Show Notes · Stuff You Should Know

Episode 15: Behind Design

*Full disclosure: We are both designers and have patterns for sale on Ravelry. We are not doing this episode as a way to plug our patterns but rather as a way to share our knowledge.

There are two main routes for publishing knit and crochet patterns: self-publishing or publishing through a third-party publisher (print/online magazine, book, yarn company, etc.)

  • With self-publishing, the designer has control over the yarn choice, the photography, the layout, the price, and so forth. But the designer also has to cover all the costs.
    • The benefit is that the designer gets all the proceeds from sales.
  • With third-party publishers, a lot of the costs (and non-design work) are taken care of, but designers are typically paid either a flat fee or a royalty and there’s usually an exclusivity period during which time only the publisher can sell the pattern.
    • The upside is that if the pattern is a bomb, at least the designer has made the fee from the publisher for the initial rights.
      • These fees tend to go up the longer the exclusivity period.
      • Sometimes there’s an option for royalties after the exclusivity period has ended.

Step 1: Sketching and Swatching

  • Regardless of the publishing method, all designs start with an idea, and the designer usually develops that idea by sketching and swatching to play with shape, construction, stitch pattern, and yarn choice.
  • Designers may use resources like stitch dictionaries or charting software to play with color, pattern, texture, etc.
  • Swatching is done at this stage primarily to test out ideas and see them in yarn rather than to determine gauge, though it may also be used as a tool to determine the best yarn for the job (weight, construction, fiber content, etc.).

Step 1A: Submission (for third-party publishers)

  • If the designer wishes to publish the pattern with a third party, at this point they will create a submission for the third party.
    • Publishers often post calls for submissions online and create mood boards for themes or inspiration.
    • A submission sent in response to such a call contains a swatch/photo of a swatch, a detailed description of the item with a sketch (if necessary), desired yarn specifications, and a bio or link to the designer’s full portfolio.
      • Most submissions are sent via e-mail, though some publications still prefer a hard copy with a physical swatch to see and feel.
  • If the submission is accepted, the designer will sign a contract with the publisher that details the terms (payment, exclusivity period, etc.) and is given a deadline for sending in the sample and the completed pattern.

Step 2: Making the Sample and Writing the Pattern

  • If the designer is publishing with a third party, in most cases the publisher will provide the yarn that the designer is used to make the sample.
    • While the designer may have specified a particular yarn in their submission, it’s rare that they will receive that exact yarn (unless, of course, the publisher is a yarn company).
    • The yarn used for the samples for patterns in magazines often comes from advertisers.
  • If the designer is self-publishing, they either need to buy the yarn for the sample or ask a yarn company or indie dyer for yarn support.
    • Yarn support is yarn that is provided by the yarn company/dyer for free in return for the designer using the yarn in their sample and naming the yarn in the pattern. It’s a great way to collaborate with indie dyers and to do some cross-promotion.
  • Not all designers go through the process in the same way; some write the pattern and then make the sample, some make the sample and write up the pattern afterwards, and some some do the sample making and pattern writing concurrently.
    • If the pattern in question is a sized garment, there is often grading to do. Grading is the process of doing the math to make the pattern work for several different sizes. Although the pattern may be graded to multiple sizes, typically the designer only makes one sample in one size.
    • Designers who are particularly prolific often don’t have time to knit or crochet their own samples and will employ a sample knitter/crocheter. The designer will write the full pattern and then send it and the yarn to make the sample off to the sample knitter/crocheter (who will be compensated for their time).
  • If the design is being published by a third party, the sample and pattern are sent off to the publisher at this point.

Step 3: Photography and Layout

  • Once the designer has finished the pattern and the sample, the next step is to create the physical pattern. In addition to the instructions, that means taking photos of the sample and creating charts or diagrams and then putting all the elements together in a layout.
    • Photography might be done by the designer or a friend/family member of the designer, or the designer might hire a professional photographer.
      • Similarly, the designer might be the model (if a model is needed) or may hire a model or use a friend or family member.
    • Charts (for things like colorwork, cables, and lace) can be created using a number of computer programs. There are some charting programs available for free, but the more powerful ones typically require a purchase or fee to use them.
    • Likewise, layout can be done with free open-source software or professional design software, and the more powerful programs are the ones that cost money.
  • Third-party publishers take care of both photography and layout.

Step 4: Tech Editing and Testing

  • A technical editor reviews the pattern prior to publishing to make sure it’s correct and clear. This goes beyond editing the pattern for grammar, punctuation, and usage; tech editors also check that all the numbers are correct, that the numbers match the measurements given, that charts and written instructions match, etc.
    • Tech editors charge by the hour, and their fees range ($10-$50/hr.).
    • The more complicated the pattern is, the longer it will take to edit.
    • Some designers will use more than one tech editor, particularly if the pattern is a complicated garment design in many sizes.
  • Testing is optional but something that many designers do when self-publishing.
    • Having testers or preview knitters/crocheters make the pattern before it’s published gives the designer an idea of what kind of support questions they might expect, especially if the testers/previewers have varying levels of experience.
    • Having a pattern tested prior to release also ensures that there will be projects up on Ravelry other than the designers’ when the pattern is published.
  • Third-party publishers will handle the tech editing and usually have the designer review a layout of the pattern just prior to its publishing date.
    • Typically there isn’t time to test these patterns, but if designers choose to do it, in most cases the testing has to be secret (pictures have to stay offline prior to publishing).

Step 5: Publishing


Costs associated with self-publishing:

  • Materials: yarn (if not getting yarn support), hooks/needles, notions, embellishments
  • Production materials: charting software, layout software
  • Photography (if paying a photographer and/or model)
  • Tech editing
  • Time!

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