The cost of patterns.
Having seen a few discussions on social media recently begrudging or defending the cost of patterns, I thought I would write a blog post about exactly what goes into design work.
There seems to be an undercurrent of thought that says that knitting patterns should be free, or very low cost. I have an inkling that this is driven by the same group of people that don't value hand-crafted items and consider them to be the cheap cop-out of the gift world. You can find an awful lot of free patterns out there on various websites, including Ravelry and Love Knitting, and plenty of low cost ones as well, created by the big pattern houses who pay their designers a set fee. So why is it worth paying for a good independently designed pattern? What makes it worth spending £5, £7, or even £10 on?
As you probably know, I (Nikki) design knitting patterns. I’ve got 2 properly published designs as well as several more on the way and one about to head off to the tech editor this week. I wanted to share with you the basics of what my design process is like and what’s involved for me, and many other designers, in getting a pattern ready to publish.
Ok, so if we take a sweater design as an example: You come up with an initial concept, either from browsing through stitch dictionaries or drawing from another source of inspiration, maybe a view that you love, or a photograph. You then have to draw out or make notes on how you expect the construction to work. I say expect, as that often changes during the design process. You will also need to work out which yarn you want to use at this point, do gauge swatches, test stitch patterns and any colour work motifs to make sure you are happy with them.
Next, you'll need to look at the gauge you've done and the measurements you want your finished sweater to be, and do a few sums to say how many stitches to cast on, how many you need to end up with, how many rows it will take to get there, and how many increases, as well as where and at what rate to do them.
If you fancy doing a colourwork yoke, this also means it's time to get out the squared paper or start using charting software such as Stitchmastery to get the charts correct first. This is really worthwhile doing now, despite being a bit difficult before you start. You'll find that the charts will need edited as you go, but having an idea to work from is really important in enabling you to get the design worked-up.
Working it through.
Now you get to start knitting, taking as detailed notes as you can as you go. There will be various points where you need to change your plans as there will always be slight differences that need fixing. Eventually you will have a garment and a LOT of scribbled gibberish! Depending on your design, getting to this point can have taken only a few days for a simple shawl or small item, or it could have been over a year. My Save the Bees sweater took just 3 weeks from concept to completion, whereas some designs I started a loooong time ago are still in the knitting and note taking stage. Some will probably never leave it.
Next you have the joys of turning your gibberish notes into something readable and setting it out as a proper knitting pattern – with introduction, abbreviations, gauge, equipment etc. as well as properly producing any charts showing stitch patterns and colourwork.
Again, this can take you anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks, depending on the complexity of your pattern, and can involve casting on a 2nd or even 3rd version of your garment in order to ensure your notes are correct, or to test out different versions, such as short sleeve shaping or an alternative neckline.
Once you think you’re happy with your pattern, most designers worth their salt will then send their pattern to a tech editor. Tech editors are wonderful people who will go over your pattern to make sure that all the math adds up, that your abbreviations make sense, that you haven’t got any errors in your charts, and that everything is consistent throughout.
Some tech editors will also grade your patterns for you – working out the different sizes for your sweater so that it can be used by those needing anywhere from (for example) a 28” bust to a 60” bust. Even though you only originally worked it out for yourself in one size. They can even work out all the yarn requirements! Magic!
This service plays a really important part in ensuring that your customers will have a consistent and working pattern. Again, depending on how complicated your design is, this can take the tech editor only a few hours to check, or it can be a few weeks, with lots of to-in and fro-ing between the editor and yourself to alter and fix things in the pattern and to make it work for the different sizes you want to offer. Each hour of their work is paid for by you - the designer.
This is a really important step. Some designers test before they tech edit, others after, others at the same time. However they go about it though, most designers will get their patterns tested. This means that your pattern is sent, in whole or in part, to a few competent knitters (or crocheters if it is a crochet pattern) of you choosing for them to knit up the different sizes and/or styles of your sweater. This is so that you can make sure that your pattern works for other people, not just you as the designer. This is really important because it enables you to find any bugs or potential problems with your design before you release it. If any are found, you can edit the pattern, going back to your tech editor for help if required.
Once the pattern is all checked over, consistent and well-written, you then need to take professional-looking photos, organise how to print your pattern - or how it would print for people at home who download it - design a front and possibly back cover, etc.
This again can take many hours, and if you want to get it printed professionally, then you need to have a well-presented cover with the right resolution for the printing size. Some designers employ graphic designers to help with the layout, colour, design etc. I am lucky that my partner, Glyn, is a graphics designer that I can pay in coffee and biccies!
You can then get your pattern printed professionally so that you can sell it in shops or at shows, which again is paid for before any sales. I use an eco friendly printing service, so my printing costs are slightly higher than they might otherwise be, at approx. £350/100 copies of a 12 page stapled booklet.
Publication and Sales.
By the time you list your pattern on Ravelry, you will have spent anywhere from 50-200+ hours on your design, have paid between £50-400 for tech editing and grading, possibly paid for printing patterns, for charting software and for a graphic designer.
And if you’re like me, you will still umm and aah about whether you can get away with charging £6.50 per pattern.
For my Bees sweater, based on a £10/hour wage and being very conservative about the hours I did and with the other costs incurred, I would need to sell over 200 copies to break even. So far, I'm about half-way with around 70 sales on Ravelry and around 30 sales in the shop.
So next time you see a pattern you like on Ravelry or etsy that looks a bit expensive, think about the costs that have been incurred not just directly - such as tech editing - but also the hourly rate of the designer for having come up with it, knitted it, written it out... think about how much minimum wage is, and how many copies of this pattern, at that price, they would have to sell to make it back.
Then wonder why it's priced so cheaply.