a tour of the weenie factory

Weenie beads!!!!

I know what you’re thinking.

What on god’s green earth is a weenie bead?

They’re my really teeny tiny little lampwork spacer beads. ‘Spacer bead’ just means a plain round bead in a solid color that people use as accents in their jewelry designs. The average size of a weenie bead is about 4 x 7 mm.

SOSOSMALL.

Here they are!

weenie spacer beads by Uglibeads

They look ginormous!

Until you see this:

weenie spacer beads by Uglibeads

Or this!

teeny tiny beads by Uglibeads

Those were the original weenie beads, made in February 2014! Yes, 4 of them fit on a dime!

(you can find the weenie beads – and lots of other good stuff too (when I’m not sold out!) – in my Etsy shop! Click here: http://www.uglibeads.etsy.com)

Anyway. I had a little contest on my Facebook page, and to enter, you had to guess how many weenie beads I could make in one hour. The guesses were wildly different – from under 20 to over 200! I realized, reading the guesses, that unless you are a beadmaker yourself, it’s very hard to conceptualize the time that goes into making even a simple bead. And even more difficult to figure out is all the time that goes into that bead after it’s made and before it gets to you.

The correct answer, by the way, was 45!

Now, if you’re doing the math, you’re thinking – 45 weenies per hour, times $1.50 per weenie (I sell them in sets of 6 for $9) – that’s $67.50 per hour! WHOA!!!!!!!! Time to quit the day job and start making beads for a living!!!!!!!

There are a lot of people who see lampwork beads selling for a lot of money and think… I could do that too – and it looks like a dead easy way to make a living. Work at home in your jammies, make fun stuff all day, mess around on Facebook… what’s not to love? Thousands of new folks take up lampworking every year and many, MANY of them dream of quitting their jobs and living on their bead money.

There are also many people who look at lampwork beads (even those who buy them regularly!) and don’t quite ‘get’ why they are so freaking expensive. They are expensive. They are. I know.

Here’s why.

Using the weenie beads as an example, I’ll run you through what goes into the making and selling of the SIMPLEST of simple beads.

The last time I made weenies, I made 135 in 3 hours so we’ll use that as a guide. First let me say that of those 135 weenies, there were 30 that I couldn’t sell in pairs, because they didn’t match in size. So we’re talking 105 successful weenies. I don’t usually sell the leftovers. I give them away.

Recipe for a weenie:

Step 1: dip mandrels – 6 minutes = 0.057 minutes/bead

Step 2: make beads – 3 hours = 1.71 minutes/bead

Step 2.5: anneal beads – 5 hours – but we’re not going to count that since I can do other stuff while I’m waiting…

Step 3: clean beads – 47 minutes = 0.45 minutes/bead

Step 4: organize into matched pairs = 10 minutes = 0.095 minutes/bead (if you’re a visual kind of person, you can learn about that adventure in a short video I made – click here to watch)

Step 5: string beads onto cord for display/photos = 15 minutes = 0.143 minutes/bead

Step 6: photograph beads for listing – 10 minutes for 6 beads = 1.67 minutes/bead

Step 7: list beads for sale – 6 minutes for 6 beads (since I have a template I can copy and use again) – 1 minute/bead

Step 8: shipping – 60 minutes for 105 beads = 0.57 minutes/bead

TOTAL time per bead = 5.7 minutes

(If you add etching, which I offer to do for free – for now – add another 45 seconds per bead, but we won’t count that)

So for every minute I spend at the torch, I spend THREE times that doing all the other things that need to be done before I can ship the beads. In the end, the actual hourly rate for the weenies is $15.79/hour. This does not include:

– time spent ordering glass and shipping supplies, refilling propane, etc.
– time spent researching and developing the design
– time spent marketing my work (it is a LOT)
– time spent communicating with customers (also a lot)
– time spent practicing my technical skills (years)
– money spent on classes to improve my skills (an average 1-2 day class is $300-$600)
– market research time (and I’m talking serious time, not surfing Pinterest for 5 hours)
– raw materials including glass
– tool costs
– torch – minimum of $150 for an entry-level oxygen/propane torch
– kiln for annealing – $900
– oxygen concentrator – $400-600
– specialty eyewear – $90
– ventilation – at least $100 – typically $300+
– propane tank, regulator, hoses, flashback arrestors – $275
– etching liquid for complimentary etching – $90/bottle
– electricity
– propane
– computer costs
– camera
– photo editing software
– Etsy fees
– PayPal fees
– advertising costs
– rent
– insurance
– taxes

Lampworking isn’t looking like such a get-rich-quick scheme anymore, is it? 🙂

And you know what? Weenies are my MOST profitable beads. Most of my beads are priced at about $30/hour for torch time. Now you have some idea of how far down that goes after all the extra work that goes into that bead. Often we’re hovering at less than minimum wage ($10.20/hour where I live).

I think the moral of the story is that artists don’t do the work they do for the money. They do it because they love it. They do it because they can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s possible that they’re not wearing the fanciest clothes, driving the fanciest cars, or living in the fanciest houses. But for people who choose to live their lives creatively, making beautiful objects for others to enjoy, the reward goes far beyond material wealth.

Ok. So we will not get started on people charging very little for their beads because it’s a hobby and they just want to buy more glass with the money they make. If that is you, please don’t sell yourself short. If you don’t value your art, who will? It’s a bit of a sore spot with full-time beadmakers. When our customers see those low, low, low prices, sitting beside our much higher, fair-wage prices, it’s confusing, and it does not reflect the true cost of what we do.

On the other hand, if you’re looking at beads made by a full-time lampworker, considering the investment you’re about to make, take a moment to appreciate all the time that went into those beautiful objects. They were made not just with minutes or hours, but years (and maybe even decades) of love, dedication, and skill. Whether they become part of your creative process or part of your personal collection, you’ll get great enjoyment out of them and so will future generations. Beautiful art glass objects will remain on this earth for a lot longer than any of us will. Cool, isn’t it?

So whatever it is you’re paying for those beads you love so much…

It’s worth it. And so are you.

xo — julie

*this is an old post, but since it’s making the rounds again, I thought I’d mention, for the sake of the beadmakers in the crowd:

since I wrote this article (over a year ago) I:

a) raised the price of my weenie beads from $1.50/bead to $2/bead

b) implemented a surcharge for etching (after all, it takes time!) – $0.50 per bead

c) now sell the single (unmatched) beads in mixed sets

Take the time to re-evaluate every once in a while. You deserve to be well compensated for the good work you do, and the best customers out there want that for you too.

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