|Loop of London does an amazing job with free patterns on their blog, driving traffic and also promoting new yarns they have in stock. Check out their recent posting here about their Hawick Cowl pattern with Rachel Atkinson.|
I have seen a lot of postings lately about free patterns. Whether or not they should be free, how they should be presented, should there be caveats or ads, should they direct traffic or simply be out there in the universe because we're crafters, and we like to share?
After reading quite a few different points and making some conclusions of my own, I've come to a few realizations and thought I would share them with you.
1. How you share a free pattern matters.
If you are a yarn company, encourage a purchase for your freebies. If you sell to yarn stores, give them the option of giving the pattern away free with the purchase of the recommended yarn. If you sell directly through your website, make it a download with a purchase. If you have discontinued the yarn, recommend a new one, have a sample worked up and re-photograph, or offer it up as a truly free pattern (but with a clickthrough from Ravelry) to download on your site.
If you are a designer, take advantage of your traffic. Whether this means that you just want to see the numbers go up for people reading or you want to sell advertising (that's up to you,) make sure that the pattern is a click-through and not an instant download. People will still get it if it's a good pattern. Look at it as a way to 'vet' your skills as a designer.
If you are a promoter (social media maven, Pinterest addict, Instagrammie or blog poster,) make sure your pattern links direct to the designer's original page, rather than to the Ravelry page. Ravelry rocks! But it doesn't make the designers of free patterns any money inherently, so let's try to give back a little with some page traffic.
|Purl Soho drives traffic to their webstore and site through posting many free patterns, all of which are presented withexcellent photography choices and color suggestions. This equals sales!|
2. Mind your manners.
If you're a crafter (crocheter, knitter) who is reading this, be polite about your access to free patterns. Nothing is more gauche than posting that you'd like this pattern more if it was free, messaging the designer to ask for a free copy, or saying that the price is too high. If it's not meeting your criteria, keep your mouth shut and move on. There are thousands of patterns out there. If you're that much in love with it, buy it!
That said, if you buy a pattern and you feel that it's sub-par, you have a right as a consumer to message the designer and point out what's wrong. But be polite. Nobody likes hate-mail in their inbox, and you're more likely to get flies with honey than vinegar.
If you're a newbie designer and you think that offering your patterns for free is the only way to get noticed, please think again. As the creative director at Yarnbox, I hire dozens of designers every year, and starting next year, we'll be commissioning patterns (and paying for them, of course) from our designers. While a larger portfolio and assortment of pattern options is a primary concern for me, the photography is what really sells a pattern more than anything else. Designers with bad photography get a polite message from me, typically saying something along the lines of "I can tell you have talent, but your pictures aren't communicating that."
If you can't take a good photograph of your work, nobody is going to buy it until someone else does, and you use that photo (with permission) instead. Expedite this process by taking your own photos well or hiring a photographer. (No, you don't need a model. A clean, tidy dress form against a simple background is lovely, or even a lifestyle shot of your accessory, as evidenced by this lovely photo below.)
|A simple dressform sells the Petal Capelet from O-Wool's site, no model required.|
4. Value your Craft
This is a hot spot for me. I feel that knitting has had a major resurgence since 2006 and with the rise of so many talented designers out there, has seen a rise in the quality of patterns available. While there are still 'cheapie' patterns being produced and poorly written patterns being released, I think the knitting market has divided itself into three or four categories of pattern buyers (I'll go into that in #5.)
Crochet, on the other hand, still has a reputation for being something 'less than' knitting. Which is simply not the case. Some companies are working to improve that reputation by releasing crochet patterns that are every bit as beautifully photographed, executed, and written as their knitting counterparts. Other companies are still treating crochet like a 'cheap' craft and slapping crochet on poorly made yarns (fiber type regardless), sloppy stitches and hastily prepared books. Reward the good ones and not the bad ones with your choices. Use your dollars to shop for patterns and designers who are doing it right. This is the only way we'll form a middle tier of crochet designers every bit as strong as the knitting ones. There are a bunch on their way - reward them! (For a list, look at every Yarnbox crochet designer featured thus far and forevermore. I hunt them down every month!)
5. Know & Build Your Market
If you want to produce patterns quickly, never have them tech edited, and always offer them for free, don't get upset when someone asks for your first paid pattern for free. You have consistently produced sub-par quality work, and nobody is going to believe that you can do any better. Set yourself up from the start to be a successful designer by releasing a mix of patterns, paid and free, all executed at the level that you want to be at.
There are, in my opinion, three or four 'categories' of pattern buyers:
These folks might be looking for a free pattern or an inexpensive pattern because they want to make things for charity, but usually it's because they think of their time knitting or crocheting as 'craft time' - you know, the same way you might feel about macaroni, glitter and glue pens. They are not interested in esoteric yarn brands, where the wool comes from, or becoming the blue-ribbon winner at next year's state fair. They make to make, they make to have fun, and it's the same as any other hobby to them. That's not a bad thing, but as an independent designer or yarn company, you have to realize that this isn't your market. The companies that provide the yarn they use might be your market, but you won't be selling much to them directly. They mostly shop at big-box stores, whenever possible, or they stop by the fiber festival hoping for a bargain on local goods.
These folks might just be getting started, or they have learned the basics and are happy staying around the same level. They'll learn a special stitch here and there for a new project, but aren't too interested in taking in-depth workshops. Quality of yarn is determined by a mixture of cost and touch. If it's not soft, doesn't come in colors that make them happy, and has too high of a price tag, they're probably going to pass. Mostly they make accessories. They will buy a pattern that has a moderate price tag if they feel like they'll enjoy making it! These customers are great for independent pattern designers, but also for yarn companies. Encourage your yarn stores to make samples (or better yet, send them some pretty samples), this will boost your sales. They shop at a mix of yarn stores and big box stores, depending on their personal preferences, possibly with some online shopping and yearly fiber festivals thrown in.
They think about taking classes, know some designer names and industry jargon. They can tell you the difference between merino and alpaca and are usually eager to learn more and try new varieties, blends, and hand-dyers. Patterns are purchased because they're special, visually appealing and might increase a skill level. Yarn substitutions are attainable (though they might still need help with gauge sometimes.) As an independent pattern designer, this is your primary customer base. These crafters will look for more work from you if you release a pattern they love. Reward them once by making their purchase worth it, and they'll come back. They almost always shop at yarn stores or online, and the occasional fiber festival. They might subscribe to a club if they love a dyer, or to discover new yarns (hello, Yarnbox customers! We love you!)
These folks are usually industry professionals or long-time crafters, and have a formidable stash at home of both yarn, patterns, and pattern books. If you want to catch their attention, show them something special, new, and different. There are a lot of sweater knitters in this group, and many of them appreciate beautiful construction details, advanced techniques, and beautiful yarn choices. Garment yarns and accessory yarns are two different categories for them, and while they might not know about every wool breed, they'll listen to you tell them the nuances. As an independent designer, impress these folks with your skills. Beautifully written patterns that are presented well will sell better - as will lovely photographs, a lifestyle behind your work, and sources provided. If you're using an unusual yarn, hand-spun in the Himalayas by alpacas themselves, share the information, because they like knowing it! They shop at yarn stores, online, and fiber festivals, and always pick the right yarns for the job.
None of these categories are bad. But knowing which one your design work fits into helps you determine where you need to be starting out - and where you should transition to, as you progress.
I am releasing some new patterns this year and have been thinking about these things a lot! I would love to hear your thoughts, too. I don't plan on changing the format of any of my current patterns (although a few are slated for re-releases,) but new patterns will direct here instead of being instant downloads on Ravelry, when offered for free.