Why am I doing this?

This comment expresses the feelings of many craftspersons. I do what I love because I love to do it. How do I make it pay off?

I have just recently taken up crochet again now having found extra time. I find myself thinking of one person as I work an item. I made a prayer shawl for a friend that was going through a trying time, a poncho – hat – muff set for a niece and a collection of assorted throws and afghans for my adult children. I find crocheting to be better than any of the medicinal routes I have traveled, it calms me and I find it quite therapeutic. Especially when working with colorful and textured yarns. While I may be thinking of a particular person while I am creating it, that doesn’t always mean the person will receive the finished work. It’s more like I am drawing from their person or personality and revisiting memories. The prayer shawl mentioned above is going to a fellow crafter so I know it will be loved and my niece absolutely adores the set.

That said; I find it very difficult to even consider giving up a completed item. It’s like I have this connection to the finished work that I don’t want to let it go. I can’t imagine some of the “potential recipients” appreciating the time, thought and cost that I put into an item. In my minds eye I see it carelessly laying on a floor or hidden in a closet or… *shudders* tossed away:(

I started thinking that maybe if I put a cost on it and sold it that I would find someone who would be willing to pay a price that would insure it be appreciated as the creation of it intended. So I looked to Etsy and started doing some research.

I was appalled that someone could sell a throw or shawl for 80$ when I knew the cost of yarn had to of been more than half. It depressed me to think these beautiful things created by loving hands were being treated so cheaply. If that is all someone would pay then certainly my worst fears would be true and after a short time my beautiful item would be carelessly tossed aside.

My husband thinks I am crazy as I just create and fill “space bags” with these finished beautiful things. He does however realize it is a passion to me and respects the time I put into them (not to mention, he likes the calm;). He just doesn’t “get” the attachment I feel and thinks I should sell them for whatever I could get.

After reading a lot of these posts I think that maybe I WILL try to put a few items on Esty at prices I know will be a lot higher than the norm but will appease me and hopefully insure that the item is appreciated as intended. After all; I suppose if they don’t sell, I still have plenty of space bags and storage… right?

There are two reasons for doing crafts: because you enjoy it, or because it’s your job. When I do a project that communicates my own internal vision, that is art. When I do a project that communicates someone else’s vision, that is commercial design. It may be beautiful, meaningful, full of fantastic symbology or measurable qualities, but if I’m implementing someone else’s vision, it’s a design, not an artwork.

When I create a design for publication, I go into it knowing that this piece is not for me. It’s not art, even if I come up with everything about it: the colors, shapes, textures, and so forth. It is a piece of commercial work, and so I distance myself from it emotionally. I know that when I send a sample to a magazine, for example, that I won’t likely get it back, and that it will be manhandled, steamed, perhaps cut to fit onto the model in the way the photographer wants (it happens) and then shipped to innumerable yarn stores in a trunk show. Or it may sit in a box for the next twenty years. Or it may be sold for the cost of the yarn. I don’t care, because it doesn’t belong to me. It’s not my art, it is a design that I created for the specific purpose of being manhandled, cut, shipped, and so forth. I’m not invested in it emotionally. It doesn’t hurt.

What does hurt is when I make something special for someone who knows me, and that person treats my work carelessly. It feels like an insult. That is ME that I put into that sweater you’ve just tossed into the corner. I made it for YOU to express my love, and you’ve tossed it aside. Is it my love that you’ve tossed aside? My effort? Or do you just not care about the effort, or not recognize it?

As craftspeople, we have to be aware that most people don’t know or even care how hard it is to make stuff. We have to distance ourselves emotionally, or every time someone tosses their sweater in the corner, we’ll feel like they’re rejecting us personally, even if they’re not. I have knits that other people made and gave to me, and I keep them in a basket with the rest of the hats, scarves, and so forth. I treat them a little better than my store bought things, but really, I don’t treat my own knits like they’re spun gold or something. These are my clothes, and I wear them, and eventually they wear out and need to be replaced. They are designs, not art.

There is also an interesting point in our work, and I think it’s largely a cultural expectation that if you do something, and do it well, you should be able to make money at it. Americans largely define themselves by their job. When you meet someone, it’s the first question that gets asked: So what do you do? And by that they mean, of course, what is your job or renumerative activity? How do you earn your living?

When someone asks me if I sell my knitting, I try to remember that they think they’re complimenting me. They think that what I’m doing is worth something, which means worth something financially.

I don’t personally believe that everything we do needs to be an income earning activity, but I try to appreciate the intended compliment.

To craftspeople who are thinking about selling their work: you have to decide if your pieces are art or design. If you don’t mind them being treated the same as store bought items, then you’re ready to sell. If you shudder at the thought that someday your item made by loving hands will wear out, then you should find a really good charity or orgainzation to give them to. People who will appreciate that this is your meditation, and the things you make are not just some old things you’re going to wear out and throw away.

In the interest of complete honesty: I rarely knit for my daughter anymore because she throws my beautiful handmade things on the floor, or takes them to her father’s house and I never see them again. I knit samples to sell patterns, and I keep the samples as neat as I can. I knit for myself. Sometimes I knit for a fellow knitter. When the time comes that I can find a market that will pay me what my time is worth, I’ll knit for sale. But I won’t mistake art for design. It’s just a sweater. It’s just a sock. It’s not rocket science.

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