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Knit Like a Boss: No, I Can’t Make You a Sweater by Tomorrow

It’s inevitable: as soon as word gets out amongst your friends and family, people are going to start asking you to knit things for them.

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.

This is often true. (via http://fyeahknittingalpaca.tumblr.com/)

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.

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[E] Liza

PhD student. Knitter. Brooklynite. Long-distance dog mom. Reluctant cat lady. Majestic unicorn whose hair changes color with the wind.

14 thoughts on “Knit Like a Boss: No, I Can’t Make You a Sweater by Tomorrow”

  1. I think this mindset goes for any “craft” or talent you possess.  I have reserved my paintings as wedding gifts, I paint and frame them.  So not many people have one but I feel good knowing that they are appreciated.  As for my crocheted items- I stick to simple scarves or hats.  One year I made our youth group all hats for a competition so that we would all “match” without having the traditional T-shirt.  It was pretty cool.

  2. Funnily enough I was thinking about this topic yesterday. I crochet, which is slightly less yarn-efficient than knitting and thus compounds the expense issue. A lot of the time I’ll politely tell the asker that unfortunately it’s a very time-consuming and expensive process, and that I don’t have the resources to make something for everyone who’d like something.

    Sometimes, on the other hand, I would love to say yes to the person. In that situation, what I like to do is offer them a beginner’s crochet lesson. I point them to a place where they can pick up a hook and a ball of inexpensive yarn and we go through the stitches. It’s not going to get them making cardigans and toys by the next day, but it gives them an idea of how complex craft can be, and sets them on the road to taking it on as a hobby if they like. Crochet is great for a quick lesson because in a couple of hours you can get people started quite nicely.

  3. Yeah, same goes for cross-stitching. My dad kept pestering me to sell cross-stitch pieces and I had to explain that I doubted there was anyone who would be willing to pay me $1000 for the piece he was talking about, and anything else wouldn’t pay me for my time. Only a crafter (I guess it isn’t fair to say it’s only crafters, there are other people who would understand) understands the mindset of “I would rather give it away than get paid less than what it is really worth.”  The only thing I am willing to do on commission is crocheted hats, because they go so quickly.

  4. 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.

    Wait…that raises a huge question: why do we see prices considerably cheaper than this? I wouldn’t imagine knitted material would be easily produced by semi-automated machines… Does that mean it is all because of exploitative labor?

    I feel sort of ignorant for asking about it, because I KNOW a lot of our clothes are produced by sweat shop labor…but for some reason seeing the numbers put out there really hit me.

    1. Without entirely denying the sweatshoppery of the fashion industry, I can tell you that yes, we have knitting machines, and the $10 price is for good natural-fiber yarn at retail prices. Machine knits are likely to belong to companies who get bulk/wholesale discounts on yarn, or who have a relationship with a supplier.

    2. Like others have said, industrial machines, sweatshop labor and cheaper yarns at wholesale prices can bring the cost down.

      And $10 was sort of a ballpark/middle-of-the-road for yarn. You can get an acrylic for less or a really nice high-end fiber for a lot more.

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