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!