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On Being Commissioned

August 20, 2013

I’ve noticed that there seems to be a lot of talk, lately, about knitting on commission*. It’s an interesting topic and one that is fraught with contention. While it is easy to get lost among the noise of opinion and preference, I feel there are four main aspects that seem to occur whenever the topic is brought up. Today I would like to talk about the first one-Requests.

1.The request for items

-It seems the request for items can be broken into a few different types.

1A. First name basis request. These are requests made by people the knitter knows on a first name basis. There may or may not be an expectation of payment, and if there is one discussed, the knitter is often heard of applying a “friends and family” discount. This payment may be on a barter system as opposed to actual exchange of money. These are less often discussed in threads or on blogs (in my limited experience.)

1B. The token knitter request. These requests seem to develop from people who the knitter may or may not know personally. These can be co-workers, friends of friends, or even distant family. Usually it is based on the concept that the requester knows of only one knitter, and as such when the urge strikes to have something handmade (be it a baby in the family, or a desire for hand knit Christmas stockings) the person seeks out the token knitter. Payment is usually tricky, the requester may or may not have an expectation of producing a payment.

1C. The generic request. This is the request that comes from someone the knitter doesn’t know. It could be made via Ravelry, on Craig’s list, Etsy, or some other venture. This is usually a request in which the knitter has no personal investment beyond a monetary (or bartering system) transaction. These are the requests (and the responses) that usually garner the largest feedback on Ravelry threads. These are the requests that may or may not be made with an actual understanding of the time or energy that goes into a hand knit item. I have noticed that there is also a great deal of difference in how these kinds of requests are made. It varies from polite, but uninformed, all the way to snippy and entitled.  These are the people that join Ravelry just to request items for commission.

These are the three main types of requests I can think of, do you have any other ones in mind? What is the most outrageous request you have gotten (or seen) for a handmade item? Let us know in the comments.

Tune in next time for part two of the series, “The cost of a stitch” where we discuss the issue of fair price.

*Please substitute your craft of choice

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From → Fiber Arts

12 Comments
  1. doctordana permalink

    I’ve only had the first type of request — usually I gift some knitted stuff to some people in the family and someone else in the family sees it and requests socks. They always want socks. I’ve only had one person be picky about what kind of socks they wanted, and I started a pair, HATED the yarn, and gave up. They never got them, and instead I made a scarf from the yarn. I might have bought them some socks last year, though. I wouldn’t want to knit on commission, nor to request someone else knit for me, either. Both suck the fun out of it.

  2. sparkeespud permalink

    Wow this is a good topic. I’ve had all sorts of requests for things. I do a bit of knitting for family, mainly my SIL because she is like a mini Ysolda and looks adorable in EVERYTHING. I’ve knit a few gifts for other friends, and definitely for close friend’s babies. I have done knitting on trade basis. Shells dislikes knitting hats and so I’ve knit her a hat (maybe 2?) in trade for some specialized spinning or yarn. This type of barter system I’ve done many a times with fellow knitters. I don’t like the idea of knitting for money. Maybe its because I enjoy knitting. It is a way for me to relax and enjoy the process. I think knitting for money would take the fun out of it and put far too much pressure on the process for me.

  3. I constantly have people asking me to make items not for them or a friend, but to sell in boutique shops. I usually start by explaining exactly how much I would have to charge to make a specific item. That usually scares them off. If not, it leads to an mildly uncomfortable discussion about how I can’t make items to sell from other people’s patterns because that brings up copyright issues. That usually leads to an argument in which I say no, I won’t & they think I’m being crazy.

    At the end of the day, I just stick to family or very close friends and I end up gifting items, sometimes accepting cash to cover the materials, but usually not. That’s how little I knit ‘on commission’ — LOL — enough that I can afford to gift my yarn & time!

  4. Great post- looking forward to reading the 2nd installment.

  5. Oh yes, I’ve had all 3 of those types. Even for the friends and family, I generally only make them something if I know they’re the type who’ll truly appreciate it. No money exchanges hands for anything I knit other people, because no matter what price we settle on one side or the other will probably end up offended.

  6. I never imagined people join Ravelry just to request items… jeez. My standard answer is NO, because having knitting “assignments” from other people takes the joy out of things, not to mention if you charge someone money to knit someone else’s pattern, you’re often breaking the designer’s copyright. My LYS is owned by a knitting goddess that can think of a design and make her fingers do it with no problems. She occasionally does custom work, but she charges them at least 3x the cost of the yarn, and gets the cost of the yarn from them upfront. This means people are sometimes paying 600 for a sweater (or more). I applaud her, but I still wouldn’t want to do that. It strips the joy of knitting for me.

    On the other hand, I love gift knitting. I knit for love, not money.

  7. shellssells permalink

    I’ve also encountered the Paying Client types. The ones who seek you out, professionally, with the expectation that you will create for them a work of art and something so completely unique that they never need worry about matching someone else. They fully intend to pay top dollar, and if they are really pleased? They even tip on top of that.

    Since I’ve got basically 2 distinct social circles, the knitters and the bikers, and the bikers know few other knitters, I get tons and tons of request for novelty style items. Such as an R2D2 hat, or whatnot. They don’t seriously want to pay even the cost of yarn, in fact, they don’t seriously even want you to make it. They just want to share the cool knitting thing that they found online, and they also seem to think it is polite to ask if you can make it when they share it with you. Turn them down, and no harm done. As long as you agree it is Really Cool, and something you’ve never seen before, even if you have, 290 times, from other people of the same ilk.

  8. I’m nowhere near to being a professional knitter, but just yesterday a friend of mine said that he would have been happy to wear my mitts or cowl. I have no experiences with regard to the other cases.
    Hand knitting requires a considerable effort (and expense for quality wool), so only deserving people should be on the receiving end 🙂

  9. I am so glad you are starting this conversation! I can’t wait to learn more about how to handle this issue in a way that works for all concerned. The most outrageous request I ever got was from a relative who wanted a hand knit tunic made as a birthday present for her daughter. She saw it in her local yarn shop, and decided it would be perfect, but was beyond her, even though really, it was simple and would be no problem for me.. So she asked me if I would do it, told me all about the lovely silk the model was knit in, (and I was thinking hmmm, knit with nice yarn that I don’t have to pay for) but decided that it would work just as well in some old wool yarn she had been saving for something special. ( I should have known, Frugal is an understatement for her.) There wasn’t as much as was called for, but she was sure I could make it work. And could it be done in the next two weeks?

    I told her I could do it, but not in that time frame, and not for free. “Oh, I would pay you!” but it turns out that what I thought would be worth all that aggravation and what she thought it should cost were very different. She thought that by providing the yarn, she was taking care of the most expensive part. That would be not enough yardage of the wrong yarn. Yep, sounds like a special deal to me. 🙂

    I later found out she once paid my cousin $30 to knit her a sweater. The cousin told me to always negotiate the price up front, because when she was told she would be paid, she thought it would be something resembling a fair price. The sweater was done and delivered when she realized the $30 was it.

  10. Great post. Few people understand the effort that goes into a knitted item and that’s why I usually respond to such requests with the response that I am happy to teach anyone to knit so they can make it for themselves. I do, however, grant worthy recipients with random acts of knitting, and almost never on a “real” occasion. I prefer gifting at random because it means a pleasant surprise for them and no deadlines for me. I have over the years received a couple of hand-knitted items from other knitters and I really treasure them. Both were very generous, knowing how much time and expense went into them. I know there are knitters who make money by commissions, but I have to wonder if they are really getting fair value for their efforts.

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