Free Patterns: Why ALL Patterns CAN’T Be Free

Posted by on Sep 28, 2011 in Cake Decorating, Crocheting, Fiber Arts and Felting, Gardening, Jewelry Making, Knitting, Paper Crafts, Quilting, Sewing | Comments


Some patterns are free while others aren’t.

We now have over 200,000 members, a good number of whom are also designers.

Many of our designer members have posted one or two (and sometimes more) of their patterns for free, and others have decided not to.  This is a personal choice that every designer makes, and in this blog post I hope to outline some of the factors that go into that decision.

As a designer myself, this is a topic that I’ve personally dealt with a lot over the course of my 10-plus-year career in the knitting world. From a designer’s perspective, there are pros to distributing the occasional free pattern.

Why some designers offer free patterns:

(image from Joseph Robertson on Flickr)

1) More web traffic. A wildly popular free pattern can drive lots of traffic to a designer’s website where people will see (and hopefully purchase) some of the “for pay” patterns.

2) Contributing to the community. Giving the occasional free pattern is a great way for designers to contribute to the crafting community and return the love that loyal fans have shown over the years.

3) Building a following. Free patterns are a great way for new and established designers alike to get their names out there.  If a pattern is free, it’s likely that LOTS of people will see it and use it.  This is a great way for a new designer to get his or her “brand” into the minds of crafters.

At the same time, not all patterns can or should be free.  Many designers, myself included until recently when I took a full-time job, need the money that we make from our designs to pay the mortgage, put food on the table, and clothe our children.  Aside from the general need for money to live on, there are many other reasons that not all patterns are free.

Why most patterns cost money:

for sale(image from _gem_ on Flickr)

1) Tech Editing. Every good design must be tech edited, and this costs the designer money.  Tech editors make anywhere from $25 – $50 an hour, and that adds up!

2) Materials. Just as you are using materials to create your version of the design, the designer has purchased materials to create his or her version.  Many times the designer will create several versions in different colors, sizes, and styles, to test the pattern and make sure that it will work for you. (It’s true that a handful of well-known designers are fortunate enough to have materials provided by companies, but this is not the case for the majority of designers.)

3) Photography. Many talented designers are also talented in photography, but many are not.  Often the designer has to hire a photographer and model in order to present the design to you in the most appealing way.

4) Pattern Design and Layout. Just as designers may or may not be skilled in photography, the same may hold true for their skills in pattern layout and graphic design. A good pattern will also have schematics or other technical drawings that the designer will pay to have created for them.

5) The designer’s time.  Many designers, when we add up the hours put into our craft and compare it to income at tax time, realize that we don’t make minimum wage.  It can take weeks, months, or longer to create a design, find all of the contractors like technical editor, photographer, and graphic designer.  Most patterns cost in the range of $5 to $7, which is really a very small amount in terms of the time put into creating them.

The above points barely scratch the surface of the thousands of reasons that crafters should be compensated for their talent, their time, and their dedication to their art.  It’s a battle that artists and craftspeople have been waging since the first pot was thrown, the first loom warped, and the first thread stitched.

 

Free and “For Pay” patterns on Craftsy:

Here at Craftsy, we care about our designers.  We appreciate the generosity of the designers who have provided free patterns, and at the same time, we respect the inherent right of artisans to set their own prices.

(Click to enlarge)

Finding free patterns: You CAN (and we encourage you to) search Craftsy for free patterns, just go to the projects tab above, and click on “free patterns” at right, and every free pattern on the site will come up.  These are patterns that designers have very generously shared with the community, and we thank those designers for doing so while realizing that they may also have several wonderful “for pay” patterns as well.

Finding ALL patterns: If you want to see ALL of the patterns available for a certain type of project: shawl, scrapbook page, hat, quilt, etc., fill in the search box and click on “pattern included.”  This will show you every pattern that has been added to the site for that project type, and give you the option of choosing to use either “for pay” or “free” patterns.

