Sock wars and Handmade

Eric sent a funny article from the Wall Street Journal on the sock wars of competitive knitting, started by Julie Gardner. Last year’s event drew 800 participants.

Sock Wars requires each participant to knit a pair of socks for another player and ship them off to the target. Players are eliminated from the contest — or “killed” — when, like Ms. Williams, they receive the socks. Once they receive their socks, participants have to ship to their assassins the pair they were still working on for their own targets. The assassins then must finish those socks and send them along, hoping that they don’t first receive their own killer socks from another assassin. The last assassin standing — or sitting — wins.

Participants say Sock Wars brings out bloodthirsty instincts in the knitting community and sets hearts pounding each time these women (and a few men) check the mail. When the fateful package comes, “you stand there as if you really were dead,” says Ms. Williams, a chef in Cape May, N.J.

I think it is so cool that a solitary activity like knitting, has become successful communal recreation on the internet. I tell you, we should do something similar. I joked with Colette and Jane that we should all make sewing work aprons. And not just plain old aprons, cool ones with colorful leather insets and trims. Do you use a sewing apron? I don’t feel dressed if I’m not wearing mine. Before I get off track, do read the article, I don’t think it’s gated. There’s a companion video and sock pattern included.


I don’t knit but I have grown partial to socks. Jan DiCintio first turned me onto the Sock Lady last year and I bought more than I care to admit. They’re made in the USA of recycled cotton. This year, Crystal sent me a notice the Socklady was having a year end sale* and after I got over being miffed about not having been notified of it -I am a paying customer- I went back to buy too many more. [Eric, I told you not to read below the fold so if you’re still reading and you see the christmas gift spoiler, it’s your own darn fault.] Here’s the stash I got for gifts this year:

These are socks for Eric, Socklady says men prefer muted colors. The wide ones in the middle are wool.

Below are three pairs in just my size. I got one for me, one for somebody who’s not my friend anymore (a real bummer) and a pair for somebody who’s most likely reading this so it should still be a surprise if I don’t say who.

I got two pairs of kid’s socks, not knowing they’d be much larger than I expected, these won’t fit my nephew, and why did I buy two sets? Oh, and you’ll notice there’s three socks to a pair. That’s something every mom will love.

Lastly, I got a pair of infant socks -pair as defined by the Socklady, meaning five of them- for my niece. All are different.

Aren’t these cute? Infant socks are so easily lost. Sally says the biggest sock monsters are pillow cases. I used to have this cat that retrieved lost socks beating the sock monster at his own game. The first time she found one, she came caterwauling with it in her mouth. It was so adorable that I gave her a bit of half and half as a treat. After that, she found socks all the time, my son’s room was an endless source. I was quite happy to be reunited with long lost footsies and not having to buy more socks for Mike, that I continued to reward her for it. That is until I saw her jumping out of the laundry basket with one in her mouth.

Okay, enough of socks but not handmade. Several parties sent a link to Handmade 2.0, an article describing the Indie craft movement. This isn’t the first article to detail the trend, just a good treatment of the topic. On one hand, I think it’s great. I couldn’t be more pleased to see people making things (most are in their thirties). What I am uncomfortable with is much of the rhetoric (not in the article but promulgated in the community) which is decidedly anti-manufacturing. Tossing aside the rhetoric, many of these people are actually manufacturing themselves, why are they okay but you aren’t? Worse, of course they want lower priced inputs and resources -in other words, wanting to benefit from the wholesale system- so I think it’s disingenuous to criticize a system they’d like to benefit from. I also note they’re not against manufactured goods across the board (cars, computers, cell phones, consumer goods, appliances etc); they reserve their contempt for classes of goods they make. Why is a manufactured car or computer okay but not clothes or bags? Seems a tad self serving.

The article highlights a few vendors on etsy, good ones, but boy, I’ve seen a lot of junk there too. I wonder if some people are selling themselves short, criticizing a system they fear they don’t stand a chance doing full time, a way of hedging their bets. Regardless of scale, some should copy standard manufacturing practices -mostly quality related rather than repeatedly saying their products are quality. There’s truth on both sides; just as there’s a broad range of quality and competence in manufacturing, there is in the indie community as well. I found one etsy vendor I’m concerned about. Stitch Pixie makes (from what I can tell) some very well constructed bags, very nice designs too. The thing that concerns me about her, is that she is target for a knock off which distresses me. I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody started copying her (also, a lot of indies copy each other too) specifically because the stuff will sell but she’s only doing one-offs and people want more. She does have a distinctive look; maybe she could license if she doesn’t want to manufacture herself.

