People are rivers

(Although the end of that last quote is a tough one for someone with a mental illness – it’s impossible for me to smile and be carefree sometimes and I try not to blame myself/beat myself up for not being able to while still striving to smile & be carefree. It’s complicated.)

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Mannequin Arrival, Thoughts on The Yarn Office

I ordered a mannequin last week because the latest batch of pictures for the Quill Eyelet Cowl were pretty dismal selfies. I am no model and while I can sometimes get an acceptable-to-me selfie, it takes me a long time and some days I’m just not into it. Enter the mannequin. It was under $60 total and was super easy to assemble. It did smell a bit, so I kept it on our screened in porch for a day and then sprayed it down with Febreeze. I’ll probably name it – something like this really needs one – but for now it’s just The Mannequin.

MultiLaceMannequin
Small Quill Eyelet Cowl On My New Mannequin

I started retaking pictures of The Mannequin in quill eyelet lace cowls to replace the dismal selfies in the pattern listing on Ravelry & Craftsy and to get ready to release it on etsy since today is the deadline I set for offering it for free. I think they turned out pretty well – definitely better than wild haired me scrambling to get in position while the camera timer counts down.

Over the last week, I’ve spent a lot of time on SEO for The Yarn Office, my etsy shop. Honestly, I’m getting a little discouraged. I know SEO and etsy shop marketing are long term activities that aren’t necessarily going to yield immediate results, but some positive feedback, even a purchase, would be nice. I started the shop in 2011, tried for a few months to get it off the ground, and then got distracted by/entranced with roller derby. This time around I’m trying to be more tenacious and patient while reviving the shop (or really, just breathing some life into it).

Even if I end up putting more money into it than I’m getting out of it (the current state of affairs), I’ll likely still continue designing patterns and knitting and making one-off art pieces. I’m just not sure if I’ll be doing those things on etsy – I’d rather spend money on etsy buying handmade goods than futilely trying to sell them.

Why I’ll No Longer Offer Free Patterns

When I wrote my first pattern two years ago, the Owl Honeycomb Blanket, a friend told me not to give it away; she said that even though I didn’t think it was too hard to come up with, I still put valuable time and effort into it and should be compensated. She also pointed out that if I didn’t put value on it, no one else would. It boiled down to this: I didn’t think the patterns were worthy enough to be sold. But I listened to my friend and much to my surprise, people bought it anyway. Even people who didn’t know me bought it. I was grateful (am still grateful) and each new purchase puts a skip in my step.

Loerelei's Blanket 3
Owl Honeycomb Blanket

But then a year went by and none of the handful of people who bought pattern made the blanket (well, made the blanket and added it as a project on Ravelry). I added more patterns to Ravelry and etsy; even fewer people bought those and again, no one made them.

To encourage more people to download my next pattern, which I released last month, I made it available for free for a limited time. Lots and lots of people downloaded it – over 400. What an ego boost! Someone actually even read the pattern and found a mistake in it. Yes, I put it out there without leaning on my tech editor friend who helped me enormously with all my previous patterns. But I thought “I really got the Infinite Wave Cowl out there! People on Ravelry queued and favorited it and some even commented on what a nice pattern it is!”

So I released another pattern last week with similar results over less time – even more people have downloaded, queued, and favorited the second pattern, the Quill Eyelet Cowls. What an ego boost! How gratifying!

I thought people would fall in love with the patterns the way I did and start making them right away. I planned to continue releasing patterns as free for a week and then charge for them … until I read some really well-thought out posts from other designers explaining why giving away patterns, even for just a limited time, really isn’t going to be good in the long run for me or for other designers. Worst of all, it probably won’t help with my short-term goals of getting more people to actually use the patterns, see how well written & designed they are, and buy more/make more. Why won’t offering free patterns help me reach these goals? There’s very little overlap between the people who seek out free patterns and those who actually knit them; a lot of people just collect them. I know more than a few people who do this, and one who got an extra storage disk just for her knitting patterns.

