Tuesday, October 14, 2014

9 Tips for Keeping Your Costs Down as a Knitting Designer

(This one's for the designers, so for everyone else, here's some pretty and thematically-related yarn: )

Stash that green, yo!

I feel like I am always seeing designers bemoan how rarely their patterns actually cover the true costs of their creation. That's not surprising- the hours knitting, the testing, the editing, the photography... it all adds up! While a new business probably shouldn't expect to be profitable right off the bat, there does come a point where something has to give- either you need to take in more money, or hemorrhage out less of it. Since pattern prices are fairly fixed (try asking more than $6 or $7 for something and just see what kind of nasty emails you get!) and increasing your sales is a whole 'nother topic (that you are already putting a lot of effort into, right?) today I wanted to focus on ways to cut your production costs.

1. Bundle
Save up a few patterns to photograph and have edited all at once. Tech editors, photographers, and models often have a minimum rate- for instance a TE might charge you for a minimum of 1 hour even if the edit was quicker than that, or a photographer might have travel costs rolled into her fee. By doing multiple patterns at once, you'll save. Even if you're just doing it yourself, I find it's easier to get into "groove" and batch photograph, type, etc.

2. Shop around
A good photographer, illustrator, or tech editor is definitely worth paying for and you shouldn't just go with the cheapest candidate. That said, there are differences in pricing, service, and turn-around time - try working with a few different folks until you find someone who really clicks. Be aware of exchange rates- a falling dollar might mean that it's pricey for a US designer to work with a UK tech editor (even though the TE is charging a totally fair price.) On the other hand, if your country's currency is the strong one, it might be worth looking cross the border/ocean for your contractors. Shop around for your web services as well- there's a wide range of pricing for things like hosting, domain names (you probably don't need to spend more than $10 a year on a domain name unless you want something very specific and in-demand) mailing list services, etc.

3. DIY...
Technically the only thing you truly need to outsource is testing/tech editing. The rest, you can learn to do yourself if you really want to- it's just a matter of whether you've got more time or more money ;-) We'll assume, for the moment, that you're richer in time. Hit up the library and YouTube and devote some afternoons to learning to shoot great photos or use a graphics program. It might take you a full day to learn to draw schematics in Inkscape... but once you know how to do it it's something you'll never have to outsource again. Photography can be tricky to learn as there are so many variables, but once you've nailed a great, reliable recipe for shooting patterns (e.g. "This wall has great light between 3 and 5 pm on overcast days, and then I'll just need to bump the contrast and saturation up a little in an editing program") you can go back to it over and over. (While, of course, practicing and learning more in the meantime. You might get bored with that wall eventually!) You can even be your own model if you've got a tripod and remote (both fairly cheap.) Need a logo? It could be a complicated graphic.... but it could also be your name written out in an awesome font that you bought from a typeface designer for a few bucks. Maybe stick some lines under it or a circle around it.

4... but know when to Buy
If something is going to take you an insane number of hours to learn, doesn't sound particularly appealing, and especially if it's something you'll only need to buy once... it might be worth it to buy instead. A great example is a blog template- you can get a gorgeous one for $30 or less on etsy, stick your custom logo/picture/links/etc into it, and voila! No need to learn CSS (a little basic html/CSS knowledge is super helpful for tweaking, but for the most part you can Google "How do I do X in blogger/wordpress" and find a very specific walkthrough.) Or maybe you absolutely HAVE to have a graphic logo, in which case... you should probably hire a pro if you haven't had much experience. While a nice text logo looks perfectly profesh, amateur graphics scream "I did this myself and I don't really know what I'm doing!" Likewise, if you really can't seem to get the hang of taking pattern photos... find a photographer. Photos are so very, very important, and while I think most people could learn to do it themselves given time, practice, and half-decent equipment, if you're not there yet, don't settle. (Side note: I will give you a recommendation that I think I have given to literally every designer I've ever done a Brain-Sesh with: read this book.)

5. Beg, Barter or Steal
No, not really the last part. Don't steal things. But bartering? Bartering is great. Maybe your model will model your sweater in exchange for some photographs taken for her outfit blog or her handmade jewelry business. If you're lucky, your children may agree to model in exchange for being fed, housed, clothed, and raised to adulthood. Test knitters are often willing to barter time for patterns or yarn. I wouldn't condone asking someone to work for free, but often there are mutually-beneficial agreements that can be reached. Sometimes friends and family have old computer or camera equipment around collecting dust that they'd sell you for a song or loan you long-term - maybe put the word out on Facebook that you're in the market. Keep an eye on the "free/sale" section of craigslist- often estate sales are liquidating yarn stashes. Make ample use of your local library for education and inspiration- sometimes they even have things besides books to loan out (usually it's stuff like power tools, but hey, worth checking out.) When your parents call you up to pester you about what you'd like for Christmas, maybe you don't actually need new fluffy slippers. Maybe you need a tripod, instead, or a nice gift certificate to your LYS.

