Monday, February 28, 2011

"You could sell that!"

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
It's inevitable. Once you start knitting, sooner or later there will be someone who says, "That's so great -- why, you could sell that and make money!" There's been discussion of this over on the Selfish Knitters group on Ravelry, where we've been dissecting what's up with the whole "you should sell your knitting" thang.

It's generally meant as a compliment, of course, meaning that your work demonstrates such skill that it would have value as a marketable commodity -- except without so many syllables. Personally, I think it's a sad commentary on our culture that a hobby is seen as worth engaging in only if you can make money at it, but there it is, and knitters aren't the only ones hearing this comment. Woodworkers, spinners, quilters -- I think everyone with a crafting hobby hears it.

Once in a while, though, a knitter will encounter someone who insists -- even demands -- that you should sell your knitting. You must. And will think there's something terribly wrong with you if you don't. What kind of weirdo wouldn't want to turn their hobby into a profitable business? Why, anything less is just a waste of time!

So then the knitter explains: So, you think I could sell these socks? And that someone would pay a whole $10 or $15 for them? Dear muggle, the yarn alone cost $25. Socks take 20 to 30 hours of my time to knit. Skilled labor is worth a bare minimum of $10 per hour, so if you know how to break into the $300-pair-of-socks market, please let me know. And even I'd be making less than my time on my day job is worth.

That's when the "you could sell that!" person protests! "B...b...but you do this in your spare time! You wouldn't really charge for your labor, would you? That's so... so... selfish! You should just charge what the materials cost you, and why are you using such expensive materials? You'll never make a profit unless you use cheaper yarn!"

So what's it going to be, O person with the bright business idea? Am I to sell my knitting and make money as you first said? Or am I to sell my knitting only for the cost of yarn, so that I end up with neither profit nor the knitted item I worked so hard to make? Please explain again why you think this is a good business plan, and by the way, please never, never ask me to be your business partner in any venture because it's clear that you don't have a lick of business sense whatsoever. Or maybe you're aspiring to be one of those CEOs who flushes the company down the toilet and walks away with millions in bonuses?

And then sometimes it gets worse. Bright Ideas comes back and says, "I know someone who will pay you $10 for a cowl just like the one you wear! And she's got three friends who want cowls, too! How soon can you finish them?" Or maybe it's dog sweaters, or slouchy berets, or Aran sweaters, or yarn deities help us, king-sized afghans. Because there's nothing a knitter would love to slave over more than a king-sized afghan that she'll never see again, right? Now you've got the dicey task of getting yourself out of being "volun-told" because Bright Ideas already went and told all of those people that you'd love to make the requested items for the pittance that's being offered.

Bright Ideas, do I have to serve you with a stack of cluecakes? Smack you with a clue-by-four? You are mistaking me for a mail order catalog. No, I take that back. You are mistaking me for a free knitwear dispensing machine. Listen now and hear this: I can't make money knitting under the conditions that you describe! And what's more, I don't want to!

If you ever find yourself pinned in the corner by such a Bright Idea, the wonderful people at Think Geek have the perfect shirt for you:

The Shirt of Ultimate Disambiguation

Of course, some people have turned knitting into a business. Some people are speedy knitters and make hats, cowls, mitts, and other small items to sell to boutiques, craft fairs, or online. Some design and sell patterns. A few have managed to become test knitters for big name designers or companies. A lucky fewer still have access to the kind of people who would pay $300 for a pair of hand knit cashmere and merino socks, and if anyone has secret access to that market, please let me in on it, 'kay? Especially if the clients are the kind of people who let the knitwear designer tell them what they're going to wear in the way of knitted garments.

For most knitters, though, knitting remains an unapologetically enjoyable, relaxing hobby that just happens to result in some pretty nifty sweaters, socks, and other good stuff.

And that's just fine.


skaro964 said...

So true, most people want handcrafted one of a kind items for Walmart mass market prices or lower because we have no overhead.

Barbara said...

Amen, sister. Can I have that printed on a card to hand out?
(hey, you could make money doing that!)

Mereknits said...

I so agree with your post. I have people tell me this al the time...but they don't quite understand how much time and thought goes into a project. Thanks for this thoughtful post.
Have a beautiful day,

mb. said...

Actually, I find the "you should sell that" people can get the "Oh, would you make me one" people off my back PDQ. This is made easier by the reality that they are often the same people.

Alice said...

Amen! I've had that discussion SO many times! You've captured it perfectly!

Another sad variation is typified by the conversation I had with my sister while knitting a lovely pair of socks (colorway "Aegean Sea"). After she grilled me about the cost and time, she said, "You could just go to Walmart and buy a pair of socks for $5 and be done with it."

Needless to say, she didn't get the socks when I was finished.

I enjoy your blog, keep writing!
Best, Alice
akirby on Ravelry

Katinka said...

Fantastic post!

Silvia M. said...

Love it! Been there, heard that! LOL

Crafty Mama said...

Well put, and thank you! :)

Lina said...

Couldn't agree more! I like Barbara's idea of handing out printed cards explaining why selling knitted items isn't smart business.

Susan T-O said...

I kept looking for the "agree" and "love" buttons under your post & the comments as well. Oh, well, I'll just have to add my own: love (elebenty billion) agree (twelvity trimillion)

Susan T-O, rpepperpot on Ravelry

Sue said...

Amen, once again, sister. My husband and I have been having this conversation for 31 years.

Maytheweed said...

No overheads?! Don't they know how much tea a pair of socks takes?

(Libz on SKC)

Anonymous said...

People think they are paying a compliment when they tell me I should sell my stuff, as they aren't really thinking about the meaning of what they say.

They don't realize that every stitch is hand executed, and that $25 for a pair of lovely hand knit socks on size 0 needles would make sweatshop workers pity me.

Yes, you should sell your work, but not for a real honest to goodness wage :D


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