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The Price of Value by Madames Mercantile on 03-19-2011


By Sue McDonald from Madame's Mercantile

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Being in the business of making period-correct custom accessories, means that I am always interested in how I can improve my craft. I do research to determine what Victorian ladies actually wore, and conventions of the day. Many times, making an item might be very labor-intensive, since Victorian women were able to spend time on domestic pursuits like fine needlework. In fact, they were encouraged to learn to "sew a fine seam" from the time they were old enough to manage a needle and thread. If they were upper class, they paid to have elaborate clothing made for them, and sometimes even had a seamstress-in-residence to supply all of their wardrobe needs. Even in the 1800's a seamstress was not very well-paid. In Europe, many who sewed 14 hours a day barely made a living wage.

Victorian crochet cat One thing that has not changed since the 1800's is the fact that any artisan- one who creates custom clothing or other items- must struggle to make profit from their efforts. In Victorian times, elaborate clothing was often produced by "sweated labor," and the ladies who toiled long hours to produce gossamer blouses laden with clever lace inserts, pin tucks, and hand embroidery often realized only a few pennies an hour for their talented efforts. Today, many who sew for others have another "real" job to support themselves, or have other means of support while they produce their lovely wares. Those few who make a real living from their efforts generally have made a name for themselves, and that name demands a much higher price than the same item from another source.

Who can deny that today we are enduring a recession? We have been bombarded by the message "expect more, pay less"- and we have come to believe that message, even though there is little truth in it. We don't actually pay less and get more. What we get are inferior products made in mass quantities, and as cheaply as possible. When we arrive at a site like Bustledress, we sometimes bring along the "expect more, pay less" attitude with us. For example, I recently had an inquiry about a crocheted purse. The client seemed shocked and a bit horrified at the price tag- nearly $150. I took a hard look at the price of this item. I have to say that yes- the price seems a bit dear if you are thinking that this purse is something made of inexpensive polyester yarn, composed of coarse stitches that can be whipped out on a day or so. However, such an assumption would be unfair. Let's take a look at what goes into making that purse...

Victorian pursesFirst, the purse is made from a pattern that is over 100 years old. I am an accomplished crocheter (is that even a word?), and had to work out many of the details of the pattern as I went along. The design calls for "a large number" (read over 1,000) tiny glass beads, which must ALL be threaded onto the crochet thread before starting the work- a task that takes several hours. The thread must be fine to accommodate the beads, and to mimic as closely as possible the silk thread that would have been used to make the original purse. The pattern is then worked from a grid, and each bead needs to be dropped into the appropriate stitch as you go. Each bead falls to the back side of the work, so you must be constantly turning it over to ensure that the pattern is forming correctly. Finally, just the crocheting (and I'm fairly fast) takes me between 10 and 16 hours, depending on the final size of the purse. Let's assume that the time- including the time to string all those beads- is 15 hours. Now we add in the cost of the frame- about $30, the cost and time to make and sew in the silk lining, and making the hand-beaded fringe. All this means that I am charging a very fair price for my efforts!

The fact is that the person who purchases this purse will get an absolutely period-correct accessory. Since I let buyers select their own style of frame, and will hand-dye the purse to their specifications, their purse will be a one-of-a-kind original. Just so, all of the items available on Bustledress are unique and made to your specifications. Do you have other options? Certainly. You can go to any number of web sites that offer ready-made items that have a period look. Some sites will even make something "custom"- meaning you get to select their fabric color from the three or four they offer. However, here at Bustledress, you will discover a marketplace consisting of carefully-selected vendors who will hand-make make period-correct clothing and accessories expressly for you. We do hope that you will enjoy browsing these items, and that you will keep in mind that each was made here in America with much skill, thought, and research.

Victorian bodice crochet


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