The guy on the train catches a knitter’s eye.
He’s admiring the scarf emerging from the needles.
And then he says it. One of the worst things possible to tell a knitter:
“Oh my gosh that’s so nice, you should totally sell it!”
“But it’s meant as a compliment! Don’t you think that’s nice? You could put it on a rack in a store!”
“You could sell a ton on Etsy! What, you don’t appreciate a compliment?"
Not that one.
For many knitters, or crocheters, or other needle-craft types, telling us you think whatever we’re working on is retail-worthy isn’t the compliment you think it is.
In fact, quite the opposite.
We put a lot of sweat and emotion into the crafts we create. And that’s why likening what we do to someone browsing through some big box store, frankly, devalues our craft.
Let me explain why.
A Brief Breakdown
1. Material costs. The glorious yarn a stranger admires easily costs $20 or more per skein. Even a basic, bulky wool for an average-sized American woman’s sweater would run at least $50, on the low end. Other crafts add up too. I quilted my husband a King-sized blanket out of his old concert T-shirts. I easily spent $125 for batting, a fleece backing, binding and quilting studio time. My friend Candice Bennett is a much more serious quilter than I, and assures me $140 per quilt would barely cover one spread.
2. Time. I can whip up a bulky hat in a weekend. I made simple legwarmers for my toddler in two evenings. But I’m three weeks into a simple lace scarf for my mom, and I’m just hoping I’ll have it finished before spring. Socks can take a month, easy. I would have to charge upwards of $300 a pair just to make minimum wage.
Sometimes this does happen. Alison Hendry negotiated $140 for a baby sweater for her mother’s boss, mostly due to yarn costs. He is, apparently, very wealthy. The kind of wealthy that would pay for high-quality hand-crafted infant-wear. Most people are not.
3. Appreciation. Let’s face it – quality isn’t what it used to be. We’ve all bought sweaters from chain stores that have fallen apart after just a few washes. You can feel the cheapness and artificiality of the material. I struggle to find clothes that fit, because it’s hard to make an item truly complement a curvy female form. Comparing what I work really hard to produce to off-the-rack retail goods feels like it’s cheapening what I do.
"Most anyone would rather pay $20 at a big box store for a sweater than what it would cost to make it,” says Rebecca Alidre Holmes-Anderson. "It’s society’s way of thinking that ‘DIY’ is cheaper than buying the product, and often that’s the case, but with most needle crafts, it’s not.“
4. Stress. I have enough deadlines in my life. I knit to relax. I don’t even knit for holidays anymore. It’s not worth the headache. This isn’t just my feeling – researchers have come to similar conclusions. "You tend to knit according to your mood in a particular moment,” says Betsan Corkhill, the therapist behind the Stitchlinks.com knitting research Web site. “If you’re forced to knit quicker, then it becomes stressful.”
5. Emotional connection. An anecdote, if you will: My husband used to have the best convertible gloves. I know, because I knit them. They were technically fingerless gloves, but they had a little bit of a finger – up to the first knuckle, for added warmth – and a flip mitten top that buttoned down on the wrist, so the top wouldn’t flop about.
They were knit with lace-weight forest green alpaca yarn that he had chosen from a Valhalla of a yarn warehouse I stumbled across while on our first overseas trip together, to Peru. It took me about two years to find the right pattern for the yarn – actually a pattern I modified for the yarn and his size – to go with a scarf from the same yarn. The set, along with a matching hat, served as his Chanukah present.
Tell me, how should I price that?
Or, as one knitter notes, not everything in life has, or should have, a price tag.
“It’s something I do out of love,” she says. “No one ever says 'wow that was a great [sexual act], you should do that professionally,’ do they?”
It’s worth remembering, in a our consumerist world that not everything can be bought or sold – nor should it.
“I’d be so honored to wear something like that,” works fine.
Or maybe: “You have a real talent for that.”
Even a simple: “That’s beautiful.”
Just don’t suggest money. Not unless you have at least $140 to spend.
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