Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Commission Knitting How To

Lately I've been reading all sorts of sites telling me how to run this blog. They're telling me about the 'new media' - customers don't just want to be sold to, they want information, communication and a community. I get it. I don't think we sell too much here, obviously, when we've got a new yarn in I try and give some info but I see this place as a sort of diary for the shop so you'll see a bit of what each of us is doing, what inspires us, what we're excited about - because, essentially, we are the shop.

But I am aware that there hasn't been much 'knowledge-giving'. Hmm. I think it's probably because of the state of my camera... It's really hard to take photos of what you're doing when you only have a temperamental phone camera to work with and nobody's around to help at the times when you're free. Also, maybe more importantly, I don't see myself as any kind of an expert. My knitting/crochet style is very much 'fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants' and anybody who's been on my lessons knows that I don't believe there's a right and a wrong way to do anything. Waving sticks and string around in any fashion is all good with me as long as you're coming out with something that you love. Any sort of 'how-to' takes an incredible amount of time too and I have a lot on with the shop. I've started taking notes of what I'm doing on a day to day basis and we're two hours in and I've already done ten things including knitting for an hour on a commission. Not much time to spare.

What I can talk about with some authority is knitting/crocheting to a deadline. I've been doing it for years, starting when I was about 18 to make some money for booze while I was a student and now to make some money for the shop/my holiday(!!!). I'm on a constant crafting deadline and as I was finishing something up yesterday (my day off) I realised that I've developed ways of coping so I thought I'd share them with you.

Project Choice and Pricing

There's nothing that kills a project buzz quicker than knowing I've undercharged for an item.

Case in point: I had a phone call on Saturday from a lovely woman who was struggling with a couple of lacy baby bits. The baby had arrived two weeks early on the Saturday morning and she'd decided that she just wanted them done. She also told me she was in her nineties and if you don't already know then you do now that I love old people and would do anything to make their lives a bit easier. So I said yes and charged £10 for each cardi (usually I'd add the cost of the yarn on too but she'd already got that). For me, £10 is a reasonable price for a newborn size, you'll not make minimum wage doing knitting or crochet, and a day's work in front of the TV/my favourite blog/at the pub isn't too hard a life. But when the cardis turned up they were both 4ply and the reason she was struggling was all of the errors in the patten... Bit of a nightmare but I'll stick with my prices on this one and get it done for that lovely old lady.

I suggest that you stick to some sort of pricing guideline you set yourself. Not everything's going to fit into that of course but you can have a basic idea. A lot of people in America seem to charge three times the cost of the yarn but this makes no sense to me - is an aran cardi in Cygnet Aran any less work than one in British Wool Aran? I tend to start at around £70 + the cost of the yarn for a basic cardi/jumper in DK/aran for an adult up to around 34-36" chest. I'll add around £5 per 2" chest and around £10 for any fancy stitches like lace or cables and I might even add £20 if it's a particular brain-boggler. I'll add roughly £20/£25 for design work and maybe up to £30-£40 if I start from scratch with the design.

The costs soon start to add up you'll see and often this is just too expensive for people. I have enough work on with commissions that I'm at the 'take it or leave it' stage but occasionally I'll give a bit of a discount. I do have a favourite commission customer called Sheila who I've done tonnes of stuff for- she used to be a knitter herself but can't now because of a bad arm. She is so appreciative and understanding and she makes a mean Jamaican Christmas cake (blows your socks off!) so I'll do a deal for her just to keep her around.

In terms of project choice - I suppose you don't get much of a choice - but I would be honest with the customer, don't use this as an opportunity to learn a new technique, not when somebody else is paying for it and it could all go tits up. If the customer wants something that you can't do, how about saying something like 'well, I haven't done that before, it's something that I want to learn though so give me a week or two and I'll see if I'm any good and I'll get back to you'. Most people are understanding but don't bet your life on them coming back, there are a lot of people who will knit/crochet for money and they might well have found one of them.

Set a Reasonable Deadline

You know how fast you work. You know if you're covering somebody's holiday next week. You know your Mum's going into hospital tomorrow. Life happens and customers do understand but if you can keep a timetable of events that are going to slow you down then you'll be able to give a reasonable estimate. Right now I'm telling customers about my holiday and the fact that I have at least four other things in the commission queue so if they need this doing like.right.now then they'll need to find another knitter.

