I did not purchase that doily that day, but the thought of it kept creeping back into my head for days later. Six dollars was so very sad—so very, very sad. I was taught to crochet by my grandmother when I was between six and 10 years old. I remember crocheting doll clothes. Today it is a hobby, which I do for myself or to give to family and friends.
The more I thought about that doily, the more I realized how it related to our industry. Finally, I could stand it no longer. I returned to get the doily, as I wanted to share my thoughts about it with you. Although it was still there, I chose to buy another more intricate doily for $7.
As I prepared for this article, I decided to show three different doilies. Look closely at the three doilies shown. What do you see?
My grandmother did Doily 1 for me in her senior years when she no longer could see very well. She had this pattern memorized by heart and could do it easily while watching television. It was something she really enjoyed doing. She did several for me, and I doubt any of them are perfect. You may notice the imperfections in the photograph. In this case, perfection was not what mattered. It was her love, care, skill and joy that she was so willing to share with me. I found out many years after her passing that in her younger days she did many much more intricate patterns regularly as gifts for her children.
When designers and decorators choose handmade or painted fabric, it is far more expensive than machine made fabric. It also is never perfect. I once had to make panels from hand-painted canvas that was totally impossible to match at the seams. I currently have a piece of silk that is stitched in squares that are far from being square. It is this personal touch—the love, the care and the God-given skill—that makes the fabric so special and expensive.
Would my grandmother's doily be expensive if I chose to sell it? Never! Yet it took a great deal of real love and care to create. Would an item you fabricated from the expensive and imperfect fabric mentioned above be valued higher than a fabrication made of average priced fabric? Hmmm? Would you put more time, care, concern and skill into fabricating something that was not perfect to start with? Would you do this because you love the skill you have and have the passion to use it as perfectly as possible?
The next doily is the one I purchased for the grand sum of $7. Examine it. The center is an intricate design although not terribly difficult to execute by someone experienced at doing the work. What about the three-dimensional border? That is definitely a more advanced pattern and is not absolutely perfect, although you may not see that in the photograph.
Crocheting is a skill that takes practice. In the beginning, one tends to hold the thread too tight, which besides making it that much harder to crochet gives you a doily that is far from being flat. As I was learning in my childhood, my dolls ended up with many rounded skirts because I had not yet learned to loosen up and let it flow. Loosening up and getting a rhythm take practice and patience, but once you get that down it's just a matter of learning new stitches. The more new stitches you learn the more advanced designs you can do.
When you, as a fabricator or retail consultant, first go into business you face a learning curve before you know the procedures that work for you and what works smoothly. I remember when my partner and I purchased a blindstitch machine. We had a terrible time learning how to get the fabric, especially sheers, hemmed evenly without puckering. Many years later, a designer who was our client at that time admitted that our work was less than the perfection she wanted, but she was willing to work with us and wait through the learning process. Yes, you may know how to sew well and have some excellent samples to show, but you must keep learning new techniques, products and treatments. It's just like learning new stitches. The more you learn, the more advanced will be your offerings.
If you can offer more treatments with better techniques, with better equipment and show better samples, are you more valuable? Or are you right in there with the seven-dollar doily?
As you examine the last doily look closely at the stitches. These are not the normal stitches you see in crochet. In fact, I have never seen this stitch anywhere other than in the attempts I've made to duplicate it. Let me tell you the story behind this one.
Many years ago, I attended an estate auction. Normally at these sales lace, embroidery and doilies are not sold separately, but are sold in groups of various designs. When I first saw this doily, I knew I had to have it. It didn't matter to me what it cost. I was going to have that doily because I had never seen anything like it.
When the bidding started on this group, I had one opponent. At that point in time I was very insecure and would never challenge anyone, but I was determined to have that doily. So I used a strategy that I have never seen done at any sale I've ever attended—and there have been several. I stared directly into my competitor's eyes and kept countering her bid. She got so uncomfortable that she gave up quickly. Thank goodness, because my pockets were not nearly as deep as my determination! The treasure was mine!
I do not remember what I paid that day, but I do know that it was not close to what that batch of items was really worth.
I was willing to pay whatever it took to get that doily because it was unique. Are you unique? What sets you apart from your competition? I was also willing to try something that I had never seen done before. I wanted it so badly that I became the challenger, or the offense if you are a football fan. Are you willing to try new strategies and face your competition with confidence?
What about your clients? Can you create such unusual products or services that their mouths water to have it? That they will pay whatever it takes to have what you are offering? Is your offering so unique that they can't shop you anywhere?
MORE THOUGHTS ON DOILIES
I've told several stories relating to the fact that hand-crocheted items are not perceived as valuable by the public. The reason? For the most part, crocheting is a hobby, done for joy and relaxation. But it also is true that no one has ever tried to make it known how valuable the skill and time involved in crocheting are. For that reason, I hope no one has ever tried to make a living doing it.
Do your customers and clients recognize how valuable you are as a window treatment specialist? If not, it's because you haven't educated them enough. It's up to you to sell your client that you are extremely valuable and rare like this last doily. Let it show that you truly do put real love and concern into every one of your creations and you truly want your customers to be happy. Making them happy using your talents is a great joy for you, but you must make a living doing it. It's not their fault that they don't know how much you invest in your education or the time you spend just so you can make their homes comfortable, personal and spectacular for others to behold.
The next time you see a piece of handmade lace or crochet, think about the skill, love, passion and joy as well as the time it took to create it. And think about yourself. You have a precious gift and your whole being is sincerely and passionately displayed in your work. Let your clients see that and know that.
Kitty Stein, WCAA, is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 18 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings and Price Your Work With Confidence.