Today’s post is a bit of a random mix of topics, and since it’s not a logical flow there’s a tons of footnotes.
I was interested the other day to read this piece on devaluing handknitting. The author gives the example of someone who charged £35 to knit a jumper as an illustration of how little people are willing to pay for handmade things. Obviously that is ridiculous! £35 wouldn’t even cover the materials, it’s about half the price of what jumpers tend to now cost somewhere like Next, and it probably works out about 20p per knitting hour.
I completely agree that we should value handknitting (and generally handmaking) enough to pay people a living wage for their work (or at least minimum wage, that would be a start). However, I also understand why knitting/handmaking ends up selling for little as it does, from both the producers’ and consumers’ perspective.
Firstly, a lot of people selling their crafty stuff are really hobbyists, or start as hobbyists. When I used to have my etsy shop, and used to sell handknitted things to friends and colleagues, I would charge the cost of the materials, plus £10. Now that wasn’t as ridiculous as the jumper, because I was only selling hats, gloves and scarves which don’t take that long to knit, but neither was I making anywhere near minimum wage. But it seemed a fair enough price compared to what equivalent non-handmade things cost in shops at the time and given that I enjoyed knitting and all I wanted was some money to keep me in yarn. But as long as there are plenty of people like me who just want to sell their things to allow them to continue their hobby, the professional crafters are always going to face an uphill struggle.
Secondly, from the consumers perspective, I completely understand why people are unwilling to pay full costs for handmade things. I’ve definitely been going round craft fairs not buying anything because everything I might have liked was more than I was willing to spend. Even if you appreciate the amount of work that goes into something (which most people don’t I suppose) and can see why something costs what it costs, you are ultimately still making a decision on whether the thing is worth that amount of money to you.
I think it doesn’t help that a lot of handmade stuff is not very necessary.* People rarely actually need jewellery, soft toys, standy abouty homewares or accessories, do they. I can’t remember ever going into a craft fair actually looking for something specific. And if you’re not specifically looking for something, you might be willing to spend £15, but probably not £50.
The other thing this article talks about is knitting patterns, and why would you design a paid one when there are a million free ones on Ravelry. I must admit that’s not something I’ve really considered. I’ve been knitting for a decade and I’m only just now thinking about paid patterns. It’s not as if they’re expensive. I mean I would easily pay £3 for a lot of things** so why not a pattern.
A lot of people in the comments of that article were saying how paid patterns are better designed and you get support, but I find knitting so logical and I’ve been adapting patterns from when I very first started knitting, that I don’t need everything to be 100%. I could work out a lot of patterns purely from looking at the finished product. In any case, I have knitted some absolutely excellently written free patterns, and found unclear bits in paid for ones. Plus, I would never even think to email the designer for help. I recently had a problem with a (paid for, incidentally) pattern and I asked my craft group facebook group and the ravelry forums for help and that fixed it. If there had been an actual mistake in the pattern I might have emailed the designer to get it fixed, but I really don’t think it’s her job to handhold everyone through their knitting process!****
Anyway, the article did make me think that maybe I should support knitting pattern designers a bit more, so I’ve decided that for my next project (after the knit for victory hat) I am going to knit a paid for pattern.
* This is a reason why I don’t automatically make the ‘local crafter = good’ equation that so many other people writing about ethical living make. Similarly to what I’m talking about here re fairtrade, of course I think it’s better to buy a thing that is artistically made by an independent designer than by a multinational sweatshoppy chain, but better than not buying the thing at all I’m not so sure. There’s only so far changing our type of consumption will take us in terms of stopping environmental degradation. At the end of the day, we will actually have to just buy a lot less.
** Not takeaway coffee though. People are forever going on about all the things you could buy instead of your daily coffee. But are there really that many people out there who get takeaway coffee every day, or even several times a day? Even pre-Milo when I felt quite well off, I would never have paid upwards of £90 a month for something you can make yourself at a fraction of the price. So there was never that money there to save.***
*** That being said, I actually don’t think spending money on coffee is that bad. There is always a lot of railing against overpriced coffee on the internet (possibly as a result of the Starbucks tax dodging stuff), but I reckon coffee shops are actually a pretty good way of keeping the economy running. They sell an experience, not stuff, so there’s at least not lots of landfill, they are quite labour intensive, providing comparatively pleasant low skill jobs and even if you don’t use them, having them in your local area makes it seem more welcoming.
**** I generally find this expectation that people who sell or provide stuff then need to fix their customers/readers every problem very strange. Like people get so angry when they email a blogger and they don’t respond, or even if they don’t respond promptly. Even if the blogger is not a professional! I really don’t know where this expectation comes from. There was a thing on GOMI recently about a food blogger who put a note up saying that she was getting so many emails asking her to adapt her recipes for portion size or allergies, and that she was no longer going to be able to do that. And all the commenters were up in arms saying how unreasonable she was being. But while she may not have worded her announcement in the most diplomatic way, what she was saying seems eminently reasonable.
All images via the google life magazine archive