Don't underestimate the craft Gods. Sometimes, it doesn't matter how much you actually do, the inches just aren't adding on - ever get that feeling? Yeah, it happens to commission knitting too... Give yourself at least a few days to fall back on.

Case in Point: I'm also in the middle of knitting a lacy cardigan/wrap for a lovely lady. Essentially it's a scarf with arms based on a lovely cardi that she picked up in a sale from a dead posh shop that she's worn to death. I made the lace pattern up myself and somehow I thought it would be a brilliant idea to do lace on both sides rather than just the knit. Hmm. I also didn't realise that the scarf is 73" in length - somehow it looks shorter because it's all in proportion. I estimated about two weeks, and it's about that time now and I still have a sleeve to do after she's come to check the first sleeve is right. Luckily, she's lovely and understanding and just excited to be getting 'her' cardigan back again. But I seriously underestimated this knit, given all the lessons I've had to prepare for and teach (I think somehow, I thought that the time travelling to and from Clumber Park would magically make up for all of the time I spent there and preparing for it - it didn't).

Don't forget time for finishing - particularly blocking. I use the spare bed and if we have visitors it can mean an extra week on top of the work.

Time for Yourself

I'm guilty of not getting enough knitting time for myself. I suppose that's because my commission go some way to paying the rent for the shop or making sure our phone line isn't cut off. I take more or less what I can get unless I really can't fit it in and sometimes that means I can be knitting all day every day and not knit for myself for weeks and weeks. You'll go mad is this happens to you so how about setting aside either a day a week or an hour a day where you knit or crochet something for yourself (or at least a present for a loved one). Trust me, if it gets busy, you'll need it.

You also probably want to set some time aside for not knitting or crochet - though I'm not sure I can even comprehend such a concept...

One trick I do, if I'm really struggling with a boring thing that I would never knit for myself in a million years, is to mix it up with something of mine. So I might do half an hour of the commission for ten minutes of something of mine or 10 rows of a commission for four of mine. If I'm overwhelmed with stuff to do I might also do two rows of a commission for 10 minutes of doing chores. It's not as exciting but stuff does get done that way.

Get it Written Down

Another one I'm guilty of - the majority of my commissions are done through a verbal contract. The lawyer in me wants to tell you that this is no less of a contract than a written one but perhaps a little more difficult to prove if it gets to a scary stage. I can't see many craft commissions at this level getting to the stage where anybody sues anybody but it's definitely best to get the details down.

Case in point: Sometime last year a woman asked me to knit a brown cardigan for her sister. I duly knitted it and it turned out that when she said 'brown' what she actually meant was 'black'...

At it's simplest, you'll need your customer's name, address and telephone number, a description of the garment to be worked and what materials you will use and a break down of the costing (whether you've decided to charge an hourly rate, flat rate or perhaps per yard worked), a date for completion or a written agreement if there's no particular deadline and a signature from both of you. You should be able to work up a little form pretty easily.

Customers do appreciate a card or something with your contact details on so that they can contact you too.

Forms like these are a good record for the tax man too...


Keep a Record of What You've Done

I'll never remember how much work I did last year because it all passed in a haze of opening the shop and readjusting my life because of it. I took no photos, I made no notes. I'd estimate that I knitted probably 10-12 adult sized jumpers and maybe 20 baby bits but I'll never know. Isn't that sad?

Ravelry is great for this and I suggest, if you can afford it, buy a good camera. If you can't afford it buy a shit camera. But keep a tally of what you've been up to - it could be the basis of a blog, a portfolio, a book. Who knows?!

So my top tips for commission knitting are:

  • Pick the project and the price carefully. 
  • Set a reasonable deadline. 
  • Make time for yourself. 
  • Write down all agreements. 
  • Keep a visual record of what you've been up to. 

If you follow everything on this list then you're doing better than I am but you might also have a smoother journey into knitting for work than I did...

Love Eleanor. :)


  1. I am curious as to how you stumble upon clients to start? Are these people who saw you knitting in public or blog followers? Thanks in advance.

  2. This is fantastic advice! Recently friends have been requesting items and I would love to make things for them, and this list will help me keep my life on track. :)

  3. We offer all types of Sofa repairs Nottingham , Leather interior repairs Nottingham,Car seat repairs Nottingham , Furniture repairs service throughout Nottingham and the surrounding areas