I hope that this post has helped you to both appreciate the hard work, time, and monetary investment that designers and artists have put into creating both free and “for pay” patterns, AND to navigate Craftsy to find the patterns that best suit your needs.

I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on free patterns, if you’d like to comment below, I’d love to know what you think.

Comments

  1. Jess says:

    I agree!! Those of you who are talented enough to design these wonderful patterns AND go the extra mile to have them tested, edited, sampled, photographed, etc. etc. etc. DESERVE the pay you get; and at that it isn’t much! I publish all of my patterns for free because I’m lazy, LOL! I want to share the project but I don’t want to bother with testing, editing, and professional photography. So I wholeheartedly applaud those who go the extra mile to make a pattern really great, and I truly believe that all of that effort shows in the finished product as well.

  2. Kate says:

    Thank you for this post. I am one of those crafters who has offered patterns for free and for sale. Those that I feel were easy to create, I have shared for free and those which took more time and effort to get it just right, I have for sale. I appreciate the work that goes into creating new patterns and am willing to pay for those I love and would use.

  3. Jess B. says:

    What a great post explaining the behind-the-scenes (or behind-the-purse-strings) of patterns! I — like pretty much everyone — enjoy finding free patterns and tutorials. But I certainly don’t expect to never have to pay for a pattern. I appreciate the hard work that goes in to these things and see lots of value in having a designer figure out all those little details for you.

    I read an interesting post a while ago on a blog discussing the real cost of freebies. In essence, if you always (or mostly always) offer freebies, you’re setting the expectation that followers will never have to pay for your stuff — be it content, books, patterns, services, etc. You’ve essentially established that your ‘products’ have no monetary value. So why should anyone have to pay?

    So… when it comes to offering freebies, there’s a fine line to walk. Yes, they’re great for gaining followers and widening exposure; but you do have to be mindful if you ever plan to sell your patterns (or anything else for that matter).

  4. Marie Mayhew says:

    I too liked this blog! Very informative. As a designer myself and one that sells her patterns, I couldn’t agree more with all the behind-the-scenes information you described. The materials alone are costly. I can make up to 20 of something (even more), tweaking it each time. You do wonder sometimes if you will ever break even. But when a customer knits an item from my pattern and they are thrilled and happy, it makes it all worth while! Thank you to all those paying customers. You are appreciated!

  5. Linda says:

    Thanks so much for the valuable information on the costs of publishing a pattern! I shared your web site on my blog. It is good to have insight into the world of pattern making.

  6. I really appreciate your taking the time to write this post, Stefanie! I think another reason I don’t offer free patterns is that I provide pattern support after purchase. Most questions are fairly easy to answer, but it’s still time that I would attribute to the overall cost of that pattern, and it adds up. Thanks again for a great post!

  7. Jesska Hoff says:

    What a great post! I am happy to read and find information on how people feel about this subject. As a designer, I know that I try to go the extra mile to make my published patterns great, and it does take a lot of time and effort, but I have to agree with one of the comments above; when a customer is happy and loves the pattern, it is worth it all.

    I love free patterns as much as the next person, and I would also never put up a flight to purchase one. It’s great to have the option. Personally I would love to publish a free pattern some day, because I do think it wold be a great way to share something with everyone. Until then, I am happily working away at my small business!

  8. Lona says:

    Another benefit to sharing patterns (either paid or unpaid) is allowing collective contributions to the design. Perhaps someone has a more efficient way of constructing the garment, or perhaps they can offer a new spin on things. The opportunities are endless. I”ll share a blog post from earlier this year that inspired me to want to share my patterns, even though I trademarked my name and sell my purses at local stores. Let me know what you think about this video! It’s a conversation from Julian Roberts discussing open source patterns.

