Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Knitting on Commission

This seems to be a really touchy topic among knitters so I'm gonna be a coward and I'm going to post on my own blog where 8 million people are not going to flame me for my opinions. If the three of you who read this want to yell at me, I think I can deal.

There are various ways of calculating the cost of a handknitted garment.

Some people charge 3x materials. The problem with this is that a scarf made with Red Heart would end up costing $6, and a scarf made with Muench Touch Me (sounds so dirty) would end up costing $75, all other factors being equal.

Aside from that, mention that you use this formula on a knitting board and prepare to get flamed. The responses will range from "Honey, your time is valuable, you should get more!" to "People like you are the reason all crafters are undervalued and can't make a living!" Certainly if you're using a yarn that falls into the extremes--extremely cheap or extremely pricey, the 3x materials formula produces an unsatisfactory result. But if I'm using yarn that costs $10, I consider $30 as payment a worthy effort. If it takes me 4 hours to complete the scarf, I've garnered a $5/hour tax free income for something I would have been doing anyway.

Besides, this is a free market economy. If I want to purchase something, hand knit or not, I'm going to buy it from the person charging $35 rather than the person charging $350, all other things being equal. It only makes sense. Of course, you're saying that a $35 item and a $350 item would be vastly different. Which brings me to the next formula.

Many people say you should charge per hour for labor to make something. This is not a bad idea in itself, but the question is of course what to charge per hour. I have seen one woman declare that since she made $150 an hour at work, (she was a lawyer), that she should also garner that same wage for knitting. Which would make a pair of socks that took her 10 hours to knit cost a whopping $1,500. This seems a bit steep. Especially when you consider that the knitting done by a McDonald's worker and the knitting done by a lawyer are not really different. There are individual differences but there is no reason that a food service worker might not knit just as well as a lawyer. Lawyer-knitted socks are not more prestigious than food-service worker-knitted socks, yet using the above formula the latter's socks would rate a comparatively tiny price tag of $57.50 assuming she knit at the same rate.

Which brings me to my next point. Who in their right mind would pay even $57.50 for a pair of socks? There might be an occassional taker (maybe that lawyer!) but this hypothetical knitter is not exactly going to be raking in the profits, even at a hefty $42.50 markup over the price of the yarn. Now, if one of our hypothetical knitters reduced the price to $30 a pair, (2x the price of the yarn), she might sell a whole lot of socks, thus realizing a larger profit over the other knitter after just three pairs. ($15 profit/pair x 3 pairs = $45 profit total). If this knitter really wants to make some money off of her knitting, she would be wise to consider the reduced price and sell more socks.

Now for the ethical question. Is our economically prudent knitter somehow hurting the artistically principled knitter? Some would say that by selling her socks at $30 a pair, she is undermining the efforts of all knitters everywhere. I think that is a lofty charge. At a rate of 10 hours per pair of socks, there is no way this knitter is going to be able to produce enough socks to put all knitters everywhere out of business, so to speak. Once her supply is exhausted, potential sock customers will move to other supplies. If they want the socks bad enough, they may even cough up $1,500 for the lawyer's socks. It's the law of supply and demand in action.

For me, it comes down to this. Knitting is not a job. Even when you are getting paid. It is relatively unreasonable to expect that you should be able to quit your day job and knit to pay the bills. Certainly it can happen, but in general I don't think it has the potential to happen very often. You don't have to knit on a particular schedule--you can do it during the afternoon or the evening, whenever you want. You can watch TV while you do it, or watch your children, or talk on the phone. You have no overhead costs and require no special clothing or education to do it. Therefore, you should not expect to be paid as though it is a job.

Secondly, charge what makes you feel good. If you sell a pair of socks for $30 and feel good that you've made a small profit and gotten to do your favorite hobby for free, then good for you. It all comes down to what you are willing to sell something for and what someone else is willing to pay for it. If you are lucky enough to find people willing to pay you $500 for a pair of socks, well, get out your needles and start knitting!

