Oh the excitement at starting a new knitting project! Sifting through Ravelry to find JUST the right project, purchase it, start gathering needles and yarn. And cast on! If you’re a knitter you probably get that same excited energy about casting on something new. Hopefully, you’ve been inspired by something amazing that you can’t wait to make. Perhaps you have a favorite designer whose designs always light up your creative energy and work just so.
In this process of starting a new project, and downloading that pdf pattern in an instant- have you ever wondered what went into creating it?
Recently there seems to be a lot of talk about the cost of knitting patterns. Many designers and companies have started to charge just a little bit more for that pdf that’s jump starting your project. For transparency’s sake, and so that knitters are armed with knowledge about the product they’re using, I thought it would be nice to dig deeper into why these pdf’s are starting to cost more.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
For this post, I asked four other designers about the time it takes for them to complete each of the tasks involved with creating a pdf knitting pattern. The following answers are based on the average answer from myself and these four designers, unless otherwise noted.
For the purposes of this conversation, this is solely based on DIGITAL independently produced knitting patterns. Print patterns and books are a whole different ball game. They cost a lot more to produce than a digital pattern and the profit margins are wildly different (smaller). Likewise, the profit a designer makes from knitting magazines, books and collections by big companies look wildly different. This looks different from company to company and while some companies pay fairly, some underpay. It can be quite confusing to someone purchasing a pattern on Ravelry who they are purchasing it from, and this is important to note. For instance, just because you are buying MY design on Ravelry does not mean you are buying it FROM me, and thus, I may have no ownership or profit over it. But back to the question at hand…
Steps in creating a pdf knitting pattern:
· Knit the sample
· Write and grade the pattern
· Edit the pattern
· Test the pattern
· Photograph the sample
· Final proof
· Pattern support
Knitting the sample for a garment could take anywhere from 42-86 hours and beyond. The least amount of time a designer reported for this part of the process was 20 hours, and the greatest was 120 hours. Last summer, while working on my Sumi Collection, I knitted both the sweaters in the collection twice. It’s likely that a designer will do a fair amount of ripping back and reknitting, and the complexity of the garment will greatly affect the number of hours it takes to complete. It’s true that some designers hire this part of the process out, but that means that instead of time they’re spending lots of money to have something knit, which cuts into profit. (And there are other issues at play, such as fair pay for sample knitters.) For the most part, most designers I know knit most of their samples themselves.
Writing and grading the pattern can take anywhere from 4.2-11.6 hours. The least amount of time a designer reported for this part of the process was 1 hour, and the greatest was 20 hours. This is a lot of computer time, and I find it needs to be done when I mentally at my sharpest. (Ie., not after my kids go to bed, which is when so much of my work gets done!)
Editing the pattern is usually hired out by a tech editor, but even so, in my experience still takes some time on my part as well. It can take anywhere between 1.25-7.25 hours to edit a pattern. The least amount of time a designer reported for this part of the process was 1 hour, and the greatest was 10 hours.
Testing the pattern can take anywhere between 1.8 and 3.2. The least amount of time a designer reported for this part of the process was 0 hour (since not all designers test), and the greatest was 6 hours. When a designer does test a pattern, it takes regular check ins with testers to make sure no issues or questions have arisen and to answer them when they have.
Photographing the sample can take 1.75 to 3.3 hours. The least amount of time a designer reported for this part of the process was 0.5 hour, and the greatest was 6 hours. This is is so different from designer to designer. Does the designer use an auto timer and a white wall in their house? Do they do a photo shoot with a model? Do they hire a photographer or do it themselves? How do they edit photos?
Layout can be simple or complicated, taking between 1.4-2.6 hours. The least amount of time a designer reported for this part of the process was 1 hour, and the greatest was 3 hours.
Final proof & uploading can take between 0.95 and 1.15 hours. The least amount of time a designer reported for this part of the process was 0.25 hour, and the greatest was 3 hours. All those details don’t land in the Ravelry database themselves – it takes time!
Pattern support is a total wild card! In this day and age, most people expect you to not only create the pdf pattern, but also to help them with their project as needed. (At all times and places, I’ve found.) I fully want customers to approach me when they find errors or just feel that something is unclear. That said, the majority of questions I get are not those, but; people who either don’t know or understand how to do a particular technique, or have made a mistake themselves but have trouble seeing their error and think the problem is with the pattern. While I was putting together this blog post, one of the designers I questioned said that she’d just spent an hour combing over a pattern looking for an error, when in fact, the knitter had made a mistake and the pattern was correct. There could be an entirely second blog post on this topic! For now, I’ll leave it at the fact that it could take anywhere from 0-endless hours and it is very hard to calculate this time spent.