    Check it out here: http://bustlepacks.com/?p=122

  9. pjd says:

    Very interesting question. I both buy patterns & books and use free patterns all the time. I do not think it is a valid argument when I see designers blaming the customer as the reason that they do not want to offer free patterns. Disparage customers because they have questons about patterns that may be free (or not) that are unclear or poorly written. I am very tired of seeing deisgners who, while they MIGHT be talented, mock and belittle the very persons they want to part with their money to make a purchase. Designers who demean other designers’ patterns because they have chosen to offer their patterns for free as somehow not good enough. It comes across as jealousy and pettiness. When I see a designer making remarks about customers/designers, I put them on my “Do Not Every Buy List”. I am very tired of the petty sniping that some so-called designers continue to spew. I will buy those who just go out and do a fantastic job, design something innovative, and unique and still have the humility or even common sense to appreciate their customers.

  10. Patrice says:

    Stephanie, you’ve very succinctly stated excellent reasons for offering patterns for free and for sale. The main reason I offer free patterns on my crochet blog (two “charity” patterns and two patterns that are my written interpretation of verbal instructions) is to get traffic. But I do intend to offer patterns for sale at some point because it would be really nice to be able to see some money flowing back from doing what I love. And while it’s great to get patterns for free, I don’t mind at all paying for delicious designs that I know are going to be fun and fulfilling to crochet or knit.

  11. Julia says:

    I do appreciate the free patterns as I have an extremely limited income. I also understand the people that sell their patterns and wish I could afford some of them.

  12. goodydock says:

    As a non-designer, it was great to know why designers sell their patterns. Unfortunately my income bracket does not allow me to purchase patterns especially since I seem to just like having them. I seem to have trouble starting a pattern and if I manage to do that, I don’t seem to finish.

  13. Juanita Vega DeJoseph says:

    Hi

    Glad to see discussion on this topic. A while back I received an email from craftsy to create hats for donations for a children’s hospital. I thought that was great but what really turned me off was that the patterns chosen to promote the charity were not free. And I thought, hmm, that’s weird, I’m taking the time and effort and funds to buy the yarn and make the piece and pay to send it somewhere else and on top of that I have to pay for the pattern? Well, like I said, that kind of turned be off of craftsy. But this article looked interesting and I thought I’d join in on the discussion.

    1. Stefanie Japel says:

      Hi Juanita,

      I’m glad that you’ve come over and checked out our blog, taken the time to read the post, and especially to leave a comment! We do have lots of free patterns that you can use to create hats for charity, it happened that in the email you received, we decided to feature some from our designers who do charge for their patterns. After reading this post, you know now how to search and find lots of free ones to use in your charity work! :)

      Thanks so much for the comment and the feedback, we do appreciate it.

      Stefanie

  14. I’m designer myself (Tutorial Girl; with Bludor magazine http://www.bludor.com/blog ) and I did make my first free pattern because I did want to challenge myself (could I make an instructions in English!?)…and I did make a Ikea Antilop Cushion…the perfect project for the first time sewer and even, for the first time designer; for some others people, not just for yourself, (because if you work just for yourself the work itself and even the process is different).
    So, I did this and it was fabulous experience, and all I did afterwards I just did continue and enjoy doing it every single time. For me the best part is when your costumer returns back for more and when you get a feedback from them. I wish I could teach this in live but I can’t. OK, I also wish I could do this for living, but I can’t, because in Slovenia nobody need’s me.
    I also have some crazy experiments, when I did also the video for my projects, but usually people who see it, they have an opinion, that they don’t need an extra care as pattern itself is, and that they could do it without it…so it looks like I did make my video in a lot of details and that I just simply show too much….because I didn’t sell a lot. But I did spend a lot of time doing all this…so totally unprofitable.
    Video of one of them: http://youtu.be/PR8yYkJ4UOs (PS just copy the code in your browser)… ok if you are curious enough and leave me your opinion. I will appreciate it.

