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.

Posted in Knitting | 9 Comments

How much can I sell it for?

Or, Mining Etsy: A follow up to my previous post.

After calculating the cost in time and materials to create a simple project, like the pair of mitts, I started thinking. How much effort do I need to put into a knitted item, to receive a decent price? If I am going to invest 20 hours, or 40 hours, what kind of item would it need to be, to motivate someone to spend their hard earned money on it?

I’ve already calculated my rate at $10/hr, for the sake of argument. So I went back into Etsy and looked around.

My initial search query was simply, “handknit,” and this pulled up a standard results page with over 19,000 hits.

But I’m not just interested in what sellers are listing. I want to know what they’re selling, and for how much.  I sorted the results by price, highest first, and started clicking into each item.

Each item page has a box about the shop, which is generally the artist him or herself. This profile includes a feedback line, which links to every feedback the seller has received, good, bad, indifferent.

This is the data I want to find. What are buyers actually buying? Here is a crop of the feedback page for the above seller.

 

The item page doesn’t display the price it was actually sold for, only that it was sold.

But if you look in the display ads above the main product image, you see similar items from that seller which are currently listed, and from that we can estimate what this item sold for. Comparing it to the other jackets shown above, I figure she probably got around $500 for this scrumptious bit of fluff. Not bad work, as it is probably knit at 2.5spi, which means she could get through it in a few days.

I spent an hour or so, clicking through the listed items, then to the seller’s feedback page, and then to the sold items, then comparing them to similar items currently for sale. Here is a short list. You’ll have to copy/paste the links.

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/100644624

Cotton dress $450

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/101435560 – short sleeved women’s pullover, some stranded, chunky gauge $140

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/93398375 – long sleeved women’s pullover, linen stitch? or tuck stitch $250

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/97728698 – crocheted shawl, large squares, wool $115

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/92666659 – plain socks. $39.50

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/101653876 – ultrachunky multicolored, textured coat. ~$550

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/67861536 – mitts in simple stranded patt. $50

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/92909982 – 57×74″ afghan, Bernat acrylic $380.
she has sold several (15 in feedback)

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/114437232 – Silk merino lace cardigan, sport or DK weight $220

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/103968767 – aran coat, worsted weight. $360

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/98946720 – simplified aran pullover $240

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/98015856 – chunky seed stitch cardi $275

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/91034305 – short row garer cardi, chuncky $220
*many* sales, items and patterns

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/96488230 – traditional cowichan. $350

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/91420980 – cashmere wool shawlette, lace.
she has many sold items, but they seem to be from commercial patterns or one-offs. Price range $~85-300

What can I conclude from this very brief survey?

First, that people do sell handknit items for several hundred dollars. And not one or two, but many. So there is a market.

Second, that like a sensible knitter, these items seem to be knit at a larger gauge. That makes faster work, and so you can produce more items to sell.

Third, that sellers seem to devise a pattern or a line, and then make those things only. I haven’t seen sellers making a random assortment of items. Either it’s sweaters, with a few accessories in similar patterns and yarns, or like the funky coat above, a single style of garment, in a range of colors, where the garment shaping is secondary to the effects of the yarn.  These sellers treat their online store like a business, with a specific product range, which is repeated.

Producing the same thing over and over again might not sound like fun for a hobbyist, but this is exactly what the old Selbu knitters also did: specialize in a small range until you get very good at it, and then your increased speed will improve your overall production quantity.

So what about the pieces themselves? I found a lot of classic styling offered for sale, but the things that people bought were funky, outrageous, bright, bold. Things you can’t find in a store.  If you want to knit couture, you have to make  something that can’t be found in the mall.

The exception to this rule was an Italian knitter whose pieces are very elegant, with classic shaping and easy yarns. Her work appears to be worsted weight, and worked a little loosely.

And the other knitters I surveyed today? Also largely outside the US. I found one or two people selling a few pieces from San Diego or the south, but most of the sellers were from other countries.

