I’ve been writing knitting patterns and books since 2004, when I signed a two-book contract with a major publisher for my Knitgrrl series. (We had a ponytail hat in one of those books, so watching the internet blow up with ponytail- and messy bun-friendly hats over the past month has been a source of constant amusement—and a reminder to revisit your old designs from time to time!)

My design output has dropped significantly in the past few years as I have been building Cooperative Press, my craft publishing business. I realized I needed to change that if I wanted to keep designing at all. My book The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design is in line for a major overhaul this year, as is my website, but there were three other factors that drove me toward a new way of tackling everything at once.

Calantha shawl.

Photo by Amber Patrick /aterrormusical photography

First, Ravelry released some interesting numbers a few months ago regarding not only how many designers were on the site, but also how active they actually are. When I teach publishing or designer bootcamps at events like Stitches or at local yarn stores, one of the things I stress is consistency. Truthfully, I haven’t been following my own advice, but I’m convinced that deep digging into that data would reveal that the more consistent your pattern release schedule, the better you’ll do overall.

In addition, I followed the recent #FairFiberWage discussion closely. Although teacher compensation and reimbursements kicked off that particular conversation, I know from being in this industry over a decade that teachers are not the only ones being expected to work for free or cheap. At a certain level, sample knitters make what designers do possible, and their compensation scale is all over the map.

Finally, I had a LOT of yarn staring me in the face that I neither had time to knit personally nor felt like moving, since we’re getting ready to move my studio for the first time since 2009. It was time for that yarn to go to work!

With all of these things in mind, I decided to create a Patreon project that could solve these multiple, more immediate problems, and hopefully even more problems for myself and other knitwear designers long term. Patreon is a website designed to allow creators to garner patronage in the form of monthly or per-item-release subscriptions from their fans. I chose to set my project up as per-pattern release, and to release the patterns once per week for a year. The base price is $4 per week, a discounted rate from current knit pattern pricing that is designed to take into account the fact there will be many different types of patterns being released. While I might only charge $5 for a simple hat pattern but $7 for a sweater on Ravelry, my patrons will get either pattern type for the same $4 each week. This also allowed me to make some basic projections: my initial goal is $1000 per release so I can afford to pay for all of the things that go into creating that pattern: technical editing, photography, models, my own time, my bookkeeper’s time running the numbers for the project—you name it.

Casta cowl.

Photo by Amber Patrick /aterrormusical photography

Kimber socks.

Photo by Amber Patrick /aterrormusical photography

Signy hat.

Photo by Amber Patrick /aterrormusical photography

Part of the appeal of this project (since no one actually NEEDS 52 new patterns in their queue) is what I call the “nosiness factor.” I will be reporting on pattern sales and on all the “aftermarket” considerations that go into creating and selling patterns. Did I place a Ravelry or Facebook ad for this pattern? How did that affect sales? Did the yarn company whose yarn I used blast their social media accounts with photos? What happened then? How many different data points and inputs can we track, and actually ANALYZE for useful information? Can we turn that analysis into advice for other designers? Is there information in the Ravelry API we can use?

As with most designers, I am always getting paid last, so I’m hoping we’ll go over the $1000 mark each week at Patreon. To be brutally honest, it’s tough to create when you’re constantly worried about your highly variable income, and anecdotal data from other designers confirms that everyone’s income is down overall. It’s why we’re seeing established designers with even longer track records than mine stepping back or stepping down altogether. It’s why I have been spending more time on the handmade craft shows I’ve been running since 2004 and less on knit design: I can rely on the income.

When I asked for interested sample knitters for the project, I got an overwhelmingly large response right off the bat. We formed a private Facebook group so we could communicate with them all at once. (By “we” I mean me and my longtime technical editor Andi Smith, without whom this project would not be happening at all.) I’ve been polling them about payment rates and other industry information on their particular portion of the front lines. And I’ve been scheming ways to improve their visibility, and (more importantly) their payment. Some things don’t even cost me anything! For example, I’ve been posting the sample knitter’s info on a credit line, the same as I do for my photographer, when the pattern is published.

I’ve looked at the hand knitting industry through many different lenses over the years. As a former software support person married to an IT engineer, we often interpret information in that light. He’s constantly shocked at the level of free basic knitting support knitters expect from designers, and after I stopped laughing for ten minutes and explained that no, I could not charge for supporting my patterns, because all you need is one angry customer and your social media will blow up for the next month, well…that was that.

The new way I’ve started looking at hand-knitting design is through a high fashion lens. No one thinks Karl Lagerfeld sews every piece that goes down the runway at Chanel. He’s responsible for sketching the looks, for handing them off to other skilled professionals for production, and for bringing them all together at the end in one cohesive, brand-focused THING (be it a runway show or a shop window). I’m good at that. I’m good at breaking the vision down into its component parts. I am NOT a fast knitter. I’m not a fast pattern writer either, honestly. (There’s a reason there are books and classes specifically on the art of writing knitwear patterns). What I am good at is rallying the necessary resources to create that collection and bring it to life with help from other pros.

In my case, the pros are the sample knitters, the tech editor, the photographer, the models, etc. I can’t (and shouldn’t!) do everything myself. It’s inefficient and it’s ineffective. And if I want to make a living wage in a challenging industry where my competition is willing to work for free or for cheap, I need to not only cut out as much inefficiency as I can, I need to put out a superior product.

Malus mitts.

Photo by Amber Patrick /aterrormusical photography

So I hire (and PAY) great sample knitters. I pay the tech editor and the other people involved in crafting that final pattern file. And along the way as these patterns are released, I will track as much information about the pattern inputs as I can so that my good results can be reproduced by other designers.

This Patreon probably looks like a real cash grab to some outside observers who don’t know what’s been going on in our industry. They’re probably rolling their eyes at the thought of $1000 per week “in my pocket” because no one really knows just how expensive it is to produce quality patterns. Yes, “in my pocket” is slightly sarcastic.

I can tell you off the top of my head that over a tenth of that $1000 is straight out the door just to keep my freelance bookkeeper working.

It’s akin to paying a full-time homemaker a living wage for the work she puts in. (Official estimates for that work range start at a low of $36,000, not counting overtime of more than $70,000, if you follow some of the calculations on this.) I have terrible allergies, so I pay a cleaner to come every two weeks. She makes about $25 an hour from me, which is well worth me not having allergy-induced migraines all the time. That’s a nice hourly sum, but I don’t know how much she’s putting aside to cover her self-employment tax, supplies, and all the other things she has to pay for out of that money.

Shannon Okey

Shannon Okey


Shannon runs her own publishing venture, Cooperative Press, and most recently served as editor-in-chief of Yarn Forward. She also owns and operates Knitgrrl Studio, a teaching space and shop in Lakewood, Ohio.

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