Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Worth Of One's Work

I love knitting in public, for the simple fact that it's given me the opportunity to have conversations with a wide variety of people.  They approach me frequently - drawn by the wealth of color and pattern in my hands - seeking to strike up a conversation about a world they may or may not know anything about.  I try to always be receptive and friendly, and as a reward I've had a many, many fantastic experiences.

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is, "Do you sell your knitting?"

Over the years I have developed a standard response to that question that goes something like this: 

No, I don't.  You just can't get what it's worth by the time you figure in both materials and cost - especially around here.  I do this because I enjoy it, and I'm not sure I would enjoy it if I were actively trying to profit from  it.  Also, the patterns I use are under copy write, and the terms of that prohibit knitters from profiting through the sale of items made with that pattern.  If I were to sell this piece, I would probably have to price it at (fill in the blank).

Generally speaking, that last statement ends the conversation.  While occasionally I have someone try to rapturously convince me I should sell stuff anyway because my work is oh so beautiful, most people let it go....recognizing at least some of the truth in my words.

I bring all of this up because last week I had just such a discussion.  In fact, had I named a lower price I'm quite sure that the woman would have bought my recently finished Tibetan Clouds stole right on the spot.  I came home, somewhat bemused, and reported the whole story to Sean....and then promptly got into a quasi-argument with him about what my knitting is really worth.

It's actually an old argument...what exactly is one's work worth? 

On the one hand:
  • Generally speaking, I use the best possible materials for my knitting....and those aren't cheap.
  • My time is valuable...and if I put 40 hours into a shawl that I plan to sell, I would expect to be compensated fairly for that time.
  • I've spent a lifetime perfecting the skills that are necessary to produce my knitting...and those are not skills that everyone has. 
  • I also spend a great deal of time making sure each and every project is made to the absolute best of my abilities...with absolutely NO mistakes and/or professional fixes for any problems that may come up.
  • One of the largest problems the art/craft world has is that so many people undervalue their work that the general public has no idea what it is truly worth.  We cannot expect the general public to value our work if we are unwilling to do so.
  • It does truly horrify me to see someone selling - and these are real examples - hand knit socks for $30/pair (average time for me probably 20-30 hours and cost to me of $10-$30) or lace shawls for less than $100 (average time for me 20-60 hours, cost from $20 on up depending) 
On the other:
  • It's a hobby...wouldn't you like to be making something/anything from your hobby?
  • If you are going to make a go of a craft business you have to be willing to accept the prices your local or target market will support.
  • So long as you enjoy the process and recoup your materials, does it matter?
  • If you keep it, isn't it just sitting around doing nothing?
  • Seriously, anything is better than nothing (the implication is especially for me as I don't work out of the home)
  • Even a small income can help finance the hobby so that you can continue to enjoy it.
As with just about anything else, different people come to different conclusions based on whatever their own circumstances and life experiences bring to the argument.  In all honesty, if it were a purely academic argument I could probably justify either side.  I've had many discussions with fellow knitters on the subject in which no concrete conclusions have been drawn. 

Having said that, I've had two experiences which have influenced my own opinions.    

The first was that I did actually spend some time doing custom knit items.  When Gillian was a baby, I made a decent amount of money off of a baby poncho of my own design....but after the first two or three I quickly began to HATE what I was doing.  Knitting with a dollar sign in mind took most of the joy out of the entire process.  I also felt that I had to compromise a certain amount of quality (using acrylic yarn instead of natural fibers) in order to make enough money to justify the sales. 

Second, over the course of  a few years I donated several pieces to an annual charity auction for an organization I support wholeheartedly....and I was shocked at how little each piece actually brought in.  I continue to donate pieces periodically, but I now make sure I don't attend the auction.  Better to not know....and best to only donate things I'm not at all attached to and/or were exceedingly easy to make.

As a brief aside, I would like to state that I have several friends who've turned their artistic passions into careers.  Without a doubt these people are some of the most creative people I know.  They also tend to be some of the savviest business people I know, and they have learned to create opportunities for themselves - often in very unexpected places.  These are people who without question understand what they are worth, and I admire them greatly. 

I digress.

My own feelings on the worth of my work are probably obvious.

I value the things I make, and would far rather gift them to deserving friends and family than sell them for less than I think they are worth.  In fact, nothing gives me more pleasure than to surprise someone with a lace shawl out of the blue for no better reason than 'just because.'  I am a lucky woman to have friends and family who truly appreciate the things I make for them.  Yes, I would consider selling a few items - but if, and only if, the price matched the effort and time that went into the making. 

Besides, at the end of the day it's about so much more than money.  I create because I like to give a little bit of beauty back to the world, not because I have any desire for reward.  I use my hands because I believe that handmade is the best, and because I want to make sure that certain skills and techniques live on.  I knit and spin to teach my children where things come from and to fight against the sameness of the industrialized world.  I make because I am driven to do so.  That's important in and of itself.

My time and talents are precious to me, and I will not undervalue either.


Delda said...

I envy you...I am not artistic...I appreciate and admire beautiful things, but I do not have the patience myself to create these wonderous items myself. I say that, as I look at some of my pictures, and although, they will never hang in a museum. I find them beautiful.


margene said...

So beautifully said Kristin and I wholeheartedly agree with all of it.

Ardosa said...

I agree completely.

i've knit and donated to auctions. I won't go. it's heartbreaking and I just don't want to know. I want it to go to a good cause and just hope they made something decent - or i donate it to someplace that will give away to those in need. and i'm ok with that.

i get the having to sacrifice "acrylic for natural". it isn't so much a superiority complex thing - it is just... sometimes it feels cheating the recipient and that's hard.

Lecia said...

Perfectly said.