Monday, November 22, 2004

25 Ways to Craft a Memorable Christmas

1. Make popcorn garlands while watching Christmas movies.
2. Make bird feeders. Spread a pine cone with peanut butter and roll in bird seed. Hang outside.
3. Make a fleecy scarf. Cut a 6-foot long, 10 inch wide piece of polar fleece. Cut strips into the ends every inch, tie knots in strips. 2 yards will make a number of scarves.
4. Have a pot luck dinner. Make a turkey or a chicken and ask friends and family to bring side dishes along with recipe cards. Trade cards.
5. Go caroling. Print out the words to 10 basic carols and entertain the neighbors.
6. Make a pine cone wreath. Collect pine cones from the ground. Use wire or ribbon to attach them to a pre-made grapevine wreath. Add a bow and hang on the door.
7. Bring a home made pie or a batch of cookies to a neighbor.
8. Make movie-watcher gift baskets. Put a gift certificate for a rental into a bag along with 2 large boxes of candy and a package of microwave popcorn.
9. Make next year's Christmas cards this year. Take candid pictures of family members and friends. Print them out on your computer or get them developed, and use them as gift tags or use them to make cards.
10. Enjoy the tradition of the Christmas pickle. After the kids are in bed, hide a green pickle ornament (or any other special ornament) amidst the other ornaments on the tree. In the morning, the one who finds it gets an extra little gift.
11. Decorate a tree for the birds. Hang popcorn garlands and pine cone feeders on an outdoor tree and watch the birds enjoy the treat.
12. Make cookie dough ornaments. Find a recipe for non-edible ornament dough and cut out with cookie cutters. When they are dry (or baked, depending upon the recipe), paint with tempera paints.
13. Decorate store-bought glass ornaments. Gently draw a design with white glue. Sprinkle glitter onto the ornaments, making sure it covers all the glue designs. Tap gently to remove excess, and let dry.
14. Have an Ornament Repair and Refurbish Workshop. Before putting ornaments on the tree, gather glue, glitter, paint, and new ornament hooks. Repair any ornaments that have been damaged in years past, and give plain glass globes new sparkle with glitter or paint.
15. Make giant candy decorations. Wrap a tennis ball, golf ball, or ping pong ball in crinkly cellophane wrapping. Twist the ends and tie with ribbons. Hang from the tree.
16. Go nuts! Paint unopened whole walnuts. Give them feet made from craft foam sheets, pom-pom 'ears', and googly eyes.
17. Go for a walk in the newly-fallen snow. Bundle up warm and enjoy the sparkle of the icy world.
18. Build a snow creature. Everyone else has a snowman--make a snow lion or a snow bear instead.
19. Make Russian tea. Mix 2 cups of instant tea mix with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/8 teaspoon cloves. Place in clean mason jars and put a circle of fabric over the top. To make tea, mix 2-3 tablespoons with 1 cup boiling water.
20. Have a white elephant gift exchange after the holidays. Everyone rewraps one nice gift that they can't use and puts it into the pot. Draw names and let people pick. (This is good to do with coworkers or friends who were not at the original party, you don't want anyone to get their own gift back, that could hurt someone's feelings!)
21. Make a batch of cookies from an old family recipe, or use a recipe from an old cookbook that hasn't been used in a while. Pick something unusual that you would like to try!
22. Mix holiday snack mix. Add peanuts, pretzels, yogurt covered raisins, and red and green M&Ms. Place into bags and tie with a festive bow.
23. Make chocolate covered pretzels. Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler, and dip long pretzel rods into chocolate. Swirl, then place on waxed paper to cool and harden. Peel wax paper off when hard and store in airtight container.
24. Make a festive punch everyone can enjoy. Mix 1 part cranberry juice with 1 part lemon lime soda. Float scoops of pineapple or orange sherbet in the punch bowl.
25. Have a gift wrapping workshop for wrapping gifts for aunts, uncles, grandma, etc. Let everyone choose wrapping and ribbons and wrap gifts in their own special way. Remember the gift tags!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

On Consumerism and the Holidays

It's the holidays. Starry-eyed children are making out their wish lists and grownups and kids alike are dreaming of the perfect tree, the perfect meal, and the perfect Christmas all around. And people are taking second jobs, working extra hours, and running up their credit cards to fund this fantasy.

I see something wrong with it.

Sure, every kid remembers that one great present that arrived at just the right time after they had wished for it and longed for it and dreamed about it. I'm not trying to take that away. Well thought-out gifts are a joy to receive--they show us just how much that giver cares and how much they really know about us.

But what did the ornaments look like on your tree last year? I can tell you what mine looked like....because they are the very same ornaments that have gone up on my tree every single year previous. The little bear that I got at my second-grade best friend's birthday party. The pink and silver star my husband and I bought for our 'first tree' when we were only going out for 6 months at the time. The cookie-dough interpretation of my fox terrier, Daisy. The Lenox glass ornament my MIL and FIL gave us when we got engaged. And of course there is the fluffy angel my father and I made at the elementary school craft fair. And the beaded lizard my best friend made me. These ornaments mark important events in my life, and seeing them up on my tree is like a visual reminder of all of the wild and wonderful things I've experienced. It's a time line...on a tree.

