Monetizing a Hobby

Last week my partner in everything, Russ, was talking about a tweet he had seen on monetizing hobbies. He said that it was sad so many people felt compelled to monetize their hobbies. I said “I don’t know. Some people can’t have their hobbies unless they monetize them. Dad never could have had all of those boats unless he had been willing to build and trade them, and I never would have felt the freedom to do all that smocking if I hadn’t been able to make it pay for itself.” He said “Exactly.”

For a little back story, Dad built his first wooden boat in his father’s backyard shop when he was a child. He probably built more bass fishing boats than anything else, but he also built race boats (hydros), sport fishing boats and put at least one cabin cruiser in a pre-built metal hull. He built engines too. In fact, that was what he did best. When I was young, there was always a way to get on the water, and it would run perfectly tuned while you were there, and fast. I truly miss that part of my life.

For me, it was fine needle arts. I funded my love of English hand smocking by teaching classes and selling supplies. I also designed smocking patterns, had my work published and attended conventions. It’s a specialty many people don’t know, but, English Hand Smocking is a type of hand sewing best known as coming from Polly Flinders or Feltman Brothers branded baby clothes. It’s time intensive and something most people can only afford if they do it themselves, buy second hand, use them for generations, or, sadly, if the original hand sewing workers didn’t get paid a living wage. Baby clothes that were passed from generation to generation had English hand smocking (and/or French hand sewing). That is where my soft spot began, in the hope chests and family portraits of my heritage. It was a privilege, and because of privilege, that I was able to pursue the art, even though I made sure none of the cost came from the family budget. One day, I’d like to have the time and resources to research and write a book on textiles of all sorts and income inequality. It is a multifaceted issue that weaves itself through all of the arts and the economy.

I didn’t see the Tweet Russ referenced, but we were probably looking at the same rub. The age old advice is to never turn your hobby into a business because you will lose the escape and gain another obligation. But, many (like me) don’t get one without the other. Is it a privilege or a burden? Yeah, that’s the rub.