How much does it cost?

I’ve been asked recently if I sell my handknits, and how much they would cost. I don’t and I don’t know how much, so I decided to find out.

First I installed this wonderful iPhone app, Timewerks, written by a former colleague.  It’s an adaptation of the time tracking package we used when we worked together at the webdev shop. He wrote the original, and the company then rewrote it and sold it (I think) and then he wrote a new version for the phone.

I spent a few minutes on configuration, creating the kinds of tasks that I perform when designing and writing a pattern, then knitting the sample. I want to be able to differentiate how much time is spent doing what. I set an hourly rate of $10/hr, just as a simple rate. It makes the math easy. In the future, I can create additional tasks with higher rates. I can even set multiple tasks with multiple rates, so I can “charge” projects at different rates for the same task. The skill required to design a stockinette cardigan is different than the skill required to design a fair isle pullover, for example, and it would be fair to charge different rates.

I also created billable items for the yarn I am using, 2 balls of Rauma Finullgarn.

Then, I used the Add Hours feature to add in the estimated the time I’d already put into writing this pattern. After that, I used the timer feature to calculate my time spent as I knit.

In design,  pattern writing and chart creation, as well as sample knitting, I have spent 10.75 hours. I have also used two balls of yarn I estimate to cost $7.00 per ball. That’s a total of $121.50 in opportunity cost that I have invested in this design.

So what does that get you?

One mitt and ribbing, and a few pages of pattern, roughly produced.

What can I learn from this?

First, I need very wealthy clients to buy my handknits. And that’s why I don’t list them on Etsy.

Second, I can knit a single mitt in ten hours, which is comparable to the old Selbu knitters, and that makes me smugly satisfied.

I’ll need to use the system for several to many projects before I can see trends. How much of my time is spent pattern writing, as in the text versus charting? I have to create separate items for them, and I have to use the system regularly. It’s a nice way to keep track of progress, though.

I can get actual data describing my time, as a professional, on my own tasks, so that when I hire someone, or hire myself to knit or write or tech edit for someone else, I know what to charge.

Update: Here’s one way to use my time estimates in making business decisions about what products I want to make and sell. How much can I sell it for?

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62 Responses to How much does it cost?

  1. Izabela says:

    Oh my gosh! I’m going to email this post to every person that says to me “are you selling your knits? no? you should!” I’m tired of explaining why it is not a profitable “business”. Usually I say something like “it took me about a month to make this – what do you think would be a fair price for a month’s worth of someone’s work?”

    • terri says:

      That’s a great reply. Especially if they comment first about how much skill and talent and practice it takes, to make such a fine garment.

    • kaytee says:

      The problem is, they see it as “SPARE” time you use to knit/crochet/do other craft. And spare time= free time = free labor.

      • terri says:

        That is a really good observation. I think people also feel that if you enjoy what you’re doing, it’s not really ‘work,’ so they’re ‘paying you’ in the fun you get to have making something for them.

        Um, no. If you want the product and the skill, time, and effort that went into making it, then you should respect me enough to pay me what I’m worth. Nobody expects a discount from a plumber who enjoys his work. Why should mine be any different?

  2. eileen says:

    Thank you for sharing this … makes me feel less guilty about ‘stealing’ time from other things to knit – not that i need permission! Knitters are true multi-taskers – making time, especially time the might be spent idle, worth more. This puts a dollars & cents value on it.

    • terri says:

      Thanks! The old Selbu knitters used to work on their mittens between tasks on the farm, even while walking between buildings. Talk about multitasking!

  3. Seanna Lea says:

    I completely agree with Izabela. I get the twist of as a non-designer that people are also asking me for copies of published patterns. My answer is no, because as a library person I love copyright law and the knitting community too much to go against it, but the cost factor might make people stop without even going into questions of legality.

    • terri says:

      I think even honest knitters who buy patterns would be shocked if they knew the cost in time and materials to produce just one pattern. It really makes you appreciate the business side of being a designer. This is real work, and I’ve got the numbers to prove it.

  4. Samina says:

    I think your billing rate is way too low. That’s not unskilled labor you’re using to design, write the pattern & make up the charts. Of course, you’re going to have to find even wealthier patrons now :-)

  5. Kim says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. I hope you don’t mind if I share you’re post?

  6. dianashf@gmail.com says:

    Following are some notes I made as I knitted an afghan for my niece. This is just straight knitting time plus yarn.

    Cast on 228 sts 2/10/10. 6 border garter stitches on each side.

