The Free Motion Quilting Project: Quilt Biz #4 - Selling Patterns

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Quilt Biz #4 - Selling Patterns

Last week we learned a bit about selling products you stitch individually yourself - items you cut, sew, quilt, and finish which can be sold 1 time to 1 customer.

By the end of that article, I'd offered the opinion that this might not be the best way to make a living with your quilting business.  Yes, it can certainly work to create tote bags to sell just for extra spending cash, but to try to make a steady living this way could be a dangerous proposition because the second you stop cutting and sewing new bags, is the second you don't have a product to sell, and therefore can't make money.

You need to be able to make your time and effort worth more.

This is the main key that I'd like to teach you with this series of articles.  With quilters, and many crafters I've spoken to from other hobbies: knitting, weaving, spinning, blacksmithing, etc, many of us have a tendency to undervalue our skills.

We know how to do these things, we've been doing them for years, and have built skill and experience to the point that it's easy to dismiss or devalue what we do.

In high school, I knew I was different because I was the only girl that showed up to prom in a handmade dress, but, as I said over and over that evening, anyone could make a prom dress!  They're really not that hard to make so long as you read the directions carefully.

What I was forgetting, even at 17, was that most of the girls I was in school with hadn't grown up sewing and really had no interest in learning.  I was devaluing my skills and interest because sewing had been something I always did and always loved.

So when think of your talent at your craft, try not to devalue it.  Don't dismiss your skills or experience, and always try to look at your creations from the eyes of an outsider - someone that has no ability to quilt at all.

Also try to remember the years it has taken for you to gain these skills - they didn't just pop up overnight like a zit on your forehead, did they?  It took years of working and playing with fabric to know how to cut it up just right to piece those blocks and to quilt over them that way.

This leads to my true point: You can and should be able to make a LIVING with your craft.

Based on my article last week, you might have been left thinking that making a living or supporting your family with a craft is an impossible goal.  It certainly can be impossible if you maintain a limited viewpoint of your skills and devalue your talent.

So the first step to making a living is to understand that your time and effort has value, and that it is worth far more than $10 or even $20 per hour.

The best thing you can do is totally eliminate the whole paid-by-the-hour idea when it comes to making money with your craft. 

For one thing, what you make today is dependent on what you learned last year, and the year before that, and the skills you might have learned years ago.  The idea that you can sum up all this time and knowledge and experience into a single price-per-hour figure is nonsense.  No figure can come close to what you're truly worth.

Yes, I did just say that - your worth, your skill, is incalculable.

Let that one sink in for a minute.

So instead of thinking in the old dollars per hour model, instead let's start thinking another way:

Dollars per Product by how many Years it will sell.   

Let's go back to the tote bag idea: you create a pattern and make 6 tote bags to sell.  Each tote bag takes around 2 hours to create. 

Using the old mentality of dollars per hour, you'd charge $45 for these bags and make somewhere around $20 per hour, but you'd only be able to sell them one time, so once the six sold, that'd be it.  The maximum amount of cash you could get from this experience is: $270.00.

Now let's explore this new mentality:

Instead of selling the actual tote bags, you will sell the PATTERN.

A typical pattern for a quilted project runs anywhere from $5 - $15 dollars.  Let's say you decided to sell your tote bag pattern for $7.00.

This pattern is quite a different product.  Yes, you took time and energy to create it.  Yes, it took many hours to draft the pattern, come up with logical directions to put the bag together, and wrote it all down in a clear, concise way.  Yes, the pattern has value.

But unlike the bags, you can sell the pattern many times.  It's no longer a one shot deal - you can sell this pattern hundreds, if not thousands, of times and it will never lose it's value.  At $7.00, it's a price low enough to appeal to quilters, but high enough to pay you for the time it took to create it within the first 10 sales.

Even better, you can sell this pattern for years.

There is no law that says a pattern can only be sold in the year it's written!  You could conceivably create a pattern in 2012, and still be being paid for it in 2050!

This is a much better way to make a living because you do not have to continually cut, stitch, and finish a product in order to make a sale. If you put your patterns on a website and set them up as downloads, they can sell anytime, even when you're out in the garden or on vacation, or sick with the flu.

In fact, the only limitation you will ever experience with your pattern is if you personally take it down, lose it, stop selling it, or give the resale rights to someone else.

The latter doesn't seem like a very big deal, but it is.  Allow me a quick tirade about resale rights.

Let's say you wanted to write a book of 12 quilt patterns you personally created.  You drafted these patterns, made multiple quilts with them, and had gained popularity by showing them and teaching the techniques used within them.  You even sold individual patterns for each quilt for around $10 each.

So you write the book and pitch it to a big publisher.  They decide to publish it and give you a giant, nasty contract to sign.  Within that contract, within the depths of the legalize it's written in, you will be effectively giving up your rights to those patterns.

You can still teach the techniques within the book, but NOT the patterns you used to sell and make $10.00 on each. Those will have to come off your site in order to not "conflict" with the book.

