Monday, October 15, 2012

My Etsy store...not exactly original

I guess it's not all that surprising that one more person - yours truly - has opened up an Etsy store. 

It seems like the thing to do for people who make and create. I had considered it off and on over the past few years. I had a hard time with the idea of making things for an online storefront. Mostly it was an issue of not really having pride in what I can create. It's easy to belittle oneself when comparing. And there are some amazingly talented folks on Etsy. 

It's also hard to know what to charge, especially when you have so much time involved in creating something. We in the Western world have become accustomed to buying things that have been made very cheaply with slave labor in foreign countries. When someone wants to charge for the time they actually put into making an object, adding in cost for supplies, people balk like a horse spotting a venomous snake by its hoof. On a long online discussion about the costs of doing business as a artist/crafter and whether or not one should charge for one's time - in this instance a comparison was made between an artistic crocheted cap an artist was selling for $150 and a comparable store bought cap for $25 - one person said everybody knows Etsy is the place everyone get ideas. But not to buy. Depressing thought for those wanting to sell on Etsy, isn't it?

With that in mind here's a photo of a very inexpensive crocheted zill pouch I made. Very functional and cute...and only $6. If this sells I will make less than $2 an hour for my time - and any investment in supplies or time spent photographing and listing the item on Etsy don't count.

The copy cat issues lead me to another reason I stayed away from Etsy for a while. I didn't necessarily want my items to be copied. I'd already felt the sting of someone posting a photo of one of my hand made paisleys on their own site, as if they'd created the item themselves. This happened on a crafters site I belong to. And the person who pinched my photo and put it on their own page was from somewhere in India. I wouldn't be surprised if my design is now being worn on saris and skirts throughout that country. 

Here's my paisley photo that was pilfered. Pretty, isn't it? Those are fresh-water pearls around the edge and all the stitching is made by hand. Each paisley takes me 8-10 hours of detailed work. The end product can be used on crazy quilts, costumes or hair accessories. Now, how much should I charge for it?

I'm not the only one sensitive about copying. A friend who used to post really wonderful photos of nature on her Facebook page told me she no longer wants to because several people told her they "stole" her photo to put on their phone, or their desktop, or to share on Facebook. She had originally wanted to share beauty with the world, the way she saw it, but that feedback made her feel she had to protect her own creativity. Maybe she's busier these days, but I haven't seen her post photos like she used to.

Now here's an example of something I made that's not an original. This lovely little tatted heart is a free pattern I found online. I did, however, credit the source on my listing.

The truth is, it does hurt when someone copies your work and calls it their own, whether they create an exact facsimile or give it their own spin. We also feel a stab when someone takes something we've put thought, effort and time into and uses it for their own purposes, like my friend and her photos or my paisley. But if you really take a look at how we learn and how we create then we have to be honest that we are always taking ideas from everyone and everywhere, that with some things there just isn't a whole lot of originality. I'm not the first person to bead a paisley. I'm not the first person to make rings and chains, either, and neither are the other tatters out there. And many of us peruse vintage magazines for ideas. Many of us look at other's work and get ideas for our own designs. The originality comes in the unique twist you give an item.

I saw an interesting quote on Facebook today. It basically said once you find what you're good at it's your destiny to share it with the world. Since you can't share by withdrawing your talents, the only option is to put what you do out there if you are so willing.

I think it was The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron that said being original simply means going back to the origin. Maybe it's all about going back to the origin of what you do, who you are and how you see the world.

I remember watching Madonna morph into many different looks from the 80s when she got her start and throughout the height of her career. One thing you have to say about Madonna is she was constantly changing her look, constantly recreating herself. Of course, there were a lot of us wearing bedazzled and bejeweled faded jean jackets, gigantic bows in our hair and raggedy short skirts, but the thing about Madonna is she was always doing something new. When you are constantly recreating yourself and your art I think it's harder for people to keep up with you and, eventually, a lot of the copy cats fall by the wayside.

Maybe it's the same with an Etsy store. 


  1. what a dilemma Michelle, costing your work is difficult, i used to belong to a group that exhibited and sold work, we generally found those who came to our exhibitions were stitchers anyway and so wanted ideas, they would buy cards and small things but were on the whole not willing to pay for larger projects. Re costing if it were a water colour or oil painting there would be no problem about paying not sure why this is the case .
    Best of luck with your esty site, I suppose in one way it means that your work is really liked if people want to copy/steal it but no it is wrong, unfortunately some people have no issues with their morals.

  2. Hi Margaret, I have thought the same thing about paintings vs. stitch work. It is not valued the same, is it? And even painters have difficulty getting paid for their time and the expensive supplies that go into a piece of artwork. Artists are just not valued as they should be. But, still, I love art and will keep pursuing what I love.