On the cost of patterns

I recently hit what I feel is a major milestone as a knitwear designer: I got a negative comment on one of my Ravelry pattern pages. The pattern is my March hat design, and the meat of the comment was that I was charging too much.

My reaction to this was two-fold: on the one hand, anyone is more then welcome to think whatever they like about my patterns, my pricing, and anything else I publicly put out there into the ether. That is entirely your right as a knitting pattern consumer, and I certainly want to hear what you think and get your feedback.

But on the other hand, it occurred to me while trying to craft a response to the comment that there are a number of underlying issues here that I'm feeling particularly motivated to address at the moment (cue eerie mid-life crisis music). Ehem.

1) It's just a simple hat pattern - I could do that myself!

Good for you! No, seriously. Feel free to recreate, reverse engineer or come up with something similar however you would like. It's how I started the process of figuring out how to write my own patterns, and I don't think I'm the only one. I'll even go out on a limb and say that many, if not most designs are reworkings of techniques and stitch patterns and garment types that have been around forever and ever, amen. If you can do it yourself, you have my blessing to do just that. Just please don't then post that recreation as a free version of my pattern, or anything along those lines*.

2) Your pattern is too expensive and you are pricing yourself out of the market.

My first response to this portion of the comment was: bwah? *simple dog head tilt* The pattern is priced at $5.00, which is the same as the vast majority of my hat patterns, and is pretty similar to prices for other hat patterns. So my first thought was maybe the commentator thought it said £5.00? And I would absolutely agree - that would be a bit much for a simple hat pattern.

But the more I thought about it, the more bothered I got. Other events in my life have been forcing me to take a good hard look at how I value my time and what I produce. This is all caught up in the tension that exists for me between having a "real career" and being basically a stay-at-home mom, but I've come to the realisation that I am a bit sheepish and embarrassed telling people about my knitting/spinning/dyeing/designing "hobby" because, deep down, I undervalue what I'm doing. It's too easy to minimise my designing and the time I spend on it, and I'm only now beginning to realise how much I discount the energy and work and skill that it takes. Which is really not cool at all. If I undervalue what I'm doing, how do I expect other people to value it?

This leads in to what I think is a vastly bigger topic then I am able (or feel comfortable) to cover in a single blog post, and that is the general undervaluation of the arts. More central to this discussion, the discounting or undervaluing of those things that are considered "women's crafts" - knitting, crochet, tatting, quilting, sewing, etc. Why am I reluctant to tell people that I knit? I don't have any trouble knitting in public, yet it isn't something that comes up in conversation with most of my acquaintances. Maybe that's ok, and maybe I'd talk about it as a natural extension of the conversation if we spent more time together, but I'm not always sure that I would. And that bothers me.

Not only do I feel like I personally undervalue my work, but I feel like this happens in the fiber arts community in general, perhaps because most people don't really understand what goes in to producing a knitting pattern. It's not as simple as think of an idea, knit it up, write the pattern, hit "export to pdf" and voila!

For illustration, here's a semi-theoretical rundown of my process and the time involved.
  1. I am hit by a bolt of inspiration and see a vision of the world's most glorious hat, fully formed, like Athena popping out of Zeus's skull, while angels sing from the heavens and everything is bathed in golden light.... Actually, usually I see something that makes me think "Hunh, I wonder what that would look like translated to knitting?..." Or I'm cold and I think, "Gee, I really wish I had a sweater like this...." Being of Puritan descent and upbringing, my next step is to figure out how to create it myself**. This phase can last anywhere from 30 seconds to weeks, so I'll discount it for the purposes of this exercise.
  2. I swatch. Sometimes I sketch first, particularly if I'm putting together a proposal for a submission, but I'm a shitastic artist so swatching comes first. For a small project like this hat, that means a couple evenings' worth of puttering around with yarn and needles in front of the TV, occasionally swearing. Let's say ~4 hrs.
  3. Then there is The Math. I look at the swatch, figure out the gauge, decide what size I'm going to knit, figure out the cast on numbers and get started. These days, I usually write out at least a vague pattern before I start, so that I can get the sample knitted quickly. For Echinoid, the knitting was probably ~4 hrs, and the vague pattern took maybe 30 min, so we're now up to 8.5 hrs of solid time invested so far.
  4. Sample is knit and works, so now it's back to the grading drawing board, otherwise known as The Spreadsheet of Doom. Most of my hats have four sizes, so figuring out the numbers, the spacing of the ribs, the length of the crown decreases and the rest of the schematic numbers is let's say another 1.5 hrs, getting us up to 10 hrs.
  5. The next step is tech editing and photos. I have a wonderful tech editor who is super attentive to every little screw up I make (of which there are many) - the tech editing of the hat in question in total came in at just under 2 hours. For the photos, I drag Allison and her awesome camera out to take pictures for me. Since she's an absolutely fabulous BKFF, she spent about an hour taking fantastic photos for me (I think I had to buy her a coffee) (oh yeah, and help her organise a Yarn Crawl). 
  6. Finally, the part that is the biggest pain in the ass for me: the layout. I always feel like I need to channel Bones from Star Trek when I do this, and scream at the top of my lungs: Goddamit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a !!! ....(in this case, a graphic designer/copy editor). Let's say that layout, in a best case scenario, plus last minute back and forth with the TE, is another two hours of work before the pattern is finalised and ready to be set free into the world.
So from those six steps, we're up to (conservatively) 12 hours of my time, plus 3 hrs from other people, to put together a simple hat pattern. If I paid myself the Texas minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, I'd need to sell twenty patterns to break even (which accounts for the fees that PayPal takes out of each pattern sale, but doesn't account for any US Federal Income tax). Let's be honest: $7.25 in London will buy you a coffee and a croissant at the nearest Starbucks, and not much else. If I were going to pay myself what I charge for private knitting/spinning lessons, I'd need to sell 53 patterns to break even. Break even. Not make any profit, but break even. That calculation does not include paying my TE and what I would have to pay a photographer if Alli or Himself weren't filling that role. It also doesn't include the cost of yarn, needles and tools, computers, software - this list goes on and on. Of my 38 designs on Ravelry, 34 of them have been knitted with yarn I bought, so you can add on a few more patterns to sell to cover the materials used.

