Love Our Indies: Karie Westermann

Today's Love Your Indie post is actually a reproduction of a blog post that I read awhile ago and found myself nodding and 'uh huh'-ing to as I read it. I felt really encouraged to see a designer standing up and saying 'we knitters are worth something' because you know what? We really are. I asked Karie, if it would be ok to share the post in it's original format because it just said so much about the way I feel about our beloved craft. 

If you haven't discovered Karie before, she's a really engaging blogger, stylish designer and general tweeter of funny and insightful things. I like her a lot and I think she has a lot of interesting things to say about the knitting industry. Here's the post:

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Earlier this week, I met a talented girl who had designed and knitted a 4-ply jumper for a client. The client had asked the girl to supply the yarn as well as design/knit it. I asked how much the girl had charged?

An entire 4-ply (fingering-weight) jumper from design conception to finished item and including the yarn. £35. Let me repeat that: thirty-five pounds.

When I asked her why she’d charged that little, she shrugged and replied: “Because the client didn’t want to pay anything more and even baulked at £35″. I got very, very angry at this stage. I didn’t get angry at the girl because she was obviously just trying to make a little money. No, I got angry at a marketplace which so devalues hand-knitting to the point where a customer baulks at paying more than £35 for a custom piece (including materials!) and manages to get away with it. Make that a marketplace in which the customer manages to get away with it again and againbecause I have heard the same story many times.

That is not okay.

Why is it that hand-knitting is so devalued? Skilled artisan-makers like the girl I met are paid pennies when they should be earning pounds. Is it because hand-knitting is predominantly female-centric? Is it because history has taught the marketplace that hand-knitting is something poor people do to make ends meet and poor people can be exploited? Is it because hand-knitting is perceived as being ‘a hobby’ that people do between their ‘real’ jobs? I looked at hand-knitters and I am amazed at their skills, patience and talent. Maybe I am wrong – certainly the marketplace tells me so.

I have never knitted for money -  but I do get asked an awful lot if I am willing to take on commissions. Usually the punter wants me to whip up an aran cardigan because a machine-knitted acrylic version is deemed too expensive. When did we move from “mass produced” = inferior to “mass produced” = superior? To my mind, a one-off piece created by a skilled artisan using excellent materials should always be considered more valuable. How do we change this perception?

I am not an artisan maker and while I hesitate to label what I do, I’m probably more of an artisanmakar. “Makar” is an old Scottish word for “poet” or “bard” – and I think of my knitting designs as a way of telling stories with stitches. I care about how hand-knitting is perceived and treated. I know exactly how much time and skill go into designing and writing a pattern – what does that say about my time and skill that Ravelry currently holds 122,147 free patterns? How could I possibly add value to a pattern (and price it at £3) when 122,147 patterns are free?

It’s a weird job I have chosen and it is a strange industry too. All I can do is hope that you’ll like my collaboration with Lilith (note: it involves an essay about cholera, false teeth and William Morris). I’ll be back with a gift-buying guide for the knitters in your life. Treat them well: they are super-skilled and deserve a treat.

 

Karie wearing her own design 'Ronaes;, photography by David Fraser

Karie wearing her own design 'Ronaes;, photography by David Fraser

Thank you to Karie for letting me reproduce her blog post here and for keeping the conversation going on Twitter ever since- you really are an inspiration Karie! If you'd like to chat further about our Love Our Indies topic, join the conversation on Twitter or the dedicated Ravelry thread in the Playful Group