    2/25/10: 128 rows completed
    3/20/10: 218 rows completed; 49,704 stitches
    4/05/10: 302 rows completed; 68,856 stitches
    4/11/10: 328 rows completed; 74,784 stitches
    4/14/10: 348 rows completed; 79,344 stitches
    4/17/10: 372 rows completed; 84,816 stitches
    106.3 hours (based on an avg of 3.5 rows per hour)
    At minimum wage in California the labor works out to $850.29 + yarn cost ($55)

    • terri says:

      Amazing. And then you compare that to the prices at a Walmart, and there’s just no way a person can compete. My daughter’s school holds an auction every year, and people make baby blankets and such, but they rarely bring in more than $15-20. People just don’t realize how much work it is to make things by hand, so they don’t value them more than the store-bought, machine made items. There really is no comparison, except in functionality. Yes, a blanket is a blanket, but your niece (if she’s smart) will value that afghan way more than some fleece thing you picked up at the store.

      Another thing that I should write about, is the care needed for handknits. If you want to throw your things in the washer, that’s fine, then buy them, or use yarns make for that purpose. But after all that effort, don’t you think hand washing is… I don’t know… more respectful? (That said, I machine wash my handknit socks. Inside out, in a bag, on cold or warm, and then dry them on a rack.)

      • Fiberbrarian/Denyse says:

        I don’t do auctions any more after I found out that my photos and watercolors (all judged and award winners) were going for less than what it cost me to frame them. And forget ab0ut people appreciating any fiber work! People don’t seem to realize that the money is being collected for a good cause in these charity auctions – it’s a donation with something nice given as a prize. Instead, it becomes a race to the bottom, who can get something really good for a WalMart price. Anyway. When asked to donate, I give money rather than an item.

        And I also do not give my handwork (dyed, spun, whatever) to anyone who hasn’t actively admired it and/or is a fiberist himself/herself. That’s after I found a beautiful pillow that I’d carefully hand quilted tossed in the kids’ toy box. Needless to say, I give very few handmade items with my attitude!

        • terri says:

          I donated a couple hats to my daughter’s (catholic) school silent auction, but I won’t make anything bigger, because I, too, can see the prices that people pay for them. It’s not worth it to the school, either, to have donation items that don’t bring in a reasonable price.

          Instead, I have made some rosaries, and they bring in a reasonable amount of money; I use good materials, and they’re comparable to jewelry. It’s also a really nice ego boost to see people hovering over my items, to make sure they have the highest bid at the end of the time period.

          I think we’ve been trained to devalue textiles, or perhaps we haven’t been trained TO value textiles, because their production is so easy now.

    • Raymonde says:

      I love this!!!
      It’s so difficult to explain a realistic cost, when some people are asking only a few dollars for their handknits on Etsy. Their price barely covers the cost of the cheap acrylic yarn they used to knit them! It drives me crazy!

      • terri says:

        I have bought one handknit from Etsy. It’s a short sleeved lace cardi, a little whisp of a thing, and it was just over fifty dollars. It came from Poland. When I got it, it smelled of expensive perfume and cheap cigarettes, which had a charm of its own, and which I quickly removed by hanging it outside for a few days. The piece is sweet, but the sleeves’ cast on is so tight, it squeezes my upper arms just a touch, so I don’t wear it as often as would otherwise.

  7. Vismajor says:

    This is great. I’m always flattered when someone suggests I sell my handknits, but they don’t believe me when I explain how high the price tag would be. The time involved is also why I don’t knit gifts unless I’m truly moved to do so.

    I may start using Timewerks myself: not to charge for knitting, but because I’m a data nerd. I like knowing how many stitches it took to accomplish a finished project, so knowing the total time would be an added bonus.

    • terri says:

      I like to track the data, too. I think you make more useful observations, and therefore decisions, if you have the real numbers, instead of just guestimating.

  8. Susan says:

    Years ago I took strict account of my time for the handknit, machine knit and woven pieces I was selling. I earned 5¢ an hour on the handknits, $1.00 an hour on machine knits and $10.00 an hour on the woven items. But I did earn enough that summer to pay for my new loom.

  9. DeeDee says:

    I’ve spent a lot of time in doctor’s offices over the last two years. I always have knitting with me. It never fails that when I’m making something that is more than just a scarf (especially socks or a lace shawl) someone will say, “Wow, you know you could sell that for at least $30!” My most used response is, “Well the yarn costs more than that and I will put at least 60 hours into this piece. You’re a skilled nurse. Is your job expertise worth more than pennies per hour?” After that, they usually don’t say anything else.

