpricing has made it very hard to charge a fair price for handmade items. I just want to sell a few little bits and pieces to keep me out of trouble & out of an admin job…sigh.

  12. Great post Lara. I first set up an Etsy shop because people asked (nagged) me too.
    I seemed to have fallen into the pattern writing gig which is a bit different as once you have written it once (and to be honest this takes me months !!) You don’t have to write it again, so it is easier on the time factor.
    I sell things now to feed my craft habit. If I don’t sell things, then I don’t buy supplies. If I do sell things then I buy supplies. I will not ever make a fortune but I would like my craft to be self-sustaining.

  13. I too have been thinking and mulling over this topic. I have often wondered if the sellers in the various cities in Australia have a better response with the public/target markets than we sometimes do here in Christchurch. You know… lots of horrified looks at the price tags. Loud tuts. Scornful I could make that myself’s. Add to that the difficulty to compete for a dollar in at a market with goods that are less labour intensive to make (than bags for instance) and subsequently a lower price point and I often wonder why I persist. For me I started because I enjoyed making things and I wanted some pocket money. But then like anything you become more and more involved in what you are doing and become more entrenched and more committed. And then begins the production line making which is awfully not fun. Factor into this the complexities of retail, wholesale and cost pricing, the absolute right to expect a reasonable hourly rate (at least for the making let alone the fabric sourcing, the market stalling, the loading products on etsy/felt, the blogging) and it is very easy to be faced with unrealistic price points for way too much time and effort. However pride does factor in – I want to be successful at whatever I do and success means sales but at what cost?

  14. Interesting question indeed. You know i often read your blog and others and think ‘why don’t they sell’. So it’s funny to hear you ask’ why we do sell’… I can’t crotchet, but I love the look, I don’t have time for another hobby so I would and do pay the price for stuff other peeps craft.

    On the flip side, I started selling because firstly..I enjoy crafting. Secondly I’ve run out of friends to give it too, so rather then die in a sea of fabric, yarn and beads, i had to think of how to move the made stuff onwards and create funds to make more. My markets feed my need to create. I don’t make much money beyond being able to pay for new materials and supplies, but at least it does that. I constantly challenge myself to have new products on the table, so peeps don’t get bored of Finki, and so that I maintain interest in what I do. I have met more people and friends in the last 6 months of marketing than I have in my whole life, and they are just like me. So for now, I love it. Can’t say I’ll do it forever, but it’s just what I needed to take that next step and believe in myself. Who knows where the journey will end.
    Sorry my reply was soooo long. ( :

  15. What a great discussion you have started here.
    I still very much depend on my day job for $ security – but have become thoroughly addicted to having my market stall. I see it as a way of sharing what I love making. I get a bit of pocket money from the markets… but I don’t have aspirations of it becoming my full-time occupation. I don’t know how lucrative it is down south, but I know plenty of folk on the Nth Coast NSW who *do* make a living from markets alone – and I take my hat off to them. That’s a hard slog…
    I think markets are about affirming my creativity, making a wee bit of cash and socialising/connecting – I love meeting up with other creative people and feeling like I am a part of a creative community.

    Thanks for a great blog post!!

  16. So glad you liked my brooches Lara!
    I originally never intended to sell anything. I just made things for fun and gave them away (and still do). My life circumstances changed which necessitated a change in perspective. Making things at home and selling at the occassional craft market is something that I can still do to remain a productive member of society. It’s great fun and I’ve met some amazing people at the market.
    The hardest thing about selling is to get the correct pricing balance. The price needs to be something that is actually going to make a little money, but also something that the customer will actually pay.

  17. Nice One Lara – I’m not an avid market goer but I do think they are such a fantastic way to display your wares, promote the crafting lifestyle and community (fully in support of trade and supporting a local economy). I admire anyone who puts themselves out there to have people judge their work – and who are living that DIY way of life. (I think i would go insane watching people put their greasy cupcake fingers on my stuff but i’m sure they are in the minority…). Its disappointing when a market advertises “handmade” but really means “handmade in third world by poorly paid 5 year old” but that economics I guess. I have had a break from making things to sell partly because the maths didn’t add up at the time. When I was actually receiving money for my handiwork, I used to think that even if I inspired someone to “make it themselves” then it was all worth it.