Final tally: It can take anywhere from 53.1-113.65 hours and beyond to produce a quality sweater knitting pattern.
Does that seem like a lot to anyone else? (Because it makes me want to cry into my cuppa tea.) That’s a lot of time. Let’s say we knitwear designers would love to get paid the lovely liveable wage of $25/hr. (Which I think is quite modest compared to what I’d actually love to get paid. I have bills to pay, a house to fix, and geez- I haven’t been on vacation in 7 years! The Caribbean is calling me.)
That means we would ideally be paid from $1327.5 and $2841.25 to produce a knitting pattern. If the average garment pattern is $7.50 then the knitwear designer (me!) needs to sell 177 -379 patterns to make it worth their (MY!) while.
BUT WAIT! That doesn’t include expenses! While I can do many things for my business and pattern creation from the comfort of home, there ARE expenses, and those come AFTER I’ve made my (ahem) 379 pattern sales. They include:
· Yarn (if I haven’t received yarn support)
· Knitting needles
· Tools and accessories like buttons
· Charges for my website hosting
· Charges for my eletter service
· Membership to Adobe, which I use for layout and photo editing
· Fees paid to Ravelry and Paypal every time I make a sale (and these can add up to A LOT)
· My camera, to take all those pretty pictures with (or paying a photographer)
· Modeling fees, if I’m using a model
· Tech Editing Fees
· Fees to pay folks who might be creating my graphics, like schematics and charts
· The computer that I’m writing this blog post on
· Paying a sample knitter if I’ve used one
· And on and on…
Since I just did my taxes I happen to know that currently, whatever I bring in for cash flow, I spend about 50% of for my business expenses. This will certainly look differently for everyone, and probably if I sold more patterns my percentage of profit/loss would change. But for this blog post, we’ll go with 50%. This means that actually, to make a liveable wage making knitting patterns, I need to sell double the amount of patterns as the number stated above, so between 354 -758 patterns.
That’s a lot of patterns.
In this world of digital and social media, looks can be deceiving. Someone who appears to be doing amazingly on social media may not be actually making the kinds of sales that make knitwear design a profitable business. Sure there are a few designers out there who seem to be KILLING IT, and I commend them. Hopefully, they’re making a liveable wage. Or perhaps not, because, as I said, social media doesn’t really tell us anything. But by far and large, many designers do not sell this many of every single pattern they produce.
Knitting pattern design is a hard business to be in. (I think about this a lot.) For starters, there is a low price point for something that takes quite a lot of time to create. The only way to pay yourself a liveable wage is to sell a LOT of every individual patterns. The catch 22 is that in order to use your product, the customer has to first of all have the prerequisite skills to be able to knit it. Then they have to be willing to spend tens and tens of hours producing it themselves! They have to be willing to wear it or gift it to someone they know, which is to say, it also has to be in line with their personal style. It’s a much harder sell then say, a candle or a handbag.
All this is not to whine or complain, but rather, to make us think twice about patterns and how we support independent designers.
I’ve had people say to me before, “I’d only pay $2 for that.” Or ask me to give discounts to themselves or their customers just because they’re giving my pattern a shout-out on social media. And often, customers wait until I have a sale to buy the pattern they’ve been lusting over. But here’s the problem with that- if we are only ever willing to pay designers less than a fair price for their work, then it won’t be a sustainable job for anyone. And all those amazing knitting patterns that inspired your knitting project in the first place… poof!
Because I know how much work and effort goes into a knitting pattern, I happily support other designers. When I get the rare moment for personal knitting, I gladly hand over my money to someone who has put such a beautiful idea into the world. It’s what gives them the ability to do that creative work and continue to inspire all of us! And I’m always grateful when someone supports my work.
This isn’t a particularly profitable business to be in. The independent knitwear designers I know do this out of passion and not because they’re getting rich. So the next time you buy a knitting pattern, remember that your money isn’t just disappearing into cyber space – it’s allowing creativity to flourish. And equally importantly, it’s probably putting food on someone’s dinner table, paying for their kid’s glasses, or maybe putting a new roof on their house.
(And maybe someday it might even send them to the Caribbean.)
That’s money I can feel good about spending.