The woes of the cost of materials in an affluent society
As a maker, I sometimes wish for the good old days. Not because they were necessarily better, mostly they weren’t. Not because I am now old, though by some calendars I guess that I am.
Let me start by way of an example.
I’ve been looking at a website with some cotton yarn for sale that looks really nice. It’s on sale for $15 a hank (25% off). The colors are nice, the yarn looks like it would be fun to use. Yet, it feels a little pricey. One of the sample projects they show it with is a hand towel.
I like hand knit towels. I like making and using them. It makes it easier for the hubby to know which is the hand towel and which is for dishes (some of you may ascertain how huge this is).
The project, in other words, seemed very attractive to me. Until I figured that to make one hand towel, I’d need three balls of yarn. So, $45 in materials to make one, small, hand towel. I had to stop and catch my breath.
Once upon a time, my mother made most of my clothes. Yes, she liked to sew, but at the time lots of people (mostly women) sewed. It could be more economical than buying ready-to-wear. There were at least three convenient fabric stores that sold just the fabric and notions required for sewing. There wasn’t a lot of anything else for sale in the store.
These days you’ll find a small selection of fabrics, mostly as a department in a craft mega-store. For more exotic choices, you’ll have to buy online. And while the pride and joy of making will still be there (or, in my case frustration as I’m not a great sewer), the price isn’t. A yard of fabric will easily cost more than a ready-to-wear made from the same stuff and one yard of fabric will rarely be enough to make a full garment.
It’s not that the cost to produce materials is that expensive. It’s probably less than when I was a young thing, in relative terms. It’s that the distribution systems favor manufacturers over makers. Let’s face it. The commercial giants of the world want us to buy, not make our own stuff. Hence, a hand towel that I could buy for $5–$10, is going to cost me $45 to make ($60, if I don’t hurry up and buy the yarn before it is no longer on sale).