I thought offering patterns for free for a time would help me avoid using a tech editor. It finally dawned on me on Friday, after receiving a private message about a mistake in the Quill Eyelet Cowls pattern (since corrected) that I would think a designer who has to issue updates so soon after a pattern release probably has mistakes even in their paid patterns, so why bother paying? Even though I fixed the problem immediately and issued an update, it still indicates some unprofessionalism. Really, I should tap into not only my tech editor, but test knitters before releasing patterns.

Other reasons to charge/not make patterns available for free:

  • If you don’t value the a pattern, no one else will.
  • Something that you put effort,time, expertise, and money into has value.
  • It adds to the flood of free patterns that are making it difficult for other designers to make a living in the industry – why pay for a pattern when there are so many good free ones available? Why pay for a pattern when you can spend your money on better/larger quantities yarn?
  • People may be less likely to pay attention to the difficulty rating or the skills needed to complete the pattern (which I include in the pattern descriptions), which would be frustrating for them and possibly for me from a pattern support perspective.

So. That’s it. That’s why I’m going to stop ignoring that friend who gave me such good advice two years ago and set a price on all my new patterns. I hope eventually people will read & use them, but even if they don’t, I still enjoy the process and will continue, which sounds like it could become an exercise in futility, but there it is. Writing patterns combines my creative side with my tech writing side and it make me happy.

Quill Eyelet Cowl: The Cowl Saga Continues

Yes, I know it’s the wrong season for wearing cowls, or mostly the wrong season; when I worked in an office, the air conditioning ensured that I could’ve used all the hand knits I had all summer. However, spring & summer are the right seasons to knit cowls. Really, any season is the right season to make cowls; they’re small projects, a fast and satisfying knit. In the summer, their smallness means so you don’t have the weight and wooliness of say, an afghan or the body of a winter sweater on you. They’re also easy to take with you when you travel. So without further ado …

Introducing the Quill Eyelet CowlsQuill Eyelet Cowls! A pattern two-fer (two patterns, one file) that’s available on Ravelry and Craftsy for free until April 22. If you’re not a knitter, both the small and long cowl samples I made are available on etsy and I’m more than happy to create a custom listing for you.

My Wordless Wednesday this week was a visual tour of my design process. A week ago I started thinking with yarn again, playing with stitches. I tried cables again but that wasn’t working – it turns out double-sided cables have limits; they can’t travel horizontally across the fabric and still be reversible. I gave up on trying for a reversible fabric and tried to find a lace pattern that I liked. I pulled out Knitting On The Edge and Knitting Over The Edge, which have always inspired much more than just edges for me. Side note: Barbara G. Walkers Treasuries have been on my wish list for years but I just haven’t gotten around to getting them; if you’re reading this and wondering what to get for my birthday next month here is a big hint.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Lace.Dream Scarf: Close I wanted something airy for the warmer months and something that would show off the texture and color variegation in the Noro Akogare I bought in a stash sale on Ravelry. I found the quill eyelet edging in the lace section of Knitting On The Edge. It’s similar to and pictured on the same page with razor eyelet, which I’m familiar with from knitting Lisa Bruce’s Favorite Scarf Ever; to the right is a close-up of my version.

Purple Scarf: CloseQuill eyelet is much more airy than razor eyelet; the solid part of the knitting is much more narrow. This makes it a perfect spring-summer-fall cowl, a cowl that’s more for looks than for keeping warm. I wanted the first cowl to be a long loop that could be worn doubled, so I used a provisional cast on, knit it flat, and grafted the ends together. It took about 150 yds (more than 1 skein) of Valley Yarns Berkshire to finish and I knew that making the same cowl in Noro Akogare would take two skeins since they are put up in 102 yard skeins. I thought it would be better to design something that only takes a skein of really nice yarn for knitters who have fallen in love with a yarn but can’t afford more than one skein, or for those of us who fall in love with a yarn and buy it without having a project in mind. So I designed the second cowl to be smaller and knit in the round to show off the wavy horizontal edge that quill eyelet makes. And that’s how the Quill Eyelet Cowls came to be. ::bows::

Cowl Kick, Pricing Finished Knits

I’ve been on a cowl design and making kick after spending a couple months working on a Exeter cabled sweater. I can’t stop with the cowls now – they’re quick, easy projects that give me near-instant gratification.

