what price skill?

I had a very interesting phone call in the shop this week.  Long story short and without giving away details that may embarrass anyone, a woman called to tell me that her husband had written a memoire and was wanting an item to be knitted to go with the book – to be photographed for the cover I assumed.  She asked me if I had a knit and natter group and said, as she had found a pattern for the item and would be happy to provide the wool, she thought somebody might want to knit the item ‘for a bit of fun’. 

I’d seen where the conversation was going very quickly but this was the first opportunity I had to interject – I suggested that she contact the UK Handknitting Association who, to the best of my knowledge, have lists of people who would be happy to knit to order.  Silence.  She then asked me if I knew any local knit and natter groups, I told her I did not, but fortunately the above organization had lists of those too.  Silence.  Not deterred, she then asked me if I had a knit and natter group – I told her that I did not and at this point attempted to throw in a bit of a reality check on behalf of all of the crafters who’ve ever been ambushed with a ‘You couldn’t just make me a …………… could you’.  I informed her, very gently, that knitters tended to make for themselves or loved ones or just for the love of the hobby and if she wanted something made she really should be looking for somebody who would welcome commissions, as this was how they earned or supplemented their income, of whom I know there are many.  Silence.

The phone call was then terminated in a way that made abundantly clear to me that I had fallen very short in my responses and I got the feeling that the caller was extremely surprised that her idea of fun and mine are somewhat different.  Am I correct in assuming that she won’t any time soon be asking for a free golf lesson, cut and blow dry or basket of shopping from M&S.  I also assume that said memoire, when finished, will be being sold in order to earn some actual money (love a good irony I do).

So, why are our skills so undervalued?  Why are our years of honing our crafts not seen as the years of expensive education that they definitely are and instead seen as something that we should be happy to give away for free. I’ve lost count of the numerous times over the years I’ve been told, ‘Ooh, you can make me one of those’ as if the requester is bestowing some great gift in letting me use my skill, my time, my yarn, my utilities and my patience on their behalf.  It’s true that some hand made items are available for a song at craft fayres and online, prices that most definitely don’t reflect the level of skill and time that they have taken – and of course it’s people’s right to make things and sell them as cheaply as they wish, but I really wish it didn’t make people assume that we all can and will do the same thing.

Craft businesses are businesses and as any other business, they need to thrive to survive. Our electricity is unfortunately not paid for with compliments and niceties, our stock is not replenished by good will and we deserve to earn an income just as much as the person digging the road, filling your teeth and managing your house sale.

We had the patience to learn amazing crafts and specialist skills that make our world a much more interesting place and we will continue to do so but please throw us a bone.  We’re a charming and accommodating bunch and if you did rock up to a knit and natter and ask the person sitting next to you if you could sit and watch and learn, I’m absolutely sure you’d be greeted with open arms, tea, cake and all the knitting information that your brain could absorb.  But we don’t provide knitted items for free because… why on earth should we.

One response to “what price skill?”

  1. Cheryl Meehan

    Loved it when you did have knit & natter nights. Think we all learned another way of doing something from others & helping others in return. I started to knit at about 4 yrs old to make scarves for my dolls. Apart from my mother I’d never think to ask anyone for a freebie knit. I know I’ve been asked to do small things for work colleagues & have charged them accordingly.
    But to ask someone you don’t know to make something for the ‘fun’ of it you did exactly the right thing. Hope you continue to refer on to those that volunteer their time for free. (Or a mention in the upcoming book)

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