    • terri says:

      Right?! I hear $30 a lot, too. You should sell those! You could get at least $30! Oh, and would you make mine sparkly? and black? and just so? for thirty dollars? Sigh.

      • Someone wanted to do me a faivor and help out financially. So she magnanimously told me that she was prepared to pay me $5 to knit her daughter a hat. When I told her that $5 would not even cover the yarn she was… offended! After all the Gap sells “professionally made hats” for $5.

  10. Sheri says:

    What I hate even more than under valueing my time is the knitters that spend 2 to 3 dollars on a skein of yarn for a wash cloth. Spend a week knitting it. Then turn around and sell it for a dollar because thats what they sold for when they were younger (to be read the 1940′s-60′s) because people can not afford more. Even the same type of wash cloth sell from 3 to 6 dollars in the stores. This really under values us all as women and artists.

    I also send them to raverly to buy my patterns. I really hate that they feel that I owe them a free copy of the pattern just because they knit.

    With all that being said, I usually give to charties the objects of my constant knitting, I get a better tax write off for all the hats and scarfs that I knit.

    • terri says:

      I’m doing pricing research right now, and it looks like people are significantly underselling their work, if they want to be paid a living wage for it. A handknit wool shawl for $50, made in the US? I’m guessing these are people picking up a little extra money, or supporting their knitting habit because that way it’s “free” to them. But you can’t make a living selling handknit shawls for $50.

      • I know for a fact that there is a “designer” in N.Y., who distributes yarn and his patterns amongst the Russian and Polish ladies in Brooklyn, who work as home attendants. They are payed $20 for a finished sweater. The sweaters are sold in the boutique starting at $300 and going way up. The ladies are happy to get the extra work and knit with fancy yarns they can not afford.
        Everyone win? If yes, than why am I thinking sweatshop?…

  11. Mel says:

    Imagine if I was billing at the rate I get paid as an engineer! $107.50 turns into $484 for labor alone… That is haute couture pricing. :)

  12. Lindsay T says:

    I think this is actually part of a much bigger conversation – the minimum wage in the US is soooo far below what it takes to make a living, and therefore soooo far below what an individual’s time is actually worth, that our perceptions are skewed. Even the “handmade” items we get from overseas are underpriced, due to cheap second- and third-world labor and often substandard materials. Not to get all political on my soapbox, but it’s not just hand crafts that are being devalued. Then again, it’s the sellers in these parts undervaluing their work that isn’t helping at all.

    TL;DR, I agree, this is a problem, and it sucks. :)

  13. Mary K. in Rockport says:

    I always felt a little bit guilty buying those beautifully made and tiny American Girl doll sweaters with their Made In China stickers. I wondered how much the Chinese knitters were being paid to turn out such exquisite work. (I tried making a doll sweater myself on size 1 needles – it had as many stitches and took as long as making a human sweater.)

    • terri says:

      I agree; it’s a terrible situation. I made a couple pieces of doll clothing, and one doll, but I used sport weight yarn and it didn’t take so long.

  14. Janelle M. says:

    Very curious about the app you used – what is it?

    • terri says:

      It’s called Timewerks, and it’s an iPhone app. The developer is a great guy, someone I used to work with, and this is a very new evolution of the internal house application he wrote for the company.

  15. What an interesting and thought provoking article.
    I have just finished knitting a very large shawl commissioned by a friend. I charged her about $130 plus the cost of yarn. Was it worth it financially?
    Not at all! Unfortunately in most cases handknitters are not economically viable. The situation is slightly better in US, where there are some people, who appreciate and prefer handmade and have the money to spend on it. Here, in Israel, there are not many people who do. That is why I often knit gifts, but very rarely do commissions. I would rather spend my time on developing new patterns.

    • terri says:

      I think most people come to design and pattern production because they find that it’s more profitable than just doing commissions. Of course, if you have a regular market for high end pieces, you can make money. But for most of us, pattern sales far outweigh individual items knit for sale. I can make hundreds or thousands on a pattern, and only have to knit it once.

  16. I like to ask how much they think I should be paid an hour for knitting something. I wouldn’t expect the response to be high, but I wouldn’t expect it to be really low either. Then I give them an estimate of the time involved; then they start to understand. Then I point out that I would expect my hourly pay to be higher considering the training, experience and skill I have. And I point out that if I am going to spend so many hours knitting an item, I am going to use good quality yarn.

