Photo by hello-julie via Flickr Creative Commons License
I have been doing a lot of knitting lately. I learned how to knit a year or two before Audrey was born and go through phases of knitting lots to knitting very little. (I recently finished a sweater that it took me 2 years to make!) I love knitting. I love that it is calming and relaxing. I love feeling that I have made something from just yarn and sticks. I love figuring out what my next project will be and picking out yarns and colours. Going into the knitting store and brushing my hand against all my yarn choices. Looking for softness.
I joke that I knit because I am not a crafty person. I like having a plan, a pattern, and instructions to follow. No good can come of me picking up a paintbrush. But knitting I can do. Other then music and writing, it is the only art I feel capable of.
But I have been frustrated lately. Because knitting is also DARN EXPENSIVE. One ball of yarn can cost between $4 and $15 dollars, depending on what the yarn is made of. And most projects take somewhere between 4 and 10 balls of yarn. (For the record, not all ‘balls of yarn’ are created equal… some have less or more yarn, measured both in weight and in yardage.) For example, I really want to make this pattern I saw on Ravelry (if you knit and you social media, you must get on Ravelry… great patterns and forums and all kinds of stuff. Besides, I have no friends there, so it be great if you could join me. I am lonley.) It is essentially a really cool scarf. The yarn I want to knit with is about $9 a ball and I would need about 3 balls to do this projects, which means the scarf would cost me $30. For. a. scarf. I could go to any store tomorrow and find a scarf for $10. The materials for that sweater it took me two years to make? About $80. That’s a pretty darn expensive sweater.
Yes, I could buy less expensive yarn. I am a yarn snob. I don’t do acrylic. (If anyone wants to sell me on why I should use acrylic, other then cost.. please do. I would like to hear from others what they feel the benefits are.) I like natural fibers. And I often go for things like bamboo, organic cotton, alpaca and wool. The yarn I want to knit this project from is cashmere, merino and microfiber. But I figure that a) if I am going to spend the time I want it to be nice and b) why would I spend the time and money if the quality of the yarn is going to be less then something I would buy. And I like soft yarn.
All of this has gotten me thinking about the shift from craft and making your own as something that people who couldn’t afford to buy did, to something that the only those with the time and money can do. We aren’t rich at all, but I know we are lucky in comparison to most and we have enough money that I can invest some in a craft I love. Though I have to be careful to not go on a yarn binge. But not that many years ago, the poor made their own and the rich bought. Now, we are facing a switch in that. Obviously there are very few people out there making 100% of their clothing, ect., so it is not like those who knit or sew no longer shop for clothing. So that is an other part of the shift. These types of crafts are no longer done to fill a need, but a want. And a want for a rewarding activity more then the end result.
Fabric is expensive. Yarn is expensive. Heck, organic produce is expensive.
The other part of this is of course the time. Making your own takes a lot of time and many at the low end of the income brackets have even less time then your average middle income earner.
So all these home arts; knitting, sewing, cooking, growing… are becoming the domain of the rich rather then the poor, when some 60 years ago this was the exact opposite.
I am not really sure what I think about this, except, “huh”. It seems ‘wrong’ somehow that it is more expensive to make something then to buy it. But it is also wrong how few things we repair rather then replace. Certainly there are ways around the high cost of raw materials for making things; I have heard a lot about fabric and yarn recycling… essentially going to a thrift store and buying and old sweater and unraveling it and then using the yarn to knit something new. I should try this. I do think there are still people out there that get creative with getting their hands on materials to make and repair things, just as there are still people darning their own socks because they need to.
And I get the economics behind why it is expensive. My little ball of yarn, wrapped neatly in its package, costs more because I buy it 4, 5, 10 balls at a time. Rather then a huge garment manufacturer making sweaters for some big store in the millions. You know, economy of scale stuff.
But that also goes to show the ‘real’ cost of making the goods that we get so cheap. That sweater I bought at Superstore was $25 because the materials were probably bought and manufactured in a less affluent country at a much lower cost- at the expense of that country and its people. The environmental movement has brought that concept of real cost to the discussion, but it applies to the social and economic impacts as well as the environmental.
Anyway, again, I am not sure what I think should be done or what this all means. Its just a bunch of ideas swirling around in my head while I knit.