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Archived posts from December 2006 to December 2008 are missing their photos. Key posts will be updated as soon as I have time!

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Wednesday
Oct082014

A quick blocking tip

 

These coated splatter guards cost me €1.20 from the local cheap import shop. And they're perfect beret blockers.

I'd not thought of using splatter guards before as they're not something we use in our kitchen (way to much hassle to wash up, if you ask me) but when I saw the new silicone one that my Step Mum had bought recently, I saw their potential.

The silicone ones with a side handle would need the handle taken off with a hack saw, filed and then sealed again to stop the water getting in. The silicone ones though are at least a tenner each, and with all that work, I opted for these cheap coated ones with a centre handle at a fraction of the price! The other benefit of the silicone ones is grip - these coated ones won't help the wet Hat stay on quite as well. But that's OK if you leave it alone whilst it's drying.

They let the air through and allow the Hat to dry without turning, and are perfectly flat - no more plate shaped berets! And the 29cm diameter one is spot on for a standard beret. Bingo!

ps/ yup, that's the beret from my previous post blocking!

Friday
Oct032014

Turning Marina on it's side

 

This skein of Malabrigo Merino Worsted had strong words with me when I visited the Sheep Shop earlier in the year, so strongly in fact that it found it's way home with me. It was a beauty in the skein, but once home, every time I looked at it I didn't have the foggiest what I was going to do with it. I do like a bit of texture and detail in my designs and variegated colours drown them out... why oh why, I said to myself, do I keep falling for their charms?

And then, for whatever reason, I was struck with the urge to turn Marina on it's side and explore knitting vertically with the same stitch pattern. Turning stitch patterns through 90 degrees often produces interesting results, and I doubt it's something I'll ever tire of.

Within no time at all, this beautiful yet troublesome skein was balled and on my needles. And the Hat has worked effortlessly all the way through... my tired brain didn't even flinch with the crown shaping maths. Funny how some designs are meant to be, eh?

I wasn't sure whether I should publish it as a design, but now I think it must. And then I got thinking that maybe I could put together a collection of Hat designs specifically for these troublesome yet beautiful variegated yarns...

Thursday
Oct022014

On the value of thoughts

 

I'm reading this at the moment, and it's uncanny. Before I'd even finished the first chapter I felt understood.

When I was doing my teaching post grad, voice coaching classes were on offer and I was the only person in our year who didn't need them. I have a strong voice, I can be loud. And I can be outgoing with the right company (and especially when alcohol is involved). But I've always considered those things my armour.

I used to try and tell people when I was younger that I was shy. The laughter from certain people in response to this still hangs in my head. And whilst I know now that shy was the wrong word, there's still a resentment about this expectation to perform; a resentment about being misunderstood and about being led to believe that who I really am wasn't enough; that I had to be something else. There's also a bucket load of other messy stuff thrown in there, and my depression (which started when I was a child) has an awful lot to do with this, but I can't but wonder how more confident and assured I'd feel now had I been the sort who spent less time in their head.

On the work front it's helped me put my finger on what it is about the concept of personal branding that makes me recoil so much. And about why I loathe the whole competitive angle, because creativity isn't a competition, it's a personal journey, and it shouldn't be about how far you can push yourself or how loudly you can shout. And as much as this book has answered an awful lot of questions, it's opened up as many more.

The one thing though that I want to hold onto from this book is the reassurance that who I am and what I'm driven to do is the right thing. There was a great article published earlier in the year by Bill Drummond, his 10 Commandments of Art, and one quote resonates pretty deeply: "Don't stand on the outside looking in; stand on the outside looking further out". Holding onto this thought has been tricky of late; I'm stuck in this worry cycle, feeling weighed down by responsibility, and was starting to think that I'd have to tattoo this quote right across my forehead for the message to sink in. 

The Banksy Official account on Twitter tweeted this image last night, and it kinda brought everything round full circle for me. There really isn't enough value placed on thoughts and ideas, on education or independent thinking. Or on intellectual property or anything intangible.

Our brains are the most valuable things we have.

 

Thursday
Sep182014

The cost of a pattern - a follow up

My blog post yesterday received an overwhelming response, and has started conversations all over the net! I don't deal with the limelight very well and have a tendency to  scurry off and hide, but what I really want to do is to follow up and respond to some of the questions and points that have been made either in the comments, in private messages or around the web (everyone Googles themselves, yes?) Regardless of your stance on the cost of patterns and the free pattern debate, I think we can all agree that it's an interesting and valuable discussion.

