Knitting on Ravelry

Ahh, the joys of Ravelry. I don’t know what they are, personally, as I was late joining the party and am still awaiting my invite. I have heard a lot of discussion about Ravelry, so it will be interesting to look around. Granted, most of the discussion I have heard has been on some of the lists for designers that I belong to.

Those discussions led to other discussions, such as the question “What is a Designer?”. For me, it is rather similar to cooking vs. being a chef. There is the hobby segment, the talented home enthusiast, and the professional. What does it mean to be a professional designer?

The first obvious answer to that quesiton is that it has become a business. In as much as it is a business, it has to be treated as a business. This is hard for people to do when they begin their journey as a “real designer”. I prefer calling it a Professional Designer.

An interesting thing I see as a professional designer (and something that causes professional designers a lot of angst) are invitations to submit designs for publication where they have the honor of having their design in said publication, and it will be great publicity for you, it will get your name out, wonderful exposure, blah blah blah. Did I mention that their is no monetary compensation and that they want the copyright? Thereby ensuring you will never recieve any income from that design for the work that you did on it.

In the design world, that copyright is the coin of the realm. There has to be a balance between getting your name out, and paying someone to do this for you by giving away your copyright. The ONLY time I consider such an arrangement (where I do not get paid, or the amount is small) is if I retain that copyright. At that point I can use the design for other things, which greatly enhances my chances of recouping my investment in the design.

LaMancha, for example. The test knitting was $200, and the tech editing $165. That does not include my time in sizing, writing the pattern, layout of the pattern, chart and schematic, and corrections after tech editing. Really puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? Yes, I could have knit it myself. But, the knitting would not really be free even if I knit it myself. I would simply be paying for it with my time rather than money. In the end, time is money too. Time spent test knitting is time that is not spent working on writing patterns or working on the layout of the chart. And tech editing? It does take your patterns to a more polished level.

It is hard to catch everything that needs changed on your own. And it is hard to see where you may need to be a little more consistent.

On the side of the knitter, there are a lot of choices out there. Among them are the many free patterns that abound on the net. The question has been posed, “Why should I pay $5 for a pattern when I can get one for free?”. I take you back to LaMancha, and the figures I shared above. Finding a free pattern that has that much thought and attention to detail, sizing, accuracy and so on for free is going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Why? Simply look at the economics of it and you will have your answer.

That is not to say that you won’t find good free patterns. There are designers that offer some on their sites to help promote interest in their patterns. Should you find one from a designer that you like, strongly consider purchasing a pattern from that designer.

There are more and more designers every day. There will always be “designers” that are so excited to get published that they give their copyright away. They remind me of Sally Fields clutching her Oscar, saying “They love me, the really, really, love me!”. In the end it hurts all of the professional designers, as reimbursement for designs has not kept up with other wages in other industries. I had one company (quite popular too so I won’t name names) who responded to comments regarding the cost of design”We love your work, but we can get less experienced designers and have three or 4 designs for the amount you want”.

We were not talking about an amount over $300 either. Granted this was not for the copyright, it was for licensing the design. Who really stands to make money on the design work? When a design is popular, not only are their sales in patterns, but sales in yarn. This discussion happened after a pattern they had carried was their all time best selling pattern. They wanted exclusive rights for one year. I wanted fair reimbursement for what I was expected to provide: a sample garment (I did not have to provide the yarn), and a complete pattern that was “press ready”. If I did not have to do the final press ready layout on the pattern and provide the sample garment it might not have been so bad. I walked away from it, as I would rather do business with folks who understand the economics of it for me as well as their own bottom line. I just want to be treated fairly.

Another distinction of the professional designer, in my honest opinion. Look at who the pro’s are, the names you admire and respect. Where do you see their designs? The difference is they treat it as a business. And they have to, it is how they earn their living. I consider myself a professional designer, as I treat it as a business, although it is not my primary method of earning an income (I work part time as a nurse). I can say without hesitation if I did not work as a nurse, I could not afford to do the design work. It does not pay enough for me to do it as my primary method of income. If I had a bigger name that would be, I am sure, a different story.

That’s okay with me. I enjoy what I do, both as an RN and as a professional designer. I design what I like, with an eye to what I would like to knit or wear. I work with who I want to work with, and the yarns that I want to use. Even where my designs have been in publications and the yarns have been more or less chosen by someone else, they were yarns I liked. I had input on the yarn as an integral part of the design.

So, when you see discussions or groups for designers, remember that there are all kinds. And hopefully know when you are looking at your pattern that there is a tremendous investment in time, energy, and income to produce that pattern. The designer has trusted you not to abuse their copyright by making copies for friends or selling the finished item in a cottage industry. It amazes me how many times we see the “C” word crop up still in this day and age, customers in yarn shops who expect to get a xerox copy of a pattern because they just spent $80 on yarn. I hope (although I know it will never dissappear) that knitters stand up and say this is not right. Just as I hope (although I know it will never change) that budding designers quit giving their work away.

Peace and Knitting, JoLene Treace


10 Responses to “Knitting on Ravelry”

  1. connie Says:

    Very interesting post, JoLene. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the design process from an economic point of view. I do wish designers were compensated more fairly for the amount of work they put into their work. But it just seems that the status quo is really strong and hard to change…

  2. jolenetreace Says:

    Hi Connie!

    You are welcome. It is something that people don’t often thing about, and certainly one that aspiring designers need to think about. I don’t know that there is any easy answer…and you are right, the status quo is really strong and hard to change. Cheers!