So those numbers are not too terrifying, right? But let's think about this in regards to selling patterns on Ravelry specifically: there are 164,623 patterns available as downloads via Ravelry as of right now***. There are 31,667 knitting designers. We are all competing for the same pool of Ravelry pattern buyers (all 4 million+ of you). Clearly some designers are better at marketing themselves then I am, and there are plenty of designers for whom selling 53 patterns would be a walk in the park. I'm not sure how many there are, but I know I'm not one of them (yet).

The site of yesterday's fabulous photoshoot with Alli  - the Thames Barrier Park

All of this is a very long, perhaps tedious, and roundabout way of trying to clarify exactly what goes into my process of creating a self-published knitting pattern, and what that actually means from a numbers perspective. It's also, in part, an attempt to clarify to myself exactly what is the value of my design work, and an attempt to start the process of revaluing my own creative endeavours****.

I'm sure other designers's processes and experiences are different, but I think the critical thing is that a huge amount of work goes into producing the patterns that are easily available online, and that fact is not always obvious or acknowledged by the consumers of those patterns. That is why I think this particular, somewhat offhand, comment on my pattern page has stuck with me: my time and efforts and skills and creativity should not be undervalued in the community that I participate in and am a part of. There is a reason that patterns cost money, and designers shouldn't feel guilty or awkward or ashamed about wanting to be paid fairly for the work that they do. Full stop.

This is a bigger problem then me and my self-valuation of my design work, and it's a bigger issue then knitting and Ravelry. I guess I'm hoping to get some thoughts from those of you reading this about the topic, whatever they might be. Because the most important thing is having the conversation, right?

* Please don't link or attribute your reverse engineered whatever to me/any other designer, because many of us spend time and money making sure our patterns are as error-free and clear as possible. Saying your interpretation is the same as a pattern that has been carefully written and tech edited and laid out is just...not okay.
** Because, as a Puritan, I am pathologically opposed to spending money on "frivolities", recent occurrences at Wonderwool Wales not withstanding.
*** Right now being when I'm writing this post. Which was at 9:00 pm last night, so those numbers have probably gone up.
**** Of all the things to be having a midlife crisis about, amirite? 

Noordzee and a special Wonderwool Wales offer

I think most designers would agree that sometimes the hardest part of the process is finding the perfect name for our latest creative endeavor. That was certainly true of this month's pattern, until serendipity stepped in with the perfect solution.

I've been working on this lovely little shawlette for the past few weeks, using some absolutely divine yarn from Linda at Kettle Yarn Co (more on that later). It's just the perfect little tidbit to whet your knitting appetite: beads along the border, a bit of lace, some mindless stockinette with short rows to shape the body, and ta da! In very little time you've got a lovely scarf to throw over your shoulders on those slightly chilly spring and summer evenings (aka all of them in the UK). But as of Easter weekend I still didn't have a name. I was well and truly stuck.

On Easter Sunday, I took myself, my new shawl and my husband to the beach to get some photos.  But not just any beach - this was a beach in Holland, where we were visiting for the long weekend. While the girls built sandcastles and entertained thoughts of wading in the water, Himself snapped a bunch of pictures, and commented that the colors of the shawl and the colors on the beach were the perfect match. When I looked at the photos later, I knew I'd found the perfect name: Noordzee (otherwise known as the North Sea).