Sure, those trees in the Target look great with the perfectly coordinated white lights and 'snowfall' series ornaments and blue ribbons. But are there really people out there who just buy a 'coordinated' looking tree? And if they do, do they really buy a new one every year? Each year the Christmas section seems to grow---what are all these people buying it for? If you move into a new house and need to put up a first tree, I understand. But how many 'first trees' can be sold every year? I must assume some people are replacing last year's ornaments with this year's more trendy iteration.

What about the table? Certainly that spread in Martha Stewart looks inviting--the snowy white cloth and the blazing red goblets. The shiny gold silver and the delicate Lenox china. I use my grandma's treasured china every year...and every year I look forward to seeing it again. I know it's Christmas when that china makes its yearly appearance on my table. Are there really people out there who go out and buy a whole new table 'wardrobe' for the holidays? And what do they do with last year's wardrobe? Throw it out? Pack it in a box labelled "2003 Christmas table setting"?

I always wonder when I see people with a big cart full of new holiday decorations--new Christmas towels for the powder room, a Christmas door mat, Christmas window clingies, wooden welcome signs to hang on the door. Yes, I do have most of these things. Exactly ONE of each of these things. My cousin bought me the wooden door hanger sign when I bought my first house. Every year when I put it up on the door I smile when I remember her giving it to me and telling me it just wasn't a house without a wooden welcome sign shaped like Rudolph.

Every year I relish getting out all the things that I have had just enough time to temporarily forget. It recalls that old excitement as a child. 2 weeks before Christmas out came the nutcracker passed down through the generations, out came the good china, out came the Christmas tablecloth and the Christmas hand towels. Out came the stocking my mom embroidered for me when I was a baby. Every year we greeted these decorations like old friends. It's part of what makes every Christmas old AND new at the same time. Sure we're all a little older, but darn it, we're still drinking out of the same punch bowl, and that offers a nice sort of security. No matter what else happens, that nutcracker ain't goin' nowhere. Oh, and THAT ornament. I totally forgot about that one! That one has been on 7 generations of trees.

So what's wrong with earning a few extra bucks for the holidays? Because you shouldn't have to. The holidays really don't require much more money than any other day, done properly. Would your children rather you worked a few extra hours to buy new Christmas decorations? Or would they prefer you came home early and sat on the floor with them to string popcorn and wach Rudolph? Would they rather the ornaments were perfectly coordinated? Or would they rather spend an afternoon cutting out cookie dough ornaments and painting them? Would they give up all those nice cozy evenings drinking hot apple cider in front of the fire for a few more shiny boxes? They might not know it yet, but they wouldn't. What did you get for Christmas when you were 6? 8? 10? 13? Now what movie or record did your family put on when they decorated the tree? What special dish did Aunt Florence always bring on Christmas (that she never made any other time of the year)?

It saddens me to see people working away and tromping through the mall trying to create synthetic memories that are 'perfect', when the real memories are happening all around them and they are ignoring them. I've watched a parent yell at a child for refusing to sit on Santa's lap (she was afraid, and she was about 2). The child was crying, and the parent was growling "Now what are we going to do about the Christmas card??" I've seen children that should be home in their jammies with sugar plums dancing in their heads--being hauled around the Wal-Mart at 10:30 p.m. 2 days before Christmas, while the parents gripe about the expense of presents. I've seen people blow a hundred dollars just on gift wrapping....because they wanted it to all match underneath the tree. Do these things really make these people happy? I suspect they do not. But I also suspect they buy more, better, bigger next year in an attempt to make THAT Christmas perfect.

I'm a crafter, and I make the majority of my Christmas presents. I usually am working on something Christmas Day...for next Christmas! Some people say I'm compulsive or that they hate that I'm so organized. But it makes sense to me. I never have to take a second job during the holidays--the time I want most to be with those I love. I can afford a few extra dollars for craft materials here and there (even more during after Christmas sales) throughout the year. If I make one or two presents a month, the budget never gets out of control. Because I start so early, I can put my time and energy and love into the gifts I give, rather than money.

And that's why I want to scream every time I go into a store during the holiday season, and see all of these people desperately seeking The Perfect Christmas. I want to scream "You have NO idea what the Perfect Christmas is!!! It's not coordinated lights and the latest Bratz doll. It's not new fire-engine red wine goblets and gold-plated silverware! It's not perfectly elegant Christmas theme hand towels for the bathroom. Go HOME, already, THAT is where the Perfect Christmas is! Your children in their jammies and last year's clumsily-painted dough ornaments are the Perfect Christmas! Grandma's applesauce cake and popcorn garlands and 3rd generation china are the Perfect Christmas! You're so damn busy in the store that you are MISSING OUT ON the Perfect Christmas!"