    I have friends who cannot understand why I even knit for myself, when it is possible to buy a cheaper garment. I point out that I can choose my design, modify it, make it fit properly, choose colours I like and make it in good quality yarn. So, yes you can buy cheaper garments, but they are not equivalent.

    I also point out that I love knitting. And if I compare the cost of knitting a garment for myself, with many other leisure activities (going to a pub, football), then the cost per hour is far lower and I get a free garment at the end.

    • terri says:

      I don’t think you can ever convince someone that the time and care put into an item is worth it. Some people are strictly bottom-line motivated. Let them shop at Walmart, I say.

  17. Susan says:

    I rarely have time to sit and knit. My projects come with me for “wait time”….ballet lessons, carpool (before the cars start moving!), dr’s appts etc, as I am a GrammaChauffeur. I knit a lot of socks, legwarmers, ballet bun covers while at the dance school. You would be AMAZED at the number of people who say “When you’ve fininished that, would you make one for my Jennifer? She’s the exact same size.” No offer of yarn, money, nada. And these are not stupid, ungrateful women. They have NO idea. I’m printing out your time estimate with your permission, and sticking it in my project bag. When they ask, I can smile and say “great! here’s my info”. (What REALLY got to me was a request for fair isle legwarmers in fingering weight. ) Wow.

    • Alyson says:

      It’s really funny. Because, in what other context is that ok? While you’re slaving away at dinner, can you just make some extra for me? While you’re hemming those pants, would you hem mine? Since you’re watching your grandchild, might as well watch my children too?Since you’re drafting a contract already, can you do one for me? How about, when you finish that appendectomy, mine needs out?

      Right? None of that.

      What do these women do? You could trade, like full house painting for some fair isle work – no? Or custom cabinets.

      You could also offer to teach them so they can make TONS for Jennifer. And see how quickly they give up.

      I love this whole thing.

      • terri says:

        You are hilarious! But it’s true. Muggles don’t respect knitting.

      • Kurt says:

        I usewd to work at a computer store, and many people asked me to help them with their systems – for free.

        The store billed at $70/hr. I got $10/hr. They wanted me to work all day, then help them for free.

        Now, I work on computers for myself, my wife, and my mother. I’ve even had to tell other relatives that they can’t afford to have me work on their computers, (I don’t tell them that it is becuase I charge an extra 10% for stupidity).

        My wife knits – I spin. Lots of people ask if we sell our stuff – we just tell them that they can’t afford it.

      • Margaret says:

        I actually traded some custom knitting for a summer’s supply of produce. The woman was a farmer, so we traded my labor for her labor. It worked for me.

  18. Christina says:

    I started reading this, including all the comments, and breathed a sigh of relief: people who get it!!!

    That said, I’m an indie dyer, spinner and knitter. I do sell things and I don’t apologize for the price tags: if you want a piece of my life then darn it, you can pay (sort of?) what it’s worth. You’re right: people don’t realize how much work it is, or how much skill and time it takes, and they don’t value it the same way artisans do.

    thank you for this post and for all the comments.

  19. TrishD says:

    Loved every word on this topic. Every word was true. So nice to read about others who deal with the problem and understand it. Let’s keep telling the truth…… They just can’t afford us!

  20. Suzette says:

    Thank you for your post. It’s so wonderful to read through the comments of other artisans who “get it”!

    Just this past month someone contacted me to make an afghan for a queen-sized bed. I warned her that it was not like buying something at Target, but she insisted on an estimate. When I told her there were many, many different types of afghans and that I needed some idea of what she had in mind, she said, “Something not too airy.” Whatever.

    After a couple hours of figuring I came up with a ball park figure. I tallied the materials ($175.00 for yarn; she wanted wool), and cost of labor; 100 hours of crocheting . . . she balked even at the $5.00/hr labor cost.

    Lesson learned the hard way! I think I’ll use the line in the previous post ~ ~ ~ ~ “How much do you want to pay me per hour?”, and go from there next time someone approaches me to “make one of those for me”. Most reasonable people would blush at suggesting such a low-ball amount for an hourly wage. I’m NOT Suzy-SweatShop, thank you very much!

    With 40+ years of experience behind me, and being forced to defend myself one too many times . . . . I’m sticking to knitting and crocheting for friends and family.

    • terri says:

      People just don’t realize how much time, talent, effort, courage, sheer spleen, can go into making our art. But at what point do we stop educating them, and just point to an overblown price sheet?

      Aside, I just looked at your Etsy store, and you’re a perfect example of what I describe in my follow up post: How much can I get for it? http://spinningwheel.net/?p=161

      • Suzette says:

        Thanks for looking at my etsy shop, Terri . . . and thanks for the advice in both articles.

