I am posting this as an entry because it became a very long response to Samanta´s request. She asked me for tips on how to tell whether a piece is hand-made or machine-made.
I am not a textile expert. This is my personal opinion. If you have something to add, please submit a reply and I will add it to my list.
I will comment mostly on how the stitches are made. There are lots of designs to choose from, even those used in machine made can be made to look primitive or ethnic and those in handmade can have designs which can be considered fine arts.
1. If you know how the stitches are made with the hands, then you will notice that machine-made stitches will have extra stitches on the backside that anchors the imitation stitches on the front. Hand embroiderers usually tuck or hide the starts and ends, while machines will have the threads traveling all over the back and sometimes even on the front, if the sewer will not bother cutting them off.
2. Aside from the irregularity of stitches, the seams and the finishing will also tell. Most excellent handmade products do not do shortcuts. For knitted garments, look at how the seams are sewn together. Most handknitters will also handsew the seams. Handmade laces that are attached on the edges of linens are usually customized to the size and shape of the linens they are attached to, thus the lace is not folded on the corners and the ends are carefully knotted to where the lacework began (bobbin lace).
3. It is also not the trend to sell very fine handmade items. It is most unlikely one will find a finely handknitted sock (but there are some who sell handknitted and handcrocheted miniatures for dolls.) After the industrial revolution, it is never a trend to make very fine handicrafts for mass production. Take the story of the Dorset buttons. They were handmade until machines replicate them and killed the cottage industry of the Dorset button makers in England.
4. There are bobbinlace tape laces in the market which looks so handmade, but you know they are not, because of the price(very cheap), the lengths (hundred meter uncut in a roll?!!) and the extremely even weaves of the laces. In finer lace imitations of honiton and buckspoint techniques, they usually have fine invisible stitches that anchor the main stitches or weaves. The picots and tallies in handmade laces are not that even and regular either.
5. Biedermeier beading and needlepoint are difficult to tell. I was fooled many times seeing a lot of these in german flea markets.
The finer the works are, the more probability that they are machinemade.Most collectors of fine pieces always have magnifying lens with them. lol.
6. Master craftsmen make higher quality pieces which are sold by expert sellers and are also priced accordingly. A fine machine made piece are usually priced low and sold by sellers who would not be able to give you information.
7. Know the craftsmen or the artists if possible. There are handmade pieces which are sold by the makers cheaply, because of emergency needs perhaps. You can ask them about the process and the details, like the inspiration they had for the pieces. If this is the case, it would be generous to add more to their price, if you can´t pay them the real worth of their pieces.
8. There are also the handknotted or handwoven gobelins and carpets, some even made of fine silk. They are really precious and even the small and medium sizes are priced in thousands of dollars. It would be nice to buy small samplers which look like small versions of the larger pieces, but has mostly all the elements found in large pieces. If you look at the back sides, you will see the irregularities in the knots and weaves.
9. If you buy ethnic products, they usually smell the same as the makers. lol. most of them do not bathe or wash hands before working on their pieces. lol.
10. Look for tags or marks which says handmade. Better yet buy only from fair trade merchants. There are lots of small-business merchants who can give information in flyers about the products.
11. Most handmade are OOAK (one of a kind) and are marked as such. look for this mark.
12. Most of them are also personalized by the maker. look for the details, like the dates or signatures of the makers.
I hope this helped
Anyone who has something to add to these tips, please feel free to reply.
Updated: here are additional tips from you guys!
1. Carolyn wrote: Handmade items take longer to create and are, therefore, priced accordingly. Yes, the yarn and canvas (or whatever supplies are required) may not cost much, but think of the time involved in making the piece. There are not many hand crafters left anymore because most people feel they can get the same item cheaper – which they can…It’s just not made by someone’s hand…