Tag Archives: Labor

Pay for Quilters (and other Crafters and Artists)

I was curious this morning about how well crafters are paid. What should we plug in to that wage figure, when we calculate cost of labor? Well, guess what, folks — there is a way to find out! In the U.S., the Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps records of wages in thousands of labor categories.

The most recent statistic for 2012 shows a median hourly wage of $21.34 per hour. “Median” means it is the middle, with half of workers making more than that and half making less. Federal minimum wage is $7.25, so the median is approximately three times minimum wage. Below is a screen shot of the page I viewed. Click through here to see it for yourself and read more detail.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 4.02.36 PM

Let’s go a little farther with this look. Suppose we want to compare the textile crafter or artist in the U.S. to a textile laborer in another country. We know so many of the “bag” quilts are made in China. This isn’t necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison, as the workers are not making any decisions. But maybe this will give us a sense of scale.

An article from 2014 looks at textile workers’ pay in several countries. It shows Chinese laborers have a minimum wage of €175 per month. This works out to approximately US$200. If you assume 160 hours of labor a month (40 hours x 4 weeks) that works out to $1.25 per hour. In fact work hours are typically longer than 8-hour days, so this is a high estimate.

Are you outraged to think of Chinese textile workers, working over bedding and clothing for a dollar an hour? I hope you are. They deserve more.

You deserve more, too. If you “sell” your quilts for direct cost of materials and don’t include your time in the price, you are making less than a Chinese textile worker. It can feel uncomfortable to ask for fair pay. But it is not wrong. It is right. You deserve more.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

“The Patchwork Quilt” by Annette

Have you heard of the Mill Girls? Sounds like a singing group from the 1940s, doesn’t it? In reality, “the Mill Girls” refers to female employees of the New England textile mills during the early 19th century. The young women ranged in age from ten on up, with most in their early twenties.

Industrial textile mills began opening in the U.S. in 1814, with the first one located in Lowell, MA. The setting was bucolic, not urban, and took advantage of power created from streams and rivers. Most of the first employees were young women from the rural countryside. They worked hard, generally seventy hours a week in difficult conditions. They lived in boarding houses with strict rules for behavior. In return they received daily cash wages, above what they could achieve in most other employment.

The Mill Girls are direct contributors to the craft of American quilting. Their stories are fascinating, and over time I will tell you a few of them. Pioneers in the industrial revolution, in the labor movement, and in women’s rights, they broke ground on many fronts.

With an exhausting work schedule and few entertainments, the Mill Girls found amusement where they could. In 1840 the Lowell Offering began publication. It was a monthly magazine written and published by female employees.

The first selection I read is a sentimental piece entitled “The Patchwork Quilt,” by Annette. Published in November, 1843, the essay is an ode to a well-loved quilt. The tiny bits of fabric that composed it carry memories of family times, personal growth, and broken dreams.

Annette takes pride in her learning, joy in the simple notions, like the strawberry pin cushion, and the brass thimble, a gift from her father. How many of us look at our tools around us and feel the same gratitude?

As she grows in her skills, she adds more scraps and more memories. Fashions, friends, and the possibility of love all made their way into her quilt.

Sacrifice of this beautiful memento, however, was easy. With a younger sister marrying, and no prospects for herself, Annette lovingly devoted the quilt to another, “for my baby sister was to be a wife.”

Read for yourself the full text, which can be found here, as an image of an original magazine. At the bottom of each page you can find an arrow to advance to the next page.

Our craft and our tools are different, or are they? Our lives are different, but how much? We still strive for excellence, for meaning, and for love. We still rejoice and mourn.

The Mill Girls pioneered textiles in America and so much more. “The Patchwork Quilt,” though written in a sentimental style not favored today, tells more of our commonalities than our differences. In truth, we are connected to that past in ways large and small.