Thursday, November 19

Taking on a knitting commission

We often see requests for commissions on some of the knitting lists, around Christmas time, and around the end of summer term. I've always said I won't take on large commissions, because I'm working full time and I'm pretty busy outside of that running two clubs, various websites, a house and all my other hobbies, plus trying to keep fit/lose weight, and I just don't think I can do it justice. I'm a perfectionist and somewhat of an artist, and I will nit-pick a design until I'm blue in the face. However, I succumbed to one recently as I had some leftover holiday and was stuck at home (I love me a challenge!) and thought I'd pass on some hints and tips.
  1. Christmas seems to come as a surprise to some folks, despite it being an immovable feast - they'll expect the item in a very short space of time. Non-knitters see the word "machine", and think it's a case of pressing a few buttons and a sweater pops out, fully formed. Even in industry, that sort of machine requires days of programming. Ideally, to create a masterpiece, you really need a few months notice - to play around with ideas, design the layout, test knit, swatch and wash some yarns and see which ones work. The programming may take quite a bit of time, especially if you're limited to an old system eg the PPD or mylar sheets. Better make sure you do a test knit, it's easy to miss a few pixels when copying from a piece of paper to a screen (ask me how I know)! 
  2. Be honest if you don't think it's achievable in the time frame. If you have other commitments, look at your calendar and see how many hours you might reasonably spend on the project, and try and reduce the complexity accordingly. Don't forget to allow time for swatching/testing and of course if you have to wait for the yarn to arrive, that will have to be factored in. 
  3. Get as much detail as you can, as soon as you can. Is the design fluid or fixed? Can things be moved? Don't expect a non-knitter to be conversant about knitting techniques - for example, a design that produces long floats is not suitable for a high-traffic area like a sleeve. 
  4. If you are using new-to-you yarns or techniques, be prepared for things not to go as planned!
  5. However long you think it will take, at least double your time estimate. If there's special patterning involved eg dbj or fairisle with latched up floats or single motifs, or intarsia, triple it.  Because if anything can go wrong, everything probably will! 
  6. To save time, knit the sleeves downwards from the shoulders - that's two less seams to sew up and sewing the sleeve heads are always the hardest because you're matching stitches to rows.
  7. Hand-sew all your seams using mattress stitch. It sounds tedious, but the finish is so much better than with a linker. You can probably get away with 2 bar - 2 bar mattress stitch in plain areas, but for a better match in striped or patterned areas, sew 1 bar to 1 bar.
  8. Try and work out your material costs and expected hours up front - but don't expect to get minimum wage, because nobody will pay that. 
  9. Demand payment, or at least a deposit, up front. I've heard of people who have knitted jumpers who have never been paid for the work, which is frankly criminal. 
  10. You're on a tight deadline? Everything that COULD go wrong, WILL go wrong, as you make silly mistakes. Try to breathe, try not to panic, try to schedule in regular breaks, even if it's just a 20 minute power walk around the local area. Try not to cut corners, it may well get you back later. 
One kind of request that personally gets me? A student spends all year designing a collection, and then expects to find a machine knitter to produce it in a fortnight. If I were the student, I'd want to be doing all the knitting myself, for a start. Just because a lot of machine knitters are retired, doesn't mean they have limitless amounts of time. In fact, most of the retirees I've asked, often say "I've no idea how I had the time for work!". I know it's certainly quite hard to get hold of mother (a crafter herself) - she's out and about all over the place! I guess I feel it's kind of arrogant, and doesn't teach anything about planning. I've never been lucky enough to do a degree in textiles so I can only speak from my personal point of view. Of course, in industry, the actual knitting is probably done in some factory in a poor country, so perhaps it's just I who is not being realistic.

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