Tuesday, November 27, 2012

why we deserve respect

Recent posts have discussed why we don’t get the respect we deserve. Everyone knows the stereotypes: I hope we can overcome them. But it bears asking why we deserve to be considered differently? Why do we deserve respect?

So, let’s put aside all the stuff we already know--
  • the health benefits
  • that it is an old an honourable activity
  • that it clothes us and our families (and that the ability to knit with wool—with its properties of warmth retention—was considered essential in the fight against infant mortality)
  • that a gift of knitting is of spectacular value—given the money we spend on yarn and the hours we spend in the making
--and look at this from another perspective.

How we spend our leisure time is recession-proof and could be seen as essential to economic recovery.

In tough times, people may give up the new car, the home reno, the new bedroom set. But they do not give up playing golf, reading books, going to movies, spending money on yarn. Nor should they!

On Feb 19, I wrote about research done on happiness—that people below a basic income level were less happy but that people above that basic level were no happier. In other words, once we are comfortable, more money does not make us happier. But then the recession of 2008 hit . . . which drove the researchers back into the field. And what they found was that—at first—people’s levels of happiness went down with their incomes . . . until some measure of recovery . . . and then people's levels of happiness went up . . . until, even though their incomes and job security were lower than before, they were happier than they had been before the recession hit.

The researchers assumed something they called the adaptation principle: when times are tough, we find out how resilient we are, we find out who we can count on, we find out what really matters. In other words, we find out what makes us happy.

And here’s what I think. What we do in our leisure time is what makes us happy! Obviously, at the top of the list is spending time with those we love. But when it comes to spending money, leisure dollars might be spent on a book, a movie, a golf trip, a new electronic gadget to manage family photos.None of these seem to have suffered since the recession.

Or we spend money on yarn! And consider that when we knitters spend money, it goes into small, locally-owned businesses! Isn’t that precisely what the experts say is essential to economic recovery?!?!

I consider it my duty to spend money in every yarn shop I visit! And what knitter can visit a yarn shop without doing the same? Knowing that we are 38,000 million strong, knowing how much it costs to make a sweater, go ahead and do the math to imagine the dollars we put into the economy!!!

So in addition to all the other wonderful things we wonderful knitters do, that’s why we deserve respect!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

getting the respect we deserve, part three

Ahh, I am refreshed and restored (Knitting will do that!), and ready to finish my rant!

Misconception #4: We knit incomprehensible stuff of questionable value.
People who don’t knit don’t understand why we’d spend 2 days knitting a pair of socks or 3 months knitting a lace shawl. They don’t see the difference between what we do and what comes off a machine in China. The comment Why would you knit that when you could buy it? comes to mind.

One reason is purely for the advantages of knitting as process. We knit stuff we could buy because it feels good to knit. And it’s good for us too! Here are some of its health benefits:
  • keeping us calm,
  • lowering our blood pressure,
  • stimulating the immune system,
  • slowing dementia,
  • preventing depressing
  • not to mention the pure joy of spending time in the optimistic, receptive, perpetually happy right brain.

But in addition to all this good stuff, there is the quality of what we produce. Does this person-who-does-not-knit know that no more than 1/7th of the finished price of something can be spent on materials? So what does that say about the quality of materials in store-bought items?

Solution Tell her what you spend on yarn . . . again! (I know you already did that a few days ago, but it bears repeating.) Do the math together. Then ask her if, on any given day, she could use any of knitting’s health benefits. Then let her try on a pair of your socks, while you wrap your hand-knit shawl around her and tell her that knitting is the constant comfort of a perpetual hug . . . and then give her one! 

Misconception #5: We are old and inactive.
Yes, we know about granny in her rocker. With all due respect to those who are grandmothers (I am one) and who like their rocking chairs (I have one), that stereotype ain’t us! The growth of knitting (to upwards of 38 million in the US) could not reach these numbers with only the addition of the elderly. Baby boomers, young women, and teenagers have joined us.

As for being inactive, knitting’s demographic is generally female, with the bulk of us between 18 and 64. So take any cross-section of intelligent, well-educated women with enough disposable income to knit, and you’ll find a level of fitness that mirrors the population in general. Knitters run marathons, do yoga, and lift weights in the same proportion of the general population. We even have Knit and Ski trips!

Solution Knit as you wait for your yoga class? Knit around the fire, apr├Ęs ski? Wear something hand-knit to the gym? Run with knitting needles? Knit in public wearing tall boots and a short leather skirt? Not really sure what more to do about this one? Any ideas?