The cowl kick started at the end of the sweater project. For about 2 years now I’ve been trying, somewhat successfully, to knit down my yarn stash. I wanted to find something to do with 3 skeins of Plymouth Earth Ecco Baby Camel that’s been in my stash since 2008. InfiniteWaveCowlIt’s a bulky weight yarn that Mr. Q got for me at With Yarn In Front for my birthday & Mother’s Day. He got it intending for me to make a hat with it, but the hat designs I found for it over the years haven’t wowed me. I wanted something close to the skin for this luxury fiber, a reversible fabric, and a cowl that could be finished as a loop or a möbuis. (Möbiuses are so cool! Two sides become one! What’s not to like?) After swatching, ripping out, and more swatching – thinking with yarn is what I call that process – I came up with the Infinite Wave Cowl. It’s a relatively quick knit, I can finish one in about 12 hours, and fun. It’s easy enough for TV knitting, but the cables keep it interesting.

I wrote the pattern up and decided to make it available for free for a limited time to get it out there in the knitting world. I’ve published 4 other patterns (Owl Honeycomb Blanket, Pasithea baby blanket, Double Rainbow Scarf, and Feathermoss stole) with limited success – under 10 people have bought them (some less than 5) and no one else has actually made any of them, just me. And so with the Infinite Wave Cowl, I’ve made 5 so far; 4 are available in The Yarn Office and I sold one to a friend. Although no one else has cast on yet, over 400 people have downloaded the pattern when it was free on Ravelry & Craftsy. I even briefly made it onto the first page of Ravelry’s hot right now patterns! Hooray!

So all those cowls I made are also now available in The Yarn Office. I’ve had some people exclaim that the price is relatively high, so I wanted to explain how I arrived at the prices. After some research, I’m charging 20 cents/yard + the cost of materials. So, for example, the Infinite Wave Cowl uses 220ish yards of yarn; 220 x .2 is $44. If a scarf takes me 12 hours to knit, that means I’m earning slightly less than $3.67/hour. Not only did I knit the cowl, but I also spent time designing it using skills I’ve built up over time, none of which are factored into the price. From my perspective, $3.67/hour is a bargain for you; minimum wage in my state is $7.25/hour, so I could/should be charging a base price of $87. Or could/should I charge closer to my hourly rate in my chosen profession as a technical writer, which requires some of the same skills, at $45+/hour?  These finished cowls are a bargain.

Now let’s talk about materials. 220 yards of bulky/chunky weight yarn doesn’t seem like much. I should just be able to pop over to JoAnn’s and Michael’s for something cheap, right? The least expensive suitable yarn available at JoAnn’s is Big Twist Collection Chunky Yarn at $4.49 for 195 yards of 100% acrylic yarn. Aside from the fact that I don’t find knitting with or wearing acrylic enjoyable, I would need 2 balls of this yarn to complete a cowl – $8.98. So the total for even the least expensive cowl would be $44 + $8.98 = $52.98. That’s certainly less expensive than the baby camel cowl I made the pattern for – materials for that cost $54, but it’s baby camel! Try to find that in a store! Or the alpaca scarfs I have available – materials for them cost me $31 each and I priced the cowls at $75 – can you even find a 100% alpaca scarf in a store? So yes, I can make them for less money but at the same time, yarn isn’t free and neither is my time.

Could the knitting be outsourced to hand-knitters in other countries and made for less? Sure, that happens, but most of those hand-knitters still aren’t receiving a fair wage in their economy. Could these be made on a machine in a factory (probably in China) in large quantities for less? You bet, but I don’t have (or want) those resources. Offering these handknits for sale on etsy clearly isn’t about making money for me or providing you with a cheap, disposable consumer good: this is more personal than all of that.