The perfect Christmas has at least one mishap--like the pipe that burst under my cousin's sink on Christmas morning or the time the dog got in the egg nog and got drunk. The perfect Christmas has at least one joke present and brownies that stick in the pan. The perfect Christmas has wrapping paper and ribbon all over the house and the dog exuberantly crunching on a pine cone. The perfect Christmas has one guest that's always late to dinner. The perfect Christmas has at least one unusual thing that people remember for years to come, a story to be retold around countless future Christmas trees of fading cookie-dough ornaments and popcorn garlands, when no one remembers what color the tablecloth was or how well the hand towels coordinated with the door mat.

Merry Christmas, and God Bless.


Well, the Present Which Shall Not Be Named is finished!

Now I really want to start new projects, such as the ruffle socks that my knitting buddy is making or a pair of felted earmuffs. I also just received my S&B Nation yesterday and want to make a few things out of there...but I'm not letting myself start on anything else for myself until I have finished my 2 big projects; the shawl and the sweater.

The sweater is nerve wracking because I'm afraid it will look like crap after I've worked so hard on it (why not, all the other sweaters I've made do).

The shawl is nerve wracking because it's Taking. So. Freaking. Long. This is an easier pattern than the traditional Charlotte and yet there are people who have made 3 real Charlottes in the time it's taken me to get halfway through this fake Charlotte.

I really just want to wear the shawl. I really don't want to knit it anymore!!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Challenge of Having Friends Read Your Blog

Okay, I am having trouble figuring what to write. Since it's Christmastime, most of what I'm working on is gifts--and I can't write about gifts for people who read my blog....

I keep wanting to talk about this awesome present I'm working on...but I can't because I know the recipient reads this. I can't even talk about the yarn.

So I suppose I'll talk about the weather. I'm loving the weather. Even though it's wet and foggy it is NOT COLD. And that means I am getting extra mileage out of my poncho this fall. I want to knit a new one, because I am fascinated with the groovy Patons Bohemian that just came out, and I want to make a poncho out of it. I want to make Cape Mod, out of the first S&B book, but the only problem is I know by the time I finish it it will be too cold to wear it.

I have so many projects I want to start but I don't want to let myself start any new ones until the old ones are done. I've been fooling around with the same 2 projects for months--and I need to get them done. One is a sweater I'm designing as I go along. While I know it will fit, I'm also designing the fair isle pattern as I go along, and I'm afraid it will look like crap.

The other project is that damn Koigu shawl. I think I started it because I want to WEAR it, not really because I want to KNIT it, which is unusual for me--being a star process knitter. Although I love the yarn I am just really entirely sick of knitting it. The rows are really long and so it's taking forever just to do one row, and I experienced the setback of having to rip out 2 inches. So while I would love to flounce around in my new shawl I fear I will never finish it. RARRRR.

I'd really rather work on a poncho.

There are 2 schools of thought on multiple projects. A few people I know are very strict about only allowing themselves to work on one project at a time. They always get more done because they know they have to finish it before they start another. On the other hand, knitting is supposed to be fun, so why turn it into homework?

The other school of thought is the more projects the better. These would be the anal-expulsive knitters--they start what they feel like and may have 10 or 12 projects in progress. They never get tired of what they're knitting, but then again they hardly ever finish anything.

I must be somewhere in between. I prefer to have only 1 or 2 projects going. But sometimes I want to knit and I don't want to work on those projects, so I end up making something else. But I really like having a clean slate and being able to start fresh.

So, by one school of thought, I should not start the poncho until the sweater and the shawl are done. The other school of thought says I should run to Michael's tonight and buy the materials for my poncho. Hmmmmm....

Monday, November 15, 2004

Really Awesome 1-ball Slinky Scarf

Okay, project of the year. A super-duper simple slinky scarf in a fancy railroad yarn.

Railroad yarn is awesome--looks like little RR tracks and it is slinky and drapey and sparkly. Unfortunately, it's usually freaking expensive--Plymouth Eros is about $12 for a 100 yard ball.

Enter a new Bernat yarn called Matrix. 140 yards for just under $8. Wahoo! Comes in great colors such as purple, red berries, a peacock green/teal, and an earthy brown.

Now, I'm usually all over getting 'quality' yarn not 'craft-shop' yarn but when it comes down to novelty yarn I say what's the diff? Unless the craft-shop stuff doesn't come in the colors you like (and I found it to be the opposite) how different can it be? Lion Brand Fun Fur is hardly any different from Berroco Zoom and it is half the price.

