Some people are perfectly reasonable about it, and ask politely while offering to pay you for supplies and your time. Others will be more demanding, clueless or rude, will ask for the impossible (“I want it made from alpaca, but make it machine washable, and here’s $10 for the supplies!”) or simply act dismissive about how much work actually goes into making items. It’s up to you to decide how to handle requests, of course, but just remember that it’s OK to say no.
I say no all the time. In fact, my personal position is that I don’t take any commissions, though I will make people gifts for birthdays and holidays if I so choose. Is it harsh? Maybe, but it’s the way it has to be for me to be happy.
See, here’s the thing. A lot of people have no idea how much time and effort knitting actually takes. And while most people are happy to pay you for supplies, and some are even willing to pay a little extra for your time, there are very few people who would like to pay what my time is really worth. And I get enough of that in my career.
If you were making these items as part of a job, you’d have to make at least minimum wage. Let’s pretend your boss isn’t a total wang and say you make $10 per hour (though only making $10 an hour for something as skilled as knitting might mean you boss actually is a wang, but this is hypothetical). Let’s say supply costs are another $10 per ball of yarn.
The most basic hat (a ribbed band, then stockinette body and simple decreases) with worsted weight yarn takes me about three hours if I am doing nothing else, and usually only requires one ball of yarn. So that’s $30 for labor and $10 for supplies. I know there are brands out there who get away with charging $40 for a hat, but those are usually big name designers, and the hats usually have a design in them.
In fact, if the hat has some kind of pattern to it — let’s say lace — that will increase the cost greatly. It might take me seven hours to make a complicated item. So with the yarn cost the hat is now $80. A scarf with a complicated design might take twenty hours of labor and two balls of yarn. I’m not comfortable charging my friends and family $200 or more. And when you get into complicated sweaters, you might be reaching $600 for an item. The intense cabled sweater I’ve been working on for a year and a half would easily be in the thousands of dollars if I were making it for someone else.
I know what you’re thinking. I don’t have to pay myself $10 per hour. It’s true. I could donate my time and only make them pay for supplies. But then I’d feel resentful, like I was being taken advantage of. And I don’t want to have bitterness toward the people I care about.
There are non-monetary reasons, too. I mentioned last week that knitting is like a form of therapy for me. It’s what I do to escape. I don’t want it to have a deadline or feel like an obligation. I would start to hate doing it if I felt like I had to. That’s the point of a hobby — to have something that’s just for you, that you do because you want to, not because there’s any sort of requirement.
So if that makes me a heartless friend and a selfish knitter, so be it. I’ll still make gifts for people, and I’ll donate my excess goods to charity (and occupiers), but I won’t take a commission. I’ve made a few exceptions — when my great aunt, who is dying of breast cancer, asked me to make her some hats, I was happy to oblige — but largely I have to preserve my sanity and the good feelings I have toward knitting.