Yes, this might sound okay because at the end of they day, all those patterns will be published in a gorgeous book, right?  A book published by a big publisher will surely earn you a living, right?

Wrong.  It will be in a book, and yes, it may look pretty, but it probably won't make nearly as much cash for you as it would if you'd published the book yourself.  Depending on the size and scale of your book, your royalty will be somewhere around $1 per book.

You also have no guarantee of the longevity of that book.  Once you give away your resale rights to that publisher, they will sell the book only as long as it's profitable for them.  What do you think "out of print" is?

The ONLY advantage of going with a big publisher is their potential traffic.  Publishers dish out lots of cash to market and sell certain books, and they do have access to wide distribution chains which allows your book to show up in all major quilt shops. 

Yes, this is certainly nice, but if you're doing your homework with content and traffic, why do you need that big publisher?  If you already have loads of traffic, you don't need what they're offering. 

Keep in mind that resale rights and copyright aren't the same thing.

You create a product (the pattern) and have the right to sell it because it's yours - you did all the work!  If you want to bother with it, you can set up licenses for other people to sell your patterns too, or you can just provide print copies for store owners to sell.  It's really entirely up to you if you want other people to be able to sell your pattern or not.

As the creator of the pattern, you can copyright the words and images used within it.  Remember, you can't copyright the actual techniques (like freezer paper applique), but you can copyright the actual layout of the appliqued shapes for each block.

Copyright is intended to protect your product from theft.  You bothered to take the time to create the quilt pattern, it would really suck if someone immediately ripped it off and began selling it for cheaper than you were.

But here's the thing to keep in mind: no one can steal your traffic.

If you've been blogging and teaching techniques with those pretty patterns, you've built up quite a supply of traffic that likes your work.  They will naturally buy from you when you come out with new, cool, pretty patterns.

A thief won't have access to your traffic.  They might be able to rip off your pattern, but they probably won't have much luck selling it.  If they do sell the pattern on a site like which has lots of traffic for patterns, will this even hurt you?

It sounds weird to say it, but there really is enough traffic to go around.  If at some point one of your loyal customers runs across that con artist, they'll blow the whistle on it and let you know what's going on.  You will not have lost sales because your traffic and the thief's traffic are not the same people.

The point here is to not go overboard about copyright.  Yes, it makes sense to have a copyright notice on your pattern, but try not to use strong language that might be taken out of context.  A simple: "Copyright - Please do not Resell this Pattern." is sufficient to get your message across.

Also, consider making your pattern Open Use.  This means quilters can make your tote bags or quilts for sale.  It would also save you time when quilters contact you for permission to use your pattern to make quilts for show.

Stop and think about it for a minute: how in the world could this hurt you?  A quilter buying your pattern still pays the pattern price just like everyone else.  Yes, they may make 100 tote bags with that pattern, but you better bet they're going to appreciate the fact that it's open use and will purchase more patterns when you come out with more.

So consider these ideas this week.  Rather than sell a product you stitch yourself, instead sell the pattern.  Not only will you be able to sell it an unlimited number of times, you will also be able to sell it for years.  Heck, even your kids could end up selling your patterns one day!

Next week we'll learn about the third way to make money with quilting: to purchase tools, fabric, notions, and, yes, patterns to resell in your shop.  This is a very popular way to start a quilt shop, but the high cost of entry and intimidating steps to get started can often hold you back. We'll learn how to overcome those barriers and get started on a small budget.

Here's the complete list of all 10 Quilting Business Posts:

Let's go make a cool new pattern!



  1. I'm working on writting patterns and IT IS HARD :) You make it sound so easy. I think that is why so many people are willing to pay money for a pattern, because if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Once you have your pattern written, how do you go about getting it published, or publish it yourself and then get it out in quilt shops or start to market it? what's the next step between writing a pattern, making sure it is a good one that other people can understand and then getting people to buy it? I've loved reading this series. You are great!

  2. Again, thanks for the useful advice. I am really liking this series!

  3. Many times, for me, it is in the sewing/creating that I have the fun. So I make the item(s) for sale. I don't do Etsy but I do individual local art/craft events. As long as I enjoy all the aspects of this: creation of the article (in multiples), packing the car with vending supplies, setting up at the event, spending time at the event, etc, I will continue but not depend on the $$$ generated as anything like necessary income. For some venues, I have discovered, patterns (with a sample product, possibly) works better. Sometimes I make both available and capture 2 audiences. It is a "juggling act", though that requires constant assessing of 'what the market' will bear vs. what price tag can be applied. It is a big world out there and there really is a customer just waiting for that "perfect" purchase....and I want that to be my creation!!!!

  4. Love you Leah! This series is excellent. I've been looking forward to reading it every week. I do design and sell my own patterns, and traffic is getting better and better. Thanks for the great article! Have a super day!

  5. Thanks for this post Leah. It's very timely for me as pattern designing is my next step. What has been holding me back is thinking it has to be perfect before I publish anything or that I have to spend lots of $$ contacting a professional publisher. But I love your dive-in and just do it attitude. And I've bought some of your patterns. You do a great job self-publishing!

