You’d think that commissions would be a great way to make money. You’d think they would be a guaranteed sale. Most of the time they are a guaranteed headache.

I have several things up for sale that I’ve made. Some things I make are for personal use, some things are made for gifts. Some things I make just because I like to make them and I have no idea what to do with them.

Sometimes people like to try to order things.

Special orders are tricky because people often have one idea in their head, and the result is often different than what they imagined – and meanwhile I’m out time and materials because of it. I discovered that when I was making beaded jewelry.

Say someone wants a necklace in blue beads.  Sounds simple, right? But there are important questions to ask. What shade of blue? What size beads? Shaped ones, or not? Translucent, or opaque? All the same, or some variety?

Any deviation from what they had in their mind and they won’t like it – and I’m out money and time. They may think that I can just sell that to someone else, and sometimes I can. Sometimes I’m stuck with it.

And all of that time was time I could have spent making what I wanted to make.

It reminds me of folks who wanted me to help them write their biography, or to write up a story idea they had. Nope. I have plenty of things I need to write – I don’t have time to write YOUR stories too.

Even if I’ve asked them to measure the length they want with a tape measure, half the time they still aren’t happy with the length of the completed necklace. If they want it shorter, that is doable as long as there is still room to work with the cord. If they want it longer I have to start all over from the beginning. Sometimes they don’t like the pattern of the beads so they want me to totally redesign it.

With crochet, a lady I knew from church asked for a baby blanket in specific colors and said that she’d give me $50 for that. I think that she thought that was generous, but in general customers don’t get to set the price, for good reason. They don’t know how much materials and time are involved. I informed her that wouldn’t even cover the cost of the yarn. They weren’t colors I happened to have on hand, so I’d have to make a special trip to the craft store. And would the shades of those colors be what she wanted? I told her it would be easier if I taught her how to crochet and she could make it herself.

When I worked at the library I had regular “Beading with Betsy” programs, where we’d spend an hour making a bracelet. People would want to design a necklace and I’d remind them that it took an hour just to make a bracelet. A necklace can take hours to design and assemble. I hope I introduced people to the idea of making things by hand – but also to gain a respect for crafter’s time.

Now that I’ve gotten into weaving, people are asking for items in specific lengths and colors. There are several potential problems here. Again, we have the issue with color – what shade?  And then there are concerns with materials – do they want natural, or synthetic? Does it need to be washable with the regular wash, or can it be washed by hand? All of that factors into what kind of yarns I can use – and their prices vary considerably.

As for the length, that is a whole other set of problems. Getting the length exact is impossible, since the item is one length on the loom (which I’d have to keep up with using stitch markers, since the length is wound onto the beam), but another taken off (since it is no longer under tension) and another once wet finished (it usually shrinks). 

The worst commission was from my brother, but that wasn’t a real surprise.  He wanted a rose quartz necklace, hand-linked with sterling silver wire. I had the beads but I had to order the wire. I asked him to send me the money for that in advance – and he didn’t. Christmas was coming, and I was running out of time to make this and get it to him in time. So I went ahead and ordered the wire and made it. He paid me, eventually, but there was a lot of concern if that would even happen.

It would have been better for me not to have made his lack of planning my emergency. 

So from now on, IF I take on a special order, the person will have to sign off on the length and the beads (if a necklace, for instance) in advance. They’ll have to pay half before the item is even started. And when they get it, they have to pay the other half. I’ll have to write up a contract including no alterations.

But in general, it is far easier to not take orders at all, and simply let people buy what I’ve already made.