Trying it on.

Thanks everyone for your kind comments on my last post; I really appreciate the thoughts and the wisdom that you’ve shared.

For my part in the mending,I am keeping myself very busy. So let us not tarry on matters of the heart, but instead enjoy a rousing exploration of the economics of the unsolicited knitwear commission.

I do not know if this new focus has resulted from my jaded state of mind, the rudeness of a woman who marched up to our knitting group last week announcing that she needed to ‘order’ a scarf from among us, or some thoughts I have been organising around the value of clothes in particular and the value of labour in general. But whilst out walking yesterday with the marvellous Lara, I began to conceive of ways of equipping myself – and other knitters – for the difficult question, ‘do you take commissions?’ The truth is, whether you are an artist, a knitter, or any other kind of maker, it is always easier to underestimate how long a job will take than to demand what seems to be an obscene amount as recompense for your efforts. This is not good for the soul, this under-selling. And it is not good for your work. Finally it is not good for other artists, knitters and makers, since this under-selling of talent fosters unrealistic expectations about what can be bought, and for how much.

I therefore present a simple calculating sheet with free example, plus some reasoning and some links, for making sensible estimations for knitting projects. I suggest that if you share my views on the subject of knitting commissions, you make a similar chart, fill it out with estimations based upon your own abilities and experience, and keep it about your person. Then when people ask you ‘how much would it cost to make me _______?’ You will have the answer immediately to hand.

I present:

~ or ~

I have provided one example for one commission, to show how the pricing guide works. Let us work on the presumption that everything else that could be created using this chart will be more expensive than the example provided, since the example provided allows for no consultation time with the customer, is knit in basic garter-stitch, and is the easiest, most straightforward, battery-chicken-style kind of a knitting project that I can think of. Point Zero knits up in no time on large needles, hence the low project time of 6 hours. Some savings could be made if the knitter were a lot faster than I am, or if a cheaper yarn were used. But those details aside, I am pretty certain that everything else to be developed using this chart is going to be more expensive than the example provided. And I am also pretty sure that anyone – on hearing the scarf will cost £50 – would think it was an outrage and that you were totally mocking them in some way to ask for such an obscene amount of money.

To prove this point further, let us take an incredibly basic sweater pattern knit up on Aran-weight yarn.

You are looking at (minimum) a 2 hour consult to get the measurements, decide on colourways, identify a pattern, make notes on shoulder-shaping etc. with your client. That’s £11. 46 right there, and that’s if you only want to get paid at MINIMUM WAGE, which is a bit insulting to the skilled labour that knitting actually is. But the minimum wage is a good starting point, because using it can easily demonstrate that anything under the so-called ‘obscene’ amount that you may charge for a knitting project would constitute your getting less than the minimum wage, which at least makes the point that you are not trying to fleece anyone when you explain that the scarf they hankered after will set them back £50. But back to our jumper.

If you choose a reasonably-priced, high quality Aran-weight yarn like the stuff sold from the New Lanark mill shop, and buy enough for a 36 inch chest woman’s sweater size (1,100 yards, approximately) then you are looking at buying 7 balls to be on the safe side, at £2.95 per ball. The total comes to £20.95 for the yarn. Now I’m saying -as a knitter – that £21 for a jumper’s worth of yarn is a bargain. In many situations, the yarn will cost more than that. Remember: the focus is on affordable yarn for a totally plain, no-texture, Aran-weight (shorter knitting time) jumper.

This yarn can be turned into a jumper in somewhere between 30 and 40 hours. (Again with the minimum wage.)

Now this sweater may be made more quickly by a more experienced knitter, but why should the more experienced (and therefore more skilled) knitter be paid at the same rate as the less experienced (and therefore less skilled) knitter? The customer may save some money in terms of project time, but in so doing, will probably lose some money to the experience and skill of the knitter. Besides, if a knitter is that experienced, they have already ruined their life on several occasions fulfilling commissions they really didn’t want to do and so will most likely not undercharge for their own excellent work. So let’s keep with the calculations I made.

Does anyone know anyone who can afford to pay £260 for a sweater? Or is the answer ‘No, that is why we all knit our own.’

Let us also note at this point that this price I have come up with is for something that in no way reflects the desired hand-knit that the customer probably wants. The lovingly handknit item in gorgeous hand-dyed yarn with cables, picot-edging etc. that the client saw in your lap and instantly desired (hence the commission) can barely be accounted for on my simple chart. Consider the time spent researching new techniques, checking out colourways and mods on Ravelry, looking up stitch patterns, changing the pattern to fit you etc. and the hours start running into the hundreds. If you are designing from scratch? Well then you need another whole calculation system on top of this one.

It is one thing to put this kind of time and effort into something which brings you the pleasure of self-directed learning, which enhances your wardrobe, which gives the massive sense of achievement that a totally home-made garment brings and which is made in yarns that suit your tastes, your style, your tactile knitting requirements and your creative life; it is another thing entirely for a stranger to expect that you will derive these same considerable benefits from knitting what they want, during your knitting time.

I do not know what others think about these issues; please do enlighten me. I very much enjoyed Rachael’s breakdown on designer knitwear and Kate’s creative exploration of the economics involved in her brilliant Wardrobe Project. I’d like to know what you all think about knitting commissions; whether you’ve ever taken on something you wish you hadn’t, whether you think my ideas right here are all twaddle and whether you’ve ever felt that others were trying it on when they asked you about a knitting commission.

Handy link – Yarn Yardage Calculator

7 Responses to Trying it on.

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