Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Rethinking Pattern Prices

Rethinking Pattern Stuff

When I first decided to sell patterns, it felt like something of a no-brainer. If I'm going to sit down and design a quilt, I thought I might as well write down what I did and make a little residual money off my ideas. I made a quilt for a coworker's baby shower and decided that since I was giving that one away, it would be a good opportunity to make my first pattern and get a little of my cost back.

So, I wrote my first pattern. And with anything new that I try, I was scared witless. What if I'd left something out, what if I'd over explained the simple stuff and made it too convoluted to follow... there were a whole lot of what-ifs. So, instead of charging for it, I released it to the internet for free with a plea for feedback.

Within two weeks, it had been downloaded over 300 times. That was last November and I still haven't gotten a comment from any of that first chunk of people who downloaded it. Instead of throwing up my hands and thinking WTF, I'm taking it as a sign that it's fine and they were able to follow it easily. I'm still learning and may go back and revise my patterns to explain things in simpler ways.

It's hard knowing how to explain something to people of every skill level. A couple of months ago, I got a complaint about my bunnies...

Bunny quilt - CUTENESS!

The lady demanded her money back. I immediately refunded it and went back and looked at the pattern. I had over explained and while everything had made sense when I'd written it, it was convoluted. I'm not even sure I could have followed the pattern and I was the one who'd written it. So I sat down, revised, emailed her a free copy, and she was happy with it. I appreciate her feedback immensely. That interaction has done more for improving my pattern making skills than anything else that's happened.

Now there's been another shift.

I made a quilt for myself, finally. It had been a long time since I'd slept under a new quilt and I'd forgotten the feeling and what made me pick this up in the first place. I ran across Moda's Little Black Dress layer cake at the Worcester Quilting and Sewing Expo last year and it took my breath away. Every square was a work of art and I didn't want to cut any of it, so I sat down and worked out a very simple pattern that would showcase the fabric. Anyone who has made even one quilt could look at this and see the pattern, the parts to strip piece, and take about 10 or 15 minutes to figure out the measurements. Of course, it took me a day to finish the top and a year to get around to quilting it...
Easy Layer Cake Quilt

Because of all this, I just made the quilt, replaced the purple and cream Triple Irish Chain that's been on my bed for eons, and was thrilled the first morning I woke up and was able to wrap myself in my new quilt before starting my day and considered it a done deal. But, when I posted a picture of it on Facebook, a friend of mine wanted to know where she could buy the pattern. I sat down, made a one page PDF of the pattern and emailed it to her. Then I thought that if she wanted it, maybe other people would too. But then I ran into a pricing issue.

I wasn't about to give it away; I'd learned my lesson with the free owl quilt. I had to really think about pattern buying. If I'm making a quilt to keep or give away, I usually won't buy a pattern. If I'm making something to sell and someone wants a design they've seen from someone else, I feel morally obligated to buy the pattern and not just sit down with my graph paper and figure it out. That's what happened when someone told me that they liked this one... I bought the pattern.

Taffy Twists Quilt

Most people aren't selling their quilts, so would feel no real obligation to buy the pattern if they could see a picture and figure it out on their own. The main part of a simple pattern like this is the math and I had to ask myself, how much would I be willing to throw someone to do the math for me. Two bucks seemed about right, so I released the pattern for $2 and it has been selling like gangbusters. It's been up a few weeks and it has not only sold more copies, but even at 1/3 the price, it's brought in more money than any of my other patterns, even the ones that have been up for 6 months, and I haven't seen any signs that it's slowing down. This has made me rethink everything.

$2.00 worth of math leads to a Twin version of the layer cake quilt

When I was first discussing pattern prices with one of my local fabric store ladies, she was appalled that I was going to sell them for just $5. The applique quilt patterns take a lot of work on my part. I pay for the right to use the image, re-size it, break it apart, configure it so it prints out in the easiest-to-reassemble way possible, spend money and time making the example for the illustration, etc. That's a lot of work for slow sales.

For about a second, I was concerned that people were afraid of the applique - but then I remembered the 300+ people who showed no fear of the owl applique when it was free. I've decided that I am going to use the same logic I used on the layer cake quilt and just charge for the time it took me to do the math - for about a month anyway, just to see how it goes.

It's not like digital PDF patterns are something renewable that I have to pay to maintain or ever even think about again, for that matter. I worried that maybe dropping my prices so low would undercut other people's patterns, but most of mine are pretty unique (I think, anyway), so I'm not concerned about that.
Just as an experiment, so that I'll know whether it's my designs or my prices, I'm dropping everything to $2 and see how things go.

I keep reading in all of these business books to not undersell myself and to not under-price myself if I want to be taken seriously... I'm going to ignore them for now. I"m going to keep making cute baby quilts and off-beat throws and if this price cut experiment works, all my patterns might be just $2 forever. I've put off making patterns for these because it has just hasn't seemed worth it... but I'm actually feeling motivated again. I will be the Two Buck Chuck of my tiny corner of the quilting world.

Almost Antique

Manly Quilt of Manfulness

More bunnies

Summer Sailing

If any of you have pattern pricing experience and want to chime in, any comments or ideas would be appreciated.


  1. I feel the way you do 100%! I can't understand how sellers can sell a PDF for $10. I can understand a printed copy, mailed to you, can be that much, but PDF patterns should be much cheaper. They will sell WAY more copies and overall make WAY more money on them. I, too, plan to sell patterns in the future (still having fun making quilts for the Moda Bake Shop meanwhile), and I will also sell them at $2-3.

    1. Thank you, Karin. I was feeling very conflicted about this until this morning - it's good to hear some confirmation of my decision :-)