Etsy can provide a wealth of information, if you can spend a little bit of time mining the data the old fashioned way. By hand.

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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?

Posted in Knitting | 63 Comments

Brainless Knitting (and a little spinning)

I spent the spring putting out a book and a summer knitting a bunch of new patterns (available on terrisheaknits.com) and now I’ve taken a little time off for some relaxation.

A little spinning. The blue on the left is a soft, balanced single. The Crosspatch Creations Spin Ready Batts from Carolina Homespun were delightful to work with; well balanced without being over blended, and no big clumpy lumps of one fiber over another. The fibers all moved together, beautifully, which made this single ply yarn easy to create.

The skein on the right was an impulse buy at Sock Summit. I had dragged my wheel along, and by gum if I wasn’t going to use it. I think I got more attention for this than for the class I taught. Ahem. Again, I ended up with a single ply, but this fiber wasn’t as easy to spin as the blue above. The orange fiber is bamboo, and it tended to stick to itself and not blend well with the other. My goal was a funky, eclectic, modern chunky yarn that could be knit into a funky, eclectic, modern chunky accessory. I think I achieved that, although the grist is finer than I expected it to be.

This knitted piece is also handspun. It’s going to be a scarf or stole or wrap or however long it turns out to be. I bought 4 ounces of batts from Emma who dyed as Dragonfibers a few years ago. Moderately aged, it spun up perfectly. I love the olive and brown combination, and am using it in another project, which you’ll see previewed at terrisheaknits.com

 

A little dyeing. I threw up a pot of logwood, added a whole mess of … Corriedale, as I recall, and some mohair, and waited to see what happened. This purple skein is from the exhaust bath. The fiber is tied up in a bag in the basement and is hiding from me. Because I wanted to take its picture. Sigh again.

 

 

And some brainless knitting. Please be kind to your poor model. I have only myself and a single mirror, poorly placed and frequently used by someone with sticky hands. Sigh. A chunky weight dark grey tweed cowl, made in Mystery Yarn, and a jaunty little beret out of Noro Kochoran. My long time followers may recognize that colorway from the Unibreast Sweater. (Those who haven’t followed me: it was gorgeous fabric that hung just wrong. Yes, I ripped and reknit it.)

And finally a long cowl, or is it a circular scarf or what is it? I’m not sure. It’s Rosalie Truong handspun mohair, and the colors of green and blue and brown and gold are so scrumptious, I really don’t care what it is. Just don’t take it off me.

Back to work on pattern knitting. What are you working on?

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New Webstore is online

How long has it been? Too long.
All of my designs – books and single patterns – are available in single shopping cart.

http://terrisheaknits.com/

I’ve added three new patterns: two wraps and one pair of mittens. More new designs are in progress.

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What’s Wrong with Kate’s Dress?

As a handknitting designer, Conventional Wisdom dictates that you position yourself with either the craft market or the fashion market. This is a silly requirement, of course, because what we’re doing covers both sides. Most knitting designer blogs talk about the craft of knitting. Today I’m going to talk the aesthetics of fashion.

Let’s look at Kate Winslet’s color block dress, worn at the 68th Venice Film Festival.

I will put myself on the record that I think Kate Winslet is beautiful. But this dress is all wrong. No one could wear this dress. No one Should wear this dress.

Clothes, like make-up, should be selected and worn to draw the eye toward the wearer’s best features and away from the weakest. This dress is a “working too hard” example, and in working too hard, it actually accentuates the areas that she’s trying “too hard” to hide.

The placement of nude beige across the body, in the shape of a body, and the use of black at the sides, is supposed to imply a narrower figure (especially waist) than Kate currently has. That tiny waist is Barbie doll proportioned. No one healthy has such a small waist compared to such voluptuous hips and thighs. You see instead, how wide that black part is at her waist, compared to the thigh, and realize that she’s thicker than she wants you to believe. Why should she want to camouflage her natural, adult figure? Why would an accomplished person want to pretend to be a teenager again?