    But for my next biggest adventure I did decided, I will write a book about sewing for babies, form 0 to 2 years with step by step photo instructions….in a Tutorial Girl Style….and then I will dream how I could found the publisher….and dream some more.

    I so like my plans.

  15. jd wolfe says:

    while i blog about crochet and have designed a few patterns for my own use (and only 1 i think that i’ve offered to others), i feel that crocheters and knitters should support local yarn shops and designers for the same reason – expertise. if we want to continue to have great patterns written for us and a good local supply of yarns to inspire us, we must pay the price. if we’re content to rely only on big box retailers for our yarn and free patterns as our only source of patterns, the well will eventually run dry. i like it that a designer who sells his/her patterns offers at least one for free. that free sample is a great way to see if we understand the way the designer writes. if i find a free pattern that i love, i’m much more inclined to go back to that source and pay for other patterns. some people claim that they can’t afford to pay for patterns. that may be. but, there is one great source of patterns where the designer is paid but that we can get the patterns for free – book and magazines from one’s local library. also, many charitable sites online offer patterns for free, especially for babies and children. patterns are an investment in our art. we too often undervalue our art. we don’t hesitate to support our husbands (since crocheters are more commonly female) when they buy tools for work around the house. those are seen as necessities. our ‘tools’ are patterns, yarn, and hook or needles. few of us do not use our crochet and knit skills to benefit our families and others. we make gifts, necessities (hats, scarves, gloves, etc), and participate in the productive life of our families in so doing. so, please consider supporting your favorite designers with the few dollars they ask for their patterns. you can make that pattern a hundred times if you want – but only pay for it once. and, if the pattern is poorly written or unclear and the designer offers no help – put the word out on boards like this. good designs are worth paying for. poorly written ones are not.

  16. Keren Duchan says:

    This is a well articulated post. I appreciate you writing and sharing these thoughts.

    I totally agree that the designer has every right to publish their design as free or as available for purchase. I would probably purchase a design if I felt that I appreciate this designer and want to show my appreciation, and if I feel that I will learn from this design.

    On the other hand, I am aware of how much money I spend on my craft (a lot!), so if I see a design that I can pretty much figure out myself how it was made, I won’t purchase it. Maybe others would, in case they feel they need/want specific instructions, exact fabric measurements, etc.

    In the past I bought much more, but today I budget myself more strictly, for example I tell myself “this pattern costs 10$ but the book by the same designer costs 16$, maybe I should buy the book”. Or: “I have plenty to learn without buying this design, just by doing the free patterns first, and by learning by doing. Buying this pattern can be postponed.” Or: “with this money, I can buy fabric, with which I learn”. Or: “I have a stash of patterns I already bought to get through before I buy more.”

    I totally know what you mean about time spent vs minimum wage. I spend so much time writing my blog, trying my best to share what I’ve learned and what I know, setting up challenges and helping out fellow sewers, for no charge of course. For me the biggest reward is the comments and feedback from readers. I hope one day I could turn this into my profession but I am far from it at the moment.

    Keren

  17. Fran Bender says:

    From a Crafters point of view – Thanks for posting this info I never think of what goes on behind the scenes. Free is always good but if this is your job you need and deserve the money. With-out you designers I wouldn’t be able to do what I like doing best and that is crafting. I love to quilt, crochet, sew and whatever else I can get find to do. Thank You Designers, keep the patterns coming whether they are free or for sale !

  18. Pat Sell says:

    Thanx so much for that explanation – I have wondered about it for sometime. I am not a designer, but certainly appreciate all you who are! Keep the work coming and I will keep looking! :)

  19. Amy Jaynes says:

    Being a creative person myself, I truly appreciate the effort designers put into their patterns. If people would stop thinking of patterns as just instructions and start thinking of them as someone else’s creation, they might not mind paying a nominal fee. $5-$7 is a nominal fee. No one would expect a hand kniited sweater to free. How about a lovely quilt, free I think not. A lot of blood sweat and tears go into my creations and I am not as gifted as those wonderful designers out there. Thank you for your desgns and you hard work to bring them to us.

