The Cost Of A Constructive Hobby: Knitting My Own Sweaters

by Emma Lawson

I’m knitting a sweater. This sweater, to be exact. It’s my first adult-sized sweater and I’m pretty excited about it, but because this is the Billfold, let me tell you how much this sweater is costing me.

For my size, I need 1250 yards of yarn. I bought fancy stuff, Malabrigo worsted that feels like fluffy clouds, but I did get it when it was on sale at 15% off at my local yarn store. There’s no point in making something out of scratchy wool that’s just going to frustrate me every time I wear it.

Yarn: $106.85 for 6 skeins

This sweater requires several types of knitting needles. You need circular needles in two different sizes for the body of the sweater and double-pointed needles in those same two sizes for the sleeves and the cuffs. I had the double-pointed needles already from my hat-knitting days, and I splurged on a set of interchangeable needles for the circulars as I knew it would save me money in the long run.

Double-pointed needles: already in stash, but $17.98
Circular needle set: $144

Total materials cost: $268.83

When I tell people that I’m knitting a sweater, or when I bring out my giant pile of yarn at a bar so I can knit while watching both a Blue Jays game and the Canadian election at the same time, people ask, “How long does that take you?” I tend to knit while watching TV, and this sweater has taken about four seasons of “The X-Files” and at least two baseball games. That’s 70 hours of the “X-Files” (seasons were longer back then!) and six hours of baseball.

I still have one sleeve left to go, so let’s estimate another six “X-Files” for that as well. 80.5 hours total. That’s a lot of time. I don’t get paid by the hour at my day job, but I do at my side job. $25 an hour for 80.5 hours of work is $2012.50. If I were to be paid for my labor, this sweater would be stupidly expensive.

My tattoo artist’s wife is a knitter and knitting pattern designer. She occasionally gets emails about commissions and she kindly emails them back that there is no way they could afford a hand-knit sweater by her. She won’t undervalue her labor, and even though she can knit much faster than I can, her sweaters would cost more than people are willing to pay.

My friend Reagan is happy to knit things for people. She gives away hand-knits hats and shawls regularly. But if someone requests she make them something specific, her price is the cost of the yarn and a bottle of wine. She’ll still only knit for friends, but she doesn’t charge for her labor; the wine is more a thank you than anything.

I knit for friends too. If I can make something with less than one skein of yarn, like a hat or a pair of socks, then I’ll do it for free. Even the softest, most beautiful hand-dyed yarn tends to max out at $30 per skein, which I feel is reasonable for a gift. Hats don’t take that long to make, either. I can usually finish one in a couple of days.

Socks can take longer, but since I knit while watching TV or listening to podcasts, this is part of my leisure time at the end of my workday. It’s fun; it helps me relax. It’s something to do with my hands so I’m not picking at my nails or mindlessly snacking on chips. I may be consuming media, but I’m producing something too, and that makes me feel good.

So this sweater is costing me more than I would usually spend if I were to buy one from a store, but it’s made of wonderfully soft yarn, is hand-made to fit my body, and has a design I’m unlikely to see on anyone else. If I do see someone else wearing one knit from this pattern, I won’t be mad that we’re matching but excited to find another knitter to talk fibre with.

This sweater has provided me with hours of both frustration and fun. I’m not getting paid for my labor, but it’s worth it.

This story is part of our DIY Month series.

Emma Lawson is a librarian in Vancouver, Canada. You can read more about her surprisingly expensive knitting habit here.

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