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  • Stephen G. Krueger

Pay your crafters

Recently, after thinking about the math of the old ones enough that it became demoralizing, I raised my knitting prices. (Did you know that, in addition to being a librarian and Having Opinions about trans things, I also sell knitting? My Etsy shop is here: I thought it might be useful to share how that breaks down (or maybe just validating to other crafters, since I’m pretty sure very few of us are charging enough for our labor).

One of my standard items is a hat with a cabled band, often lined with alpaca since people like soft fibers next to the skin. The new price for some of these is $75, which includes the following:

  • A skein of merino yarn, hand-dyed: $30 (This is not too high. I’m certain that my favorite dyers, most of whom are one- or two-person businesses working out of their homes, have exactly the same difficulties getting people to pay appropriately for their skill and labor. There’s a reason I pay for the hand-dyed and/or local stuff; the yarns are unique and beautiful and completely worth the price, and I like knowing that I’m using natural fibers and supporting tiny businesses.)

  • Some sort of fee. Etsy takes 10% off the top for each item sold there; vendor entry fees for craft fairs often run in the several hundreds of dollars or more. I just did one with the comparatively affordable cost of $165 since I brought my own tent setup; I had to sell at least six hats to even cover that, let alone pay for my time at the show or make any profit on top of that. Fortunately I did well there, but I had zero idea going in whether I was going to even make the entry fee back.

  • Shipping, if applicable. For a hat or scarf sent within the continental US, this seems to average around $6 or $7 including packaging, though the prices seem to be rising a bit. (I list my Etsy items as having free shipping. This is not a real thing; free shipping means that the shipping is included and prices have been calculated accordingly. But people are very into the idea, so Etsy encourages you to do “free” shipping; they’re probably right from a marketing standpoint, but I also know sellers who lose money from that model. I’d rather have people understand that services cost money.)

  • Tools and everything else that is difficult to calculate on a per-item basis. I’m borrowing a tent for the fall show; I’ll buy one of my own ($100-$150 on the low end) if I do more. I bought a nice big portable folding table (around $75). I commissioned a friend to design my banner and business cards/labels, then Staples to print them. Knitting needles and pattern books and darning needles and measuring tape and bags and scissors and everything else you need to make things and keep them organized all add up.

  • Time of the type that is similarly difficult to calculate. I design all my own patterns; this takes time to make and test before one can knit them consistently. Different yarns also take some trial-and-error because they knit up differently; if it’s from a local farm instead of a giant store, it won’t behave exactly like any other yarn. This is a good thing; it’s why I like finding the small fiber businesses, and why I can truthfully tell you that you’re buying a unique item. It’s also more expensive and time consuming (and fun! I like yarn shopping and designing and knitting. But it is work too).

  • Knitting time. I’m not sure exactly how long it takes me to make a hat, partly because I knit in short increments while I do other things and partly because I'm pretty sure that I'm not making minimum wage even with the new prices, so I kind of don’t want to know what I’m making per hour. Just know that it’s not enough. I tried making a living at this after college and failed spectacularly; I can only do it now because it’s a side gig and I have another full-time job. My pride scarves take me over twelve hours of knitting time; the lace ones go even more slowly.

This probably isn’t even everything. I walk to the post office to mail orders; sometimes the line is long, and that’s another half-hour (especially because knitting mostly sells during the winter holiday season). Getting to shows takes gas and driving and setup time (and having a vehicle, which I fortunately do). This is all the sort of thing that should get covered by an employer in other situations, but with this type of work the only pay is from the individual item sales.

This price breakdown is one example, but the only real variant is the yarn itself. Sometimes I buy from Knitpicks because I need really consistent colors that I can repeat reliably, like for the pride and mountain hats; those are $45. Sometimes I find nice wool on sale for $10-$12; I’ll line that with a more expensive alpaca (since that type of wool isn’t as soft as a merino) and price the hat at $60. My lace scarves usually take $30 worth of yarn, hand-dyed again, but way longer to knit than a hat; they’re $95 at the moment (any lower than that, and I actually get resentful while I’m knitting because of how not worth it the price is. If they don’t sell at this price or higher, I’ll stop doing them). I’ve got an infinity scarf in the shop that’s marked at $125 because it’s out of a gorgeous undyed gray yarn from a local farmer; the scarf is warm and thick enough for proper cold weather, which means that it took two skeins at $30 apiece. I’d love for this to sell, since it would mean that I can justifiably keep supporting that farm (and that people value local fiber enough to pay appropriately for it).

It’s not that I don’t know these prices seem high; I certainly wouldn’t have been able to afford them for most of my working life. But expensive does not mean overpriced. And even if $75 or even $45 for a hat seems like a lot, the approximately $30 (or less) that I get to keep for my hours of work is as low as I’m willing to go. I’d never be able to do this full-time even if I wanted to; I can’t imagine anyone paying the prices I’d have to set for that to be viable, not because they shouldn’t, but because handcrafts are so collectively devalued that most people won’t pay and/or have no idea what the time and skill and materials needed to make them is worth. (This isn't just about polyester machine-knit hats from Wal-Mart or whatever; there were some at the craft show I just did that were priced at $1, presumably because the maker was doing it as a hobby and the cost was not intended to pay for the work or materials in any way. This kind of undercharging makes prices that even come close to covering the costs and labor look unreasonable when they're not; it's a great way to ensure that nobody can ever make a living at this kind of work. If you want to knit for charity, great, but donate what you make--don't sell it at shows where you're undercutting those of us who are trying to get paid for our work.) Plus I suspect that most of the people who would pay if they could aren’t earning enough themselves to support the businesses they’d like to. I’m in a situation where I can and will just stop knitting for money entirely if it’s not worth it.

Crafts take enormous time and labor and skill. Pay for them if you can, and understand that the prices are not unreasonable even if you can’t.

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