Textile Arts and Commercial Enterprise

by Dinah Jane Pitman-Rowe


As a former shop/gallery proprietor, I was constantly surprised with the lack of business acumen displayed by artists.

On being presented with works of art to sell, the owner would often ask, 'What would I sell their merchandise for and how much should they charge for their work?'

Initially, I made the mistake of offering a price for some rather second-hand looking montages in frames. On hearing my suggestion, the man in question stormed out of the shop, mumbling over his shoulder that he could get more money for them at a boot sale. Needless to say, I was tempted to tell him where he could put his art!

Now I am wiser, I would like to make some suggestions to textile artists who are considering the brave step of venturing into the world of commerce

Give your product a realistic price

Your pricing needs to include cost of materials and if possible, try to obtain these at wholesale prices. You should also be paid for your time. Give yourself at least the national minimum wage (in the UK see Directgov for more information). Many artists charge well above this as you are paying for their skilled labour and expertise.

If you are planning to reach a large market, think about using outworkers to make up elements of your design or consider using some ready-made items, e.g. T-shirts embellished with embroidery.

I have recently invested in an embroidery machine and am in the process of designing a range of products for a retail website, this will save me hours of time and will therefore greatly reduce my costs.

Remember that many shops will have to add on VAT (20%) to the cost of your item, if their revenues are above the VAT threshold (for current information about the VAT threshold see the HMRC web site). Similarly, should your earnings be above this threshold you will be required to pay VAT on all items sold, requiring VAT registration.

This additional expense of VAT on all items sold will need to be considered when pricing the final item. As an offset, any VAT incurred on purchases can be deducted if you are VAT registered.

For example:

Sale price


VAT on sale (17.5%)


Total sale price


Cost of materials


VAT on materials bought


Total purchase price


VAT liable for payment: £4.00 less £1.00 =


Due to increased levels of paperwork and records required, it is essential to have accurate book-keeping, with an accountant making this more manageable.

Know your target customer

Consider these choices.

  • products designed for children or adults?
  • traditional or contemporary?
  • fashion or interiors?

If you are presenting your art to a gallery or shop, examine the catchment area. Taking a valuable piece of art into a local shop may not be a good idea if the shop sells low end items. This also depends on whether you want to sell in greater volume.

Be prepared to make duplications

You may well be surprised at how quickly one of your products sells. If it is not a one-off piece you will need to replace it quickly, especially if it is a customer request. Ensure that you have enough materials at the ready when you are collecting your initial fabrics, etc. This is crucial if you are using a website to sell your work.

Present your merchandise with flair

Spend some of your precious time on the final presentation of your work, depending on your style. Have a look at how other textile designers use handmade gift tags, boxes, etc., to give their products a unique quality, which cannot be found in mass produced merchandise. Do not forget to include a brief description of your influences in the designing process, how the item was made and how to care for it.