So I'm jazzed about the Michael's starting to carry more fun novelty stuff. Although I can sniff haughtily at novelty yarn with the best of them--I really like them for a quick and easy brainless project.

So for a slinky openwork scarf on the cheap and faster than lightning...

1 ball Bernat Matrix
Size 15 needles

Cast on 15 stitches. Work garter stitch until it's long enough. I made mine really long so it can be doubled or tied or left long. It is about 5 feet long at least, and it's very drapey. I brought the ball to my S&B on Thursday and left with a scarf.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

I am the Plumbing Goddess!

I feel so totally empowered by this. I fixed my kitchen faucet by myself.

I bought a nice faucet that I liked even better than the old one. After figuring out the instructions (all pictures, no words!) and then determined precisely how to get my head under the sink without knocking myself unconscious on the bottom of the sink, I managed to remove the old parts and install the new ones.

Let me tell you my heart was in my throat when I turned the shutoff valves back on, allowing water to go through. Yikes. I was literally waiting with towel and bucket, expecting a shower. Imagine my surprise when there was not only a shower, but not even a dribble or a drop, and improved water pressure to boot (I think my old faucet was just bad!) The new set even has a cool new sprayer, which replaced the one I broke, and it looks cooler, too.

Now that I know I have the Mandate of the Home Improvement Gods, I am next tackling the painting of said kitchen. The current color is this horrifying Kill Bill yellow. I can't even blame it on a misguided previous owner--I had the color custom mixed. The color I have selected (and have the mister's approval on) is a very pale beach-glass green. I had a tough time picking a color. My counter top is blue, and I have white wall paper with red cherries on it, and cherries on the curtains as well. Yellow seemed like a good idea at the time, but that primary color clashing was just killing me. Green is analogous with blue so I hope it will create a more harmonious (as opposed to cacaphonous) mood.

Even better, I think I'm going to replace the cabinet knobs with green glass ones. I think that will give my kitchen a cool retro look, as opposed to an "Oh My God, this just fell out of the 50s!" retro look :-)

Monday, November 08, 2004

Finishing up Projects (and Cursing my Kitchen Faucet)

Having a whole mess of unfinished projects makes me feel disorganized and tired. I decided this weekend I was going to Finsh Stuff Up. Friday we went to a friend's house to watch movies. I brought along a scarf for a commission I'm doing, a sweater for my niece, and some new yarn (in case I didn't have enough to do) for a scarf for a swap online.

I finished them all.

The commission scarf is red and purple. Not the colors I would have chosen but it looks really pretty. I chose a plummy color and a burgundy color (since red and purple reminds me of those awful Red Hat Society things) and the scarf is for a younger person. I'm so excited about my first real commission for someone who's not related to me or one of my real life friends :-) All I have left to do is the fringe, I even wove in the ends (while watching movies)!

The sweater for the niece looks really great. I have finished the actual sweater, all I need to do is decorate it. I'm thinking of doing a kitty in duplicate stitch (maybe furry pink yarn!)

And then the scarf for the online swap. I don't usually get involved in swaps. Every year I see the list of 'flakes' who got sent something and didn't send something in return, either because they've left the board, forgot, ran out of money, or had some interesting reason like "Life is complicated, I couldn't send anything." Accordingly, I did not sign up for the random swap, but a friend was complaining she didn't sign up either so I offered to swap with her. I prefer it that way--I kind of know her (if only on line) and we were able to exchange specifics about what we like (we're both knitters) so I am really excited to find out what she made for me! I made her an eyelash scarf in hot pink fun fur and bright red boa yarn. I knitted it on size 19 needles and it totally rocks--it's all slinky and fun!

Then Saturday I cleaned out my knitting stuff. I went through all the random bags and totes and stuff that each hold one uncompleted project and sorted them out. I put the scraps and little balls of stuff into my tote bag that I take with me everywhere, so I have something to knit/crochet in an emergency. I put the balls of acrylic and some needles I don't use very often downstairs in the den in a basket. I unravelled a couple of projects that just weren't going well. One was returned completely to yarn-ball state and one was ripped about 1/3 of the way down and started from the last correct row

It feels so awesome to have everything cleaned out and sorted. I found all kinds of things I thought were lost--my tapestry needles, some circular needles, all of my stitch holders.

And I have FINISHED THE ORANGE SOCKS! They aren't perfect but I just don't know what to do to make them better. I am going to wash and block them and hopefully I can stretch them into a better state. They are just a little too big. But they stay on, and they are pretty, and I am going to wear them with clogs anyway. It just feels so good to have them done.

That's all for now (what, isn't that enough?)