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The Cost of a Stitch

August 22, 2013

Part two in our series exploring the topic of commissioned knitting. Today’s topic we will discuss the oh-so-touchy subject of price, and what it means to have a fair price. Defining a fair price is difficult, and is a part of the reason I have not jumped into the Etsy (or similar) avenue. The difficulty in defining price can stem from a variety of issues, materials, time/deadline, difficulty of pattern, and the concept of a fair wage . The trickiest part seems to develop when knitters and those requesting items begin discussing a fair wage, even within the disagreements within the knitting community, there still seems to be four general approaches to price. In this discussion we will assume the item in question is being knit for “profit” (however defined) instead of being gifted by the knitter.

2A. Knitter’s like to knit. In this scenario the requester is providing yarn, and some token amount of money in addition. This amount can vary per requester or item being requested The logic follows that they, the knitter, would be knitting something anyway; therefore if I (the requester) provide knitter with yarn and some arbitrary amount, then the knitter gets to do what they enjoy (knit) and I get something out of it.

So for this example, the requester asks for a cabled hat to be made (moderately difficult to make.) They offer the knitter yarn and let’s say $5-10 for the hat.  So let’s say it takes the knitter 10 hours to knit the hat, accounting for swatching and finishing/blocking. This comes down to $1 or less for each hour spent on the item in question. But there are those who would argue that this is considered a fair wage. Because, again knitters like to knit.

I understand that there are some knitters, who through circumstances beyond their control (job loss, illness, ect.) that would take this type of project on. They may have extra time, or need the cash, or even just want to try out different yarn. Whatever the reason they are willing to accept the commission and off they go.

2B. MPS or Mass Production Syndrome. In this second scenario the price point given is based on what a similar retail item costs. In this situation, the requester often provides the yarn, or the money to purchase the yarn, but then the item in question is only given retail value.

Example: Rhoda (requester) sees a sweater she likes in the store but they don’t have the color (or exact style, she may want something added, say, pockets) so she decides to commission Kate (the knitter) to knit her a sweater. She tells Kate that she will pay for the yarn and give Kate the retail price (let’s say $50) to knit the sweater to her specifications. Make sense? (Note, I did not say do you agree, but rather does it make sense. 😀 )

2C. The undervalued realist. This third scenario is one that I see more often with those knitting for profit (usually those who sell on Etsy or similar avenues.) This time the price is set by the knitter (usually ahead of time) and usually corresponds to the difficulty of item combined with the demand. These prices usually fall solidly above the previous two scenarios, but still end up giving the knitter a ridiculously low hourly wage. The argument goes, (usually) that the knitter would like to have their work valued and so a sweater may end up costing $175-300 depending on complexity (and technically method, a machine knitter may charge less) and size. This also usually knocks out the cost of yarn as well, but in the end the knitter may end up with only a couple hundred dollars for over 50 hours of work.

2D. The skilled labor wage. This last one seems to bring up the biggest amount of disagreement in the knitting community. The concept of knitting as a skilled labor, is itself debated. While I find the issue completely interesting, in terms of today’s discussion I will limit it to this; The people in this camp, who earn this kind of money, seem to be professional knitters, by which I mean they may be certified as a Master Knitter, and/or be a part of a Guild Association. The discussion of a knitter getting paid a skilled laborer’s wage usually stems from the following logic. Knitting is a particular set of skills, usually when one reaches the point of being able to take on large and complex commissioned items, there is an appropriate level of skill attained previously. As such, the knitter is getting paid per hour at a wage consistent with that of other skilled laborers, which falls anywhere between $11- 26 per hour. Thus making the price of a sweater that takes 50 hours to knit, not including yarn somewhere between $550-1300. Personally I have never seen this wage offered in any of the forums, which is why I made the reference to the professional knitters.

Okay, so there you have it, the four areas of price discussion as I see them. The issue of a knitter earning a fair wage is also based on what the market will handle, but personally it seems that the majority of requests being made tend to fall in the first two scenarios,Do you agree with my breakdown? Did I forget an area that should be considered?  Have any personal stories of knitting for a price point to share?




From → Fiber Arts

  1. Great posts. I would like to add that I knit samples (baby) for a LYS. She gives me the wool to knit and then she pays me the price of the wool for knitting it. There is no timeframe to deliver.
    I really enjoy this as I don’t like being without knitting and it gets expensive to keep projects on the go all of the time. Mainly because I will only knit with good quality wool.
    Knitting for the LYS gives me a chance to knit things that I would not normally knit and it keeps me in wool for my own knitting for my grandbabies.
    Thanks for the thought provoking posts.

