The dreaded "factory made" compliment

So, about a week ago, some friends came up to visit. I've kept in touch, but haven't seen them in person for about two years, they know I've taken up knitting but have yet to see anything I made.

So, one of them goes into the hobby room and asks to see what I've been spinning/knitting, I don't have much here right now but I show her some yarn I've made, my fiber, spindles and wheel, and gave a quick demonstration with the spindle. I showed her a few things I've knitted and she picked up a grey ribbed watchcap with black striping and showed it to my other friend. He's the type of guy that if he was out of deodorant he'd rather use none than use his girlfriend's, the type of guy that cannot step foot into a women's clothing store, that will only buy certain products like shampoo if they're somehow advertised as being "manly", so he took a look at it, and said that it looked just like it came from a store.

I know what he meant, that the tension was even, that there were no visible mistakes (there actually was one purl that was supposed to be a knit but only I notice it), that it looked professional, and I know that coming from him, since he's one of those "why not buy the sweater?" people, it's a compliment, but still it sorta hurts.


grandcarriage's picture

I know what you mean. It's actually one of my complaints, though. When handmade yarns and garments look too perfect: Handknit/handspun objects should look as such, it's part of their charm...the yarn with subtle variation, the stitches that aren't PERFECTLY even.... Those are the clues that tell of love and personal effort. Anyhoo. DUDE! I FEEL YOUR PAIN! I'm sure it's all completely fabulous, and don't let a phiber philistine get you down.

My 2cents, and I'm paying....

KnitMark's picture

Maybe I need to rethink things - as a fairly new knitter (I started Dec. 2006) I've been thinking that "machine made" was the goal. I obsess over every slipped stitch or tight or loose areas. I'm getting better, but I can still point to every mistake I've made. I can only hope that one day I'll knit so well that someone will make the same comment to me.

gaynnyc's picture

Hell, I'd take it as a compliment. Thank them and move on. To me knitting isn't about the perfection of the piece, (although I do strive for that, it rarely happens) it's about the pride you can take in the finished product knowing that you created it yourself. I'd rather have someone think that it was factory made than have them say "You knit this yourself? Are you just learning how?" now that would be a low blow.

MMario's picture

OTOH - I kinda resent the implication that "handmade" means "visibly imperfect" -- I've seen losts of "factory made" stuff that doesn't come even CLOSE to perfect.

It's one of those catch 22 situations.

MMario - I don't live in the 21st Century - but I sometimes play a character who does.

MMario - I'm not divorced from reality - we're having a trial separation

potterdc's picture

I strongly agree with MMario that handmade does NOT necessarily mean visibly imperfect.

As a professional potter, I do not want my pieces to be imperfect. In order to generate customers who come back, my stuff HAS to work. My teapots have to balance well and pour well; mugs need handles that actually fit the human hand, bowls for food these days need glazes that will go through the alkaline hot hell of a dishwasher and the nuking of the microwave.

It was actually through knitting that I began to understand "fine craft." After several years of saying "Oh well - who'll REALLY notice that this is an inch too big?" The answer to that question was ME. Everytime I put on that sweater I'd think "Argh - it's too big" or "there's that dropped stitch again..." I realized that the price I'd have to pay for not having that thought every time was affordable - I'd rather rip out and start over than have a lifetime of "Argh - there's that mistake."

So, we learn to make stuff, and we learn to make stuff really well. When someone in the public sees it, their only reference point for perfection is "machine made." It is a paradox, isn't it, that when we spend years perfecting our craft, it's compared to something that stamps out 800 identical pieces a day.

And yet, there is something touching about having our goods compared to those machine made pieces - it seems to me that what boy-o meant by "it just came from the store" is that the piece was worthy of commerce. And in this society, that's a high compliment.

What I like about handmade stuff is NOT the imperfection, but rather the immediacy of the communication that is set up by the piece between the maker and those utilizing it. A factory made piece can be expected to be free of structural flaws that interfere with the use of the object. The trade off is, to get that at a mass produced rate, it lacks this communication. I want my pieces to be free of flaws that would interfere with them being used, while at the same time, I want them full of the unique characteristics (that are by products of my skill, not flaws) that serve as the tools of communication from me to others.

Think less, enjoy it more.

martyknits1's picture

I agree with potterdc!

I love it when people see something I've knit and say:
"You MADE that"?(amazed)... which sometimes comes out as:
"It looks store bought"

as opposed to:
"You made that, didn't you"? (accusingly) which means they, too, see the flaws, and maybe aren't all that impressed.

Sounds like you're an excellent knitter. Good job.