Fringe pattern by Gabriela Longfish of Chalk and Notch.
Photo courtesy of Gabriela Longfish
Orchid Dress pattern by Gabriela Longfish of Chalk and Notch.
Photo courtesy of Gabriela Longfish
When Gabriela Longfish launched her Fringe pattern in August of 2017 she had no idea what was coming next. The pattern, which is for a woven blouse and dress, was an immediate success and, a year and a half later, continues to account for 30% of her revenue. Longfish isn’t 100% sure what it was about Fringe that customers liked so much. Was it that the design is flattering on a lot of different body types? Or that Fringe is relatively simple to sew? Or maybe it was just timing? Fringe launched during the back-to-school shopping rush.
“I sort of feel like it’s chasing a rainbow,” she says. “I tried using the same logic with the Orchid Dress (wraps are usually flattering and popular) and I was able to avoid the zipper, but the result wasn’t the same. I decided I can’t worry about it. I ended up feeling so disappointed.”
It turns out that what Longfish experienced is very common among pattern designers: one or two patterns far outsell all the rest. Although, as she found out, it’s impossible to predict for certain how a new design will do in the marketplace. From talking to dozens of designers it’s clear that bestselling patterns frequently have certain characteristics in common. Working to include some, or all, of these elements in a pattern, can help it have a better shot at rising to top seller status.
Woven Star Variation by Tara Curtis of WEFTY.
Photo courtesy of Tara Curtis
First Position by Melissa Winona of On Williams Street.
Photo courtesy of Melissa Winona
Triangles baby quilt pattern by Donna Westerkamp.
Photo courtesy of Donna Westerkamp
1. Visual Impact
A pattern cover with visual impact immediately catches the customer’s eye. That impact may be evoked through the pattern’s unique features, the sample’s striking colors or varied textures, or through the quality of the cover photograph. In some cases, it’s a combination of two or three of these factors.
Tara Curtis’ bestselling pattern is Woven Star Variations, a woven quilt pattern that uses her WEFTY needle. “It draws people in and makes them wonder how it was made,” she says of the design featured on the cover. “They feel like they need the pattern to figure it out.”
Melissa Winona’s bestselling pattern also packs a visual punch, but for a different reason. Her First Position quilt pattern includes an unusual textural element: tulle tutus. “The tutus are what really makes this pattern stand out,” she says. “They add fun texture and movement to the quilt. Especially at shows, we always make sure to take this one because it makes people stop. We sell a few of the other kids quilt patterns too, but not nearly as many as our ballerinas.”
For Donna Westerkamp what differentiates her bestselling pattern from all the rest is simple: the quality of the cover photo. “My bestseller really surprised me,” she says. “I think it’s the photo. It was the only one done by a professional.”
Sand Crabs quilt pattern by Jen Frost of Faith and Fabric.
Photo courtesy of Jen Frost
Surround Sound by Janet Brani.
Photo courtesy of Janet Brani
2. Easily Understood
Remember that although pattern customers are creative people (they are purchasing a pattern because they want to make something), they need instructions and they may lack confidence in some of their skills. At a glance, the customer needs to be able to discern what the project is so that they can evaluate whether they’ll want to take it on. Most customers looking at a new pattern will ask themselves, “Could I make this?” The pattern cover and marketing materials should make it instantly clear that the answer is yes.
When Jen Frost launched her Sand Crabs quilt pattern in February of 2017 she didn’t expect it to be anything special. In fact, out of the 21 patterns she’d designed, this one was the quickest. Yet, this pattern alone now accounts for 20% of all of her pattern sales, far outperforming all the others. Frost was surprised, but fellow designer Pat Weeks knows which characteristics led to its success. “I can easily see why it sells so well,” Weeks says. “Quilters are always looking for something to do with their finished quilts and this one would make a great gift for someone with a beach house, or even someone born under the Zodiac sign Cancer. I’m going to have to buy it, I think!”
Janet Brani’s most successful crochet pattern is for a lacy cowl called Surround Sound. Even though it’s a consistent seller for her, she says she debated even writing it at all. “It was so simple,” she says. Lesson learned.