In the end, I think indie craft manufacturing will spawn a whole crop of DE companies, while still others will eventually fall out and move onto something else. I’ve seen a lot of DEs who used to be indie producers (and are still using the label because it’s been financially advantageous to do so, you little devils) who move up from there. Moving up doesn’t mean selling out. If you can make a living doing one-offs, I could not be happier for you. I mean, that’s what I do, pattern making is producing one off patterns. Whichever way you go, be it indie or manufacturer, you don’t need to sell out. Imbue your products with integrity and the best of your ability.

———-
*Oh, this has nothing to do with anything else other than the mention I made under the end of year sock sale. All kinds of vendors have end of year specials. If you’re in the market to buy some big ticket goods and can afford to buy before the end of the year, this is a good time to do it. Many vendors are offering 10% discounts on machines, software etc. Everyone is trying to bump up their numbers before the end of the year. You’ll probably have to ask the salesman if they’ll do it. Maybe you won’t get much of a discount but can negotiate free shipping or something. It seems like anything I’ve bought lately has cost over $200 to ship so that’s a good discount if you can get it.

I have to go now, I’m off to attempt negotiate free shipping on a man’s dress form.

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16 comments

  1. becky says:

    I’ve bought stuff from stitchpixie before. She does a nice job marketing through her blog and participation in online forums (but not in a spammy way.)

    At the same time I was reading that article, in another browser tab I had open Etsy to six pages of “owl softies” (my daughter wants one) ranging from totally ugly to very nicely done with quality materials.

  2. Marie-Christine says:

    Funny, I don’t think of knitting as solitary at all! Sewing, yes, because you can’t lug the machine and other accoutrements with you easily. But knitting is so portable, and usually simple enough that it’s no problem talking and knitting together. In fact I’d probably finish more stuff if I could bring myself to do it alone more often :-).

    What was that about your sewing apron?? Think we might have a picture some day??

    You’re right about the ambiguities of people who want to make a living from crafts and can’t quite get themselves to switch to production mode. Hey, they’ll figure it out eventually.. or stop.

  3. Morgen says:

    Great post Kathleen! I was just talking w/Sally today about whether there exist the same points of “cognitive dissonance” between the world of big-time knit manufacturers and solitary hand-knitters as there do between manufacturers of sewn goods and home-sewers. My guess is that it’s a whole other ballgame given that many knitwear manufacturers are using huge looms versus a couple of hand-held sticks. (Most home sewers, while not possessing industrial machines, are nevertheless still working with machines.) Knitting machines have the benefit of speed and possibly different stitch patterns than are achievable with handknitting. Then again they probably have some limitations of their own. I don’t know but I sure would like to find out!

    I think that the bias against terms like “manufacturing” in places like Etsy probably makes it easier for craftspeople (or whatever they call themselves) to sell their work. “Handmade” is where the appeal lies for anyone patronizing Etsy sellers. I understand what you are saying, though. If I had an Etsy store (something to which I’ve been giving more and more consideration) I would still consider myself a manufacturer and likely utilize many of the streamlined production methods you have written about, on a smaller scale. It’s sad that “handmade” so often means inconsistent product, disorganization, and lateness. It seems like Etsy does a lot to support sellers, like doing group critiques on their shops (their photos, descriptions, pricing, etc.) and providing a forum for users to bounce ideas off each other. Maybe they should start educating sellers about lean production methods, heh heh. Does that mean I can’t read while I knit? :)

  4. Cute socks! Love the colors!

    So Kathleen…are we doing an Apron War? LOL…if so, I’m in!

    Although sewing is usually a solo activity for me (unless local friends look on while I sew), between Fashion Incubator, my ebay sewing groups, my Yahoo message boards, my sewing blog (along with fellow blogger sites) and local sewing groups/classes–I always feel like it’s a community activity. Granted, I don’t bring my sewing machine around town with me, but I usually have my sewing box and am working on some hand stitching when in public.

    Re: Esty…I’m just really not crazy about this whole “indie” movement. Yes, it’s lovely to see lots of people sewing and crafting. Yet, so much of it looks like stuff my 6-year-old could do a better job at.

    Yes, Stitch Pixie has some awesome stuff I would consider buying…well, except for that ferility theme:
    http://www.stitchpixie.com/fertility.php I have no desire to wear a sperm necklace.

