When you walk around on this Earth as a person who makes things, there will inevitably come a time when someone in your life who doesn’t make things, will turn to you as the beacon of creation you are and say “You could make that cheaper”. In my experience, they usually say this after looking at the $60 price tag on a sweater, their eyes glistening in the department store fluorescent lighting in the hopes that you will knit them one just like it for half the price. What a bargain!
I was thinking recently that there was a time when I, too, would have thought making something would be cheaper only to find out the opposite was true. Maybe we’ve all thought this about one hobby or another before becoming enlightened to the intricacies, the bits and bobs, the downright investment that comes with learning and performing a craft.
It’s not cheaper, is it? When you see that $60 sweater on the rack, you realize that the materials it was made from, the machine that spit out thousands just like it, and the corporation pulling the strings above it are all working to dial in the cheapest viable product. That is to say, how low can they make the quality and the cost and still have people buy it? Of course we can’t make that item cheaper in our homes. We can’t even make that item for the same price in our homes, nor would we want to.
When I make a sweater, I first choose a pattern. The pattern I use will come from a designer who took time to write it out, test it, have others test it, have it edited, and sometimes have it translated to English. That, on average is about $10 by the time I buy it. Then comes the yarn. I look for something made from natural fibers, usually 100% wool, in a colour I enjoy. Depending on the sweater this can cost me anywhere between $60 – $150, and it can go much higher than that for knitters who have the means and a good source for hand-spun and dyed yarns. So, right off the hop we’re over the price of the sweater in the store, and I haven’t even accounted for my time yet.
Knitting is a labour of love. It takes hours of performing stitch after stitch, row after row, to create an accessory. A sweater is a lot of work. You have to figure out sizing, knit a swatch to make sure your gauge will produce something close to what the designer intended, then you start knitting the garment. Depending on the style and techniques involved this can take hours upon hours, days upon days, weeks and even months to complete. If I were to factor in my time at minimum wage, the sweater is now worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Yes, you can recycle yarn from repurposed sweaters to cut down the cost. There is very inexpensive yarn available, but even with free yarn, once you factor in your time I dare say it’s impossible to knit a sweater for less than a mass produced department store sweater.
So why do we do it? Why do makers make things that can be purchased for less? I can’t speak for others, but for me it’s not about cost.
- I like to make things because I can make something you won’t find in any store.
- I can make things custom to fit, tailored to me or the lucky person I’m knitting for.
- I knit to feel the connection with the makers of the past. Knitting has existed since at least the 11th Century CE and was a necessity in many cultures until fairly recently when mass producing cheap clothing became the norm.
- I knit because I don’t like the fact that cheap clothing is mass produced. Fast fashion makes everything disposable, which hurts our planet.
- I knit for warmth. I haven’t found anything better for life up here in Canada than a warm woolen layer.
- I knit for my mental health. Knitting helps me manage my anxiety.
- I knit to learn more about knitting! There is always a new technique to learn, a new pattern to follow, a new fiber to try.
- I knit for the community. I’ve never met a more welcoming, warm, and accountable community.
- I make things as a way of showing love.
There are probably a million other little ways in which knitting has enriched my life. At first glance, it might not make much sense to people who aren’t drawn toward working with their hands, or making something from raw materials. It’s not cheaper, it’s not easier, it doesn’t save time to make something yourself versus buying it at a store, but that’s not the point. The point, I think, is to feel a connection with the items in our lives, and there is no better way to do that than to make them yourself.