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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9 Responses to Why am I doing this?

  1. Sally says:

    I believe the highest conplement a crafter could be given is having the item “wear out” to me that means it was used, worn as should be. When I started back up again it was with small goods; hats, scarves etc. I gave a bunch away to charities that I knew would distribute. To me that felt good; it’s the larger projects I get attached to. To me a few balls of yarn is like a block of wood to a carver… I start looking at it from a creative perspective and usually will think of a certan person almost immediatly upon the first few stitches. It then seems to take on a life of t’s own. I loved the comment I read on the other days post that said something like my knitting is like sex, I’ll give to you if I love you but no amount of money will be sufficient if I don’t. Paraphrasing but… loved the anology!

  2. Melissa A. says:

    Hmm, personally I don’t care that much what people do with the things I knit for them as gifts. It belongs to them, not me. But I also usually knit things like socks or mittens, and I think those things tend to end up on the floor anyway.

  3. Very interesting post. I rarely have time to knit for people as most of my knitting is for magazines or yarn companies. But if I do knit for someone I only give handknits to people who’ll appreciate it. My in-laws asked me for scarves years ago. I knitted 2 beautiful scarves. I never saw them wear them. Never knitted them anything again. MY MIL doesn’t knit or craft. Whereas my parents & sisters family I’ll happily knit for as they appreciate handknits as my Mum has always knitted & my Grandmothers both knitted & crocheted. My family appreciates the work i put into it.

  4. Diane says:

    I so totally get the connection you feel to a knitted item. Sometimes I feel that an item took so much time and is so beautiful that I can’t part with it — even if I will never wear it. I love to knit and then I love to look at the finished items.
    I could never get enough money for the time put into the item so sometimes I would rather give the item away then sell it for so little. I tell myself that once I give it away, it isn’t mine and if it gets worn or not, taken care of or not, it’s not mine anymore.
    When people ask me why I don’t sell my knitting, I say no one would buy it. They think I mean because it isn’t good. However, I think because no one would pay the price I would like.
    This all said, how many scarves, sweaters, shawls, etc can one person have?

  5. Cathy says:

    I love to knit for the challenge of learning new things and trying new techniques. I love to knit for the satisfacting of doing something well. I love to knit for the practicallity. Sometimes I knit pieces that are just beautiful that I know I won’t wear often, but I love that it could be worn, shown off and even worn out. Especially socks, then I can knit another pair and try a new pattern or technique. There is no end to the creativity of designers. Now that I am about to jump into the ring I hope to design items that others will enjoy to make for any reason, even if it is just for the sake of making it.

  6. Carol Y says:

    “I don’t personally believe that everything we do needs to be an income earning activity, but I try to appreciate the intended compliment.” I hear that I should sell my knits all the time from my family and it drives me nuts. For them, everything is about money, so I can’t accept it as a compliment. They have zero comprehension about the time and effort that went into the project, or about how much I would have to charge to receive the true value. Yes, I know my knits are not art, but I’m not going to sell my time for so little. My projects end up as gifts or things for me. I knitted things for my grandma and she knitted things for me. We both knew the other would greatly appreciate it!

    • Victoria says:

      I don’t have that problem. My family is used to my “figits” which include knitting and various other small, portable hand-crafts. However, I have had the “why don’t you sell that?” or “Why don’t you go into business for yourself” conversation with them.

      Like Terri did for her experiment, I more or less keep track of my time doing stuff. I usually knit/craft while watching TV/DVDs/ or the time spent hanging out with family and friends. When the most vocal of my money minded sibling suggested I go into business with my hobby/hobbies, I told them what I would have to charge to make my time back on any given item. After that, they shut up about it. That particular sibling is an economic developer and understood that my off-the-cuff sale price didn’t include the cost of overheads like electricity, “renting” business space in my home, sales taxes and so on (which adds at least another 20% to the overall cost of the project).

      It really does work to shut people up. Teri’s $10 “easy math” hourly charge for your work is not enough. Starting wage for experienced crafters of any kind should be at least $20 per hour. If your family balks at that number, tell them that your skill is worth so much more than minimum wage. The market re-sale value for the results of skilled, artisinal work is not cheap. If they want cheap, they can buy mass produced goods like everyone else.

      The people I find annoying are the “make one like that for me for free” imposers. I find that having a $20/hour commission rate works to vet the serious from the casual admirer. I’m a goal-oriented crafter. Most of the stuff I make is either for me because I can’t find what I want or for a specific friend with a specific need. If it’s a co-worker or acquaintance, I ask the imposer to buy the yarn, and I’ll donate the time since I like them. This is after the “I charge $20 an hour for commission work” talk. Typically, the sticker shock they get at pricing the materials alone means the pestering is kept to a minimum.

  7. Meredith MC says:

    I agree with much of what’s being said. I have only knit 2 things for my son because he doesn’t take care of things and I don’t want to invest my limited knitting time that way.
    I too get the “you could/should sell that” comment and I also try to remember that it’s a compliment, or meant as one. When you add up the time, overhead and yarn cost the prices seem staggering to your average consumer but they are comparable to what people pay for “designer” clothing. So clearly, there are people who can and will pay for their clothing. I guess the trick for the handknitter is finding and appealing to those people. I suspect that many of them are looking to buy a name brand as much as a garment though.
    Knitting and designing for myself make it so I can wear beautiful clothes that fit me. When I knit for others, I knit smaller things. Hats, Socks. I can’t imagine knitting a cardigan for someone else. I mean, what if they didn’t totally love it? I’d never know, and I couldn’t even recycle the yarn, which I do with my own unsuccessful projects.
    Thanks for your thoughtful and considered posts.

  8. Su1282 says:

    Thank you for your very thoughtful posts on this topic. I also have a family who periodically raises the idea of making my hobby into a job. I have two standard responses: 1) I only knit for love and 2) then it would be “work”. The former seems to appease the folks who want to buy handknits and the latter for those who understand the difference between work and play for many of us. I did however once receive a marriage proposal from a gentleman admiring my handspun handknit socks after hearing answer #1. He had good taste.

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