    Imagine the markets we’d have to go to if there were no etsy or made it??

    I think you could start a conference on this one – it so touches the Art v Craft, relocalisation, a supportive vs competitive community, the DIY lifestyle – my gosh. How am I going to get to sleep now…..buzzing. Great thesis topic.

  18. I was thinking of starting a craft based business, as I currently make cakes for a living, but am sick of the stress of food. I was of the fantasy that craft would be easier (as it does not “go off”)….I have not developed a product that I think would see yet, but I am working on it. Apart from Badskirt, does anyone actually make a living? I would want to make $1000 clear each week. Am I dreaming?

  19. I love markets! We do not have many in South Africa. Most markets sell crap, you know, the mass production stuff from China. I make stuff for myself, family and friends and not for ptofit. I used to have a little side-line business selling my decoupage items but I had to drop my price, give up many hours with my family, contend with non-payers and endure close inspection of my products (because “hand-made” means there must be “flaws”, right?). In my opinion, it is not profitable at all. I will never do it again, even if I have 200 handbags in my cupboard! I think crafters that sell do it because they love doing what they are doing.

  20. Great post…I’m another market junkie (buyer) and occasionally sell at markets too. I do it for the love. I have a small child and it stops me from going loopy. I think if it ever becomes a chore then it’s time to give it away. I get a real kick when someone buys my stuff and you should hear me squeal if I see someone on the street wearing my jewellery!! Plus it’s nice to have some pocket money to feed my craft habit

  21. Thanks for the interesting post. It’s taken me a while to formulate my answer as there are so many points to cover – perhaps I will have to do a post about it myself!

    Why craft to sell?

    In short, because I would like to earn money doing what I love and I would hope that this is possible. Also, it’s something I can do from home and I love the autonomy of creating my own work.

    There are still many time-poor people who would like to buy something handmade and with memories attached – a trip to the market here or there. It’s always nice to be able to buy something local which I think will always be there.

    Not being from Melbourne, I’m not exposed to a proliferation of markets so it is interesting to hear that there are markets there every weekend now. I don’t do markets all the time – in fact I stick to the warmer months as I don’t have a marquee and can’t afford to get my work wet.

    I have a few things in a couple of nearby shops, but that’s hard as they get 30% commission which needs to be factored into pricing. It means I just won’t be able to sell some things in their shops, but will have to try selling them direct. I also have a MadeIt Shop which combined with PayPal takes about 20%ish off the selling price, another thing to be factored..

    Pricing goods is tricky. I have a spreadsheet set up and add in all the costs, using the unit pricing method. I really studied my hourly rate and brought it down to a seamstress rate – I would love for it to be higher, but I need to be realistic. I do really spend a lot of time working out the pricing and if it’s not right, I won’t continue with an item or I will look at the selling method, as mentioned above, and perhaps will only sell it direct.

    Another aspect of markets for me is the thrill of having something fall in love with what you’ve made – recognition, I suppose. And then actually being paid for it. I guess we all need to make a living – one way or another – and this is how many of us choose to do it. We mightn’t get rich, but we are doing something that gives us enormous satisfaction.

    I will also do other work along the way and I hope to start doing more with my photography. I also make things purely for love, purely for our home – these are the fiddly things that take a long time and I know I could never make money from. But perhaps these are the things that other people can whip up very quickly and that’s what they sell – which gives us so much wonderful variety in what people make.

    There’s so much more I could say, but I think I will save that and put it in a cohesive post – eventually – on my own blog!

    Thanks for the opportunity to explain!

    Kind regards


  22. Great discussion piece, very interesting. I make things too and haven’t started selling as I too question if it’s worth it. So many friends say I should and part of me wants to and part of me doesn’t. About 15 years ago I made clothes to sell at markets. They were simple to make and I made a little money but unless the markets got a huge amount of foot traffic, like at a festival, it wasn’t worth my time. The worst thing about it though was that it destroyed my enjoyment for sewing. Mass producing killed my passion for a quite some time. I realised that I get enjoyment out of the process of inventing something new, not producing it 10 times over. I’ve learnt to stick to the enjoyment part of making and if I ever make to sell again it won’t me on a production line basis. How that is gonna work, I don’t know!!?