  2. Pat(ricia) permalink

    Thought your post was interesting and fascinating. Much to think about and consider.

    I knit for pleasure, mostly for myself or as gifts. If I ‘gift’ something I ask nothing in return, rather hoping the receiver will appreciate the time and effort I put in each stitch. I would never even consider trying to make money from my knitting. It’s just too complicated an endeavor, with most people not understanding the time, effort, complexity of it all. I’ve even had knitters ask me to produce something for them and say they understand the ‘cost’ of the project but offer me less than the cost of the materials for it. It blows my mind.

    I think it will always be difficult for crafters and artists to fairly evaluate and price their items. With mass production of most items, most people just don’t know, understand or even want to learn about the complexity of tasks and skills involved. Ignorance is bliss and provides a delightful platform for indignation for those in disbelief. For those who are shocked by my refusals to their requests, I say “go buy it at Walmart or where ever you shop. Pay a low price or mid-price or top price for a “designer” label if it pleases you, but know that most things produced today are manufactured at sweat shops, which is slave labor. There is no getting around it. But my efforts are worth something more than this.”

  3. I think you hit on it, and I think the real question for us becomes what our goal is. Do we just want to pay for our yarn and something toward the household finances, or is this a JOB, and is it supporting us, and if so, why would we accept less than minimum wage (which is already lower than a living wage)? I agree with Sara Crafts, it is why I don’t try to sell on Etsy – it would frustrate me so much. When I had knit a couple of Estonian lace shawls, I went on Etsy to see what prices people were getting. About $100-150 per shawl. I am sorry, but that is just plain ridiculous. The yarn cost half that. I timed myself on one, and figured that at $10 an hour I should sell it at between $300-400. For a hand knit shawl made with hand dyed alpaca/silk blend yarn. I don’t know where to find that buyer, so I stopped thinking about it.

    When I did crafting long ago, my big craft fair buddies said “double the price of your supplies” to get a fair price. Maybe that is fair for craft fair doodads, but that is NOT fair for something that takes 30-40 hours, the materials for which cost $50.

    So I guess it really comes down to educating the consumer as to what they are getting and what it is really worth.

    But, if all I really want to do is support my knitting habit, then it is OK to earn $1 an hour, right? It paid for my yarn, I would be knitting anyway, Except that it undermines the knitter who is feeding a family with her needles, and delivering a similar product to mine at 5-10 times the price.

    It’s a dilemma. If I price things lower than $10 an hour for my time, I make darned sure that the buyer knows that they are getting something worth very much more, and that it should cost $++, so that they at least have an inkling. And I really do try to time myself on how long it takes to make something. That drives my price. My time is worth money.

    I tried selling hats to donate to charity for $5 on Fiverr – figuring I was making them for charity anyway, so I would donate my time, someone else would pay for the yarn. No one bit, and in a way I am glad that they didn’t, because it would further the concept that hand knit things aren’t worth much.

  4. shellssells permalink

    I knit in 2C. Nothing less. But I do believe you are correct, most offers, and I think most accepted offers, fall under 2A and 2B.

  5. Hand knitted items are priceless really. If you ask for the real cost, i.e. time taken, cost of yarn, expertise etc. then nobody would ever buy them. It’s a sad fact that all crafts are undervalued, aren’t they. Yet try finding a plumber? enough said. Yes, you covered all the points (I think). At least, I didn’t notice any omissions.
    Probably to be fair, one would have to charge for the cost of the yarn, the time taken at a cost of AT LEAST the minimum wage plus extra for the expertise.

  6. Ahh, price. A huge reason I’ve never tried making and selling knits.

    I had made a large shawl with 3 balls of Rowan Kidsilk Haze (pricey stuff). I spent MONTHS working on it. A woman who saw me wearing it one day gushed that I should sell my items on Etsy. She said she bet I could get $50 for it (meant as a compliment, of course).

  7. Interesting post and I think you’ve covered the topic well. On the issue of the professional knitters (2D), most of the folks I know who have done this were knitting samples for knitting books or magazines. This type of work also often comes with unreasonable deadlines (2 weeks to finish a handknit sweater) which I assume is also part of why it pays more.

Care to share? Let me know what you think in the comments section.

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