Why Patterns Are Not Free

Last week, in a Facebook knitting group, a knitter posted a photo of a pair of socks that she had recently completed. They were lovely socks and many lovely comments were made about them.  When she was asked to provide a link to the pattern, she did.  The pattern link was followed by several comments criticizing the knitter for paying for a pattern when there are so many patterns available for free, and criticizing designers in general for charging for patterns at all.  This turned into a huge discussion about free vs. paid patterns that I have been observing from a safe distance. 

Weirdly, the same day that all of this kicked off on Facebook, I woke up to an email from a knitter who was admiring my patterns but wanted me to know that she would not be purchasing them because she believes that 'knitting patterns should be free' and I 'really should change my patterns to free'. She had a lot of *shoulds* for me.  I responded by thanking her for her advice and pointing her toward my pattern, Solar Vortex, which is 20% off for the month of February. 

This is the first time since 2012 (my first pattern was released into the world in 2012) that I have been criticized for offering paid patterns. I would not ask a yarn dyer to dye yarn for free or ask a sewer to make project bags for free, so it would never occur to me to ask a designer to make patterns for free.  

My self-published patterns are not free.  They cost roughly the same as a Starbucks coffee (so I am told, I don't actually drink coffee).  They are not free because I incur costs to produce them.  Here are some costs involved in producing a sock pattern:
  • Yarn - I pay anywhere from $15 - $40 (including shipping) for enough yarn to make one sample of a new design. Occasionally I receive yarn support from yarn companies, but not very often for a self-published design
  • Technical Editing - All of my patterns are tech edited.  Two of my patterns have been tech edited twice by two different editors.  Tech editors typically charge $20-$30 per hour and it takes 1-2 hours to tech edit a pair of socks. (depending on the pattern - charted patterns with colourwork and graded for multiple sizes take longer than simple designs with no charts, for example).  
  • Photography - I usually photograph my own socks.  I have paid for foot forms and if a foot form is not the right size, I will pay models to model socks for me).  I also pay for a subscription to Photoshop, and I consider a DSLR camera a must for pattern photography
  • My Time - I do not actually factor my time into each design.  It takes me 15 - 20 hours to knit the sample, about an hour to write the pattern and another hour to make revisions, work on formatting and layout and several hours communicating with test knitters, uploading patterns to websites and providing pattern support to knitters. 
  • Pattern Testing - My patterns are test knit.  Pattern testers are the heroes of the indie design world, they donate their time and resources to knit up a design on a deadline while also providing feedback to improve the clarity of the pattern and point out any small errors that may have been missed.  While testers are not paid, I have gifted free patterns, stitch markers and other small tokens of thanks to these awesome knitters. 
  • Ongoing costs related to knit design include: paying for industry specific charting software, a watermark service (I had a few photos stolen last year, so I am trying to be diligent about watermarking my pattern photos), paypal fees, Ravelry fees, website/domain fees, fees for courses (I take tech editing and other business related courses), business cards, branding (logos), photoshop, books and stitch dictionaries...
Independent knitwear design is not a lucrative gig - there are only a few who are able to quit their day job and pursue knitwear design full time.  Most of us do it because we love it and charge for it to offset the costs of doing what we love.  

Happy Knitting!