  20. Jane McKelvie says:

    I agree that the designers put in many, many hours for us and ask, really, peanuts in reward for all of it. We are all lucky for the free patterns that there are around – and if one looks around there ARE many freebies. Perhaps we should put our own disigning thoughts to use and enjoy the rewards? IF we want freebies then usually things Christmassy come out after the season and that is a good time to do our “collection” rather than panic just BEFORE the following season. Planning is what is needed, and I suppose a little disiplin I suppose, not to expect so much Free.

  21. Marsha Brascher says:

    Thank you for reminding us of all the ‘work’ that goes into each design. Your blog is well laid out with great photos.

  22. Joyce says:

    That is great information, I can now explain to my friends why all patterns are not free. I love the free patterns, but will not hesitate to purchase patterns if I really like them

  23. Karen Jones says:

    I personally feel that to be able to try before you buy is a great idea – to be able to sample a designers pattern, get the feel of their style etc. What better personal promotion :)

  24. Claire Blais says:

    Thank you for a well written and information article. I often pick up free patterns and frequently these take me to the providers web site where I will purchase patterns. Free patterns provide me with an opportunity to see how the patterns are written and how they work up – before I part with money to purchase patterns that if not well written languish in the dead pattern drawer.
    Another reason that I appreciate free patterns is that through my work – I sometimes come accross women who are assigned to do community work service. They are often single moms who can not afford to get sitters to go outside of their homes and complete the work. Many of them have some basic knowledge of knitting or crocheting – enough that they can follow a good basic pattern and make things at home – from wool scraps or inexpensive wools that they can provide instead of labouring outside of their homes. This allows them to meet the requirements of them and feel good about what they are doing. Especially if I can find a good pattern for them to work with. I can’t tell you what a difference encouraging them to “make” things helps some of these women turn their lives around. I can’t afford to buy patterns for them all and I won’t copy them (that’s unethical and would teach them something unlawful) but I can provide the free patterns to them and consult with them through the process. Also I use my wool scraps and the free patterns and make hats etc for our local shelter. Just so you know what happens with some of the free patterns.
    Thanks

  25. Em says:

    I’m glad this article was written. Very plain and straight forward. Knitters (and beyond) should understand that just like doctors, dentists, teachers, waitress, and any other person who lives in the USA, designers have bills to pay too. I will use this article for future references!

  26. Beverley Donaldson says:

    I enjoyed reading this site and all the different comments. I am only a learner but enjoying it & would love to buy some of your patterns but had better wait till I get more experienced
    I thinkl the free patterns are wonderful and fully understand why they can’t all be free as there is a lot of work & expense involved in them & congratulations to all who publish them

  27. Trudy says:

    As a fabric artist, most of the time I don’t have a pattern, but on those occasions I need one, I so appreciate the free ones. I’m also on a limited income so try to come up with fun stuff without having to purchase too much. I too buy when I can, just to give back to the artist community, and try not to take advantage of the free patterns. But thank God for them.

  28. Karen says:

    Great explanation! If we were all independently wealthy and could just sit around on our front porches spending creative hours for the benefit of everyone else, well, everything would be free! But most of us have limited time and unfortunately, limited financial resources. So, hey, if someone has spent their time to create a great pattern, I’m happy to purchase it! Of course, free is wonderful, and appreciated, but I won’t complain about a reasonable cost either. Thanks for the great post!

  29. Lori says:

    This answered alot of questions for me! I have bought patterns but usually go to the free patterns. I had no idea that there was so much to creating a pattern. I guess, for crocheting, you just write down what you do for each row. I will really appreciate patterns in the future plus help out more by buying patterns! Thanks for a great article!!

