I am a fairly new weaver with ambitions to improve my weaving skills, to exhibit and, hopefully, to sell my tapestries. I appreciate immensely that if I am stuck on something technical I can usually find an answer via the excellent resources available to me on tapestry weavers’ websites, on online tutorials; and in books and magazines. But there is one question I have trouble in finding an answer to: how much should I sell my tapestries for?
I am lucky enough to rent a studio at Westbury Arts Centre in Milton Keynes, which houses an artists’ collective who regularly hold open days and sales. So far I have joined in with the open days but not the sales; I wouldn't know where to start setting prices for my tapestries.
If I were making craft items and looking to sell them, there is lot of information out there about how to set retail prices. This is usually some sort of variation on:
(Cost of materials + cost of labour at £/hr = cost price) x 1.5 (or x 2, or x 3) = retail price.
But can this calculation be used as a basis to price tapestries? I am not so sure. The main problem is that tapestries take so long to complete! I am aware that, as a relative beginner, I weave much more slowly than an experienced weaver, but even taking that into account, if I incorporated all my labour costs on a basis of £/hr into my retail price, then all my tapestries would be prohibitively expensive, even the small ones. As an example, my current tapestry will be 30cm x 60m in size. I have just spent two days warping up and selecting colours. At a living wage rate of £9.50/hr (from 1st April 2022), that is a labour cost of £152 – and I haven’t even started weaving yet!
So perhaps using the craft pricing model isn’t the best idea. Perhaps the best way is to see how other weavers price their tapestries. But this is difficult: most tapestry weavers don’t list the prices of their tapestries on their websites. Plus, physical exhibitions have been curtailed over the last couple of years; but even then, exhibited works for sale are not always visibly priced.
Eleonora Budden, of the British Tapestry Group, kindly pointed me to a section on Joan Baxter’s website, called ‘Commissioning a Tapestry,’ where Joan clearly states her pricing policy, which is based on pounds (£) per area of tapestry. Joan costs her works at £5,000 per square metre (or 50p per square centimetre), and Eleonora suggested that a skilled but not professional weaver might quote half that or less. Eleonora also observed that pricing depends on so many variables: not just the cost of materials, nor the time it takes to weave, but also the design and planning phases and whether the weaver is a professional or not. This is all sound advice indeed and gratefully received. Now, how do I translate this into setting an actual retail price for my tapestries?