The white bib, clearly, is to draw the eye to the chest, and visually lift the breasts to a more youthful line. If you look at the curve of her actual figure, you’ll see that her breasts begin an inch or two below the white portion. She’s cutting her breasts off at the bottom, and with that high neck, hiding the cleavage that nature only gives mature women. Why?  And if you look VERY close, and think hard, you’ll realize that not even a teenager has tits that high. It’s a completely unnatural configuration. It doesn’t look good. It looks weird.

The severe cut of the armscye also makes her look like a linebacker.

The color blocking isn’t the only problem with this dress. It appears to be made from a spandex-like creation; a fabric with little forgiveness and less breatheability. The only way she’s holding into the perfect, smooth surface is if she’s got significant foundation garments underneath. That means a hefty girdle.

So she’s at this event, in a dress that doesn’t suit her, that is ugly in design, and requires her to be crammed into a girdle, where she can’t possibly be comfortable.

The hemline is perfect, though. And the shoes are perfect. I can’t wear heels like that (weak ankles) so I’m always amazed by women who can.

Kate is so beautiful; what could have made her wear such an ugly dress? Isn’t it well past time that fashion respected an adult woman’s shapes, and clothing manufacturers started producing garments we feel beautiful wearing? Beauty is what comes out when you feel good about yourself. It’s not something you apply in order to conform to a standard handed down from on high.

That’s why we knit, folks. Make yourself something beautiful today.

Posted in Knitting, Politics/Culture | 3 Comments

I love you, Uncle Walter.

There are a few people you meet once, who change the direction of your life entirely.

One of mine was my mother’s Uncle Walter.

I must have been five years old or so, and he and his daughter Bonnie came out from Atlanta to visit us and his sister, my Grandma Wina. Those of you who have followed me for a few years may recall when I went to clean out her house.

Here is the memory.

The big kids, particularly my brother Chris, were teasing me again. As the youngest of four I was subject to frequent teasing; in my mind, constant torment. I developed my own escape methods, many internal. On this day I went to play in our giant back yard sandbox. After some time, Uncle Walter came to find me, and he got in the sandbox, too.  He gathered a few leaves, some grass and lawn flowers, and together we made miniature Japanese gardens in the sand.

A short time after that, Chris and then my sister Traci joined me. And for the first and only time I ever remember, we played quietly together, with no hitting or teasing or fighting. Just played quietly, making miniature Japanese gardens in the sand box. I can’t see a vine maple today without being instantly relaxed.

Walter was my grandmothers only brother, and it was his daughter (not Bonnie) who came out to help take care of her estate. Would you believe that at 84 he was online and active? We emailed frequently until two years ago or so; He sent me pictures of his garden and the neighbor’s Jenny; poems by his father and Pablo Neruda. His vision and health were fading and I was busy. I meant to go visit him in Atlanta but never managed to schedule the trip.

This afternoon as I was cleaning out my email I found a note from Uncle Walter.  Written by his daughter, he had passed away peacefully at home on Friday morning.

It would be too easy to fall into sadness and regret never having gone to see him. I wish we had met again, but there is also a great deal of comfort keeping him as the kind, quiet, gentle man who made the teasing stop. At the darkest places of my life, when I couldn’t imagine anyone caring about me or loving me at all, there was always Uncle Walter, right up there next to Mister Rogers and Jesus. No matter what, I knew he loved me.

I know he does now. I am less sad at his passing (we all do) than I am grateful that I had that one time. One perfect moment of childhood forever enshrined.


