Does one knitting pattern a designer make? I’d hesitate to call myself a designer, but I have published a knitting pattern on Ravelry, Chasing Waves. I released it on Saturday morning and almost fell off my chair when the first sale notification came through in less than an hour. I was glued to my PC for the rest of the day!
It took me a little while to figure out what the chiming noise was. It turned out to be the PayPal app on my iPad sending me a notification every time a sale went through. I didn’t even know it did that! I’m thrilled at how much interest there’s been in my pattern; I really wasn’t expecting it. I thought I’d be lucky if half a dozen people bought it.
Designing my own pattern isn’t something I ever thought I’d do. That started to change a few months ago when I took the Design Challenge, organised by Francoise of Aroha Knits. The Challenge takes you through the design process, step by step. The nice thing about it is that it isn’t the design process, it’s just a process. I found it useful to figure out what works for me (stitch libraries and swatching) and what doesn’t (drawing!). While I didn’t go on to develop the idea I had in that first challenge, it did change my perception of what I could do. Having successfully completed the challenge, designing a pattern was no longer something I absolutely couldn’t do.
Hot on the heels of the Design Challenge, I signed up for Designer Bootcamp, run by Joeli of Joeli Creates. Again, not all the process worked for me, but it did make me sit down and focus. One moment I was feeling frustrated because I didn’t believe I’d ever think of anything, the next I was reading an article on Old Shale patterns, thinking to myself, ‘Hang on, if I just did this instead of that, would it…?’ and my pattern was born.
My first swatch was in acrylic 4 ply, because I’m a cheapskate and couldn’t bear to use ‘good’ yarn on something that might be a non-starter. I mainly wanted to see if my idea worked, and if it suited the crescent-shaped shawl I had in mind. I expected to have to do a lot of playing around, especially as Old Shale patterns can vary a lot, but it turned out that the first variant I tried played really nicely with the increase rate of the crescent shape I’d chosen. I’d love to be able to say it was canny thinking on my part, but it was definitely more luck than judgement! Being cheap acrylic, my swatch didn’t block very well, but I was reasonably confident that it would block better in decent yarn.
Next came the fun bit, choosing yarns for my samples. I decided to use a merino/nylon yarn by Hand Dyed by Kate. I’d used this yarn before, for my Spindrift Shawl, and it’s just lovely to knit with. As a bonus, the skeins are a very generous length. I had a rough idea how much shawl I could expect to get from a standard skein, but it was nice to have plenty to play with. At this point, I didn’t have a name for my shawl, but it put me in mind of the sea and gently breaking waves, so I knew I wanted to carry that idea through in the colours. The 2 skeins on the right are ‘Patronus’, and I used those in the large shawl. The blue/purple skein is ‘Water Nymph’, and I used it for the small shawl. The red skein is called ‘Vampire Blood’ and I bought that just because!
There was three weeks of knitting like a maniac, blocking, spreadsheet jiggery-pokery, more sums and calculations than you can shake a stick at, and even charting, and I finally had all the elements I needed to put a pattern together. At this point, I almost chickened out completely. I’d posted photos of my shawls on Instagram as I’d knitted them, and taken them along to my knitting group, where they’d been admired but would people actually buy my pattern?
As crafters, we’re all familiar with the scenario where people admire your work and tell you you should sell it, then when you tell them how much you’d have to charge, you can see the blood drain from their faces. I know this first-hand because I sell some of what I knit on Etsy, or at least I offer it for sale. I have sold a few pieces, but it’s slow going. If I actually charged for all the time I spend on a piece, I’d never sell anything. As it is, I aim to cover the cost of my yarn, plus a little something for labour. A pattern is different though. In comparison to a finished piece, it’s very affordable. Whether or not you cover the costs of materials for samples, software, and time spent on it depends on how many you sell. Unless you’re very successful, it’s not an easy way to make money, but the overheads are reasonably low. Over time, there’s a more realistic prospect of covering your costs.
In the end, I pulled up my big girl panties and put my pattern forward for testing in one of the groups on Ravelry. In less than 24 hours, I had seven enthusiastic volunteers and I emailed my pattern out to them. Now, I was sure I’d gone through my pattern with a fine tooth comb and weeded out all the typos, etc, but it’s true what they say about proof-reading your own material. I was embarrassed at how many little errors they picked up before they even cast on! The next four weeks were pure pleasure. If no-one bought my pattern, it wouldn’t matter. I got such a thrill out of seeing their shawls take shape. It was marvelous to see the diverse range of yarns they used, semi-solid and tonal yarns, variegated yarns and even a stripey sock yarn, and all their shawls looked amazing. Even better, they all loved their shawls and had enjoyed working from the pattern. They were all fantastic and had lots of useful suggestions about how to present the information in the best way possible.
Finally, all the testers were done. Hopefully, all the problems and errors in the pattern had been ironed out. The final hurdle was publishing my pattern on Ravelry. Once you figure out where to start, the Ravelry Help pages are very good at holding your hand through the whole process. I’d got in a tangle initially, because to sell patterns on Ravelry, you have to be a designer on Ravelry, but you can’t be a designer on Ravelry until you’ve uploaded a pattern. It feels a bit chicken and egg, but I finally figured out that you can upload a pattern and become a Ravelry designer, then you do the offering it for sale part. I did have a brain ache by the time I’d finished though!
I’m under no illusions that I’m the next Martina Behm or Joji Locatelli, but, so far, over 70 people have bought my pattern – which is 70 more than I expected! I take my hat off to all the designers who manage to produce patterns on a regular basis. Producing my own pattern has made me realise how much goes into every pattern, and how time consuming each stage is. I have no idea if I have more patterns in me–I hope I do–but for now I’m going to sit back and enjoy watching people knit Chasing Waves.