Have you ever asked a maker for freebies? Well if you have, steady yourself. You’re about to be, what the kids of today call, ‘woke’. That’s because lots of makers are routinely asked to provide freebies of their products to family, friends, charities and even strangers. It’s happened to me and to almost every other maker I know and it’s the economic and emotional equivalent of finding a human turd on your doorstep. Shocked? Well if you’re not a maker you probably are. Few realise what they’re doing when they casually say to a sewist, “Could you run up a bag for my holiday?” without so much as reaching for a purse. In fact the ‘F’ word has ramifications that should be tattooed on the arses of everyone to attempts it. Here, kraken lover, is why…
Don’t shake your head at me like that. You’re taking advantage and you know it. When you ask for freebies what you’re really doing is asking someone to source and pay for materials before relying upon their decades of experience to fashion them into, say, an embroidery hoop for nothing more than your gain.
More than that you’re asking them to do it in their spare time and, even worse, you’re asking them to do it with good grace. You may as well ask someone to smile as you smack ‘em with a plank. Look at it this way: if your boss asked you to work a day without pay would you curtsy and simper, “Of course!” or would you holler at HR before hitting up recruitment agencies for a new job? Quite.
Your ‘exposure’ doesn’t exist
Jesus, this old chestnut. Have you any idea how often makers are asked to provide freebies for ‘exposure’? Well it may as well be exposure to the Ebola virus for all the good it does us. Check out this Sainsbury’s-based debacle to get an idea of what I mean. Over and again we makers are told that by providing freebies we’ll be showcasing our work to new audiences and customers. Well that’s horseshit because the amount of time and money spent in creating an item is rarely equalled by a snaking queue of people waving £50 notes at us.
Now, if Kim Kardashian wanted to display one of my bags on her naked arse for an internet-breaking photoshoot I’d consider it. But if a local shop owner thinks I’ll give him festive bunting in the hope that one of his customers discovers me, he’s bang out of luck. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills. Money does. Cough up.
You pimp the idea that artists don’t need money
Funnily enough, we don’t. We’ve collectively devised a secret method of payment whereby the mortgage, utilities and food bills are paid via the medium of yarn, fabric, wood and paint. We all meet in a car park once a month – Deep Throat stylee – where we barter sky pockets for electricity and hand-painted coasters for council tax. It’s like the bitcoin thing but with brushed cottons and glitter. You had no idea did you? And there you were asking for freebies while not caring that we couldn’t pay our bills as a result! Ha! Gotcha! Now, bring me my craft stash. N-Power is asking me to pay in fresh air and zips.
You ruin our friendships
A quick story for you: I once had a friend who seriously bollocked me for getting pregnant with miracle child, Kraken Junior. She told me I was mean, selfish and abandoning her to be the last woman she knew who was child free. Well, she’s not my friend any more and this is what happens when you put your friends in impossible positions. Now, asking a mate to rustle up cotton sanitary pad freebies isn’t quite the same as screaming at them because they are with child. It IS though, making them choose between what is good for them and what is good for you and that’s the problem.
Assuming that your needs transcends a maker’s need for time, space and money is, well, not friendship at all. And that is the point. True friends understand and support those of us who make for a living by paying in full. What they don’t do is happily kick back with a glass of wine while their bestie sobs over making a free beach bag at midnight.
Have you any idea what it’s like to have to repeatedly say ‘No’ to people who ask for freebies? It’s like being asked to repeatedly poke a kitten in the eye. Well, I’ve developed an undernourished conscience so no longer care (because business is business, baby!) but I know a thousand makers for whom it is not so easy.
They’ll struggle to say ‘no’ because they need the money, but when they do they feel as if they’re letting you down. In fact, I’m in several online groups where members routinely say they feel like bitches for refusing to make a £300 quilt for nothing for a work colleague. Worse that feeling doesn’t dissipate either. It just becomes more gnawing every time they have to say ‘no’. I’ve found a way to stop them feeling like this though. How about we just stop asking them to make freebies in the first place! I know! Revolutionary, right?
You are costing us money
Right then. Brass tacks it is. Check out this vlog of mine about what it costs for me to make one of my embroidery hoops. Now, this isn’t me being precious or stuck up about my work. This is cold, hard maths. Each of my hoops costs approx £65 to make so if I make them as freebies I’m essentially sending you £65. I may as well leave unmarked notes in a holdall in a layby. And even if I adore you and will suffuse every stitch with unending love, thereby giving freely of my time, I STILL have to hand over my earnings to provide the materials.
How would you feel if I dipped into your purse and just took £30? You’d, at the very least, respond with, “What the actual FUCK?” So imagine if I followed it up with, “So you’re mowing my lawn on Saturday then?”. Yeah. That.
Your charitable cause isn’t necessarily ours
Being asked for freebies by charity fundraisers is a makers’ right of passage. They’ll tell us about the cause that’s close to their hearts and ask us to donate a bag, a painting, a blanket… anything that can be bid for or won in a raffle. The thing is, this puts us makers in the shittiest of positions.
Now, some of us will happily offer an item if the cause also means something to us. I’ve done it for feminist campaigns. But if it doesn’t? Then we’re forced – for reasons of time and money – to say no to pictures of starving donkeys or destroyed rainforests. And yes, I know this makes me sound like a hagbitch, but if makers gave to every charitable cause that approached them they’d a) go broke; and b) Buckingham Palace would run out of gongs to hand out come the next New Year Honours list.
You don’t support small businesses
Look, you don’t have to buy things to support us small businesses. You can just like and share us on Facebook, comment on blogs, be gushing when you see us… not everyone can afford to routinely buy handmade, right? There’s a big difference, though, between not buying handmade items and actively blagging freebies. That’s because the latter steals time and money from a pot that’s already smaller than Trumps teeny groping hands. That’s not supporting a small business so much as hitting it with a van, reversing over it and then posting the pics on Twitter.
One of the joys of being a maker is being able to gift friends and family with what we make (assuming they won’t shove it in a cupboard after unwrapping it). It creates an experience that’s personal, fun and meaningful, which is more than you can say for bunging an Amazon voucher in a card. In other words, makers bestow freebies because they are made with love. Oh, and choice. And THAT’S they key word here. Choosing to give freebies, if all of the adults are consenting, is heavenly. Feeling forced to give freebies without having the choice though? Well we all know what that is. It’s taking the piss.
So what do you think? If you are a maker what is your experience of this? And if you’re a lover of freebies, does it change what you ask for in the future? Let me know in the comments. And no, you can’t have a free bag.