My Expertise Is Not Free; My Work Has Value

By Liralen Li (Detail of Fezzik Sweater) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

How would you feel if someone came up to you when you were working and demanded that you do that thing for them, for free?

Would your response be different if what they wanted was your hobby?


I’m a knitter. I knit everywhere. I don’t knit while I drive, but I knit when I passenge. I’ve got knitting projects in my car, just in case I’m somewhere and I have extra time and I’m — gasp — without a knitting project. My friends have referred to those projects as my Emergency Knitting, and they’re not wrong.

This means I often knit in public. It’s a fun thing to do; I like to talk about my hobby and it’s always fun to hear what other people think.

(Amusingly, there are a LOT of us knitters out there, so often when I’m knitting in public, someone will sidle up to me and slide their knitting out of their bag so we can compare notes. My partner calls us the Knitting Mafia. I should get buttons made.)

I especially like to talk to kids about it. They’re always fascinated and have a lot of creative questions.

What I don’t like is the extremely common response I get, always from adults. More than three-quarters of the people who talk to me about my knitting then ask me if I will make something for them.

Sometimes they don’t just ask — I’ve had people tell me what they want, like they’re ordering a steak. That’s always fun for everyone involved.

I make it clear that I don’t do my handicrafts for Just Anyone. I don’t sell my handmade knitting. I do sell the patterns I’ve written for the things I make, but not the finished items. If I make something for you, it’s because I love you — and nothing less.

Their usual response to my flat ‘No’ is that I clearly love knitting, so I should LOVE to make what they want. The fact that I might already have a list several miles long of things I want to make — for myself or my loved ones — isn’t important to them.

Sometimes I try to explain this idea, that I’m a person on my own, with my own ideas and plans for what I want to make. This rarely goes well, as they just get sullen. They want a hat or sweater or blanket just like the one they saw in that shop window and I’m refusing to make it for them.

I’ve found that it’s faster to just be up front with them. I’ve been knitting since I was eight years old. I’m well past Master level in Knitting; I design complex, detailed patterns for sale, I’ve designed for popular magazines and yarn companies. My skill level is above Expert.

Grey Cashmere Cables by stolte-sawa on flickr

A standard cabled sweater — not a complicated one, just one with plain cables running up the body and sleeves — runs about 80 -100 hours of work. If the cables get more exciting, that adds a lot of time and attention; those take more like 150 hours. So, assuming that I’m spending at least 100 hours on a sweater, and that my time and expertise are valuable, that brings the initial cost (before factoring in the price of the yarn and pattern and needles) to $8,000.

Yes, I charge $80/hour for my knitting. As I said, my time and expertise have value.

I’m not doing this as a charity. I’m doing this hobby because I love it and I enjoy doing it. If you want to have a sweater knit-on-demand, learn to knit. That’s what I did.

The lesson here isn’t for people who expect others to give them hours of skilled labor. It’s mainly for the people with the skills.

DON’T UNDERSELL YOUR EXPERTISE. You worked for those skills, you practiced, and stayed up late, and pulled out your mistakes, and tried and tried and learned … All of that time invested in your own skills has value and you shouldn’t let other people tell you that it doesn’t.

You have value. So do the skills you’ve worked to gain. Never let anyone take that away from you.

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