  3. Ginger aka Beethoven Says:

    Interesting insight into the life of professional designers selling their designs to publishers – especially the bit about Yarn companies benefiting from it all (well, apart from Publishers and their Shareholders that is, and most of them are HUGE companies, or has HUGE holdings). I don’t suppose professional designers can contact yarn companies for free supply if they like someone to design something with their yarn? It only makes sense. Then again, knitters can substitute the recommended yarn with another, which Mum does when she can’t afford the designer yarns.

  4. jolenetreace Says:

    I can only speak to my own bottom line, and I don’t know what others are. I don’t think it is easy all the way around, as there is a considerable amount involved in a new design. And yarn companies really want to sell yarn, not patterns. There are any number of very high end “boutique” type yarn companies that one would think makes huge amounts of profits, but that is not necessarily the case either.

    Then of course, there are other sources such as magazines and so forth who have certain operational budgets.

    I am getting more and more where I am trying to negotiate terms creatively in a win win for both the designer and the companies needing the design.


  5. angelarae Says:

    I think Ravelry is going to be very good for your design sales, Jolene. I have been looking for you there since I got on. Hope you are there soon. They have a special network (somehow) for designers. You can search patterns, see what others have used to make them, even email the designer with questions or clarifications. I think it is cool to see some of them at the forums interacting with the knitters they design for. I don’t know if it would be daunting or thrilling for you. Your stuff is so gorgeous, I can’t imagine it being anything but fabulous.


  6. angelarae Says:

    I have used free patterns and I have paid for patterns as well. Often, I find free patterns lacking. I don’t look at it as getting something for free. I look at a pattern as something I want to knit. That’s it. If it is free, great (sometimes, not so great) and if it is for sale, I buy it. I want to knit Elizabeth I because the scarf is beautiful. I have no problem paying $5 or whatever for the pattern. It is well worth hours of enjoyment to me. And I don’t share paid patterns, either. Seems like stealing to me.

  7. Pat Feeley Says:

    I think it would be reasonable for the independents to put together and subscribe to a model contract that would, among other things:

    keep copyright in the hands of the designer, and license that copyright for one-time use to the magazine for one year;

    mandate that the general form of the instructions be the designer’s own, i.e., none of what started Elizabeth Zimmermann into independent design, which was the conversion of a sweater knit in the round into directions for knitting back and forth.

    mandate mention of the designer’s website in credits for the pattern printed in the magazine, and

    provide for negotiation if the publisher wishes to use the pattern in a compendium or other use at a later date. Under the current common arrangement, publishers can use that pattern, gratis, because they own copyright as if it were a work for hire.

    provide for a minimum reasonable licensing fee that actually brings the designer at least to break-even for that pattern: expenses for yarn, and for her time, shipping, and the like.

    My experience with a publisher who wanted to buy a pattern outright, started with my saying to to her, “Can you repeat that please?” and to respond, “I don’t think so. That’s an all-rights deal. What do you mean, sell my copyright in perpetuity? Why would I do that? That’s a work-for-hire contract.” I got off the phone, and said to myself, “If you’re not on the payroll, with all that implies, it isn’t a work for hire. Better start a website.” So I did, and got it up in September 2006.

    Her offer was $200, including rights to the pattern, and a sample (about $17 in modest wool yarn, about 9 hours of knitting, and four more in felting and blocking), plus shipping. That particular pattern, in slightly more than a year, has sold well and continues to sell at $5, with revenues now well exceeding the original offer, and, I hope, more to come.

    I do not have printing costs. I sell my patterns as downloads, so the buyer assumes those; my inventory is my website and takes no space in my smallish house; I have no shipping costs. I have made special arrangements with a small number of dealers.

    I haven’t, however, made a magazine submission from that day to this. It’s a one-woman boycott.

    This goes on because too many of us let it go on, thinking it will get our names out there, or add to our resume, or give us some kind of bragging rights. It is an exploitive custom of the trade, and that’s all. As individuals, we may be powerless to change it. As a group, however, we might make a dent. And high time!

  8. rosemary Says:

    Hi everyone.
    I have been an artist designer for over 30 years.
    When I had little self value, I priced my time and my products at that level, and even when I tried to raise the price, my inner self value kept my retuns low.People valued me at that level because that was what I projected.
    I changed my own sense of self value, and my income, how I view myself and how others view both myself and my work has dramatically changed.
    I believe at the heart of all this is the level of self value.
    Endemic in the craft world are people who love to create things, (which is wonderful), yet at the same time have a very low value of themselves and their creations.
    The end result is that when we view an accurately priced design, article, we immediately consider it expensive. Yet we may quite happily part with the equivalent amount of cash on something with half the quality and originality, yet in our mind for some reason it has a higher value.
    Take a look at your own spending habits and see if this rings true for you or not. How much value do you place on yourself and what you create? How do you value others?
    I would love to hear your views and experiences in this area.
    all power to self value,warmly to all, Rosemary

  9. Blake Griffin Says:

    another great article! thanks a lot. been reading for about a week now

  10. FU Ravelry Says:

    I wish it were true that paying for a pattern meant that you didn’t have to deal with too many errors in a pattern. But I have knit and crochet free patterns with no errors (not a single one) and have knit and crochet patterns I paid for that have had lots of frustrating errors in them. At this point, I can’t even say that there is a difference in the two groups as far as likelihood to have errors. The only difference I have found is that magazines are more likely to provide errata on their websites. As far as individual designers, they fall into two groups. There is the group who try very hard not to have errors to begin with and if they do publish a pattern with an error, they correct it fast when they are alerted to it. And then there is the group of private designers who tend to have a lot of errors and just don’t care that they have errors and refuse to provide errata even after being contacted by many, many knitters/crocheters.

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