A Knotty Issue
July 13, 2012 9:39 AM   Subscribe

In all the talk about fast fashion and sweatshop labour, it's often been said that sequins can only be attached by hand, therefore someone needs to physically sew them onto a garment. But what about crochet?

I did a quick google and saw that there is such a thing as a crochet machine, which would explain why crocheted trims are often on high-street garments (and 'crochet' seems to be used by stores a lot these days to mean 'kind of lacy knittingy thing') but I was thinking more novelty items such as this - would someone have had to hand-make something like that, and if so how is it possible to mass-produce for a low price given the time it might take to do so? I have heard of crocheted goods made and sold as a fair-trade product (probably why I couldn't buy a pattern for the Avercamp dolls by the same designer) but I was wondering how this worked in terms of the price range of chain stores. Can it only be done by hand? Is a store able to make a profit on something sold at a low price without the crafters being poorly paid?
posted by mippy to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Crochet machines can really only do single crochet, chains, and blanket stitch. "Crochet machines" are pretty much doing knitted lace.

While it's true that commercial crochet is generally done by low-paid third world workers, there are a few not-for-profits that teach people how to crochet hats, shoes, and other items and remunerate their workers with a fair wage. Krochet Kids International is one such organization. They provide skill training, education, and mentorship to help families move beyond crocheting hats to other opportunities.

But that $1 crochet doily in ACMoore? Highly suspect.
posted by xyzzy at 10:06 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everything xyzzy said above.

Crocheted hats and garments are made by hand. This can usually be done much faster than handknitting, but it is still hard on the wrists, neck and back. Thicker yarns add to the speed of both crafts.

The accessorize link just goes to the generic catalog page, but I found a white bathing suit listed there that is definitely not hand crocheted. The picture quality is crap, but the multi bathing suit looks like it may be either machine knitted or hand crocheted. But a lot of what they're calling crochet on that site is definitely not.

The collar you link is certainly not machine made. Because it is made with a thicker yarn, an experienced handcrafter could maybe make it in half hour once they had memorized the pattern. It would probably take that person an hour to make it the first time, and then they'd get down to half hour after cranking out say, a day's worth.

Many hand craft workers are paid by the piece, with quotas for production and penalties for failure to meet demand.

As a general rule, companies selling fair trade items will mark up the item with a premium and tell the story of the facility. "We teach these kids or women from ___Country___ how to __Skill__ and it keeps them off the streets!" Instead of paying $15 for the thing, you are now being charged $20. But the fair wage in the place where the kids or women are working is often still just a few dollars a day. If there isn't a fair trade story attached to an item, you'd be safe to guess that it isn't a fair trade.

The definition of poorly paid is going to vary by region and circumstance. For many, 10 cents against a half hours work is a boon. For others it's clearly an abomination.

As a handknitter, I'm not a fan of this model, because if I were to make __thing__ it would cost much more. The most common thing people bug me to buy is handmade socks. Sure. A sock takes about 6 to 9 hours to make, and the yarn for a nice sock costs about $9 to 11. Or you could go to etsy and order a pair of handknitted socks from Latvia or Turkey. Paying me $25 for a pair of socks for a whole day of work is ridiculous.
posted by bilabial at 10:30 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: bilabial - what I tried to link to was a crocheted elephant keyring. I'm a beginner still, and I look at things like that and think it's maybe an hour's work. I saw something similar in their sale for £1.80. I know that that might be a larger sum to someone in a developing country, but that sum will also include the cost of distribution, the cost of having a shop and people to sell it, and some profit on top of that. I wonder this about things like beaded accessories as well, to be honest - I'm not sure whether intricate stuff can be done by machine.

As a contrast, I bought a knitted hat by People Tree, who are a fair-trade company (I believe them), in their sale for £20.

I totally get the handknitting frustration - I also cross-stitch and if I decided to sell my work I couldn't price it realistically in terms of my time. Even machine-sewing a cushion, which in sewing terms is frankly piss-easy - is an hour or two of cutting, pinning and running it through the machine.
posted by mippy at 12:28 PM on July 13, 2012

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