Misconception #6: We are boring and not very involved
The image of a woman knitting is beautifully solitary, and we know the blissful state she’s in. But that does not mean that she would not readily engage in intelligent conversation if approached. There are craft and chat (stitch and bitch) groups where women (Yes, believe it!) knit and talk at the same time!!! With great enthusiasm and on all manner of topics!

In addition, knitters are fabulous listeners! We (human beings) are generally better listeners if engaged in a repetitive motion. Why? Because most of us are primarily kinesthetic + visual, not—as we might think—primarily auditory. So for us to listen, we need to engage both the visual and the kinesthetic, which knitting does.

Solution Pull out your knitting at every opportunity! At the same time, engage in intelligent conversation with someone. Show how Pythagorean Theorem relates to your knitting. No, wait, scratch that! Share the names of favourite celebrities—offering how many of them knit. Discuss the places you’ve both been over the past year or the books you’ve both read. Make some outrageously well-informed comment about global economics. Discuss the business plan for your next entrepreneurial venture. In other words, Tell ‘em who you are!

I guess that's the bottom line: we gotta tell them who we are, because they don't know, and they should.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

getting the respect we deserve, part two

Part one in this series posited that knitting does not get the respect it deserves because men don’t do it. But there has to be more than that. Given the health benefits of knitting, given its addictive draw, given how much we rave about the craft we love, there must be more to say.

Okay, let’s start by acknowledging the uninformed ignorance (in the politest sense of that word) of the non-knitting public. They don’t know the health benefits, they don’t know its addictive draw, they don’t get (or care) why we rave. And they don’t have the intellectual curiosity to find out. So they relegate us to a stereotype readily to memory: someone, probably female, probably elderly, probably at home in her rocker, knitting because she has nothing better to do.

I could give a host of uncomplimentary quotes that relate to this stereotype. We all have some. Instead, can we drill down to understand it and find solutions? Are there misconceptions about knitting (perhaps with some basis in fact) that we can understand and override?

Misconception #1: We don’t knit what people want
There was some survey done about the #1 dreaded Christmas present, and the answer was a hand-knit sweater. I don’t think this result is anywhere near the reality but is, instead, the result of one long-ago scarring event where a child was given a hand-knit sweater rather than a Red-Ryder Bee-Bee gun or self-wetting doll.

To be honest, I bear some responsibility in this because I have done it. Have not we all?  And I had a woman in class admit the following: she wanted to knit a sweater for her son and asked what he wanted; when he said a red, crew-neck pullover, she said If you want a red, crew-neck pullover, then you just go buy one!

Solution Knit what they want! If the person for whom you knit wears the perpetual gray hooded sweatshirt, knit him a gray hooded sweatshirt. No, it won’t wholly engage your knitting brain, but he’ll wear it day in and day out.

Misconception #2: We don’t know how to knit things that fit
Is there truth to this? Yes. Not to the extent of the recurring joke of the sweater with one sleeve a foot longer than the other. But yes, it is true. For many reasons, we have lost the skill of making things fit. And knitting patterns contribute by not noting where and how to change the pattern and make it fit

I know a woman who knit my Gray Cardigan and followed the pattern where it said a) shorten or lengthen for finished length here and b) widen or narrow for shoulder width here. The result was exquisite. The first time she wore it, someone said I love our sweater. It looks hand-knit but then I realized it couldn’t be because it fits you too well!

To be fair, a lot of the clothing we buy doesn't fit us all that well either. But what we make is perceived as even more ill-fitting. So people look at what we've knit and think Why would I want to do that?—make something whose sleeves are too big or too long or whose shoulders droop???

Not so long ago, fit and drafting classes did not fill. But this is changing. There is growing demand for these classes so we can make our knitting dollars work appropriately. Having said that, I recently taught for a guild who eschewed those classes, saying Our members don’t care if their knitting fits.

Solution Care! Don’t be satisfied with ill-fitting results! Rip and re-knit until you get something that works. Take a class that teaches this material. And before knitting anything, check its measurements against something in your closet of similar style.

Misconception #3: Knitting is cheaper than buying
Here’s a huge misconception of knitting--held from 50 years ago—that we knit something because it’s cheaper than buying. So someone sees us knitting a pair of socks and says Don't you know you can buy those?

If we are perceived as spending time making something we could buy in seconds, then we clearly have nothing better to do with our time. And what is our responsibility in this? Some of us hide what we spend on yarn!

Solution Tell people what you spend on yarn! Explain how this expenditure is essential to economic recovery! Instead of spending $80 on 3 sweaters made in China, we put money into a small local business to knit the one sweater we will wear.

