A handy little guide showing you how much to charge for a hand-knit hat, socks or sweater and important facts you need to consider
Do you love knitting and you want to turn it into a business? Or maybe a colleague asked you to knit something for them and now you are wondering how to price hand-knit items. It’s a tough question and in this article, I want to explore quite a couple of ideas and concepts you may not even be aware of when you want to sell knitwear.
While the article will approach things from a business perspective, it’s important to realize that even if you just do a few commissions, the principles remain the same. Otherwise, you will let others exploit you, your creativity, and your time.
And even if it’s family or friends, you should still make sure that you are appreciated or compensated in a fair manner that befits the amount of time knitting takes. And that is only possible without downplaying your worth. And I hope this article will help you view the true value of handknitting from a different perspective.
Either way, let’s dive right into it and show you how to price hand-knit items.
1) The math behind pricing handmade items
Now, don’t be scared when I say math. Still, when it comes down to business you need to do some simple calculation – otherwise, you risk ruin or at least wearing yourself out for no reason. Typically, when one wants to sell something it’s to earn money and be rewarded for all the hard labor one puts into making something. And knitwear should be treated no differently.
A) your hourly wage:
So, the first thing you absolutely need to figure out is your personal hourly wage. This will depend a lot on your living circumstances and your time constraints. But think of it like that. If you knit full-time, meaning there’s no other job and no other income, how much would be the bare minimum you need to earn to be able to live off your knitting. Definitely factor in taxes you have to pay, insurances, and all these kinds of costs.
Let’s say it’s $4000 a month (remember this is pre-taxes and other things an employer typically covers for you. You should definitely do some research and probably contact a tax attorney for the full picture if you want to start a knitting business).
And then you need to figure out your ideal working days per month. Say 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. So a typical work week. Together with national holidays and all these kinds of things, it’s safe to calculate with 21 days.
And the rest is an easy calculation: $4000/(21 days *8 hours per day) = $23.8 per hour
This would be your minimum hourly wage you have to charge for hand knitting if you want to live off it in this example – no matter if you want to turn this into a business or if you are just asked to knit one hat or one sweater. After all, work is work.
I know, the numbers might seem awfully high. But you are not doing yourself a favor by selling yourself cheaper. The harsh truth is, if you charge less, then you end up toiling hard for a whole month or so for a price that cannot even cover your minimum living costs. Think of all the things you could do with the time instead (i.e the opportunity costs)!
B) The time it takes to finish a hand-knitted item:
The second thing you need to record or work out is the time it takes you to finish a project. And I would really urge you to keep track of your work diligently and not guess it. Because sometimes you have to take a 5 minutes break to figure out a pattern, maybe fix a mistake, untangle the yarn, frog something, washing, blocking, etc. A project typically takes longer than you feel it does.
Use a notepad and simply write down when you start and end a knitting session, and add the numbers when you are finished. And then, you can multiply the hours you needed times your hourly wage. Maybe you are knitting fancy socks and it took you 25 hours to finish them.
Eg. 25 hours * 23.8 $/h = $595
Important caveat: Typically professional knitting is charged per stitch or yards of yarn and not per hour – otherwise you could inflate prices by knitting slower. At the same time, if you do indeed knit a bit slower, charging less per hour would mean you are not earning enough to cover your basic monthly costs. This basically means you have to be a fast knitter to arrive at prices customers may be willing to pay.
Either way, it’s very important to realize that this is only the first half of figuring out how much to charge for hand-knit items. So please read on – especially if you want to turn this into a business and it’s not just one item you plan to sell.
C) Materials & Overhead
You can’t knit a sweater from thin air. You definitely need to buy yarn. So, as a first step, you need to add these material costs to your price. Let’s say 100 grams of a nice merino colorway for 24$.
E.g: $595 + $24 = $619
But depending on whether you had to go to a store to get the yarn or buy it online, you have to add all the overhead costs. Shipping costs or the time to drive to the store is part of your work. Now, any sensible businessman or woman will order/buy larger quantities to bring down these costs as much as possible. But sometimes you might get a custom order and you actually will spend time and money to acquire just two skeins of yarn.
