Sustainable Pattern Pricing

The following post will be a bit inside baseball, so if the mechanics behind the indie knitting industry are not in your wheelhouse, skip this one.

So, discussions about the pricing of indie knitting patterns pop up every few months. Sometimes it gets going on Twitter, sometimes it’s a blog post making the rounds, or a chat will start up in a forum on Ravelry. The gist of the conversation, up until recently (it seems to me) is that patterns are priced too low to reflect the work and costs that go into creating them. But, there is resistance to charging more - worries that the customer base will not tolerate it. The prices of sewing patterns are offered as comparison. (Usually $15+ USD compared to $6 USD for knitting patterns.) People share blog posts like this one from Thread and Ladle, outlining just how much goes into creating a quality knitting pattern. Or ones like this by Alex Tinsley, where a talented designer or dyer throws in the towel, because they simply cannot make a living. And then the conversation goes quiet for a bit, and nothing much changes.

Over on Instagram in the last few days, the discussion has popped up again. I think. It’s hard to say because I didn’t catch it as it was happening, and it was mostly in the ephemeral IG stories. Thank you to Webster Street Knittery for pointing me in the right direction. I have to say, I don’t love how these larger discussions play out on IG - I think it leaves a lot of people feeling they are playing catch up, missing the nuance or the original flashpoint. It can lead to feeling excluded from the conversation, like an outsider looking in, but that’s another issue altogether.

Anyhow, what I’ve gleaned from the stories I did find is that some designers - I don’t know who - were talking about raising prices to the $10 range. One response that emerged is that a higher price point for patterns could further exclude knitters with fewer financial resources from accessing patterns. One story I saw (sorry I can’t link to it or even say who wrote it because, you know, IG stories) posited that it would even hurt new designers, who have to price their patterns lower to enter the market, to compete with established designers who can charge more. Another thread I caught the tail end of seemed to be responding to the idea that those who couldn’t afford a $10 pattern could look for discounts and freebies, or flat out ask for a rebate due to financial constraints. The response I saw reposted, from Joji Locatelli, was that no one should have to jump through extra hoops to get a discount - access should be equal for all. Aroha Knits recently released a shawl pattern using a pay-what-you-can scale, and I get the sense that may have kicked off the discussion, but I can’t say for sure. It’s a pretty pattern - go check it out.

Here’s the thing: the most successful and established designers act as price leaders. They set the standard pricing, and the rest of the industry follows. While I don’t agree that new designers have to price their patterns lower than an established designer, perhaps that’s so, but they certainly can’t price their patterns higher. As long as the top creators set an average price point of $6-7 USD, that is where the average will stay.

But those designers also have the most to lose by raising prices - they already make a good living (by the standards of this industry anyway) and could be seen as greedy, and risk alienating their customers. Sitting over here in the second year of my business, I fervently wish to see a jump in prices that might allow me to make a similar move, and I hope this post will offer another perspective to those contemplating it. But I’m also aware that any organized effort would probably constitute price fixing - we really do all have to decide for ourselves on this issue.

But this is just me and my business, and not something I would usually consider airing in public. Inside baseball, like I said. But I want to respond to the idea that higher price point would further exclude new designers - I don’t see this at all. To be clear: the current pricing model for indie patterns is not sustainable. Based on the stats I have seen on Rav, about 100 people make a living wage at it. I can guess what the profile of someone who can weather years of making 1/3 of a living wage while working full-time looks like. I’d say it’s someone a lot like me: white, with a partner with a ‘real’ job, with savings and living in either a secure rental or their own home. If we as knitters, as pattern buyers, are cool with that, by all means, let’s all save $3 per pattern.

Add to that the shifting expectations of what a pattern should offer - expanded size range, professional photography, excellent editing and a long and thorough testing process - and the job has never been more demanding. I think these expectations are GOOD, and strengthen our work and community, and I strive to meet them. (This post is an excellent resource for designers and dyers looking to be size-inclusive.)

What I see is not necessarily a barrier to entry related to price, but a barrier to staying. If we want a diverse, thriving community of creative excellence - and I do! - fair pay for the work is essential. The rise of direct-to-customer digital sales means we can’t blame some anonymous middleman for devaluing the work - we do it. To ourselves. To each other.

I want to shout out a few companies who are pricing their work in a range I think is more sustainable. I’ve purchased from them multiple times and always thought the patterns were worth every penny.

  1. Tanis Lavallee of Tanis Fiber Arts (average $9 CAD for a sweater)

  2. Brooklyn Tweed design team (average $9 USD for a sweater).

  3. Rachel of Born and Raised Knits ($7-9 USD for a sweater - 9 sizes!)

If you are a customer of mine, you might be wondering if this means I’m going to raise my prices. I don’t know yet. I’m probably going to make some changes to the way I price, for example, I’m ending my 3 for 2 promo tomorrow and will concentrate on offering discounts though my mailing list going forward.

I’m going to leave comments open on this post and I will be moderating. I’m open to fruitful and respectful discussion happening here - but I’ll delete rehash, pot-stirring and hate of any kind.