  30. Carylanne says:

    Thanks for posting this informative & expressive reasoning. I am a lover of patterns and do seem to derive pleasure from acquiring many different patters from different designers. I believe that a creative person must have a few freebies in order to find the right designer to follow. I think that those designers who do offer a free pattern finds that in doing so she or he will get their designs to more people who in some time down the road will say ” wow I love that designer” & therefore will buy a special one or two. It is how marketing oneself comes into play.
    BTW I do not knit or crochet, however my patterns range from sewing quilting and embroidery and this information is relevant to all patterns offered.
    Thanks again Caryl’s Creations

  31. RKR says:

    Well spoken & written! You’ve said it all in a clear, succinct manner and not stepped-on-any-toes, just put everything into the equation and explained why we designers must not share everything we know without recompense; also some trade secrets must remain just that!
    It’s also extremely galling to have customers stand on the other side of a trade show table and discuss amongst themselves who will purchase which patterns and then share the few purchased with the whole group… and yet keep smiling!
    Does one point out that this is so Wrong?? or just accept their money and let it go?
    This posting also addresses this topic – http://www.craftdesigns4you.com/stop.htm

    1. Stefanie Japel says:

      Thanks so much for the link to more information! I’m sure that our readers will find this very useful! I’m glad that you liked the article, we hear a lot of discussion about free patterns and I thought it was time to comment on it.

  32. Susie Watson says:

    On the other side of a coin..I dont mind paying for a pattern that really catches my eye but with the lil information that u give to decribe the pattern .. how do u know its with in ur scope of experience??? I hate to pay for a pattern then find out i cant do it or make it work . Its not like i can return it for a refund.

  33. Kay says:

    I agree with this post and many of the comments made. My business partner and I own a patchwork shop and sell many patterns, our own included. We appreciate the hard work that goes into making a pattern, including the hours spent writing it up. And, as mentioned above, it’s distressing to see how many patterns are copied by customers and shared amongst their friends. It is a breach of the copyright law for a good reason. Our designers earn their living from their patterns and spend a great deal of money and time creating the design. If we want creative, new designs out there then let’s support our designers by buying their patterns so they can continue doing what they do best : making up wonderful new designs for us! ;-) I know we all live on a budget and times are hard, but so do our designers and their time becomes a little harder with each copied pattern.

  34. Bailey Button Triplet says:

    cheap Bailey Button Triplet It is hard to find knowledgeable people on this specific topic, but you sound like you know very well what you’re writing about! Cheers Bailey Button Triplet

  35. Lee Jolliffe says:

    Great article with fabulous lay-out, well done. In this day and age it is great to get anything for free but also to respect that everyone is trying to make a living and if they can do so from something they are passionate about, so much the better.

  36. Belinda Ann says:

    I own a sewing studio and teach sewing lessons. I stopped paying for patterns and started designing my own because they were so difficult to follow. Before I sell a pattern, I run it through my classes a few times to work out the kinks. I do everything with my pattern, too -including writing the directions and designing the graphics. I’m lucky that I have a background in technical writing so pattern making/writing comes fairly easily to me. But it is a LOT of work to design a great pattern – making the item, then all the writing and rewriting and more rewriting… then coming up with a final draft that is easy to follow in a limited amount of text. That takes talent and those who can do it deserve to be paid.

  37. TT Skyline says:

    Good post. I have thought about that personally, but I guess it make sense. As the old adage says “You get what you pay for.”

  38. lisa says:

    I like to think of it in terms of yarn. Folks don’t expect to walk into a yarn shop and get free yarn but many of us balk at paying for the other half of a knitted item, the pattern. Each is useless without the other, but patterns seem less “valuable” as they are just paper and ink. The work that goes into yarn is visible, the color, the touch, the twist – not so for a pattern, but we all need to value a pattern just like a good book! a quick read and a good one is worth paying for!

  39. lisa says:

    (sorry, hit submit too fast) A well written pattern saves a knitter time and helps create a great finished product.