Friday, October 16, 2009

A Crafter's Conundrum

I found out this morning (from a totally out-of-state-blogging-friend (thanks Suze)) that my local yarn shop is closing. This fills me with a certain, je-ne-say-I-don't-know-what. Mostly regret, I think. And why? Because I've never even been there.

I know, I know. I'm a horrible person. A ridiculous excuse for craftiness. A lazy, lazy individual. A total cheapskate. An idiot in a big box store. Yes. Yes. and I suppose, Yes.

But, thinking about it has led me down a dark path that I felt the need to share (mostly because I was 7 the last time I wrote a What's in my Crochet Bag).

I live in a very small town. A town with no stores. Seriously, we have a gas station, yo. And there's a butcher down the road, but they mostly specialize in wild game and since I don't spend my mornings in the cold, wet, rainy woods with a shotgun or a compound bow, I've only ever bought ice from them.

Those of us blessed enough to live in TinyTown, population 240 (not making that number up, by the way, just the name of the town) drive to Bigger Town to get everything from groceries to clothes to rubbermaid wear. Bigger Town has a Super Wal-Mart. Which used to have a fabric and craft section, but doesn't anymore. Now they have six skeins of yarn and some "silk" flowers. Oh, and scrapbooking supplies, because those freakin' scrappers never get shafted for some reason. So, you can't even buy a spool of thread without driving to the Small City or the State Capitol. (And, really, Wal-Mart sucks, but let's face facts, there were other big box retailers who got rid of their craft sections waaay earlier and many who never even had any. Also, I think the last time Bigger Town had an actual fabric store it was called "Dry Goods" and carried mostly calico, when it wasn't being raided by Native Americans and soldiers.)

But, there are speciality shops. And I have watched many come and go through the years (when I knew they existed at all. Honestly I didn't know this particular shop sold yarn until Suze mentioned it on her blog) and it's tough to get there.

For one thing, when you work 8-5 and a shop is open 10-6, you're cutting it pretty close, what with kid pick-ups and all. But let's face it. They probably had Saturday hours and it's not like I haven't had a day off in six years or anything, it hasn't even been that long since the endless stretch of maternity leave ended.

No, the real problem isn't the hours I work at that job, but the paycheck I leave it with. I'll admit, I'm broke more than I'm not. I think most crafters came to their craft under the (extremely misguided) perception that you could "make that for cheaper." And sometimes it's true. I've made my share of $30 skirts for $9. And I've certainly saved a small fortune by repairing what many of my friends would have thrown in the trash. But the problem with crafting is the better you get at it the more you spend.

See, the better you get, the more you understand that good raw materials are half the battle. You can stuff a quilt with cheap batting, but next year it'll be a thin double-sided blanket with no body to it. And, yes, Virginia, there is a difference between $4/yard velvet and $40/yard velvet. And what you need for most projects is firmly in the middle. I recently became enraged that you couldn't buy a bathrobe for a kid that wasn't made of polar fleece and they were $20, so I spent $40 buying the materials for a robe FOR A FIVE YEAR OLD.

So, since Brynna was born, I've gotten a lot better at crochet. This is mostly because when she was born, my craft du jour was beading and it only takes once or twice of trying to get your crystal beads away from your crawling baby and jerking the jeweler's epoxy out of her mouth before you realize this will not work. So, I returned to crochet (which has always been the center of my stress relief and the craft I always go back to) and I started working with a vengeance. I downloaded patterns and I bought more hooks and I collected ideas and I started working on projects other than afghans. And, now I'm pretty good.

Which means that I have hand-spun tastes and at least Lion Brand skill and a Red Hart budget. Hey ladies who are expecting a craft by the end of the year, do you know why you haven't gotten one yet? Because I don't have any yarn that isn't already spoken for (except for this hideous hot pink that Brynna picked out and scraps). I have time, I have patterns, but I don't have cash for nice yarn and I don't want to make you gifts from SuperSaver. But, I'm running out year, so prepare for the scratchy.

Honestly, I've put $30 into a sweater, only to realize that I only have half as much yarn as I need. I could have bought a similar sweater for $30. I know that I'm not saving money by doing it myself. That's not even why I try anymore. I crochet now because I love to. Because it calms my soul. And because (despite the fact that the man with whom I have chosen to spend my life hates all things crocheted) I feel proud of my work when I am done. I feel proud of my accomplishment. Of the finished product. I love it when people say, "Oooh. I love your scarf." and I can say "Oh, I made that."

And I don't do little projects. Oh, sure, sometimes I make hats. And once I made a cozy. But, mostly, when I crochet, I crochet. I make sweaters and blankets and baby dresses. And a few scarves, but even those usually take at least a whole skein of yarn. I just don't have the money for the stuff I love.

And I'm sure I could go into the cutesy little local yarn shop and pick up something for a couple of bucks. But I wouldn't. I would drop $50 just walking in the door. Because my love affair with yarn is obscene. And then I'd have to diaper the baby with paper towells and we'd be eating peanut butter crackers for supper.

