Friday, December 20, 2013

A Gentle Rant About Knitting

A while ago, my friend Liz of Made in Lowell posted Paying for Handmade: A Gentle Rant. Her post has generated a wonderful discussion on the value of handmade. I wanted to take some time to discuss the value of a more specific niche of handmade: knitting.

Knitting is often looked down on as a craft. It's true. Whenever I participate in a craft show, it seems to be the craft that people look down on the most - it's the craft that everyone thinks they can do. In reality, anyone can do any craft - knitting, sewing, jewelry making, pottery, etc. It just takes knowledge and practice. But because knitting is a common pastime, there's this notion that knitted goods have no value.

I often get people coming up to my table and saying things like, "this is easy-peasy" and openly asking me how I made something so they can replicate it. At my last craft show, a woman approached me. "Excuse me, can you tell me what needle size you used for this?" I braced myself. "Actually, I'm sorry but I don't provide pattern information." She stared at me blankly for about a minute, expecting me to say something else. Then she finally said, "you really mean that?" "Yes. I worked hard to design all of these." She left without another word.

So I feel like I have to put this out there: Knitting is not easy. A lot of people knit. Fewer people knit well. Even fewer people have enough understanding about the structure and mathematics of knitting, and are able to make their own designs.

I am a knitting teacher, and people routinely sign up for classes that are too advanced for their skill level - "I figured knitting is knitting!" they say to me, as they realize they won't be able to execute the project. I have had several people with zero knowledge of knitting sign up for my intermediate level class on fingerless mittens - and be completely shocked when they spend a full hour just learning how to cast on stitches. They rarely make it past the ribbed cuff, being completely baffled by the alternating stitches. This is because: knitting is not easy. It's not something everybody does. It's not something you learn in five minutes. It's not something without value.

Knitwear makers work hard on their craft - they spend days designing pieces, making swatches and samples, and refining the design. They work very hard to find a good balance between complexity and time to produce to create affordable goods. Knitting is not a fast craft, even if you're a fast knitter. But people are shocked to not be paying $10 for something it takes us hours to make - because there is a widespread notion about the lack of value of knitting. But I'm sure very few people out there want to be paid $2 an hour.

And something else to think about - J. Crew charges more for most of their machine-made knitted goods than I do for my hand-knitted goods. Please don't expect Walmart prices from me.

Next time you examine an artisan's work, I urge you to think carefully about the skills and time that it took. Please don't undervalue and undermine handmade.


  1. Very good points. One teaching question I use when someone randomly asks me for a knitted object and offers to pay me is "Will you pay me minimum wage?" The person always looks surprised and say, of course! Don't be silly I will pay you more than minimum wage." I then inform them approximately how many hours of knitting time that will amount to and let them do the math. It is stunner every time. It is a subject worth thinking about.

  2. I was very pleasantly surprised at one of my recent markets (the most successful one to date) when a fellow knitter came up and said "Thank you for pricing reasonably" - high enough that I wasn't just giving it away! Because the market before I had seen hand knitted *socks* for $18. I don't get it.

    Also, falathwen - it should technically be more than minimum wage. As the post is saying, it's a skilled labour, not something everyone can do. Hopefully people start realizing that at some point!

    Katie =^..^=