So Many Claim to Speak for God

To be a Prophet all one needs
Is just to sow some random thoughts
Upon the fertile brain of man.
There they germinate and grow
And gather acolytes.
Thereafter, just let time pass
And some predictions will come true.
In retrospect, with Hindsight’s perfect vision
The Prophets’ far-out blather
Will become a fact.”See!see!.”
The myrmidons will loud proclaim,
“Our leader saw the future.
He spoke with God, who told him thus and so.
He wrote it down so all would know
The truest Word of God.”
Why did God confide in him alone, I muse,
When others listened just as eagerly?
Dare I wait to hear my Abba’s voice myself
Before I choose my Path?
If there were only one who claimed to speak for God
I could believe, perhaps, that one.
But rather than waste my life in Vain pursuit
Of another’s ” One True Way”
I will wait for God to speak direct to me.
And then— I, alone, shall be the Prophet

Walter Edwin Maurer 8/12/01


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I have not abandoned mittens.

Let me be clear on that. Mittens are not done. I will knit mittens for the rest of my life. Mittens are neat little succulent cookies of knitting.

And to prove it, two new in-progress designs.

Oslo, the proceeds of which will go to victims of the horrible attacks. This is an old design of pierced selburoses surrounded by dancers. I’ve worked a small chain before the main hand. The message is of community and togetherness.

Caught in a Web, another old design. Annemor calls the main pattern spiders in pine boughs. Clever weavers making their homes in evergreen.  It was a popular pattern for wedding gifts. I have placed coins on the palm and chained roses for love on the thumb.

What are you knitting?

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Brambles

My upcoming collection Botanica has a new member.  Brambles is a many-use design. Wear it as a shrug, a wrap, or use as a lap or baby blanket.   Rectangles are so useful, aren’t they?

The design inspiration comes from the thick brambles that surrounded Sleeping Beauty’s castle.  I had a dream several years ago, about a courtyard garden that just needed some bramble clearing and loving care to bloom.  New growth often requires clearing out the old to make room for the new. Here I am turning old dead canes into a soft, protective cocoon.

I’m using a very simple allover cable, suggesting layers of undulating, wrapping, enveloping vines. The edges are worked in seed stitch.

The yarn is the incredible Imperial Stock Ranch Desert Exotic in natural brown. A luxurious blend of 60% Imperial’s own Columbia sheep’s wool and 40% North American alpaca, the yarn is rich, lush, luxurious.  Columbia wool comes from Columbia sheep a rare breed specifically developed for the Western Untied States conditions.  I love that this yarn combines locally sourced fibers; it speaks of the land, of the terroir, as much as a wine or coffee do. The wool provides a springy, secure base, while the alpaca blooms into a soft, rich halo.

The color is darker than the bleached brambles of my dream, but more realistic. And besides, it’s beautiful, goes with everything, and was in my stash.

Imperial Stock Ranch is located in eastern Oregon.  I have not contacted them, I purchased my yarn at full retail several years ago on a teaching trip.  So with that in mind, I love everything I have learned about Imperial Stock Ranch.  They produce an incredible product, market and distribute it well, while maintaining sustainable practices.  I hope Imperial’s practices can become a model for other small ranchers and producers to follow.

As a family-owned ranch, we believe an ever-improving landscape leads to a healthy ranch economy, which in turn directly contributes to the vitality of our local and regional community. We invite you to be collaborators in the process by enjoying the fibers, garments and educational partnerships offered by the Imperial Stock Ranch. Together, we’ll move toward a sustainable future. (Imperial website)

I found this video while Googling for more on Imperial. Enjoy!

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Lichen, Digital Publishing, etc.

Thanks for the thoughts, guys.  I’m leaning toward going digital for Botanica. 

But BEFORE I DO.  Remind me to finish the pattern for Eskimo!  Need to get it to Piecework ASAP.

And when that is out the door, I’ll get back to work on the Red Sweater and her brother, Lichen.  Lichen is a men’s (unisex) pullover vest, with cabled ribbing and Half Brioche body stitch.  The yarn is Cherry Tree Hill Superwash Merino in colorway Birch.  It’s very soft, very squooshy, and very mindfull knitting.  The colors split and splattered across the surface of the fabric remind me of lichen on an old stone wall.

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