December 6, 2011

Unexpectedly Controversial

I believe that I have finally reached an age and station where I largely see stuff coming.  Most of the time, I say something, and if a few people go bananas, I'm pretty much not surprised. We all know what topics can be guaranteed to set some people off, and we even usually know who those people will be.  There's hot button issues for those people.  We all know what they are - Religion, politics, human rights being equal for all humans - the biggies.

That means that if I say something like "I believe health care should be free and equal at the point of service for all people" I can expect to hear something about that.  Probably I'm going to hear from people with strong political views, and they'll say that reduces choice, and that if you have money you deserve better/faster care, or that they don't want other people in charge of them.  I'm going to hear from people who's personal system of ethics dictates that a human's independence is more important than their health, and finally, I'm going to hear from a few people who are going to tell me that I don't understand anything about how the world works, and that my point of view is impossible, and where the hell did I get a crazy idea like that anyway?

The point is, I know if I say that, that I'll hear about it.  You can expect some topics to be controversial, and as I said, mostly I know what those are.  I still get a shocker every once in a while though, mostly when it's something that seems really, really clear to me and I can't imagine there's any debate. (That happened last week when I said that I thought it was entirely unethical for a medical professional to give a happily breastfeeding mum formula "just in case." and someone violently disagreed. Shocked the snot out of me - but that's a conversation for another day.)  My point (and I do have one) is that it's pretty rare for me to get taken by surprise, but that's exactly what happened this morning.

This morning I was pondering hiring a test knitter, and wondering if what I pay is in keeping with what other people pay, and I Tweeted asking if anyone knew if there was an industry standard pay scale.  Imagine my shock, when not only did I discover that there isn't, but was immediately inundated with offers to test knit for me... FOR FREE.  Very kind, I thought, but not the way jobs work.
I expect someone to do a job.  I consider proper test knitting a skilled job, and it's part of producing a product.  Every product anyone would like to sell needs to be tested, and that's part of the cost of doing business.  I declined the kind offers, and tweeted:

"Thanks for the offers all, but I don't need free test knitters. I think it's a job, and should be paid."

That was fine.  Nobody got up my grill, but there were quite a few people saying "Gosh - why?  Knitting is fun and we're all nice" (I'm paraphrasing)  so I took to twitter again, and said:

How can we expect people to take the knitting industry (and those in it) seriously, if we don't? #professionalismFTW

That, my friends, is when it all got really unexpected.  The private emails and tweets started pouring in, and while I don't have their permission to post names or content here, I can tell you that I got some answers and attitudes to that tweet that were more surprising to me than the urge I got last week to iron, and that's saying something.  I've already taken up the answers with the people who wrote, and they know I was going to post about it, because it's been my experience that there's seldom one person with the same questions or attitudes.  Usually the comments/tweets/emails I get are rather representative... so here's some of the questions and comments, and my answers.  (Again, I've paraphrased.)

Comment: Hey lady, you're nuts.  Knitting isn't an industry that needs to be taken seriously. Knitting is fun, and nice and so are knitters, darn it. There's no need to be dragging that nasty talk about money into it.  Be nice.

I am nice, and so are most knitters, and knitting is really, really fun. I'm not sure why paying people for their work would be not nice.  I think most of you like to be paid for your work, besides, people do better work when they're paid.  The exchange of money for time and effort is a good way to make sure that people have the time and attention to do a good job, and you know what makes knitting more fun? Patterns with fewer errors because a proper test knitter did a good job.  As for the seriousness of the knitting industry, I don't really see how you can imagine that there aren't a lot of people taking it seriously.  I bet your local yarn shop owner takes it super seriously, right around the time he/she has to pay the rent.  I bet yarn companies (big and small) take it seriously too.  You know who else? Designers, test knitters, tech editors... all those people take it really seriously.  For you it might be a hobby, but for a lot of people trying to support their families in this industry it would be amazing if most of us could at least agree that there could be and should be an idea of what jobs are worth what money. 