    As far as clothing on Etsy, most I come across are simply embellished blanks or deconstructed tshirts. However, there are some that stand out, like these sellers:
    http://www.etsy.com/view_listing.php?listing_id=5386452
    http://www.etsy.com/view_listing.php?listing_id=7771825

    Hope everyone’s day is off to a great start!

    With friendship,
    Lisa

  5. Ali says:

    Lurker here, and a home sewer who reads this blod with a great deal of interest, even though it’s totally not targetted at me…

    The environmental issue here is sort of interesting. It was briefly mentioned in the article, the implication being that somehow crafting is a step away from this throwaway culture of ours.

    Which is great in theory, only… How much of the items being crafted are completely pointless — cute maybe, but really just a piece of tat that’ll just end up cluttering up the house?

    Seriously, how many woolly hats does a person need? How many scarves or pairs of gloves? How many pairs of pyjamas? How many items of jewellery? And do you need a knitted cupcake at all? Ever? (Assuming you’re not a small child having a tea party?)

    Maybe that’s why people drift onto Etsy; they can participate in their craft and not have everything junking up the house unloved and unused afterwards. But I find myself wondering what percentage of items listed on Etsy never actually get sold and what happens to them?

    With crafting it’s often about the process, rather than the finished item itself. And how good is that for the environment really? Why make things you neither want or need, just because it’s fun? Isn’t that just creating another kind of thowaway culture? One which benefits a few relatively rich crafty people (who get to save momey or earn it through Etsy), rather than the factory workers (at home or abroad) who might actually appreciate or need the money they earn.

  6. Marie-Christine says:

    Mmm.. Ali has a good point there about the environmental value of Etsy. Reminds me of the landlady who was very intent on enforcing recycling, but received a daily package, and owned more white shirts and shoes than most department stores. The good thing one could say about most handmade crafts is that they’re slower to make than large-scale manufacturing, so there can’t be as much?? I can say from personal experience that if you make all your clothes (sewing or worse knitting) you just don’t have as much as most people, it’s impossible to keep up unless you make it a full-time job.

  7. laurra says:

    thats a riot, so colorful, my mommy used to knit dresses when they where in fashion.You have to have a lot of patience, like math and graph paper.Needless to say thats why I dont knit.

  8. Andrea says:

    love the post, Kathleen. I actually went in the opposite direction…from a traditional manufacturing business model to what some would consider “crafting”…I still “manufacture”, though. I had really bad luck at craft fairs (appropriate product costing will do that) and opened an etsy shop this month and within 2 days I had a sales at the prices I set. I didn’t think etsy was viable, but have changed my tune. It is a good way to test your designs and get feedback without the cost of attending craft fairs, though wholesaling is always (in my opinion) where you make the real money.

  9. Becky O. says:

    Well you hit on two sore points for me today. I wish I could knit. It all seams great fun, and like another poster pointed out, no plug is required. It is next on my to-do-list when free time finds me.

    Next is etsy. I think it os a great place to test the waters or set up another marketing venue. The real fault lies in the fact many of the sellers there are very green (immature) at business practices. Imitation and downright thievery is rampant. The staff is great at letting everyone police themselves and turning a blind eye. Copycats aren’t new and will never cease, but there are many instances of photographs of items are stolen and put up elsewhere. How can you sell something if you cant even take a picture of it?

    The market will be the deciding factor in the end. And full disclosure-yes, I have been copied and found my styles on Etsy :)

  10. Donna Carty says:

    Great post, Kathleen, but perhaps I can shed some light on why a person whose handmade items had a demand that might justify manufacture might none-the-less choose not to, even at the expense of not being able to make a living with their work. I once had a crocheted sweater that I had designed in a catalogue. I had seriously underpriced and the orders came in far faster than I could produce. Soon, I was under pressure from the cataloguer to “hire” other crocheters to do my sweater. I ordered a huge amount (for me) of yarn, and I tried out several crocheters. But their crocheting following my pattern did not end up having the same measurements, and their work was almost always not up to the quality of my own work, especially in the finishing. Impatient, the cataloguer decided to declare the sweater “sold out” leaving me with all the yarn. Doing even a great amount of my own work was OK, even when I was crocheting 14 hours per day. Everything involved with hiring others to do my designs was unpleasant. It just wasn’t the way I wanted to spend my time. (I know, perhaps correct pricing could have prevented all this.) I don’t know enough about licensing to know if it might present some of the same problems. (I should search your site, I guess.)

  11. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    Those socks are so cool! I love all the different patterns in every one of them.