6. Shop the Sales
This kind of goes with the last bit, but... don't pay retail for your yarn if you can avoid it. Once you're well-established, of course, you may be able to get yarn support and it will be a non-issue...but until that point, look for sales. If you work at an LYS (or can snag a few hours work a week at one), make good use of that employee discount. Otherwise, keep a sharp eye out for sales on your favorite brands. Subscribe to the newsletters of the big online yarn retailers as well as your local shops, and try to have some money in reserve so you can strike when the opportunity arises. I know some people don't like stashing, but if you wait to buy the exact amount of yarn you need when you need it, you're probably going to have to pay full price. (Just make sure you USE the yarn, don't let your investment languish forever.) Same goes for non-yarn items, of course, and don't forget to make the most of that student discount if you happen to be in school- you can save big moola on computers with that magical little ID card.

7. Start Small
An accessory requires far less yarn, less time, and less of a TE's time than a garment, which means it's much cheaper to make. But due to weird pattern pricing pressures keeping garment patterns priced low (say that ten times fast), the prices between the two aren't that different. People who knit mostly accessories, as opposed to mostly garments, can knit far more of them in a given span of time, and therefore publish more patterns. I haven't actually run the numbers on any of this, but I suspect all these factors might add up to make accessory patterns more profitable than garments on average. At the very least, they are a great place to start since the cost and commitment will be a lot lower. You might not be able to afford to design a sweater in that gorgeous new yarn that everyone is gaga for, but you can probably swing a cowl (and using the gorgeous yarn that everyone is gaga for is often worth the investment- it'll look better in photos and it'll turn up in more "suggested pattern" searches.)

8. Trim the Fat
Take a hard critical look at your design process. Is there anything that could be eliminated? Do you knit an entire sample in "practice" yarn before using the yarn you'll publish with? Maybe you could get by with just a large swatch instead. Are you having to reshoot items because the photos aren't coming out right the first time? Make sure to check photos on the back of your camera and take far more than you need - and learn to zoom in on the screen so you can check that the shots are in focus. Maybe you've got some design flops that could be frogged and the yarn reused? Do you absolutely need both testers and a tech editor, or do you find that having both doesn't decrease the number of errors by very much? Look for things that are leeching your time or money and ruthlessly assassinate them.

9. Use What You Have
Maybe your boyfriend is a total shutterbug who'll take your pictures for free 'cause he just likes lookin' at yer purty face. Maybe your daughter is model-gorgeous and happy to help out in exchange for the snazzy new Facebook profile pics. Maybe your parents will let you live in their basement while you're starting your business, or your friend is cozy with a LYS owner and can get you the hook up on some trunk show action. Perhaps you have a rich aunt who'd think nothing of helping you buy some new equipment, or an ex-photographer stepfather who will long-term-loan you his camera. Point being, if you've got any unfair advantages, use them. All is fair in love and business, and you can bet your ass everyone else is using theirs. Never be ashamed of making the most of anything you've got. And if you don't have an easy breaks? Well, that's a bummer, and its not fair, and you're going to have to work harder... but it's still possible to get where you want to go. Remember that, to an extent, you can make your own advantages- maybe it's time to start cultivating some relationships by reaching out to local yarn shops, or start working your Facebook network to find friends-of-friends who're up for a barter. It can even be as easy as joining a stitch 'n bitch to get valuable knitter feedback on your latest designs.

Well that's what I've got off the top of my head- designers, if you've got any other cost-saving tips you'd be willing to share, please do!

(psst- if you enjoyed this post you might like this ebook, too :-) )


  1. this is just the best :) perfect reminder timing for me too!

  2. Great post! I especially like the "trim the fat" suggestions. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I realized I was spending an absurd amount of time answering questions about my designs, so I added an FAQ section to the pattern pages on my website. I think I could definitely find some more things to streamline in my process.

    1. FAQs are lifesavers! Even if people don't find them, at least you can point them over there when they ask instead of typing things out repeatedly ;-)


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