If you celebrate Christmas and live in America, you may very well be heading out (or coming home) from Black Friday sales.  Or perhaps you’re opting for Small Business Saturday, picking up gifts at local specialty stores. Or maybe you’re waiting until early next week for Cyber Monday–and big shopping spree at Amazon or Etsy.  Or you may be waiting for the local arts and crafts show to fill your stockings (or at least shopping basket).

Whatever your preference, you may be wondering how artists and crafters price their items.  Well, I can tell you from experience that the process is a really big challenge.  When I decided to sell some little items that I sew, I spent a long time researching and doing the math to find the perfect Three-Bears price — you know: not too high and not too low, but juuust right.

But I can’t say it better than Somer Sherwood, a wonderful free-form crocheter, who sells her amazing creations in her Etsy shop, Classy Broad. Somer also blogs at www.somersherwood.com, and she gave me permission to share this excerpt of her wonderful post: “The True Cost of Handmade.”  Read on:

I recently did my first craft fair.  And at that craft fair, one woman picked up every one of my hats, tried them on, and made a sort of a noise in the back of her throat indicating disgust. Then she muttered, “I don’t really like these hats” before looking at the price tag for one of them and looking at me over her glasses: “Do you really charge this much?”

Ok, I managed a retail store for many years, so I’m used to this type of customer. I’ve met hundreds of them, and I know it’s less about whatever she is looking at and more about what is going on in her own crazy brain. Some people just have this need to be nasty. But this was a little different. What she was cruelly and callously saying to me was that what I created had no value. My art has no value. It is worthless and ugly. And I won’t lie — it stung a little.

But back to her question about the cost. The particular hat she picked up was $150 and it was this one:

The offending freeform crochet hat: Lettuce Go to the Mothership. $150.

You can’t see from the photos, but it is made of thousands of tiny little stitches, all folding in on themselves and creating a pretty elaborate underwater sea creature type effect. It’s made of hundreds of yards of very nice wool in colors that I carefully selected and put together in a way I thought would be pleasing.  I spent probably 18 to 20 hours making this hat.

So let’s do the math.

Read the rest here.  It’s seriously worth it — especially if you sometimes question the values put on those adorable, amazing and one-of-a-kind items that are only available from your friendly crafters and artists.

So you’re buying fabric for a project. Whether you’re doing the sewing yourself or sending it out to a professional seamstress, tailor or upholsterer, the width of the textile is a big consideration.

Fabric is typically sold by the yard, and it’s manufactured in standard widths, usually ranging from 40 inches to 110 inches.  The wider the material, the more area you’ll actually take home per yard. (There’s more to consider here, including the way the pattern runs and the grain of the fabric.  But we’ll save those details for another post.)

Naturally, wider fabric also sports a higher price tag per yard.  And doing the math can help you figure out if it’s a good deal or not.  That’s why textile designer Harmony Susalla asked me to write a guest post for her blog.  A snippet appears below.  Read the rest on Harmony’s site.

When you’re a complete fabric junkie like I am, you’re always looking for a bargain.  Of course, my eye is drawn to gorgeous designer fabrics with really high thread count. Swoon!  But the cost—well, that can bring on a real fainting spell.

That’s why I started out sewing with fat quarters.  I found fabrics that I loved—and could easily afford—and figured out really cool things I could make with them.  Little, zippered change purses, box-bags for balls of yarn and knitting needle rolls.  I sewed and sewed and sewed.  And I was very happy.

Until I started eyeing my bare windows and mismatched sofa and side chairs.  If I could make all of those little things, I could make big things—like curtains and slipcovers—too.

But cotton fabrics are generally 40”, 54”, 60” or 72” wide.  And that meant I was buying alot of fabric.

That’s when I met decorator fabrics.  And then I found HarmonyArt.  These babies come in 110” widths—plenty wide for the 98” long drapes I had planned.  And you can’t deny that Harmony’s designs are gorgeous.  Perfect for curtains, tablecloths, slipcovers, and heck, if I quilted, even quilts!

The prices were much higher though.

Click over to Harmony’s blog to read the rest.  And come back on Friday to get the scoop on my latest sewing project–new curtains for my living room, using Harmony’s fabric.  Meantime, share your experiences using math in the sewing room.  What kind of math have you had to use to complete a sewing project?  Share your story in the comments section.

(Harmony and I organized a barter for this guest post; she sent me one yard of her Evelyn fabric in exchange for the post.)

Art and math are diametrically opposite, right?  Wrong.

Blossom, layering of enamel over silver. Photo credit: Hap Sakwa.

Shana Kroiz is a Baltimore-based, acclaimed jewelry designer and artist, whose work has been shown in the some of the country’s most esteemed galleries and museums, including The Smithsonian and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.  She’s kind of a big deal–and she does math!

When do you use basic math in your job?

Most days I contend with a variety of math problems, whether I’m measuring a piece or resizing a ring. I use wax to cast my designs, and so I have to convert the weight of wax into the the specific weight of the metal I am using. I also construct three-dimensional forms out of sheet metal, which requires some geometry. I have to know the sizes and weights of my pieces, so that they are not too heavy to be worn. When scoring and bending metal, I have to figure out the angle of my score lines in order to get the correct angle out of the sheet I am bending. Then there’s the business side of things: calculating the time it takes to make a piece with the cost of materials and the addition of any profit I need to make. Prices also have to be converted into a retail and wholesale values.

Do you use any tools to help with this math?

Yes, I use calculators, calipersdividers, scales and, of course, computers. They all help with precision and time management.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

Without math, it is almost impossible to do precision work. I work with a lot of potentially dangerous chemicals, and the math involved keeps me safe.  Plus, if I mix the chemicals incorrectly, the result won’t be what I need.  Being precise with my math means that I can avoid having to do things over again.

How comfortable with math do you feel?

I do most of the same sorts of problems over and over, so I feel comfortable in the studio, and can teach to my students. But there are times when I wish I had a deeper or broader understanding of how to use math. Sometimes I think I take too long to find the answers to calculations.  If I understood how to use a different formula I might get to the answer faster.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do this math?

Yes, but I had to work it out on my own. When I had a tangible need, I figure things out.

What kind of math did you take in high school?

I went through algebra and some geometry. And I didn’t feel like I was good at it at all! I could follow a problem if I had a model, but I did not have a good enough conceptual understanding of math to work out the formulas on my own. So I would say I was average at best, but I think if it had been taught in a way that I could understand I would have been much better.  I do think if math was taught with more useful applications, students would have an easier time learning, understanding and being engaged in math as a useful tool for life.

Each Monday, I feature someone who uses everyday math in their jobs.  If you would like to be featured (or if you know someone who you think should be featured), let me know at llaing-at-comcast-dot-net.  You can also catch up on previous Math at Work Mondays.