        I’m happy to have stumbled upon your blog. It’s energizing to find like-minded craft persons. In this age of cyberspace, it’s hard to stay focused. We can encourage each other in our work, even if the world at large doesn’t get it!

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  22. kbsalazar says:

    Back when I had more time than money, I did do some knitting on commission. I was fixed up with clients by a yarn shop that had a very wealthy clientele. I charged four times the materials/pattern price, half up front and half upon delivery, plus an occasional surcharge for a very intricate piece, fussy client, or materials/color/style that I detested. That means that a simple sweater with yarn that cost $90, plus pattern and buttons to round it out to $100 ended up costing the client $400. Even then when I did the math to factor in time, I was earning under $2.25 per hour. And not every client paid up after. Some were disappointed in the fit or look of the finished item, and walked, leaving me to put it on consignment at the shop, where it typically fetched pennies on the dollar.

    Today when someone asks me to knit for them, I say that as a consulting professional, I have to charge them my fully burdened labor rate, which makes even the quickest pair of six-hour worsted weight socks into a considerable investment.

    Moral of the story – knitting is like sex. If I love you, you get it for free. But if I don’t love you, no payment is enough to buy it from me.

  23. Anna says:

    I do have an Etsy store selling my knitted goods. And no, I do not use cheap acrylic yarn for my projects. I only use high quality luxury yarns.

    Initially, I was hoping I could make some real money on Etsy. (Enough to supplement my regular income. You know, at least part-time job money.) I thought it would be a great way to begin branding myself as a knit designer. I could test out my designs, etc.

    I reasoned that Etsy shoppers are specifically looking for hand made goods, so they must understand the time, effort – just plain blood, sweat and tears! that goes into creating hand made goods. I thought, they must truly value artisans and enjoy supporting the arts.

    It’s been a rather disappointing experience overall. Have I made some money? Yes. A little. But not enough to really supplement my income. Have I had the opportunity to do some custom orders for people who really appreciate my work, and are willing to pay some decent dollars for it? Yes. And I guess that’s flattering to my ego.

    The problem with Etsy (for me) is the other knitters are selling their goods for so little, that I was forced to knock down my pricing just to drive sales. Also, I was hoping to earn enough money from my store to be able to set up accounts with wholesale suppliers. Hasn’t happened so far.

    But even Monet, Gaugin, Lautrec etc. had similar problems, you know. ; )

    But I refuse to just roll over and give up! My new goal – to write my own patterns and get them published. Maybe it’s only other knitters who can really appreciate and enjoy what I’m creating.

  24. Angela says:

    Love this dialogue! It is all so very, very true. We, as craftspeople, as artists, do not always value our work so it is no wonder that others don’t. Recently I had a great experience of designing and knitting a pair of gloves in exchange for an original watercolor painting by a local artist. Even though the exchange is a totally fair deal, for both of us, I still looked at my very unique and completely personalized 16 st/inch cashmere/merino and silk stranded knit gloves and thought “I’m getting the better deal”!! Will she spend 50 hours painting? Likely not. But, as she wears those gloves they are going to start wearing out. That painting will become more valuable as this artist continues to paint. Could gloves really be worth the $800 +/- value of the commissioned painting? Even putting $$ into the equation brings up that whole value for the money issue that we, as couponers and bargain hunters and sale seekers deal with! Art for art, though, for me, that works. Time for time, labor for labor, skill for skill, talent for talent. Yup, that makes me feel happy just thinking about it. Hmm I wonder if I could get a catered dinner for a fair isle tam?

  25. Rachael says:

    Last year I started knitting the Spanish Christening Shawl from Cheryl Oberle’s book Folk Shawls as a wedding present for a cousin, which took 10 months. When everyone saw it just half finished, they gushed about how I might someday make them something. After calculating it, it would have come out to over $700 in labor, not including yarn.
    Your article is just perfect and totally hits the nail on the head. Just because we have free time doesn’t = free. We do this because we love to do it, not for money, and we have to eat and work at some point too!

  26. Maria says:

    I was asked why I didnt knit to sell when I was unemployed during the worst of the great recessin. I said it was because nobody I knew could afford $500 sweaters. I don’t design, so there’s also the issue of using others patterns, which nobody got, either.

    I think it’s most economically feasible to sell patterns to knitters rather than hand knit garments to non-knitters. Have you tried figuring out how many patterns you’d have to sell at, say, $8 to break even for designing one?

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