I would be interested to know if you feel releasing patterns in magazines is important. Is it beneficial financially or more for awareness and marketing, so therefore attracting new customers.

Hmm, I can't say for certain that being published in magazines is a great marketing tool, but I think it does depend on the magazine. My experience with print magazines is that customers of print magazines will buy print magazines, and I'm not so sure there's much crossover in the markets; I find that print magazines are closer aligned to the yarn company market, although other designers' experience will vary. Online magazines such as Knitty are a different story with different customers! When I've asked in my Ravelry group about how knitters have found me, the number who have found me through my free patterns far outweighs the number who find me through print magazines.

That said, I continue working with the print magazines as it's a different experience and offers a different perspective. I've enjoyed working with the magazines that I have worked with.

But I have to say that I don't find working with magazines (print or online) all that beneficial financially - based on the average fee paid for a Hat pattern I'd have to have in excess of 350 patterns published annually to match the same turnover from self publishing, which is nuts! Admittedly a chunk of the costs incurred in self publishing would be irrelevant (though I'd still need the computer, yarn, etc) but I would have to pay sample knitters as it'd be physically impossible to knit that many, and editors as you bet there'd be way more errors when working at that rate, and the costs would balance out to about the same.

I just wonder if there mightn't be more money made if the patterns on Ravelry were a bit cheaper. I have seen patterns costing £6 or £7 pounds, where only a handful of people have actually knit the garment and posted the project details. I feel sure if they weren't so expensive they would sell more of them and perhaps make the same amount of profit in the end, or even more. Do you know if anyone has done studies on this?

I haven't personally, and I don't know that anyone in this industry could research it thoroughly as it'd be impossible to run a true test. That said, I'm told that yes, it's been proven that a higher price implies a higher value, and people (customers) will respect a product more than if it were cheap. This is something that comes up frequently in designer discussions, and those who have put their prices up have all commented that they've actually sold physically more copies; no-one has commented the same when they've lowered the price.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about pricing, and am reluctant to charge on the higher end; I want to remain accessible to a wider market, but it's a hard balance to find. I'm having to put my prices up in the next few months, as the cost of everything has increased; I can't afford to swallow those increases anymore and I can't afford to run the risk of keeping prices low and hoping that folks will still continue to buy.

My thinking is that it's up to us, indie/artisan designers, to decide what we think our work is worth. The market plays a part, but at the same time a decent chunk of the market thinks we should work for free and that's just not an option, as I've tried to explain. In turn, I think it's up to us to add value to our work. Whether it be a wider range of sizes or more thorough testing or better photography or more interesting design or unusual construction methods or more indepth explanations or all of these things - whatever it is, we need to set ourselves apart and let the knitter know why our patterns have value, and why they cost what they do. If knitters don't want to buy our patterns then they don't have to, but for those that do, they know what they're getting.

I feel like the "free" nature of the Internet (i.e. the glut of media we all consume without having to pay for it upfront) has changed people's attitudes about what they "should" have to pay for, and this seems to be part of that.

Very possibly, yes. The internet is an amazing thing and it's bought with it a revolution as to how information is shared, and that's constantly changing. Publishing, as well as the music industry, is still trying to find it's feet in this new era. You only have to look at something like Wikipedia, which always claimed that it would free, now asking relentlessly for donations to cover running costs.

Nothing is really free. Free isn't sustainable, as much as many would like it to be. Unless we return to a culture where skills, time or goods are the currency and direct trade of these is the norm, everyone needs money on some level to survive.

Coupled with that, we're dealing with a concept that was originally seeded by yarn companies - patterns would be given away free, or for next to nothing, to encourage yarn sales. The patterns were never really free as the costs would be hidden in the yarn price, and the costs of producing those patterns wouldn't be a far cry from the costs I laid out yesterday - they still require designers to design, and editors and models and photographers and so on. It's encouraging to see yarn companies, particularly indies, charging a realistic price for their patterns - costs are becoming more transparent and I believe that can only help us all in appreciating, and raising, their value.

A large amount of these costs have less to do with pattern writing and more to do with being a self-published author. Self-publishing print books is really expensive and this hasn't been covered.

Looking at that post, the first two sections, i.e. the actual production costs, occur for each pattern and are direct costs of pattern writing. But so are many of the indirect costs - without a computer I (we) wouldn't be able to write and publish a pattern. Without a camera I wouldn't be able to take photographs for publishing, and would need to hire a photographer which pushes the costs up even higher. Without some level of skill in knitting, designing wouldn't happen in the first place.