I'm going to make a valiant effort to go there before they shut their doors forever. And I know that's too little, too late. I want to buy the good stuff. I want to support small, local businesses. I want to build up my community into something better than a collection of big box stores. But, financially, I can't make that choice. Because, for me, it's the choice of giving up the thing that I love.

Ever since I found out there's yarn in that there store front, I have driven past wistfully promising myself that someday... Someday I will go in there and buy yarn. Someday I will buy the yarn I want. Someday I'll be able to put a few more dollars into supporting places that I believe in. Someday I'll have the money, the freedom, the time, the ability.

I hope someday comes soon. Before my choices are completely gone.


Steve said...

I love the few items of clothing that my Mum has crocheted for my kids. It's a pity if it's not very cost-effective, but if it brings you relaxation and a beautiful garment at the end of it, I guess that's a kind of cost-effectiveness too.

Suze said...

Oh dear, oh dear, I don't mean for a minute, not a MINUTE to make people like you feel guilty. Tight budgets are a reality for a lot of people with creative inclinations. I'm lucky to have flexibility in that area, I know. And while I think where a person puts his/her money (local or non-local economy) is partly choice, I know there are many out there - especially in the current recession - who really truly don't have a choice about where they shop. Buying local would mean not paying the rent or lagging on mortgage payments or skipping out on necessary prescription drugs. That's why Wal-Mart, as much as I hate that evil super-conglomerate, has had increased profits through this whole economic mess. I still think you should spend $5 or $15 or $30, or whatever you can reasonably manage at that LYS that is going out of business, but please don't think I was judging you.

Also, I have too much yarn and I should send you some. I'm trying to remember your favorite colors now but I can't. Please enlighten me :)

Strangeite said...

It isn't just the Crafter's Conundrum.

Recently we have tightened our spending and have budgeted $50 a week for groceries. While on paper $50 a week seems like a lot of money for food when you prepare 95% of your meals at home, in reality it isn't.

Especially if you prefer to buy local food from the Farmer's Market and you have a 3 year old that has a severe orange juice addiction ( I have considered switching her to crack cocaine just to save on the OJ budget).

So, in order to make this budget work, we now find ourselves shopping at 4 or 5 different stores (if you count the Farmers Market as "a store").

It seems stupid that we buy things from 5 different stores but the truth is that different stores have WIDELY different prices on the exact items.

Let's take milk as an example. We drink a lot of milk. Usually at least 2 gallons a week and sometimes it can be as much as 4 gallons if we have Riley alot.

The Farmers Market sells the most wonderful, brought from heaven on the wings of angels milk for $4.50 a half gallon.

Wal-Mart is usually $2.50 a gallon.
Meijer is $2.75 a gallon.
Kroger $2.00 to $3.00 a gallon.
And Aldi sells it for $1.50 a gallon.

So obviously Aldi is the place to buy milk.

But their meat selection sucks. Really only Kroger and Meijer have a decent meat selection that also offers sale prices.

Ohhh, and I have forgotten about stockpiling stable items at Sam's Club and Gordon Food Service.

Anyway, I have ranted long enough, but you get the point.

I wish there was a local store selling local products at a price that doesn't break the bank without having to drive all over town.

Jessi said...

Steve - I think so. I think my sanity is worth quite a lot of non-cost-effective clothes. :)

Suze - I totally did not mean that as a "response" to your post. The fact is that this in not Suze-induced guilt, it's just plain guilt. I struggle with this all the time. I used to go to craft shows and buy the stuff I like even if it was just to take home and re-create. I looked at it as the fee for coming up with an idea that I didn't. Or at least introducing it to me. But now, I find myself examining and putting back. Then I go home and have so much guilt about it that I never make what I saw. I wish I could put my money where my passion lay, but I just can't right now. Someday, Maren will be off formula and diapers, I'll have the doctors bills from her birth paid, the girls will be in school instead of Montessori and daycare and I'll have more flexible spending. But, until then, I live with the guilt. But you shouldn't. Also, jewel tones, but don't feel like you have send me yarn. I get by. :)

Roy - Groceries are the worst. In G-town, we don't have quite the selection of stores, either. I tried the multiple store thing and decided that I was spending as much on gas as I was saving on groceries. We spend $100 per week on groceries, but that includes formula, diapers, toiletries, and prescriptions. So I understand. I guess it's a conundrum everywhere.

Suze said...

It says something about the true cost of things that local food is more expensive than the stuff that is trucked hundreds or thousands of miles to your grocery store. When I think about the tax dollars going into subsidizing big agriculture companies at the expense of small farmers, it makes me so...I was going to say angry, but it mostly makes me sad. If you pay taxes, you're paying for it either way, but I've grown so accustomed to good local produce, eggs and dairy that I just can't abide anything else. I won't even touch meat if I don't know the farmer who raised the animal, and I'm not kidding about that. This means, of course, that our food budget is significant and that we're total food snobs, but we're okay with that. Also, I spend almost nothing on clothes (since I don't have a job to go to) and the only shoes I've bought in the last 2 years are for running. So I guess it balances out.