Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Economics of Knitting - Free Patterns

Free patterns can be a hot button topic in the knitting world. I've written about this topic before and I have a few new miscellaneous thoughts (in no particular order) to add to my original post from here.

There is a difference between experienced and novice knitters. Experienced knitters have a much better understanding of how much work goes into writing a pattern and they are more likely to pay for patterns because they understand the true value. When I was taking tailoring classes, new students would not spend money on quality supplies because they said their skill level did not justify the expense. Unfortunately they were unable to get good results with incorrect materials and would be frustrated with the end product. It was always interesting to see who came back for the next class with the correct materials and how many just abandoned learning to tailor. I suspect that happens with knitting as well.

One of my friends who owns a yarn shop doesn't want her customers using free patterns. She says "she has spent too many hours rewriting bad free patterns" and often reminds her customers "you get what you pay for in this world".

Another says "free patterns seem to attract some of the more demanding knitters who make all sorts of unusual time consuming requests".

Some knitters want to knit what everyone else is knitting (which is often a free pattern). Ravelry has had a big impact on what knitters see and that impacts the popularity of patterns. I have found it interesting that from the beginning of my Ravelry membership to now, currently I see many more paid patterns turning up on the Ravelry Hot Right Now section.

Some knitters choose patterns to meet a completely different set of criteria so free only comes into play when it meets that criteria first.

One of my professional friends wants to get designers to band together and agree to never produce free patterns. As a designer I see that as an interesting suggestion. I'm not sure I can think of any other business that creators give so much of their work away for free. On the other hand I do hear some knitters say they like to try a designer out first on a free pattern before buying from them. However, free patterns are often not tech edited and are very simple, so are you really getting a true comparison?

I've been very surprised by the number of requests I've been getting to provide free pattens. Most often the requests come from event organizers who want them as prizes or to put in goody bags for attendees. At this point I really don't feel ready to give away something that I've put so much effort into, especially while I'm struggling for profitability. I feel that patterns are already very under priced if you take into account the time and expense to produce them. Pricing is done on spec, based on what the market will bear as opposed to costs incurred. Since I publish mainly by PDF downloads it costs me both money and more time to get printing done.

At this point my business is not making a profit  and I've only made donations of door prizes (usually notions not patterns) at events where I was being paid to appear. I'm sure I will be revisiting this as my business (hopefully) becomes profitable. I'm also uncomfortable with making some donations but not others as what criteria do I use to decide who to donate to if I don't accept every request. 


  1. I have some free patterns out there, but they're much simpler than my current (not free) patterns. They've been floating around the 'net for so long, there's no way I could convert them to be paid. Some are from the knitlist way back in the early 1990's.

    I don't think they're representative of my current work, but if knitters are using them to see what my work is like, that probably means I should update them. It's a catch-22! I did update one last night (mini Christmas stockings), and it was interesting to see how differently I write now. Not necessarily because my skills have improved (they have) but because I was writing for a particular audience (knitlist) and so there was a lot more shorthand in the original pattern! Now I'm much more careful about spelling everything out. Not exactly "dumbing down" but just thinking of the audience of more newbie knitters.

  2. I've debated the free vs. paid pattern issue too as a designer. As a designer, I put dozens of hours into creating, knitting, editing and testing each design. I think it's fair to ask to be paid for that effort.

    I also understand that knitters would like to 'test drive' a designer's patterns before making a financial commitment.

    I've personally come up with 1 main criteria for providing a free pattern: if it's a simple design then I won't charge for it. People can use those to get a sense of my pattern writing style. One of my free patterns is a simple knit/purl sock and the other is a really nice herringbone design, but is only 4 rows.

    The other patterns, with multiple sizes, charts, written instructions and hours of time invested? They're for pay. And I'll have to sell about 400-500 copies of each sock pattern to make minimum wage for the time invested in each. They're definitely labors of love right now.