I feel the propulsion of a rant! Clearly, there is more to say. But I need the calming influence of my knitting to lower my blood pressure and help marshal my thoughts before continuing.

Monday, November 19, 2012

getting the respect we deserve, part one

Why doesn't knitting get the respect it deserves?

Firstly, we might consider why it deserves respect? (We know the answer to that, but others don't, so let's just do a tally here.)
  • It clothes us.
  • It keeps us calm.
  • It lowers blood pressure and stimulates the immune system.                                             
  • It slows dementia and prevents depression.
  • It encourages math skills, hand-eye coordination, and the ability to focus.
  • It is recession-proof in its support of locally-owned businesses.   
  • Its traditions express and contribute to our culture (especially relevant if culture is given Brian Eno's definition of the making of something we don't have to make).
  • It feeds the innate human need to create for those we love: the hand makes what the heart needs to express.
We could go on, and we could elaborate, but let us move on to the question of why folks who don't knit don't get this? Why do they ask Why would you make that when you could buy it? Why do they, therefore, see what we do as a waste of time? What would they prefer us to be doing?

Despite the fact that we spend a lot of money and derive a lot of benefit, why are we relegated to the stereotype of a non-active, elderly, usually female, person-without-anything-better-to-do.

A woman in an interview recently asked me if I thought this was changing, and I responded "Not quickly enough." She wondered what would make it change? When will knitting get the respect it deserves?

There are lots of answers to this, but my immediate answer was The men need to do it.

When an activity is associated with only one sex, and isn't tagged to a huge amount of money, it doesn't get a lot of respect. And, yes, this most often happens when the activity is female. Nursing and child-care readily come to mind. Never mind that they are essential human activities that add inestimable value to our world! The world respects the jobs that are higher-paying and shared by both men and women.

 But it can work in reverse: I, for example, don't give stock car racing much respect.

We all make judgments about how people spend their time, don't we? What are yours?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

costing our knits

So, this happens a lot: someone sees you knitting and pays what she thinks is the ultimate compliment:You could SELL those!”

I've had this happen more times than I can mention. And what fun it is to not leave it at that, to find out what they're really saying / thinking / asking . . . .

With further conversation over the, let's say, socks, I'll ask "How nice! And what do you think I could sell them for?"

Rarely is the answer more than $10!!! So then I launch upon my public education campaign, in which I tell them a] the cost of the yarn (usually $20 or more) and b] the hours a pair of socks takes (no fewer than 16). They blanche . . . and of course wonder why anyone would knit socks when she could just go buy a pair!!!???

So what's the fair market price for something hand knit?

Here's the first way to figure this:
  • materials + labour (at $10/hr) = XX dollars.

But how many hours does it take to make something? We may not know, so we could cost our knits the way the market does:
  • cost of materials X 7 = XX dollars.

That’s right! In the commercial world, no more than 1/7 of the final price can be paid out in materials.

So what does that make our hand-knit sweaters worth? And is it any wonder the sweaters we find in stores—no matter how wonderful they look—are inferior products. The knitting is sloppy, the tails aren't well secured, the seams are not well-done, and the yarns feel really yucky (tired cottons, wool with some harsh coating on it,  some multi-fibre material with an all-round coarseness to which we would never give consideration in a yarn shop).

But if these equations don't work for you, here’s some advice—given by Larry Smith, one of Canada's top economists and a lovely man who has great fondness for knitting and knitters.

  • Never sell yourself too cheaply.

Sometimes we offer to do so because we feel honoured by the request. But I have learned that before we set that first price, we should ask ourselves “How am I going to feel getting paid only this amount when I make the third, fourth, seventeenth one?”

Larry also said it would be better to give something away to a charity fundraiser than to sell it too cheaply. This is a way to honour our craft, and do something wonderful for our community, without setting a price.

My favourite story is from my hero--Kathryn Alexander. Kathryn used to sell pairs of entrelac socks for $200. People would frame them. She then thought “If they’re going to frame them, I should charge more.” The price went up to $300. But then she thought “If they’re going to frame them, they don’t need two.” So she made only one, and charged $400!

Figuring cost + labour, or using the market’s standard, or taking Larry's advice, or thinking like Kathryn all make sense to me as a way to override the terrible assumptions out there:
  • that knitting is cheaper than buying,
  • that money is the only currency,
  • that we should be honoured when someone offers to buy something at some ridiculous price,
  • that if we're knitting we clearly have nothing more worthy to do with our time.

You may never offer to sell your work, but you could have this conversation the next time someone pays you that ultimate compliment!