Janet Stevens column: Don’t risk friendship over a sweater

By Janet Stevens, The Bulletin

If you’re a knitter or crocheter, you may have been asked — as I have — if you’d be willing to make something for someone else. For money, of course. You may then have stood by and watched a friend’s jaw drop when you hinted at what a custom-made piece might cost.

If your only experience with clothing is to be found at a retail shop, it’s likely to shock you when you discover that a hand-knit, custom-made sweater could set you back several hundred dollars. After all, that cute little red cabled number by Ralph Lauren, wool and cashmere, no less, is selling at retail for only about $125.

Your custom knitter likely will not be able to purchase yarn for the same price the clothing manufacturer can, for one thing. If the knitter is making a simple wool pullover sweater of only a single color, the yarn alone could easily cost $45 or more for moderately priced stuff. If the yarn’s of a higher quality, the knitter might spend anywhere from $92 to $159. Really, really expensive yarn could just about double that cost.

At this point he or she has yet to knit a stitch.

It can take a fast knitter 16 hours or so to knit a plain, medium-sized pullover. A sweater with more embellishment, say, more than one color or decorative stitching, likely will spend considerably longer, perhaps 24 hours. If $10 per hour is a fair price for the work, and I think it’s a fair minimum price — knitting alone will add between $160 and $240 to the bill. Nor does that include the time the knitter must spend doing such things as knitting small squares of your chosen yarn to make sure your sweater fits. She also must block the pieces to assure the sweater hangs correctly, a process that involves wetting and pinning each piece into exactly the right shape and allowing it to dry. Then there’s the time spent sewing the pieces together and weaving in loose ends of yarn that are created when a color changes or a new skein is added.

All that adds up to a wholesale cost for your sweater of close to $300, so long as the pattern is simple and the yarn not the absolutely most expensive you can buy. Your knitter will want to make a profit, too, and why shouldn’t she? Most websites I’ve seen say the knitter’s retail price should be about double her wholesale cost, or, in this case, $600 or more.

I don’t know many people who are willing to spend upwards of $600 on a sweater, and I’ll bet you don’t, either. If I owned a sweater that expensive, I’d almost certainly be afraid to wear it, much less eat in it.

Nor do I think that knitters or crocheters or woodworkers should be expected to create things and “sell” them for less than they’re worth. It’s simply unfair to expect handcrafters to base their prices on what similar machine-made products go for.

That may be one reason why so many holiday craft sales are filled with scarves and simple hats but short on sweaters and more complex pieces. Knitters, like the rest of us, don’t want to see their work sold for far less than it should be, so they stick to the simple stuff that’s both quick and easy to make.

There’s another problem, as well. If, for some reason, your friend agreed to pay what you figured your sweater might be worth, the pressure to make the darned thing perfect would be huge.

Again, I don’t need that. I want my friends to be my friends, not some part of a business deal that could go badly awry. If it’s a bad idea to lend a friend or family member money, it must also be a bad idea to ask for or agree to create a complex handcrafted project for those same people for money.

Doing so changes the dynamics of a friendship, I think, and I don’t want that to happen. We rely on our genuine friends for too much to risk jeopardizing a relationship over the length of a sleeve or the cost of yarn. That’s not to say I and other knitters I know never give knitted gifts to friends. We do. But those things are gifts, generally neither asked for nor necessarily expected, and that changes everything.

Janet Stevens is deputy editor of The Bulletin. Contact: 541-617-7812, jstevens@bendbulletin.com

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