Photography costs and publishing costs, i.e. managing the layout etc, would still occur regardless of whether it's an item being self published or published by a big company. Generally, they'd be on the higher side as they've bigger budgets for that sort of thing. Costs for advertising and going to shows are less obvious, but they still have to be covered by pattern sales - if we didn't make an effort to market ourselves somehow we wouldn't sell anything - it's a misconception that quality alone sells and that customers come knocking on your door ;)

Information on the costs for publishing print books isn't included because I don't work with print - printed books are incredibly expensive, require a huge monetary investment upfront, and that's one of the (many) reasons why I don't! I do though use POD (print on demand) which doesn't have anywhere near the same costs and preparation (it's not just the cost of the print run itself that incurs) and essentially doesn't cost much more than producing a PDF or eBook. 

Why are you trying to justify charging for your patterns? Surely knitters/crocheters accept the fact that some patterns cost money; if they don’t want to pay, they can just use free patterns. 

Oh boy, you would not believe how many times we get told we are charging too much! You only have to look at the forums regularly to see how often knitters complain about prices, and see how we're considered greedy or rip-off merchants and so on. Ironically, you'll also then read how knitters expect patterns to be consistently spotless and error free - you can't realistically expect both.

I'm not trying to justify anything, I'm simply outlining that yes, exactly, this is a business and there are costs involved. And I totally agree - if folks don't want to pay then there is a plethora of free patterns out there. But I do think we have a problem in this industry that folks don't necessarily see the business side of things - that might be because of marketing trends set by yarn companies, or it might just be that to many this is a hobby, and bringing money into it muddies the waters. It could also be due to the flood of cheap imports, which in turn has led to folk appreciating the value of things less in general. Or it might simply be because not enough people are talking about it.

If designers and publishers go through all these levels of testing and editing, why do errors still occur? 

Not everyone does go through these levels of testing and editing. I do because I'm paranoid and beat myself up something daft when errors are found. And yeah, despite all the testing and editing, errors can still occur - everyone is only human. At least though, they're not a common occurrence with my patterns and I like to think that's because of all the work we put in. And I know that as a consumer, I'd feel happier knowing that the maker has gone to the effort of getting the item tested/edited.

Magazines and publishers are a whole other ball game and work to a very different schedule - deadlines are a big issue there, as is budget, and testing in particular takes time - imagine a magazine asking that a jumper be test knit in at least 3 different sizes - it would never get to print! Hats are at least small and manageable and aren't as heavy on the budget, but even then, magazines cover the costs on that front, and magazines do tech edit. Budgets also tend to favour the graphics and photography side of things... I can't speak for editors and tech editors, but unfortunately designers are generally at the bottom end of the food chain in publishing.

What are your views on free patterns? Are they damaging the industry?

That's a bit of a loaded statement! And I don't think there's a short or straight forward answer.

No, I don't think all free patterns are bad - I myself have 27 available on this website, and numerous more sprinkled around the web, with 3 published with Knitty (although Knitty do pay a small remuneration). One thing we should do is differentiate when we're referring to free patterns - there are thousands upon thousands of free patterns for basic items available, and I honestly do not see how they are undermining any of us. Most of my free patterns of are this variety, and I think most folk appreciate why that is - the costs all round are much lower, and I personally wouldn't feel right in charging for those. It takes me an afternoon to knit and publish a pattern for a basic beanie Hat and I would rather give that back to the community. Not everything is valued in a monetary sense - many of my regular customers came to me through my free patterns.

Patterns for more complex items that are free are more problematic, and there are strong opinions on either side of that one. And I think that's a blog post in itself! Choice and reasoning is critical, and at the end of the day the decision belongs to the copyright holder (regardless of what you think of that law, respect is important). There's a trend at the moment for designers to publish a usually paid-for (and tested and edited) pattern for free for a short period of time to garner interest, and I do think that's more damaging in the long run than permanently for-free patterns. It's an interesting debate, but also an exhausting one.

Right now I need to stop worrying about what others are charging for their patterns, or not, and spend my energy on increasing the value of my patterns. Folks will always publish free patterns, and I'm not so sure they're the enemy. This is a debate that can go on forever, and likely will! However if we want to grow our businesses and keep the food on the table, then I think that's the best thing to focus on. If folks don't want to pay, we can't make them, and neither should we try. But we can do our best to make something of value that folks are willing to pay for. And that, I think, is better for our industry in the long run.

Wednesday
Sep172014

The true cost of a pattern

I've been meaning to write a blog post about what actually goes into designing a pattern, and given the current discussions and my own recent posts, now seems as good a time as any. There is no set formula for calculating costs, and every designer's experience will be different - this is a creative game after all, and we're all individuals with different strengths and different approaches.

