A Note on Commissions

I think when you make an agreement to do a project for someone, you should prioritize that project. I believe it to be a sign of maturity and professional courtesy to place personal projects on hold and attempt to finish your customer’s project as quickly as possible and with your very best of effort. Especially if you’re being paid.

For the past three months I’ve been working on a commission for a LYS. A customer injured her shoulder and wanted her sweater completed for her, the LYS asked me to do it and I happily agreed. I had ten to twelve weeks to complete the work and I was told I would make a certain amount of money for making it. We had a verbal agreement. The sweater, the grey thing, was two thousand yards of various moss stitches in a size extra large knee length jacket. In grey. The instructions were beyond convoluted (if you have to say “at the same time” 5 times for one part of your sweater, you need a pattern rework ) and I had to start over three times just to get past the yoke. But I finished it. Here it is:

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Yep, I wouldn’t even do a photo shoot for that. Blurry instagram with me looking like I’ve been awake for four days is all you’re getting.

I took the sweater in to the LYS and handed it over. Three months. Almost all of spring and summer that could have been spent knitting cute tops and headbands. She hands me a check. I almost fall over. It is significantly short of our agreed on price, over $100 short. We discuss this and come to find out that they have a ceiling on how much they pay for commission work. I ask why she agreed to pay me more if she wasn’t actually going to, she gives me a rambling half answer. I’m a bit dumbfounded and realize there isn’t much I can do. Hold the customer’s sweater hostage and demand more money? That wouldn’t be fair to the customer who had no part in our financial deal. It would also be unseemly for me to stand there and argue. I wouldn’t win even if I did. I took my check with a smile and walked out, ignoring her offer for me to work a few Saturdays a month if I ever wanted to.

I was angry. I feel cheated and used and like an entire season of knitting was stolen from me. I sulked over this for an entire day. Now that I’ve had time to process this whole affair, and cast on for another project, I have a few notes to share with fellow knitters who might be new to doing commissions.

  1. Communication is a must

To be honest, this was not my first experience with this LYS. I previously did a commission for the shop and was paid the amount I asked for. However, when we first set up the deal, she informed me that she paid on a sliding scale. $.25-$.75 a yard based on the difficulty of the project. When I finished the project, I asked to be paid $.35 for the 1,000 yard project. She informed me that the maximum they pay for commissions was $250. I reminded her about the sliding scale. “Mhm, yeah…we usually only pay $250 though. I’ll pay you what you want this time though.” She never explained to me why she told me I would be paid on a sliding scale if she obviously had no intention of doing that.

Whenever I did work for this shop, it took me weeks to be paid after I’d already dropped off my finished item and we had terrible communication. It took her nearly three weeks to pay me for my first commission job. I called the shop multiple times, had to give her my address three times so she could mail me a check, and I went to the shop twice to pick up payments and she’d forgotten to leave the money for me. I once went to the shop to try and be paid, she stayed on the phone for twenty minutes with me standing there waiting and I finally had to leave, without payment, to make it to an event on time.

All this to say, if you and the customer you’re working for have terrible communication, don’t agree to work for them. It was stupid of me to persists in working for someone who would never answer my calls or have the courtesy to have my check waiting for me in a timely manner. If you can’t even have two minutes of the person’s time to ask questions or be paid, don’t bother.

2. The faintest ink is better than the strongest memory

As I said above, there was a lot of back and forth about what I would be paid for my work and I really had to go out of my way to get my paychecks. In hindsight, I can’t believe I never just had the gall to ask her “So, before I start, how much are you paying me for this?” It is not rude to confirm before hand how much the person thinks your time and energy is worth. If they think it’s rude to ask, don’t work with them. Take a few minutes and type up a simple contract for the both of you to sign. Nothing crazy, something simple will work fine as hard documentation of your agreement.

“I, so and so, agree to pay so and so x amount of monies for the completion of such and such by this date.” See? Simple.

Discuss  the yardage of the project you will be doing, the difficulty of the work and the amount of time it should take before agreeing to anything. Get all of the information about the project you need  while face to face with the person, it wouldn’t hurt to include these things in the contract as well. You’ll seem like a true professional if you do this; it’ll be an accurate reflection of the fact that your time and effort is valuable and you take your job seriously. If the person is turned off by this. Don’t work with them.

3. Be honest

Be honest with yourself and your customer. Tell them how much you think your work is truly worth. Don’t undersell yourself to get more work or overcharge to bleed your customer dry. This is a business transaction, not a blood sport. It should be pleasant and simple. If you really hate the project and think it’ll be a drag to do, let the person know upfront and ask to be paid accordingly. Don’t agree to a price that won’t make up for all the grumbling and complaining you’ll be doing while knitting on the project. If the person isn’t willing to pay you more, request to have a longer amount of time to complete the project or simply decline to do the work. You aren’t a slave, your time and skill are valuable. There is no shame failing to come to an agreement and simply declining to do the project.

4. Work hard

There is shame, however, in taking way too long to do a project and not doing your best. The grey thing was knit for a customer using the LYS to get her work done. In other words, me slacking on the sweater, not making it just right, or deliberately taking way too long to finish would be totally unfair to the customer. She had nothing to do with my failure to do business properly or the LYS underpaying me. If you’ve agreed to do something, do it. Don’t back out half way because you don’t like it anymore, or argue over payment after the work is already done. Have all your ducks in a row before even picking up your needles

Honestly, I know there is a lot of contention over knitting for pay. There is a plethora of knitters who are underpaid for their work and it is often very difficult to find a happy medium. I’m glad I’ve had this experience, though. I truly believe it will help me do business better in the future and have a more discerning eye for the work I’m asked to do and how much my skill is worth. Knitting should always bring joy, even commissioned work, but it’s not the responsibility of the customer to ensure your happiness and satisfaction. You must stand up for yourself and not be afraid to say ‘no’. Will I work for this yarn shop again? Probably not. Will I do more commissions? Totally. Will I get burned again? Maybe, but I’ve learned to take my work more seriously now, and hopefully I’ll be better prepared to deal with a transaction in the future.

I really hope my inexperience helps a few of you out there who are exploring the world of knitting for pay. Please don’t make the same silly mistakes I did, but more importantly, stay happy with your knitting- no matter what you get out of it.

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