Llama Ride-On Toy by Rena Dearden of Rustic Horseshoe.
Photo courtesy of Rena Dearden
Appleton Dress by Jenny Rushmore of Cashmerette.
Photo courtesy of Jenny Rushmore
Concord T-Shirt by Jenny Rushmore of Cashmerette.
Photo courtesy of Jenny Rushmore
3. Broad Appeal
In order for a pattern to become a bestseller it must appeal to a large pool of customers. Try capitalizing on a trend or revisiting a classic design. Timing can be an important factor, too, as Longfish saw with Fringe.
One of Rena Dearden’s bestselling stick horse patterns is her Llama Ride-On Toy which she says is doing so well because llamas are trendy right now.
Jennifer Refat has also been able to ride the wave of a hot trend with her YouTube channel. “I have a video about 12 ways to use a notebook that has over 29,000 views and makes up more than half my channel’s traffic,” she says. Her bet? “It may have to do with bullet journaling being so popular nowadays.”
Rather than relying on trends, Jenny Rushmore of Cashmerette Patterns seeks out classic designs that won’t go out of style. Two of her patterns, a t-shirt and a wrap dress, account for 25% of all sales. Both are basics which she says are universally likable “because who doesn’t wear basics?” Still, a broad appeal doesn’t guarantee success. Rushmore has launched other patterns for basics that haven’t done as well.
4. Good Value
Consumers like to get a good deal. Remember this doesn’t have to mean rock bottom prices. Instead, good value can come from superior quality instructions, multiple variations or sizes, or the ability to interact with the designer and her maker community.
Kim Lapacek says her Dresden Neighborhood pattern is a bestseller because it provides excellent value to her customers. “I think it’s because it’s so versatile and people can really make it their own,” she says.
Dresden Neighborhood by Kim Lapacek.
Photo courtesy of Kim Lapacek
Sleeping Fox by Andrea Tsang Jackson.
Photo courtesy of Andrea Tsang Jackson
Hazel Deer by Megan Price.
Photo courtesy of Megan Price
Word of mouth is perhaps the strongest form of advertising. Online, peer-to-peer recommendations spread fast and far. Customers who post photos of their makes help their followers discover new patterns and give them the confidence to try them out. Be sure to reshare this user-generated content to provide that extra social proof.
Andrea Tsang Jackson’s most popular pattern is her Sleeping Fox paper pieced quilt block. This pattern has many of the elements mentioned so far including capitalizing on a trendy theme (the woodland nursery) and offering good value (the block is just $8), but Jackson says what’s really led to this pattern’s success is its size and its hashtag. “It’s a small, quick project which means it gets posted more often under the hashtag #sleepyfoxquilt,” she says. “And every time someone posts, I get a sale.”
Megan Price says there’s something about her bestselling Hazel Deer sewing pattern that people just find inspiring. “She’s become more than a doll, and very much a character in her own right,” Price says. “It’s the pattern that is possibly shared the most on Instagram by others, which always makes people want to create her. Everyone has really adopted Hazel.”
How to Get the Most Mileage Out of Your Bestseller
Sometimes including these five basic concepts will still not be enough and a new pattern won’t sell as well as you’d hoped. Of course, it’s always possible that even without including some of these tactics, a pattern will unexpectedly take off. Either way, when you do find yourself with a bestseller on your hands, how can you make the most of it?
One idea is to host a sewalong or another group event to create even more excitement. Price held a pageant for her Hazel doll in 2017, asking her customers to sew dolls and submit them to a beauty contest held on Instagram.
Whatever you do, definitely continue promoting your bestsellers, even when they’ve been around for a while. Rushmore says, “I keep them often on my website homepage. I promote people making versions of them on social media. And we’re actually planning on doing a re-shoot and having new sample images on the front covers of the pattern to keep them fresh.”
Here are more ideas of how to make the most of a successful pattern:
- Add an expansion pack
- Turn it into a series
- Sew up a fresh sample to share on social media
- Make a video tutorial
- Reshoot the pattern cover
- Continue to promote it
- Create a unique hashtag
- Host a sewalong
- Make more like that one!