The production costs - actual expenses

This is the easiest thing to quantify. Each of my patterns goes through test knitting AND tech editing, and all of these people are compensated for their time. Each pattern generally gets seen by two tech editors, and the tech editing time for each is normally around an hour (simpler patterns less; more complex patterns more). Tech editing costs per pattern are roughly £30. Books and their patterns go through 3 levels of tech editing with both editors and a typical tech editing bill for a 10 pattern book comes to around £800 - £900, bringing the average cost of tech editing per pattern closer to £50.

Each pattern is also test knitted, and generally by two test knitters, who each knit a different size to ensure that that it all works out correctly. Many designers use editors OR testers but I use both. Not only does it reduce the chances of errors to virtually zero, and ensure that my editors get a very clean pattern (patterns are test first, then edited) but it also helps me understand how the pattern will behave when other yarns are used, and get feedback on the knitting experience.

Testers are paid a compensation that is based on yardage used, in addition to a flat fee to cover yarn costs, admin time etc. Obviously that means that costs can vary from pattern to pattern, but the average test knitting cost is £35.

Then there is the photography. I take all of my own photos, which helps keep the cost down considerably. I also pay my models, because it's their time I'm taking and they also need to earn. I do try and photograph as many Hats as possible in one shoot, and the shoots are only a couple of hours each. Yet I will photograph each Hat more than once, which adds another level to the costs, but on average that's another £20 added to the production costs (if I paid a photographer it would be considerably more!) 

Next we have yarn costs. I do get sponsorship from yarn companies (i.e. free yarn for specific patterns) but quite often I will also buy the yarn I think will work best for the pattern; I'm happy to do this for a few reasons and don't expect my yarn to always be free. I buy roughly 60% of the yarn I use; sometimes I'll need more than the 100g (swatching, 2nd sample etc) and based on that the yarn cost per pattern works out to roughly £10

And then there's advertising. This covers things like Ravelry ads or the cost of sending out a newsletter to promote the pattern. This averages out to about £15. I'm really frugal on this front - many designers will spend considerably more! That said, there are other advertising costs which are indirect and don't fit into this first budget.

So... initial direct production costs come to £130. That's how much I lay out directly for each pattern.

At full price of £3, and taking into account PayPal fees, I'd have to sell 49 copies to cover that. At a discounted price (i.e. coupon through the newsletter or wholesale rate) I'd have to sell 87 copies to cover these costs.

The other production costs

One of the hardest things for any designer to put a figure on is how much time is spent on producing the pattern. There's the knitting time and the re-knitting time and the pattern writing time and layout time and photography time (because yes, I do all of it) And there's also the thinking time and emailing time (discussions back and forth with testers and editors etc) and to be quite honest, if I sat and counted all of the hours spent it would work out to a thoroughly depressing hourly rate, so I refuse to do it for each pattern.

For the sake of finding some figures, I've looked at a quick pattern (chunky yarn, straightforward design) and a so very not quick pattern (fine yarn; frogged countless times) to calculate some sort of average. The numbers below are based on this average. And I've worked backwards, as it made things easier to work out! 

  1. Uploading & managing POS - 2 hours
  2. Layout time - 2 hours
  3. Photo editing - 1.5 hours
  4. Photography - 1 hour
  5. Editing time - 1.5 hours
  6. Pattern writing and charting - 2.5 hours
  7. Knitting time - 24 hours

That amounts to an average of 34.5 hours of my time spent on each pattern in the production stage. These figures will vary wildly for each designer, and they would change constantly too, as experience is gained and new avenues are explored. As I say it is the hardest thing to quantify and I've more than likely under estimated rather than over. Thinking time in particular is impossible to guesstimate.

So, based on an average of 34.5 hours per pattern, and if we look at minimum wage as a base point, each pattern would have to pay me £224.25. In terms of sales, and remembering that PayPal take their cut, I would have to sell 84 patterns at full price, or 150 at a discounted price.

That brings the number of copies that needs to be sold to 133 at full price, or 237 at a discounted price. 

The non-production costs

This is the part that frequently gets over looked. And it's probably one of the most expensive areas.

Let's think about the photography for a moment... I keep production expenses down by doing the photography myself. Yet it's taken years of practice to get my photos up to a half decent standard. And each time I get the camera out to practice, I've paid my models. And the camera itself has a cost too - the different lenses, the filters, and even odd bits like the camera bag and cables. I use open source software for just about everything so my software costs are low too (i.e. practiaclly zero) but a designer who edits their own shots and doesn't use open source still has to buy the software to be able to do that.