  6. great post!! I do agree about selling products, I'm just doing a craft show at my kids school next weekend, and just beause it's at the school, the stuff that I'm selling, money wise is not worth the time, but I know everyone there and I was part of planning the event, but that's the only show I do. I have been toying with the idea of selling patterns and the stores tell me that I need lots of TESTERS so I've started that already, but it's a slow process. I DID get some fun news, I'm being published in McCall's in november and next february, I was thrilled and send them quilt #1 already, #2 is in the works, after 4 months I believe (haven't gotten the contract yet) the copyright goes back to me and then I can sell the pattern or whatever I want :-) I haven't had much luck selling my quilts, but as you know I long arm quilt and that is slow but also getting better slowly, so for me the SERVICE of quilting is a potential money maker more than the quilts, I'd rather give the quilts away, or enter shows, than be underpaid...BUT I may get a spot in a local gallery next year, and that's totally different clientele vs a craft show or internet etc. they already had one quilter there who sold most of her quilts at prices I agreed with, so... we'll see

  7. Leah, I want to thank you for these posts. I have been designing patterns for a long time, but never marketing them. I have people who see the finished item, asking for the patterns and seems life keeps getting in the way to really get busy and type up the instructions. That is my main roadblock. I can make the pattern no problem but putting instructions into word, and then finding how to scan and save the pattern itself so it comes out the correct size for others to make - scares me. I am horrible with words and have no idea on how to scan the patterns so that when they are printed, they come out the right size.
    Looking forward to your next post on this topic. I'm keeping notes and feel more motivated then ever to give it a try and learn the area's I'm weak in.

    1. It sounds like you and I could be great together! that's not a pickup line, LOL but I've just started sorting out peoples notes into sellable .pdf patterns. I've just started so I only have 4 Pattens listed so far but they seem to be doing well. Check out I love to tweak instructions ! (ps: im a real person!) :-)

  8. This is such good advice, I think a lot of us think about selling patterns, but it's intimating. Seeing it from this point of view makes a lot of sense. Thank you.

  9. I am having a hard time with the dollar per hour mentality. I have wanted to sell embroidered work but between the dollar per hour mindset and devaluing my skill, which is a very serious problem, I am to scared too pursue my craft as a living. I hope these Quilt Biz posts will sink in so I can follow my dream. Thanks, the info you are giving us it is invaluable.

  10. American (and British and Canadian) copyright law is very, very clear -- once someone purchases the pattern he or she may do whatever he or she wants with items made from it. Copyright law applies to the pattern only, not items made from it. It doesn't matter whether someone has written some nonsense on the pattern about not letting people make items for resale -- this is unenforceable and meaningless.

    So, a designer doesn't have to "consider" making his or her pattern open use -- it is, whether the designer likes it or not. This is a giant pet peeve of mine -- just the other day I saw someone had listed a quilt pattern for an extra-high price with a "cottage license" attached, as though once should have to pay for separate rights to sell items made from a pattern. It's ridiculous!

  11. You really have inspired me! I have two "similar" baby quit patterns that I designed and have had SOOOO many requests for the pattern. I have them all .pdf'd up and was going to offer them FREE on my blog if only I could figure out how to upload a .pdf on my blog! LOL. since I can't figure that out (nor do I wish to use scribd or google docs or whatever) I DO think I will sell these on etsy. I worry about copyright and the "details" though. I look forward to reading everything else you have to offer on this subject. Thank you so much!

  12. I knew you were going to say, "sell the pattern." I see two potential problems with this (maybe three). First, not everyone wants to or is capable of sewing as you pointed out so you just lost all those potential customers. Second, I have purchased patterns on more occasions than I care to remember that had instructions that were so poorly written, the item became a chore rather than a joy to create. Not everyone is skilled at converting actions into clear instructions. And the possible third problem is that if the pattern does come in high demand, (a good problem to be sure), you now have to take time away from sewing to constantly keep putting together pattern kits. Overall, I like the idea but people should be aware of the pitfalls.

  13. This is a great post! I am so glad I found it. I have been asked to create a pattern for a mini quilt I created for a shop challenge -I don't have a problem writing the pattern, but where do I go to get it printed up to sell?
    Thanks for any advice!
    Karen H

    1. Great question Karen! For short patterns (1-2 pages) I print them at home myself. I've run the math on print cost and I've found it cheaper just to buy extra toner and 24 - 30 lb paper (thicker than normal copy paper) and I just print and package short patterns myself.

      For longer patterns, I contacted a local print shop and had then run an estimate. You can also check out online printers too. The biggest issue with quilt patterns is making sure they print 100% full size so no templates or applique shapes get shrunk even slightly. I once received a bad batch of 200 patterns that had been automatically shrunk by an online printer and I didn't catch it until they had already shipped. It was a disaster!

      From that experience, I only work with a local printer where I can open and check the document before completing the purchase. I hope that helps!


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