  23. I think that while there is plenty of craft action in Melbourne it is not the case in other places – we yearn for the markets you guys have week in week out … interesting discussion!

  24. I will never be able to support my family on what I make from selling at the occasional craft market. When we do farmers markets everything goes, food is a basic necessity but sometimes my confidence gets a beating when it comes to selling my craft. So why do it? Probably for 3 main reasons; a) To make some pocket money to put back into new supplies. To ease my guilt when I want more fabric or wool. b) Because as others have said before, I need to offload some of what I make. When I get obsessed with zippered pouches I make heaps and need to get rid of some. c) I guess for the recognition. There’s nothing better than people loving what you make enough to buy it. I feel confident in what I do most of the time but when I am spending so much time with my back to the world on my machine in my studio, getting it out there is great too.

  25. I have been thinking about this one for a while. I always feel a little busted after market so I always end up thinking “why do I do this” The best I can come up with is – it is like blogging, you know you don’t generate an income from it but you do it for the enjoyment. Hope that makes some kind of sense

  26. Hi Lara,
    glad you enjoy my goodies!
    For me getting into the market environment was a little bit of a necessity & alot of a pleasure.
    I got into it after my daughter was born just over 2.5 years ago. It was my pleasure of baking, a partner who is a chef & the desire NOT to go back to work that all made it happen.
    Now it is like a part time job for me & it is worth the extra pocket money but it’s not BIG bucks!
    I have a cafe that orders cakes so that’s financially better than baking for a market & not knowing whether you will sell or not.
    I do enjoy what I do & it does make it more enjoyable. Another thing is getting out into the market cirlces & making friends & having a bit of a chat with other “grownups” not just two littlies .
    Great discussion you have started, it’s good to hear what others have to say!

  27. Great post Lara. I enjoyed what you had to say and all the discussion that you have generated. It’s such an interesting question “why sell your stuff”. I don’t know that I have an answer for myself yet. Some of my thoughts include wanting to validate myself by taking my work beyond hobby status, the possibility of working for myself rather than someone else, extra cash, community, creativity and a compulsion to make. However, I regularly wonder how people do make a sustainable income, in what forum I really want to operate and how many markets Melbourne can sustain. You’ll have to keep us pondering this interesting topic I think.

  28. An interesting post. I’m just getting back into selling at markets and plan on doing a couple a month after life with the baby (who is still yet to come…) has settled down.

    The markets are something I really enjoy doing more-so for the people rather than the profits (most days I make enough to make it worth the time, but not much above that). Working and creating from home and then selling online, I find I can get lost in a little bubble of my own. At the markets I get to mingle with potential customers, chat to people as well as get feedback from my work. It’s also a great opportunity to see what people look at as opposed to what they end up buying.

    I don’t think that I could ever make a full-time income from the markets, but it is also a great marketing tool for the online shops, so that helps too.

  29. Why do I do it? I’m relatively new to it and 2009 is the year of suck it and see. I keep a full time job going so for me, it’s the evenings and weekends and a supportive partner who picks up the slack. I’m no good sewing in the evening so it’s handwork in the nights and sew on the weekends. I do make in bulk, but I make some product that is easy to do in bulk and that my partner can help with, I also keep enough of this stock to roll over into the next market with a little top-up. One of my biggest sellers is probably the most work, but if I make bulk of them then it cuts down the work. I’m also about to let go a little and publish the pattern, so hopefully making less of these and selling the pattern and kits. It’s a fine balance I guess. I admit I do get over it and resentful when it’s 11pm on a Saturday night and I’m sitting up stuffing the crap out of something 🙂

    I am fortunate to work in the graphic design industry, so I have access to a cheap printer and a designer at work trades sewing for design, I know that’s a huge saving. I also try to come up with new products fairly regularly and that can be tricky. You don’t want to be at the same market selling all the same stuff time and again. But again, you have to invest in materials and in your own time developing these things.

