The Economics of Knitting

Comparison of scarf options.

I learned to knit during high school. I wouldn’t say I enjoy the process of knitting itself, but I like being able to create something exactly to my specifications, and the satisfaction from the finished product. During a de-cluttering purge a few years ago, though, I got rid of all my knitting materials, because I hadn’t touched them in a while.

But recently, I was on a hunt for a new scarf. I knew what I wanted: chunky, infinity (circle) style, and dark red / burgundy color. I used to have one from Old Navy that was the right color and style, but I didn’t like the quality (it didn’t have that fluffy feeling), so I donated it. I hunted around for a replacement, and found this LL Bean one with a pretty lace pattern and ombre effect, but I didn’t want to shell out $36 for an acrylic scarf. What’s a girl to do? I decided to knit my own! I found this pattern from Stuff Steph Does that had the right look. I wanted to answer the question: Is it worth it, economically, to knit something instead of buying it ready-made from a store?

1) Cost of knitting a scarf

  • Knitting needles: $8. This included 10 sets of needles in different sizes. I’m not counting this in the final cost of the scarf, as I assume it’s amortized over time.
  • Raw materials: $30 for 3 balls of Lion Brand yarn (80% acrylic, 20% wool). The pattern originally only called for 2 balls, but this made the scarf too short for me, so I added on a 3rd ball.
  • My time: About 3 days of knitting part-time while watching TV. It’s a good way to keep your hands busy and feel less guilty about watching TV 🙂
Modeling the scarf.

The pros: Overall, I’m very happy with how the scarf turned out. It’s super thick and plush, and very high quality compared to what you could purchase for $30 in a store (ignoring the cost of my time). I think I appreciate the scarf more because of the time I spent making it, which apparently is known as the “IKEA effect“.

The cons: The scarf ended up being more oversized than I expected, so I would reduce the size if I could. It’s hard to zip a coat on top of it. I probably could have made it with 2 skeins instead of 3 by narrowing the width of the scarf, bringing the cost down to $20 instead of $30. The nice thing about knitting is if there’s always the option to unravel the scarf and re-knit it to a smaller size! Hm, maybe if I’m stuck on a desert winter-y island somewhere…

2) Cost of knitting a sweater

I have two other knitting projects in the queue. First up is this Harry Potter initial sweater. Again, I decided to knit because the only commercial option I could find was one from the Universal store, in letter “R” or “H”. I need “J”! The Etsy options are mostly for kids (reflecting my tastes 😛 )

  • Raw materials: $60 for 7 skeins of Knitpicks yarn (55% merino, 25% alpaca, 20% tweed)
  • Knitting needles: $7 for circular needles.
  • My time: To be determined, but definitely massive.

Is a total of $70, plus countless hours of time, worth a 100% wool sweater? The commercial product is $90 and made of similar materials, but customizing the initial is priceless. So I think it’ll be worth it, but I’ll report back on the final results.

3) Cost of knitting sweater socks

The second project in the queue is these slipper socks. I love a good pair of comfy, warm socks for wearing at home on lazy days. I currently wear these trendy Roots socks ($16) and I wanted another pair, but they mostly sell them in Canada. So knitting to the rescue!

  • Raw materials: $20 for 2 balls of Lion Brand yarn (80% acrylic, 20% wool).
  • Knitting needles: Already own.
  • My time: Estimated to be one weekend of knitting part-time.

The total cost will be $20, which is slightly more than the commercial version, but mine will be 100% wool, so I think it’s worth it.

Final thoughts

From these three examples, I would say that overall:

  • Knitting is usually not worth it economically if the commercial options suit your needs in terms of the color and style. Especially if you factor in the cost of time (which I haven’t), knitting should definitely be considered more of a hobby. Which is kind of similar to blogging, no? 🙂
  • Knitting is sometimes worth it if you are very picky about the color or style, and would like better quality materials (like 100% wool). In that sense, knitting fits nicely into the current “capsule closet” ethos of “fewer but better.”

Have you ever knit or crochet? Do you experience the “IKEA effect” of enjoying a do-it-yourself project over a store-bought product?

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