Lately, I’ve been lucky to meet some very interesting people involved in knitting for a living. I’ve always thought that this would be a hard thing to do. While the materials can be very reasonable in cost, the actual time one spends knitting the project far outweighs what it would cost to buy the same thing in a shop – so would one be able to earn enough from knitting to make a living?
The people I have met have very interesting stories, and I’d like to share them here:
Firstly, meet Ali, a busy mum of four who runs a commission knitting business from her blog 006. Licensed to Knit. Ali also test knits for designers. It’s voluntary work, and you have to supply your own materials. My impression was that this type of ‘work’ allows you to try out different knitting techniques and interesting designs in a reasonably controlled environment (thereby preventing the ‘when I get around to it’ syndrome). It would improve one’s knitting skills as well as give you a bit of an ‘in’ as to what’s happening in the world of knitting design. And if you want to get into professional knitting, this would be a soft entry to understanding timelines and knitting for others as well as building up your reputation and knitting CV.
From Ali’s own perspective, she says “Test knitting is more about being the crash test dummy for designers who need to have their new patterns tested across sizes. They get to see where there are inconsistencies or errors in their written patterns, and can adjust them accordingly prior to releasing their pattern. One of my recent tests was for a designer who had increased the size range for her (already released and highly popular) pattern and each size needed to be tested (which is where I only needed to knit to a certain point – most test knits need the entire item knitted for testing purposes).
I’ve tested a few different patterns so far, and it’s really rewarding being able to offer constructive feedback to the designers, which ultimately helps to make their pattern more successful.
Most test knits require you to use your own resources, but you do get a complimentary copy of the pattern upon its release and occasionally the designer will give a small gift of thanks – although that isn’t why I do it. I love experiencing the satisfaction of being among the first to produce a new garment, which is stylish, functional and contemporary. And it’s fun!”
So, if you want to get into test knitting, how do you do it? Ali says “For those wanting get into test knitting, you will usually be required to show some knitting experience and examples of your work prior to being accepted. You need to be able to knit to a deadline and take good, modelled photos of your finished item. I got into test knitting through a designer I know and have expanded my test knitting thanks to Ravelry and joining groups on there where designers chat informally and call for testers when needed. It’s definitely rewarding and fun – and very worthwhile.”
Secondly, meet the professional knitter: This amazing lady works, but knits professionally in her spare time, and is often helping out customers who don’t have the time to finish the garment they started. She finds that knitting for someone who wants a garment completed is a nice thing to do, as people are fairly relaxed about deadlines and willing to wait a couple of weeks in most instances. But like a test knitter, you have to be disciplined enough with your knitting to meet that deadline! And if you get really busy, you’ll find you spend much of your day or spare time knitting. This can sometimes be a joy killer.
You might be asked to make something that you don’t particularly enjoy knitting, and it might be to a timeframe that puts you under pressure. But the payoff is that you (hopefully!) have a very happy recipient of your work, and you are paid for it.
However, it gets hard-core when it comes to knitting for movies! For one big-budget movie, she was given 24 hours’ notice to make a vest and complete it! And it was fair isle! Apparently, costume production in movies often runs very close to the wire, so this work, although it pays well, is intense. For another movie, she was asked to come up with a pair of ’50s style socks. They liked the design, and commissioned 12 more pairs! Needless to say, the satisfaction of seeing your work on-screen is an immense buzz.
How to get into paid knitting? From what I understand, local yarn stores are also often asked for knitters they would recommend – register your interest with them, and you never know what might happen! Knitting groups are also sometimes approached. Ravelry also has a group where you can register your availability. Or, you could start your own business through word of mouth and have a website or blog to support your projects. The remuneration varies. Sometimes it’s just a token of appreciation for your work, and at other times, it can be quite profitable. It depends on where the work comes from and your reputation.
Thirdly, the ‘knit to sell’ (selling your own designs): In addition to starting your own website or blog (like Ali above), I think the invention of online ‘malls’ dedicated to handcrafts, such as etsy and its New Zealand equivalent, www.felt.co.nz, would rank among one of the ‘greats’ in Internet resources. Another knitter I met makes hats to sell from her site on etsy, and from what I understand, she has had reasonably good success in establishing a market for her creations, many of which she sells to the US and the UK. So, if you are the crafty type who enjoys whipping beautiful little things up, perhaps you should join the many amazing artisans online!
There are also the craft markets. From what I understand, in New Zealand, a craft stall is not a huge investment. A person I know used to customise garments and sell them at a stall a couple of times a year. She made enough money to make it very worth her while. However, she sewed her products, so the time investment was a lot less than if one was knitting. I imagine that it might be better to team up with some fellow knitters whose work you like, to make up a table of knitted products, rather than kill yourself trying to make enough to look presentable.
I think it’s wonderful that there is a whole world of knitting opportunities out there. None of these people are able to make a living out of knitting alone, but it does allow them to do the thing they love, and earn a little bit as a result.