    I don’t think there’s any hard and fast answer for anyone. We all have our reasons why we do it, and why to some it seems like madness when it comes to profit. But maybe it is the compulsion to make that does it? I don’t know the answer fully for myself. As for the “I could make it myselfers”, yes I am one of those, but also I’ve come to appreciate other crafters work even more and will buy something even if I could make it myself. I always go and buy from others at the markets I’m selling at, in the spirit of handmade support!

  30. Selling craft at Markets.Is it worth it?
    I depends so heavily on your own personal circumstances.
    I have just had my 3rd child and if I would go back to work I would get paid after tax around $5 per hour when you take into account child care,petrol,work clothes etc. Not to mention the toll it would take on the family as a whole.
    I started my business 17 mths ago and I am careful to keep the stock I produce at a manageable level.
    I sell online as well,but I find doing markets keeps me motivated and I receive valuable feedback.
    Interestingly,my best seller online doesn’t produce many sales when I do markets.Alot of market selling is trial and error.
    I am careful which markets I attend,as some are a complete waste of time and you confidence takes a real hit.
    I do alright financially at the moment,but I am careful with what I make too.
    For example,I may really enjoy taking 2 hrs to make a baby’s dress but there is no way I could make my money back on something like that.I also have some products which are my bread and butter,that are popular and quick and I make a decent profit margin on,this frees me up to make some products which may be more labour intensive,but gives my business a unique look that draws customers in.
    So I design products which I know will sell in a certain price range.
    What I’ve found(I sell dolls,softies,cushions,clothing for kids)is that people will usually buy clothing over any other items ,so I focus on this.
    I’ve had to stop wholesaling my products due to time constraints and pricing.
    Overall,for me at this time, it’s worth it,although I don’t think it would be financially viable when the kids are older and I’m able to work out of the home.
    Thanks for starting such a great discussion,Ms Thornberry.

  31. Reading the comments above has given me a lot to think about. It also makes me shake my head with empathy for the crafters whose non-crafting friends pressure them, “You should sell these!” when they have not concept of the time involved, cost of materials, or how much it costs us to sell things due to paying for market stalls or offering wholesale discounts.

    So, why do I do markets?

    As well as working three to four days a week in 2007 and 2008, I also had a dressmaking business. The profits were very poor for the time and training I put into it.

    I finished paid work mid 2008 to have a baby. After four months I started dressmaking again but now that my spare hours were so few, the money was not worthwhile. Being a creative and entrepreneurial person I wasn’t about to simply stop sewing. I had an idea for a cool craft product and was sure I could sell them somewhere, somehow. I looked into craft markets around Melbourne, found the wonderful Made N Thornbury for $10 a stall and took the leap. When I tallied the books at the end of the day I discovered I earned about twice as much per hour of craft sewing time as I did for dressmaking without having to deal with clients, and thus I was converted.

    My pricing isn’t perfect. I have one wholesaler who sells my cushions for $15 to $20 more than I charge for them on a market stall, and she’s sold enough at that price to order more. And yet I can’t convince myself that people would pay those prices at a market. I’m going to force myself to close the gap between my stall and her shop to $10 before December’s markets start.

    At first doing markets was validation, proof to myself that there was more to me than being a full-time mum. Gearing up my business to do monthly markets made me feel worthy, smart and in control of my life – validation hard to find in the day-to-day care of a baby!

    As a p.p. said, if I went back to work on the salary I was on before, I’d bring home a pittance after paying for childcare and public transport and losing out on family benefits. Even more motivation to make my business sustainable.

    Mass crafting doesn’t bother me – I used to do bridesmaid dresses! To me it feels like part of running a real business, having my mini production line and setting goals of how much I have to do each day. I like the challenge of creating new products that fit the overall theme of my stall.

    But for me the best part of actually sitting on a market stall is talking to visitors about what I do, my inspirations and ideas, and witnessing how my creative output makes people smile. Having people appreciate my stuff enough to pay for it and bring it into their homes puts me on top of the world.

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