Knitting and Crochet Pattern Pricing

 

the point of a crocheted lace shawl is laid on a wood background. The lace is blue and green with leaf and triangle motifs, with yellow stripes at the top of the photo
I-95 shawl by Ruth Brasch

Pattern pricing is a common topic of discussion among knitting and crochet designers. Recently a friend who predominantly designs knitting patterns asked me, as a knitting and crochet designer, “how much will crocheters pay for patterns?”

It’s a good question. As with any industry, there are some biases and stereotypes in this question. The bias in question is whether crocheters are less willing to pay an appropriate price for a pattern than knitters.

I jadedly answered her that crocheters will fuss over paying more than $5 USD for a pattern, but decided to challenge my own cynicism by asking my Instagram followers “how much would you pay for a crochet pattern” on one slide, with an open box to type an answer, and the next slide asked the same question for knitting patterns.

**Note: at this point I know at least some of you are considering the fact that my test pool is small, likely has a demographic bias within it, also likely has a socioeconomic bias within it, and hypothetical answers are very different than documented sales. Yes. I know this – keep reading!

While the answers typically ranged from $6-10 USD for both knitting and crochet patterns, what I found more interesting than the actual prices listed were the messages that showed up regarding the slides. Questions were raised and comments made about budgeting, knowing the value of a pattern (how do you know if a designer is a good one?), conversion rates for non-USA buyers, socioeconomic status of purchasers, “pay what you can” business models, and more! These questions and comments are what i’m going to attempt to address in this blog post, which may possibly turn into a series of blog posts.

For Context:
In this post, I am speaking specifically about independently published digital knitting and crocheting patterns. Designers who create these are colloquially referred to as “Indie Designers.” For more about what an indie designer is or does, I recommend Barbara Benson’s video which addresses that very question.

I am also speaking specifically about designers who are working at a professional level. That means the work they publish is on par with current industry standards: as error free as possible, well fitting, garments graded into an appropriate size range, professionally edited, etc. If you want to know more about what goes into the creation of a professionally created knitting or crochet pattern, I recommend this blog post. Go read it, then come back.

If you’re going to read the post later, just know the author estimates that

It can take anywhere from 53.1-113.65 hours and beyond to produce a quality sweater knitting pattern.

Please keep that number in mind, as well as the fact that Indie Designers are also their own publicists, marketers, social media wranglers, and customer support department.

Let’s begin addressing objections I received to pattern prices higher than $6-10 USD (or in some cases higher than $5 USD)

 

Objection 1: Money is tight (designers shouldn’t raise their prices because i’m on a budget)

Yes. For many, money is tight right now. A global pandemic certainly hasn’t helped the situation and there are lots of people who are on very tight budgets. That does not, however, mean that designers should not get paid for their work.

I feel that I have a right to speak to this response specifically because for years I was living well below the poverty line in a large city. I budgeted very tightly, saved up,  and chose yarns that were within my budget (hellooo $1.25 sale yarn from a large chain store).

For patterns, I helped designers test patterns, utilized free patterns from websites like Knitty  (who, by the way, pay their contributing designers so they can provide a “free” pattern. “Free,” in this case, means free to the consumer, not free to the designer), and learned to improvise my own designs out of stitch dictionaries from local libraries.

I empathize with with seeing cool patterns or gorgeous yarns and thinking that I would like to be able to buy and use them but not being able to.

Along with my own life experience above, I’ve also noticed this argument seems to believe that designers are not in need of the income they make from pattern design; that they are simply creating patterns for the joy of it and hoping to make a little money on the side. While I’m not going to delve into the numerous biases in that assumption, I’ll just remind you i’m addressing professional pattern design. Designers who create as part of a business, who frequently depend on the income their designs generate. Requiring designers to maintain low, unsustainable prices for the sake of potential customers is actually excluding a number of designers (or potential designers) within that same demographic from furthering their careers.

So, the “I won’t pay because i’m on a budget” is fine. I’ve listed how I coped with budgeting above, perhaps some of those ideas will help others. I’m not fine, however, with castigating designers for raising prices or attempting to be paid a fair wage for highly skilled work.

Objection 2: I’ve bought patterns before that are full of errors. How do I know i’m purchasing from a “good” (professional) designer?

This is a question where i’m going to step on some toes (if you had any toes left from the first objection section). I’d like to first state that if a pattern is, indeed, “full” of errors, it is not being technically edited and then corrected in a professional manner. I, too, have had the experience of expecting that I would receive a professional pattern when I made a purchase and then finding it to be full of errors! Those designers I tend to avoid purchasing from again.

So how can a customer know the pattern will be a “good” one? How can they know they’ll get a pattern that’s worth paying for and how can designers communicate to their customers that they’re producing quality patterns?

This question/objection is essentially discussing a risk vs reward ratio, which is an economics concept. Since I like graphics, here’s a few visuals for you! They’re not perfect or exhaustive, but hopefully they’ll help!

(c) 2021 Ruth Brasch

The graphic above is one I created, but it represents the general concept of risk vs reward. In general, low risk brings low reward. Eg: free patterns might be full of errors, but you’re ok with that because you didn’t pay for them. Conversely, in theory, high risk should bring a high reward… right?

Check out the next graphic.

(c) 2021 Ruth Brasch

This graphic is more specific to the fiber arts community.
The red dot represents what many purchasers indicate they want : a low cost/low risk pattern that is guaranteed to be excellently produced and published. No errors, the maker’s project comes out looking like the designer’s etc.

The blue dot represents what makers have indicated they are wary of: purchasing a pattern from a designer at high risk to themselves. That risk could be a high monetary cost, an unknown designer, no indicator that the pattern will come out like the sample, or all of the above.