Part of the overhead costs are also things like shipping or delivery costs to the client. Listing fees you have to pay for an online platform or booth fees when you sell things at a craft fair. If you have a website, then hosting costs need to be factored in.
But also things like knitting tools. You need needles and they might break eventually. You may need props and a camera to take pictures. You might even have to take a course to learn all these things.
Ultimately, all these costs might add up to $1000 a month or more. And you need to add these costs to the prices you charge for your hand-knit hats, socks, or sweater. Otherwise, and I’m repeating myself, you are not doing yourself a favor. E.g:
- $1000/168 hours (per month) = 5.95 $/h
- 5.95 $/h * 25 hours = $148.8
- $519 + $148.8 = $767.8
And that would be the final cost of those elaborate lace socks you handknit for a client! Sounds a lot, doesn’t it? And there you see ladies selling plain vanilla socks at the craft fair for $25 a pair and I am here telling you to charge close to a 800 dollars instead. Am I crazy? Well, definitely no! So, please read on!
Caveat: Some people don’t want to turn their knitting into a full-time business. Maybe you just want to knit 1 or 2 hours watching Netflix and sell these products. Fair enough. In these cases, you could calculate a bit differently but I’d warn you to go down too much.
2) Important things to consider when you want to sell hand-knit items
If you follow the calculations from above, you will probably arrive at a number that sounds awfully high. You will end up with more than a thousand for a sweater or a lace shawl. Who’s ever going to pay this, you might think? Here are a couple of other things you need to consider.
A) Hand-knit items are special
I invite you to browse through the websites of the big international fashion labels. Gucci, Chanel, Hermès, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana. We’ve all heard these names. Upon closer inspection, you will see that a sweater on these sites will cost a thousand dollars – and sometimes much, much more if it’s Cashmere or is embellished with embroidery or beads.
Quite evidently, people ARE paying that kind of money for garments. And trust me, a Gucci sweater isn’t really worth 2,000 US-Dollars in and by itself. You pay for the brand, the astronomical high street rents, the expensive advertising campaigns, and above all a very special design. And for some people, this whole experience is worth it (and for some, it isn’t).
And knitting is the same. Some people value the unique organic quality of hand-knit items and are willing to pay a premium for it, and some won’t. You need to find them and be exactly where they are making their buying decisions. And then, of course, you need to offer them what they are looking for.
This typically demands quite some research. And trust me, you won’t find these people at the average craft fair but maybe at a medieval LARP festival where people are looking for authentic period-appropriate craftsmanship. Or at a modern art show where people are used to exorbitant prices.
B) Quality over quantity – the competition is fierce
Go to Target or any other big retail store and you will find wool socks for 10, a knitted hat for 15, and a sweater for maybe as cheap as 20 US-Dollar. And that’s your competition. So, when you start your business, you absolutely need to ask yourself:
Why should anyone ever pay such a high premium to buy one of my hand-knit items?
And trust me, hoping and romantic thoughts about how hand-knitting is special, won’t make the cut. If you sell the exact same ribbed hat or socks, all the hard calculation you did above is for nothing. Why? Because there is a difference between the real value and the perceived value.
People might value hand-knitting but they probably won’t value it as much and pay the factor 10 for it. So if a similar hat costs 15 US-Dollar at the store, you might get away with selling it for 30 or maybe 45 US-Dollar but that will probably be the limit of most consumers.
The solution? If you ask me, you need to find something where people can’t compare simply because you cannot buy these things at a store. Either not at all or not in that size or quality.
There are fat people, super tall people, there are disabled people and so many other consumers who simply cannot go into a store and buy a sweater, socks, or gloves because these items are not available in their size or for their body configuration. Other people want something in a special color or in a special yarn (vegan, hypoallergenic, etc). And if you cater to their needs, YOU get to set the price!
Also, commercial items are typically made on knitting machines. That’s why they are so cheap. But there are a lot of limits to the things knitting machines can produce. Complex cables, lace, or items with lots of increases and decreases are typically impossible (or labor-intensive = expensive) to produce in whole-sale quantities on knitting machines.
Here’s a very excellent example. On my blog, you find a pattern for traditional bavarian half-socks. Setting aside that your average knitting machine could never create them, the unique appearance of hand-knitting is actually part of the traditional costumes. And people ARE willing to pay for that because it’s part of our tradition.