Noordzee is a fairly simple knit, but the beaded edging and changing short row intervals give it a bit of interest along the border and a somewhat unexpected shape. The short rows first draw the border up in a curve towards the shoulders, but then swing outwards and down, flaring into a shape that looks almost like wings. The piece can be worn as a shawlette (particularly if you block it somewhat aggressively to get the most coverage) or as a scarf for a bit of warmth around the throat.

The yarn for this piece is Kettle Yarn Co's glorious Westminster, a 50/50 blend of camel and silk. It is soft and beautiful to work with - I didn't find it at all splitty - and the silk gives Linda's incredible dyeing skills a lovely shine and luminosity. And here's where the special offer comes in...

If you are at Wonderwool Wales this weekend, I would encourage you to go visit Linda's booth and cuddle her yarns for yourself. If you are inclined to purchase any Westminster while you're there, she will give you a coupon good for 15% off the purchase price of Noordzee. I'd bet you could even find the perfect beads while you're there...

You can find the pattern page for Noordzee here, or click below to purchase it from Ravelry via Paypal. Happy knitting!

Amor Deliria Nervosa

Last year, I designed a hat pattern for Storied Yarn's A Yarn and A Tale yarn and book club. The book that inspired my hat was "Delirium" by Lauren Oliver, a dystopian young adult novel about a world in which love is a disease. The yarn that Jess sent me for the design was her fabulous bouncy, springy Bo Peep Worsted (100% merino, 250 yds/4 oz) in the colorway "Waiting for Something to Happen", a grey with pops of purple, red, yellow and blue.

When it came time to release the pattern to the world, I decided to knit up another hat in a more solid colorway, and I chose LOMOND Aran (183 yds/100 gr) from Kettle Yarn Co in the gloriously cheerful and bright "Ginger".
This yarn is an alpaca/merino/bamboo blend, and is crazy warm and cozy. Despite one version being knit in worsted and one in aran weight yarn, the gauge is the same - I think because the Bo Peep Worsted is so bouncy and full, it behaves like a slightly heavier weight yarn.

I was showing the Ginger hat to Alli last October, and she said "You know, you should really do some mittens too..." Since I always do what Alli tells me to, the next thing I knew, I'd gotten another skein of LOMOND Aran from Linda, and pulled out the leftovers from the grey hat. Then there were mittens,
and cuffs to go with the hats.
Both patterns are now available on Ravelry, and soon here on the Patterns page. If you buy one pattern, you can get 25% off the purchase of the accompanying pattern - purchase at any time, no coupon code needed.

Details and specs:

Amor Deliria (hat):
Sizes: adult small (medium, large), to fit head circumference of up to 18 (20, 22) in/46 (51, 56) cm.
Needles: US 7/4.5 mm and US 8/4.5mm, or size needed to get gauge.
Yarn: requires approximately 140 (160, 183) yds/128 (146, 165) m aran or worsted weight yarn.
Gauge: 17 sts/22 rows over 4 in/10 cm in lace pattern on larger needles. Note: these measurements are after blocking.
Price: $5.50

Deliria Nervosa (cuffs/mittens):
Sizes: S/M (M/L) for cuffs, for wrist circumference of approximately 6 (7.25) in/15.25 (18.5) cm, unstretched. Small (medium, large) for mittens, with final hand circumference of approximately 8 (8.75, 9.5) in/20.25 (22.25, 24.25) cm.
Needles: US 5/3.75 mm and US 8/5.0 mm, or size needed to get gauge
Yarn: cuffs require approximately 60 (70) yds/55 (64) m; mittens require approximately 124 (160,1 80) yds/114 (146, 165) m aran or worsted weight yarn.
Gauge: cuffs: 19 sts/27 rows over 4 in/10 cm in lace pattern on larger needles; mittens: 21 sts/26 rows per 4 in/10 cm in lace pattern. Note: these measurements are after blocking.
Price: $6.50 (pattern includes both cuffs and mittens)

Both patterns include multiple charts.

And just FYI, there is an update schedule over at Kettle Yarn Co for Sunday evening at 5 pm London (UK) time, and it will include LOMOND Aran, so grab some! (She's got a glorious teal blue BANFF Aran available now if you can't wait...) Storied Yarns also has Bo Peep worsted available right now in a some gorgeous solidish colors and a variegated that would look fab in these patterns. Even better, you can get a hat and a pair of cuffs out of one skein!

Right, I think I've done my duty in keeping you all cozy for this month, time to get back to working on next month's pattern!