Customers are much more likely to go with the red dot than the blue one, because who doesn’t like low risk and high reward? The problem with this is that this is a risk vs reward assessment for customers, not for designers.

Risks for designers include the financial and time output in the creation of the pattern, the risk of “pricing out” of the current market by pricing too high, appearing to be a low value/novice designer by pricing too low, and more.

So, what’s the solution?

“Solution” 1 (it’s not a solution from me, and i’ll tell you why!): the “pay what you can” method

The “pay what you can” philosophy touts itself as both “inclusive” (for those who are at a lower income level, or on a tighter budget, for whatever reason), and as giving value to the work of artists by giving them a way to price their work at the level it deserves. Pay what you can typically looks like this:
– The sweater pattern is priced at $15. Please pay this if you can afford it, it’s the realistic price of this pattern.
– Discount coupon level 1: Use this coupon to purchase the pattern at $12 – the high end of the current going rate for garment design
– Discount coupon level 2: Use this coupon to purchase the pattern at $9 if you are in need of the discounted price.
– Discount coupon level 3: Use this coupon to purchase the pattern at $7 if you are in need of the discounted price.

Problems with the pay what you can model:

1)It indicates that the lower prices are acceptable compensation for the designer’s work. While the lower prices are intended for those who are struggling financially,  it still is an available price. No other business runs this way! You don’t walk into a store, make your purchases, and when the total rings up at the register say “oooh, shoot, that’s a little high, can you just lower the price for me a tad? I’d rather pay less.” If you can’t afford the price at the register, you put items back.

This is an example at a retail store. We aren’t talking about mass-produced retail items or necessities like food or water, this is skilled art that is being created by professionals and subsequesntly devalued.

2)Many designers who utilize this method of pricing are actually raising their prices, not making the more accessible. It’s a red herring virtue signal for some (ducks for cover, expecting knitting needles to be thrown), and a genuine (if misguided) attempt at inclusion from others. If you look at the prices above, the $15 price is approximately 30-40% higher than the current market value for a sweater design. You’d expect the low end to be lower by a similar percentage to be “accessible” wouldn’t you? But no, the “accessible” end of this pricing scheme is often just the current market value of patterns, or possible just $1 USD lower.

That’s not accessible, that’s a false pretense of accessibility while actually raising prices.

If you’re going to raise your prices, JUST RAISE THEM.

 

What’s a real solution, Ruth?

Designers, you need to be less of a risk. Not by lowering your prices, but by providing ways that customers can see you’re providing quality work, AND you need to point it out to them. Some ways to do this include:

1)Post reviews and testimonials. Has someone just given you great feedback about one of your patterns? Ask if you can share it publicly on your website. Cite them as the maker, note which pattern was made, and how they enjoyed it.This helps makers know that your pattern is, indeed, enjoyable and clear.

Makers: go look for reviews! Check out a designer’s website or social media hashtags – what are people saying about their designs? Reviews are especially helpful in light of the current migration away from Ravelry.

Ravelry’s project pages have been a huge help to designers and makers alike in the sense that they show that the pattern works, help makers with color palette inspiration, and help potential customers know that a designer is putting out quality patterns that will fit! However, now that their site is inaccessible to many, designers and customers are looking for new ways to find and portray the value of patterns.

Testimonials and photos on your website can be a great way to create a similar effect.

2)Pattern testers! Do you have your patterns made by pattern testers before publication? Share their work!Pattern testing can also act as a secondary safety net. Some patterns can be technically sound in the written form, but they just look wonky on real live people. Successful pattern testing can help catch the wonkiness before publication and, when testing is completed, there are more well-fitting projects that can be a testimonial. This lowers the risk for your potential customer – they see the reward in front of them.

I know it’s not always possible and that testing isn’t a requirement, but it can be helpful if you’re hoping to reach out to new potential customers who haven’t made your patterns before.

Makers: look for projects! If it’s a new pattern, is the designer sharing photos or samples you can look at beyond their own?

3)Have 1-2 patterns in your catalog that are free. Not just throwaway/simple patterns, but good ones that show off your awesomeness and then remind your audience that they exist!

Makers: take advantage of these! Download the pattern, make the item, share photos! You’ll be able to get familiar with a designer’s writing and layout style and know who you’d like to purchase from in the future. The risk goes down!

 

The last objection i’m planning to torpedo is the “art should be free” objection, or “knitting patterns have traditionally been free with yarn.”

1. Go back up and watch Barbara’s video about indie designers if you haven’t already. Knitting patterns that are “free” with yarn or “free” online aren’t really free. If they’re put out by a yarn company, that yarn company has had to pay the designer in some way for publishing rights to the pattern. That yarn company then takes the pattern they’ve purchased the rights to, and uses it to induce you to buy their yarn.

2. “Art Should be Freeeeee” is bunk. Music isn’t free**. Paintings aren’t free. Books aren’t free. The only reason you think knitting and crochet patterns should be free or cheap is because of the above-mentioned, well-established expectation created by yarn and publication companies. Also, knitting and crochet have traditionally been seen as women’s work that is just an expectation/obligation and is therefore not valuable in a business setting.

Do you think housecleaning is worth paying for? Pattern design is too.

Do you think food you didn’t have to cook yourself is worth paying for? Pattern design is too.

Designers: put out good patterns, then be unabashedly bold in championing your own brilliance. Let people know your work is good!

Makers: do your homework before you buy! Check out a designer’s reputation and portfolio – don’t just impulse shop sales.

** Edit February 20, 2021: it’s been brought to my attention that music artists are facing similar issues in their industry. So while I say music isn’t free, the perception of music as free exists, and indie music artists are being pressured to put out more free content or accept less pay. Check out This article from 2019 about payment by streaming services such as Spotify for more information.