Comment: Test knitting is fun! We don't need to be paid!

That's super generous, and yes.  Test knitting is sort of fun, but here's what most designers need in a test knitter is the ability to   A) Work on a deadline and keep that deadline.  B) Provide valuable feedback to the designer that they can use to improve the pattern.  If you're going to have expectations of someone, then you should pay them.  It's not just respectful and a statement of the value of their work - it's a commitment.  Let's say you don't pay the test knitter, and they do a crappy job.  They miss a bunch of things, fix a few things without making note that they had to correct it to make it work... and then give it in late.  If it's all just a friendly arrangement, then you get a crappy pattern, the designer can have their business damaged....  the exchange of money keeps people accountable to each other.  It is not fair to have respect for someone's work and abilities, and to have an expectation that they will do what's best for your business without giving them something in return.    

Comment: Well, I like test knitting enough to do it for free. I'm not professional, and I'm just helping.  It doesn't hurt anyone.

Well, it is very true that nobody can tell you what you want to do for free, and if you're not a professional, and you're not test knitting for professionals, then I think you've got a heck of a point.  If, however, you are test knitting for professionals for free, can I have a counter point?  Let's say that Bob has spent a lot of time learning how to fix plumbing leaks.  He's good at it.  He opens a little business and starts fixing plumbing leaks for a living. Then this guy, lets call him Marco, decides that he loves fixing plumbing leaks. He starts fixing leaks all over town, for free.  Pretty soon, everybody knows this, and Bob can't get a job, because who would pay someone to do it when someone else will do it for free? Pretty soon, this is a town where nobody thinks you should ever pay to have leaks fixed, and those jobs disappear, along with Bob's business.  By the way, the other thing that disappears is excellence in the field of leak fixing - because you can't demand excellence from a free leak fixer. They're just doing you a favour. 

Comment: Designers can't afford it.

Most can, actually - although it would help if knitters didn't balk at paying for patterns.  I've seen knitters buy an ungodly amount of yarn, then complain about the pattern not being free.  There's some designers who are amateurs, or are just sticking a free pattern out there for sport, and I'm not talking about them.  I'm talking about the Pros. People who are trying to earn a living selling patterns to you.  Those designers? What they can't afford is a reputation for having patterns with errors.  A good pattern makes them money. They can (and do) pay test knitters.

Comment: Well, I get paid in yarn.

Cool.  The barter system is an excellent way to go, as long as it's an alternative, not an industry standard.  If two professionals want to enter a professional agreement where money is represented by yarn (or something else) that's civil, but the amount that you're compensating (however you do it) should be agreed upon, and more or less standard in the industry.

Comment: Are you saying anyone who doesn't pay their test knitters is unprofessional? Or that you're not a professional test knitter if you don't get paid?

Let's look at the definition of Professional. According to Wikipedia (I know) the first line is "A professional is a person who is paid to undertake a specialised set of tasks and to complete them for a fee."   I'd say that if you're asking someone to perform a task a specific way, it is then unprofessional not to pay.  If you're asking a friend to help you out,  that's not the same.  You and your buddy can work it out, we all help our friends, but that's not professional.  If you're doing something and not getting paid (somehow, with something of value) then you're not a professional.  Helpful, yes.  Providing a service, yes.  A professional? Maybe not.  I feel like if the person asking you to provide the service is going to provide a better product and make more money because you do that task? Yup. It's unprofessional not to pay.

Comment: Knitting isn't like that.

Yeah, I know - but take it from me, there's a lot of shop owners, yarn companies, dyers, designers, tech editors and test knitters who wish it was a little more like that.  Contracts, standards and fair wages for fair work would go a long way towards making the industry stronger, not weaker.

Comment: You're a commie-pinko-tree-hugging-hippie.

Maybe, and maybe I'm wrong - but don't you think it would be a good conversation to have? 

Gifts for Knitters resumes tomorrow. I'm thinking.

Posted by Stephanie at December 6, 2011 3:10 PM