Building momentum and the next project

Usually I end up doing a series of posts that recap the Christmas knitting, but this year I'm feeling fairly blergh about that, so I'm going to move onward. Maybe I'll use them as filler over the next few weeks, but I'm much more excited about some other ongoing things.

I've been working alot recently on a shawl of my own design that grew out of the P3 retreat in October 2012. I first did a version in some lovely DK weight purple yarn that was in my goody bag, but after finishing that off I decided it needed to be a) bigger, and b) in laceweight. That particular bout of madness led me to a skein of Gleem Lace from Fyberspates, purchased at Unravel last February, and has landed me here, approximately ten months later, finally at the edging of this particular piece.

Some design projects fly off the needles. Some move in fits and starts, but make steady progress. This is/was a project that has been like pulling teeth without the benefit of anesthetic. I feel like I've been working on the body of this shawl forever, without any end in sight. It's more then a little demoralizing.

But today, o today! Today I finished the body of the shawl, and started the edging. And all of a sudden the inertia has shifted from molasses trying to flow uphill in the Northeastern United States right now (with some ridiculous polar vortex freezing the bejeebers out of everyone) to water flowing down the Thames at ebb tide. The 500+ stitches are flying along, and I'm optimistic that it's going to be off the needles very, very soon. I'm beyond thrilled. I can't show you any pictures yet, but it's going to be glorious.


I'm also at a very dangerous point for any knitter - the end of a project is a weak spot, an opportunity for the knitter to suddenly resemble a frantic magpie, bobbing and weaving and investigating every shiny thing that comes along. I've been distracted by four skeins of Sweet Georgia Yarns Merino Silk Fine in "Mist". I've got enough for a sweater for ME!!!!!, and a deadline of this year's Unravel to finish it. But I'm having a lot of trouble deciding on what sweater to make, and here's where you come in.

Here are the current candidates (left to right, top to bottom): Vitamin D by Heidi KirrmaierSmaragd by Svetlana VolkovaMyrtle Cardigan by Snowden BeckerMendel by Carol FellersLeaving by Anne HansonJuno by yellowcosmoHoneybee Cardigan by Laura Chau (I'd do the full length version, not cropped), Audrey in Unst by Gudrun JohnstonAfterlight by Amy HerzogAbigail by Cecily Glowik MacDonaldBrigitte by Jennifer WoodCushman by Amy HerzogIsabelle by Jennifer WoodAtelier by Heidi Kirrmaier, Vitamin D again.

Clearly I'm leaning towards a cardigan, but a good friend of mine made Mendel and it is absolutely gorgeous in real life. The twisted stitches in Isabelle make me weak in the knees, but I'm a bit concerned about how long they might take. I have the pattern for the Honeybee Cardigan and Leaving already, but I am completely incapable of making a decision. Help? Please?...

Rocking Kitchen Retreat: a stash-enhancement photo essay

So this past weekend, I headed up to West Yorkshire to spend some quality time with fellow knitwear designers at the first ever Rocking Kitchen Retreat, run by Joeli of Joeli's Kitchen, and Ruth of rock+purl. It was a great opportunity to meet a bunch of other UK designers, and swap ideas and tips and stories in a vast house for two days.

Ruth has been teasing us all on Twitter with 140 character hints about what was going to be in the goody bags, and the most recent vast box of yarn that had arrived at her studio. On Friday, we finally got to see the goods, as it were.
All of this yarn was crammed into a not-very-large bag. Along with the shade cards,
(that's not all of them), and a couple of books, and some needles and notions and OMG it was totally wicked!!!!

That was only the beginning. On Saturday, our hostesses pulled out a vast box of other yarn for people to dive into, plus some totally glorious taster skeins that were available for swatching. So, I swatched:

Yarns from Cascade, Lorna's Laces, Blacker Yarns and The Island Wool Company.

This is the final haul I brought home, after all was said and done. I'd like to be able to give you an actual yardage count, but I haven't yet found time to sit down and figure it out - it's gonna be a big number though! It was a fantastic weekend with a great group of people, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for some fellow designers! You can sign up for the Rocking Kitchen newsletter here, and that will keep you in the loop on any future goings on.

Without any further ado, here is the great and grand list of sponsors for the weekend - many thanks to all of them for their generosity and excitement about working with independent designers!
Terri Shea (spinningwheel.net) 
West Yorkshire Spinners
Kettle Yarn Co
Cashmered UK
Cascade Yarns
Dirty Water Dye Works
Malabrigo Yarn
Artesano Yarns
Wooly Knit
Hiya Hiya
Island Wool Company
Lorna's Laces
Little Giddings Farm
Blacker Yarns
Designer Yarns
TB Ramsden