    I know that sometimes it takes 2 or 3 years to start making money at craft fairs and bazaars because people will see your stuff, think about it, come back next year, maybe buy, still think about it, then be ready to really by the next year. So you have to keep going to get exposure.

    I had some stuff on Etsy and only sold a couple of things. I probably just needed to keep relisting it. I found some dumb stuff there, yes, but also some stuff that was really cool that I would have bought if I’d had the money.

  12. Natasha says:

    Funny I was just discussing this last night with my knitting circle ( yes I’m 28 and hand knit socks)

    Oh and Kathleen I cut my self with scissors bad enough to need stitches is that a badge of honor?

    I buy a lot of supplies on etsy as well as jewellery and silkscreened t shirts

  13. Kathleen says:

    I’m not big on jewelry (own almost none) but there’s some very talented jewelry designers on etsy, not just bead stringers. Their work is quite impressive.

  14. /anne... says:

    Hand knitting vs machine knitting – apart from the cool Japanese seamless knitting machines, the ones in factories are basically the same principle as a home knitting machine.

    Anything you can do on a knitting machine you can do on knitting needles, and a whole lot more; I’m currently knitting a cardigan with seamless shaped sleeves. While I could do that on a knitting machine, I couldn’t have a pattern at the same time, and it would be very difficult to have the sleeve other than a straight tube. If I wanted to, I could knit an entire garment with no seams, shaped to fit me – try that with an industrial knitting machine!

    Most factories knit rough shapes, then use cut-and-sew techniques to finish the garment – have a look inside your knitwear. If it’s joined by an overlocker, it’s cut-and-sew. Fully-fashioned costs more to do, but is a better garment.

    Two of the more interesting knitting writers are Elizabeth Zimmerman (I don’t like what she designed, but for anyone who likes maths puzzles, her ideas are fascinating) and Barbara Walker’s Knitting from the Top.

    I might be using two sticks (actually, at the moment I’m using two high-tech metal sticks with specially designed tips joined by a flexible nylon cord), doesn’t mean I’m limited at all!

    ps – looms are for weaving; knitting machines create knitted fabric (and fabric is never ‘hand loomed’ – a loom is the mechanism to weave fabric, the technique is weaving; and knitting is NEVER loomed or woven, it’s knitted!).

    /anne…
    who knits (hand and machine), sews, spins, weaves, dyes… and whatever else I’ve got time for!

  15. Kathleen says:

    If I wanted to, I could knit an entire garment with no seams, shaped to fit me – try that with an industrial knitting machine!

    Lol, actually, you can do that with certain industrial knitting machines. We saw one at SPESA. I wrote

    this other company … had a sweater knitting machine that did the whole ball of wax -without seaming- including collars and cuffs (it looked stitched) and genuine, I kid you not, underarm expansion gussets. JC said his back of the envelope costs were $16 per unit. The machine costs 180K and takes 30-40 minutes to knit an adult sized sweater.

    JC wrote in his review:

    …I was immediately drawn to the Shima Seiki whole garment knitting machines. It’s very sexy technology. At some point, I might consider contracting with someone to produce a few designs but that’s a while down the road. Nonetheless, keeping an eye on technological advancements is necessary and fun! Incidentally, there’s a used one for sale on eBay if anyone is interested.

    One of our regulars, Georgina Estefania, has a German whole garment machine. I don’t remember the manufacturer. She says they’re pricey but that she loves hers. Her operation is also very lean, making to order. She says that sales have grown to such extent that she’s planning to buy another one in 2008.

  16. jill says:

    funny this post came up! I have been currently rethinking whether or not I want to sell on Etsy and I have been considering against it.

    1) It’s over saturated – way too much to sift through before someone will find my work

    2) the copying – which I know can’t be helped – but I’ve already started to limit the photo’s of my work online

    3) there is a ton of stuff that is terribly made – one such person I worked for before I will not mention their name – but I sewed for her on a contract basis – made next to nothing and was forced to make things in a way that was very poor quality (in my opinion) This person does sell a fair bit but I know how it’s made not well at all – serged edges to put a bag together with no straight stitched seams….arr…anyways I don’t want to rant…

    4) I agree with the above comments about starting an indie/craft business – not many take it seriously and just start their business up without considering costing of materials/quality – I however have been taking my time now almost 3 years – most of this time I’ve spent educating myself so that the quality will be up to par when I begin selling – I could never sell something that I knew wasn’t up to snuff – I don’t want my name attached to that

    I think I will launch with my own website and start doing higher end shows in combination with wholesale orders.

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