Colder weather is finally here. There's an edge to the wind and a chill in the rain. And knitters everywhere are rejoicing, because that means it's time to wear those scarves, mittens, hats, and sweaters we spend all year making.
If you wear your handknits, sooner or later someone will admire them and make some comment like the following: "I wonder how much that would cost in a store?" Or, "How much would you charge to make me one?"
We have trouble answering, to be honest. One of the reasons we knit for ourselves is to make unique items you couldn't buy for love or money. People don't have any point of comparison, usually, to give you a compliment on the quality of your work -- so they try to imagine what the consumer price point would be as a measure of how much something like it would be valued.
When it comes to setting a price for our work -- well, where do you start? A fair market value, consider the cost of materials and an appropriate rate for labor, would quickly rise out of the realm of credibility for even a simple item, given how cheaply one can buy them ready-made. Even catalog items that advertise themselves as handknit or handmade can be had far more inexpensively than even the stingiest calculation of a rate for my services. (Which should tell us something about who's getting the shaft when those items sell for that price.)
Take a cozy striped scarf. The nice yarn you admire could cost about $20-$50 all by itself, depending on the luxury factor. Add in an hourly rate for the twenty hours or so it took me to make it ... well, you see how far into the stratosphere we are already, even at minimum wage.
I find it very flattering when people want me to knit them something. But there are commissions, and there are commissions. The students who think I can whip them up a pair of socks on demand just aren't being realistic -- nor, as a consequence, will they properly appreciate the work. On the other hand, the friend who offers to trade her time and talent for mine, knowing that from me she can get something unavailable in retail, to her exact specifications, and willing to fill my kitchen with baked goods of similarly incalculable value in return -- that's a person who's "knitworthy," in the parlance of the craft.
In the end, it's all about finding a way to compare the value of one's work to the value of what's offered in exchange. Often the appreciation of a knowledgeable recipient is enough. For one-of-a-kind handcrafts, though, the most appropriate systems seem to be barter or gift. Either agree in advance on an exchange of talents, or act in trust that your gift will be met by a gift in return that expresses the value placed on your work by the recipient.