“You could sell that!” Here’s why I can’t…


I think pretty much every knitter has heard it at least once…

“You could sell that!”

It is always meant as a compliment and I do take it as such since they are basically implying that it is good enough that they think people would pay money for it. Here’s the problem (and why a lot of knitters get their knickers in a twist when someone says this to them) – It is exceptionally difficult to sell hand knit items and make a profit.

To me, being able to make a living from hand knitting (not machine knitting, which is entirely different) is some sort of magical Unicorn Land that few ever get to visit. It happens, absolutely, but it is very difficult. Hand knitting is not a terribly quick process and this is why knitting for profit is difficult. Let me give you an example:

20150111_215520Take my Neon Ski Bonnet as an example. Cool hat, right? I have gotten a lot of “You could sell that!” comments on it so it is a perfect project for this. Let’s figure out how much it would take for me to break even. Not make a profit, I’m saying simply break even.

The yarn I used was some fairly inexpensive acrylic and I even managed to get it on sale at Michael’s for half price. I used two balls and the total yarn cost was ~ $5.99 plus tax. Not very much, right? I could definitely sell that hat for more than $5.99 and turn a profit, and you’re right, I could, but the yarn isn’t the only cost.

…and this is where things start to fall apart…

I spent approximately 15 hours making that hat. (This is actually a pretty conservative estimate.) 15 hours of work. Yes, it is a hobby and I enjoyed it, but it was still 15 hours of work and if we’re hypothetically hoping to be able to make a living from knitting then we need to figure out an hourly wage/salary. So, 15 hours multiplied by the current minimum wage where I live ($10.30/hr) equals just over $150.

Let that sink in for a minute.

If you paid me minimum wage to knit that hat it would cost over $150.00. And I’m a fast knitter.

Other things to be taken into account include: establishing and maintaining an inventory, the fees charged by Etsy and Paypal, wear and tear on your knitting supplies, shipping costs,…

But then comes the argument “Oh, but Lesley! That hat is so detailed and complicated! A more simple pattern that took less time to knit would be a better example.” but that isn’t entirely true because you have to remember you are SELLING this and it needs to be something someone would want to buy. It needs to be appealing and somehow different from what they can get in a store. And the other thing is that even a simple hat could easily take me 5 hours (this simple hat took me a lot more than 5 hours…), and anyone would be pretty hard pressed to find a lot of buyers for a 50$ for a basic hat.

It seems to me that the two ways best of making money from hand knitting is by either knitting for commission or to knit truly amazing artisan type garments that you can sell to a luxury market and sadly neither of these options appeals to me. Knitting on commission means I don’t get to decide what I am knitting and (even worse) I will no doubt be under some sort of deadline to have the item finished. That would pretty effectively suck the fun right out of knitting for me. As for creating high end knitted works of art, I thoroughly doubt I possess the sort of skill, ability, or patience that would allow me to do that. Plus, truly intricate pieces could take upwards of 100-200 hours. The hourly wage yet again makes it a big bag of “Nope.”.

If my only goal was to recoup the costs of the yarn then knitting for “profit” wouldn’t be hard, but there really is so much more involved than just the cost of the yarn. And to be perfectly honest, I kind of like keeping the things that I have knit! I have a lot of difficulty knitting something and then giving it away as a gift. If I sell them it means they aren’t mine anymore and I don’t get to see them again! A lot of people don’t care about that but I do.

So sadly, it seems pretty likely that I won’t be visiting the magical Unicorn Land where people get to knit for their job.