Working By Hand, and Minding My Business

I’ve seen this saying making the rounds and it’s certainly been true around here: Life has been very lifey lately. Good intentions have gone out the window: regular blog posts, keeping up with laundry, eating more veggies… nah. We’ve all had senioritis (in spite of having no seniors in the house). It seems we’ve been “life-ing” just enough to get us to the end of this all-virtual school year. It’s strange for me, and must be strange for the kids too, to finally start summer vacation… and have it feel pretty much the same as every day since last March.

But: we’re here. Mid-June and no more school, no more Chromebooks, no more teachers’ Zoomy looks? I think that’s how it goes.

Picking up the thread.

I had good intentions (see above) of writing several more reflections about work and calling. Goodness knows I’ve been thinking about it a lot. In classic Me style, I’m convinced if I just think about it enough I’ll crack the code. I live with chronic suspicion that I’m missing something obvious, one key piece of data that would solve the whole thing. It’s possible I read too many Trixie Belden mysteries as a kid.

I do want to pick up the thread one more time, because there’s an aspect to my work life (such as it is) that I haven’t been taking very seriously. Two years ago this summer I started experimenting with weaving clergy stoles. I took classes on setting up an Etsy shop and a website. My goal for the shop was to make a little money that I could funnel toward self-publishing: to learn what I need to learn, and pay for professional editing and cover design. My intention for this blog was to begin to build a platform so that when I publish My Book there will be someone there to read it.

It never occurred to me that the handmaking, the weaving itself, might be my work. Might even be my ministry.

The work of our hands.

Many years ago I realized that what I love most is making things, whether that’s a scrapbook page or a sweater or a sermon. But one of those things is not like the others. I have never given handmaking the same value that I give the work of words, whether published or pulpit-ed.

But after two years of weaving and selling stoles, I’m reevaluating my attitude. The other night I finished handsewing the neckline of a stole. The woven stripes lined up in a satisfying V. The fringes twisted in neat barberpoles of color. As I folded the smooth fabric I commented to my husband, “I just love making things.” I love making things that are useful. I love getting messages that one of my stoles is being given as a gift, or used for an ordination or a wedding or a first sermon. But I also just love making them, playing with color, figuring out how to fix mistakes and work around SNAFUs. I love finishing one, planning for the next, and learning the next new skill and putting it to use.

The work of our heads.

I do not love business.

This may not be a problem, exactly, but it definitely doesn’t do me any favors. From the day I first thought of a shop I knew I wanted to keep my prices low. I remember being disappointed as a new pastor, to have a desire for handmade stoles but not the budget.

But I also know that handcrafted items are regularly underpriced—and by extension, undervalued—because shoppers live in a Big Box world. Every crafter encounters well-meaning friends and family who say “You should sell that!” without realizing the true cost, not just of materials, but of time and expertise. Thanks to my ten years as a knitter I know how to find “nice yarn” that doesn’t break the bank. And my time costs nothing… but that doesn’t mean it is worth nothing.

The business side of having a business is hard for me. I’m not good with numbers and I’m not motivated by money. I love that people can afford to give my stoles as gifts, and that new pastors can afford them for their own first seasons of vocational ministry. That has always been the point, and I don’t want to price out of those opportunities. But I also believe it’s important that I value my own work highly enough that people will recognize the value of all handcrafted work. Underselling myself is underselling the whole.

This fall I will likely have to raise my prices a bit, for the first time since I started, to reflect the real cost of yarn and the rising costs of shipping. This summer I want to time how many hours it takes me to make a basic stole, start to finish. I don’t have a clue how much I’m actually “paying myself” in an hourly wage… maybe it won’t matter, but I think it’s important to know. And I am brainstorming how to keep my base price low but offer some “add on” options and/or more intricate pieces at a higher tier.

If I’m going to take weaving seriously as my work, I have to find this balance.

The work of our hearts.

I struggle to think of doing things “by heart.” It helps me to understand “heart” not as emotion/feelings, but as instinct. Intuition. Gut.

My heart/gut says all these things are connected: making by hand and making with words. Weaving for Etsy and writing for this blog. Making a stole and making a story. I don’t see just how they are connected—yet—but I’m looking. This is why the business part will never be “just business,” and I’m glad for that. I need it to be more, to be deeper and to be woven together with all the rest.

That’s what I’m working on, by heart/gut, this summer.

Later this week (good intentions, again!) I’ll begin a new blog series reflecting on how I’m moving forward with this inner work: with the practice of pilgrimage as a frame.

I hope you’ll join me on the way.

Stay well, friends. 🙏🏻

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