Note: Another remote option is cashing in on your fame. E.g., people would probably pay insane amounts of money if Michelle Obama would sell her hand-knitted items for charity. I am mentioning this since in the days of Instagram or Youtube this actually has become a somewhat viable option where fans are willing to pay a premium because they want a piece of a particularly influential crafter.
C) Honest question: Are you good enough?
When it comes to knitting, I keep on saying that the most important part of this amazing hobby is that it brings you joy, and only you can define what brings you joy and what does not. But when you think about selling a hand-knit hat or socks, a third party enters the equation. Typically they don’t care one whit if you had fun – they pay for the desired quality.
Before you start your business, ask yourself if you are actually fast enough and good enough. Now, this is a dangerous question. A lot of people (especially women) generally don’t have the highest self-esteem and downplay their own skills on regular basis. On top of that, it’s often hard to be objective when it comes to yourself.
Still, it is needed and I would definitely ask some trusted friends/fellow knitters to ask if they think your knitting quality was something they would pay for. It doesn’t have to be 100 perfect. I am definitely not, and probably won’t ever be either. But customers won’t pay hard currency for a project full of wonky stitches and mistakes either.
I know, this is a very hard question to ask yourself. But beating around the bushes and saying things like “I think your knitting is beautiful the way it is. I call my mistakes features.” is not going to cut it in my opinion. If you buy a sweater at a store and the seam comes undone, you don’t say that kind of stuff either. You bring it back and complain.
And if you are doing a small commission, I would definitely show them a previous project so they have an idea of what to expect. Sure the answer might be something you may not want to hear. However, the answer will be the same once you finished the commission – but the many hours and love you used to create the item make the judgment even worse.
3) Finding the right price for hand-knitted items
Many books have been written on the theory of price and it would be impossible to share it all here in brevity. But there’s one little fact I would like to highlight. When people know a lot about a product, they will typically lean towards a combination of quality and bargain. When customers know little or nothing about a product, they will typically lean towards the most expensive option as they were taught that expensive is good.
So, after you came up with your full business case and you found out that you have to charge 1.000 US-Dollars for those hand-knitted socks, you still have to determine a price. Maybe $995 will sound better. Or maybe you could knit them with a cashmere blend (so invest $30 USD more into the yarn) and charge $1.500 because they are unique one-of-a-kind hand-knitted made-to-measure cashmere socks. Same work but more profit!
Any mother will probably have a good idea how much a simple hat for her children should cost. But how much does a hypoallergenic no-itch hat with a special no-pressure hem cost that children love (instead of hate) to put on? How much does a custom-fitted intarsia sweater in your favorite color with your name – or better yet – with the name of a loved one on it cost? See what I am getting at?
When you leave the territory consumers are familiar with, that’s where you can charge what you are actually worth and make money.
Last thoughts on selling knitting
One thing you might have noticed is that this article is almost devoid of any prep-talk. This might seem strange as everywhere else on my blog or on my youtube channel, I’m the exact opposite. You know, things like “don’t let other people diminish your worth”. And so on.
But the truth is, there is a huge difference between a hobby and a business decision. Your personal feelings and emotions don’t really have a place because, quite frankly, the market is ruthless. And you need to face that fact from the very beginning if you ask me.
And I would be lying if I told you it was easy. In fact, since so many people sell handknitted items for dead cheap prices, the competition is fierce and it’s a very tough market to earn a living.
Think of it. In the above calculation, I used 21 workdays with 8 hours a day as a base. But can you actually sustain that kind of knitting activity? Knitting for 6 hours per day (the rest will be spent on administration, etc) will be excruciating!
Small commissions can be even more difficult because you may be less familiar with treating a disappointed or possibly angry customer. For example, a lot of non-knitters expect the result to be identical to machine-knit items or communicate their ideas in an incomplete way (yes, I wanted stripes BUT not such big stripes!).
At the end of the day, you also have to ask yourself: What if you spent those 8 hours doing something else. Would you earn more money with it and would it be more or less fun?
I personally came to the conclusion that selling my knitting is not a path I want to pursue. I literally couldn’t do it. Still, I hope this article gave you quite a lot of food for thought and you can use it to make a conscious, deliberate business decision.