We're looking at thousands on this front. The camera alone has cost over £1,500 without adding in any contact hours. And you don't just buy once and use forever; tech breaks. It needs repair or replacement. Tech gets out-dated. It's a never ending cost.

Then there's the computer. My laptop is now 3 years old, and it cost a small fortune at the time to buy (thankfully it was on sale, else it would have left an even bigger dent) but I got what I paid for, and have a powerful and reliable machine. I keep a laptop as my main computer because I travel so much - a desktop would be totally impractical! 

Adding to the laptop is the cost of back up hard-drives, thumb drives, cables, the printer and a whole bunch of other tech. Tech is expensive, if you want to buy good stuff that lasts. I buy most things on sale or secondhand, yet I've still spent thousands and thousands.

Then there's my knitting skill. I've been knitting since I was 3 - how far can you reasonably claim for hours spent developing skills? Training courses are an obvious and quantifiable cost, but practice and thinking time isn't. Where do you draw the line?

Other costs are easier to see, the non-production expenses. Such as building a website and paying the monthly host fees (£15 per month) and annual domain renewals and email renewals etc (£60 per year). There are Ravelry fees for selling patterns, which are based on volume. There's the cost of the internet and phone line (roughly £30 per month).

Whilst I do a lot of the production myself, I do outsource some of it. Such as the illustrations - my illustrator is great and charges a very reasonable rate per illustration, and the resulting tutorials add a lot of value to the books and patterns - they make the project easier for you, the knitter.

You have the cost of marketing and promotion - exhibiting and travel. Paying someone to write the copy (I'm useless at that!) or to copy edit your work. There's the cost of business cards and postcards and the display items and head stands. There's the cost of hiring a stand (a small fortune at a trade show) and all the time planning and developing the display.

You could argue that these aren't pattern costs, and I get that. But when pattern sales make up 98.5% of your turnover (and income)(including books) then yes, they are pattern costs, as the patterns have to pay for them. Business speak says that these costs are "indirect costs", and they're still costs all the same. And how would you calculate how many patterns have to be sold to cover all of this?

The post production costs

Once a pattern goes out there, once it's published and in the hands of the knitter, it's costs don't stop. If an error is found, I have to spend timing working it out and sending it back to the tech editor for review, which can often take more time than the initial production (getting back into a pattern that you haven't looked at for 5 years isn't all that easy). There's time involved in uploading the revised file to the various sources, and that all uses bandwidth (my internet is mostly a PAYG modem, so bandwidth is a tangible cost).

Then there's pattern support. I'm very fortunate in that I receive very few emails from knitters needing help with my patterns, but nonetheless, I still get them, and they still take time. I spend a huge mount of time writing to companies who sell my patterns, keeping services up to date, and generally emailing about other work related things that aren't pattern support. These are all mostly good things, and essential things, but time it still is.

What about social networking? Time spent keeping up with knitters and Hat lovers? Posting photos and sharing tips? If I was a proper business sort I'd be counting those hours, but I'm not, and I don't. But it's still my time. These are post production costs too, as they are usually pattern specific.

The conclusion

Having read all of this, you might be thinking, well that's easy, you must sell thousands of each pattern!

Well, no.

I don't have any patterns that haven't covered the expenses I've laid out in the first section. But there are patterns that haven't covered the time I've spent on them. And few patterns can reach as far as helping to cover the non-production costs. Very few designers have pattern sales in the thousands on a regular basis. You'd consider yourself lucky if pattern sales reach the hundreds! 

Would it put it into perspective if I told you that we as a family live below the poverty line? Currently by about 50%; I don't make minimum wage. We are able to live and keep fed because we're frugal and our lifestyle is a cheap one. We don't have a mortgage to pay; no-one would ever give us one on our income. We're OK with that because we'd rather live as we do and I don't want to turn this into an emotional post, but sometimes a little context helps. We don't charge what we do for our patterns because we're trying to rip knitters off; we charge what we do because that's what it costs. We're not getting rich! And our time is no more or less valuable than anyone elses.

What you get when you buy a £3 pattern is an awful lot of time and energy and skill and expertise and creativity, all rolled into one. If you can't afford to pay that, I totally understand, because I couldn't either. But please don't expect our patterns to be free; please respect our right to charge for our work and our time. Yarn companies can afford to give patterns away for free because they're loss-leaders to them; they're trying to sell you the yarn and the pattern costs are hidden. That's not the case for us. When you buy a pattern from an independent designer, you are directly supporting a small business, an individual's creativity and maybe even helping a young family like ours.