Deanna McCool of sewmccool.com loves to sew and write, equally. A former journalist, she spent more than 10 years as a quilter before turning to ribbon crafts and garment sewing. Her first book, 50 Ribbon Rosettes and Bows to Make, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2014. She enjoys writing about topics that affect sewists and bloggers, including this post unraveling U.S. copyright laws and another about respecting men who sew.
Deanna joined us with her “Goin’ to Camp” Duffel Bag and she showed us How to Choose Your Thread. She’s back with lots of information about Curated Pattern Sites. What are your experiences like when you purchase patterns online? Do you gravitate towards sites that curate the selection for you, or do you stick to a favorite designer? Do you rely on the recommendations of online sewists? Do you take a gamble and try new designs out for fun? Have you had good experiences with online pattern purchases? Tell us your thoughts about curated shops, pattern bundles, clubs and certifications…
Pattern design is an easy way to make money. Just draw some lines for your pattern, maybe using that special program that pops out patterns once you choose your design and sizes. Then dump it all into a PDF file, and poof!
Soon that $8-$12 a sale will land in your PayPal account with little effort.
A breeze, right?
Not so fast.
Pattern design isn’t fast or easy for most, but new designers are entering the field in droves. There has been a huge explosion in numbers the past couple of years because of increased social media, more accessible software and classes and heightened awareness about the the money and perceived “fame” that a few digital pattern designers have achieved.
Unfortunately, some patterns are far from perfect, and with slick photography it’s not always easy to tell the good from the bad until the customer opens the PDF file.
Several entrepreneurs are now doing their best to help customers wade through the sea of patterns by opening curated shops, offering bundles of patterns, offering monthly clubs or introducing the idea of “certifying” patterns. Rather than simply accepting patterns from every designer, some shops, sites and programs make an effort to pick only the best and most successful patterns to share with customers.
“The bar has been raised… You can’t just look at the cover and know that you’re getting a good pattern,” said Betz White, an established print and PDF pattern designer who has sold her patterns on different curated sites, in bundles and with the Bag-of-the Month Club during the past year. “Seeing (a designer’s) patterns in more than one place is going to add credibility.”
The Midtown Messenger Bag pattern by Betz White, sold on Indiesew.com
Curated shops like IndieSew, operated by Allie Olson and Steve Herschleb, and GoTo Patterns, operated by Andrea Pannell, showcase tested patterns from a variety of designers, established or new. The key is that each pattern is sewn, photographed and reviewed, so customers can feel good about their purchase before they take the plunge.
“Sample sewers divide up the list (of submissions) and go through each pattern with a fine-tooth comb,” Olson says. “Many pass with flying colors.” Olson said some designers are proficient with Adobe Illustrator but not with sizing standards, so it’s important to sew the pattern to make sure everything fits properly and the sizes work with the charts provided. “I’m a full proponent of supporting newbies, but we’re careful to check quality,” she said.
Olson and Herschleb, who started developing the site at the end of 2013, feature only women’s clothing and accessories, and photograph each design on a dress form to keep the site clean and appealing. When they pitched the idea to designers some were skeptical at first. But they had a few connections (including early support from Caroline Hulse of Sew Caroline) to get them started, and slowly other designers got on board. “Now we’re so thankful to be in a place where our designers come to us,” Olson said.
Rachael Gander of Imagine Gnats said she signed on with a few patterns after Olson approached her with a lot of information about how the site would be run. “I liked how it looked; I liked how it functioned,” Gander said. “I felt good– I didn’t have a lot to lose, really.”
Betz White started her foray into selling on curated sites with GoTo Patterns and liked the look and feel of the site, and the fact that Pannell selected which patterns to feature rather than asking for all of her patterns. Hand-selection makes the site feel special for both the customer and the designer.
And although the patterns found in curated shops can certainly be found elsewhere, Gander noted, having them in one place, with information about each pattern and maybe a review or two, is extremely helpful to customers who formerly relied on scouring Google image searches, Flipboard or Facebook for reviews. “And the idea that I can reach a different audience that I can’t otherwise reach is a plus too,” she said.
Another approach to bringing quality patterns to customers is to offer groups of patterns bundled around a common theme, selected from generally well-known designers and sold together for a short period of time. 2014 was “The year of the bundle,” noted White. But some bundles have come and gone, perhaps because of the amount of work necessary to create a successful bundle sale.
Perfect Pattern Parcel, which is on a brief hiatus but is expected to continue later this year, allows customers to choose their own prices for the bundle, which at first was a shock and concern for designers. “Not only do you pick the price, but you pick what goes to the designers, and you picked what part you want to donate to charity,” Dorsey said. “It took some explaining, but we do have a bottom limit so you can’t pay too little for the bundle.” There were also incentives to earn a bonus pattern for paying more, and some customers took that option.
Over time, because of the success some designers had with the sale, the business grew to the point where designers were asking to be involved. But the process does take months of planning and work, leading Dorsey and her husband (who’s her partner in the venture) to take a little time off for now before preparing for the next bundle.
Hill, of Pattern Revolution and Bundle Up, said that the bundles are a big commitment for organizers, because they are responsible for taxes, dividing up the money earned for designers and putting the groupings together so they’ll be cohesive customers.
Customers like the bundles because they can purchase great patterns that have already been vetted, and they also love the pricing. Key for designers is to feel their patterns are valued, so pricing them too low or having too many patterns per bundle can be a turnoff for some. Neither Pattern Parcel nor Bundle Up operated that way, however, and designers have been pleased with both selling avenues.
“With Pattern Parcel I felt like that was really great exposure, because they have a huge list of bloggers all over social media featuring the parcel while it was on sale,” White said. “That gave me confidence that they were on their game.”
Monthly Pattern Clubs
Monthly clubs have been around forever– think book clubs, CD clubs and even Block of the Month clubs for quilts.
Sara Lawson of Sew Sweetness started the Bag of the Month Club last year with five other bag designers, and it (along with other sewing-item-of-the-month clubs) is a way for customers to have immediate access to great designs each month. “I chose the five other designers I knew who made detailed patterns; I make intermediate designs so that’s what I was wanting,” Lawson said.
Now in its second year, the Bag of the Month Club has around 1,000 members who pay for the club every six months. For $40, club members receive six patterns that land in their inboxes monthly. White is one of the designers, along with Janelle MacKay, of Emmaline Bags. Both have been pleased with the club. “You know that everyone is getting to try something new and is thrilled about it,” MacKay said. “The designers try to find new techniques and original ideas to share, so it’s fun for us too.”
White was so pleased with the format that last summer that she created her own club with a road-trip theme. It also met with some success. She, Lawson and MacKay all mentioned that part of the fun of the club is having a Facebook fan group– rather than just a fan page– to tie the club members together. “It generates excitement, as people see their friends posting photos of the bags they’ve finished,” Lawson said.
New on the Horizon: Pattern Certification?
A new site, UpCraft Club, launched quietly this year until founder Elizabeth Clark suggested that part of the new site would involve the creation of a set of standards to “certify” patterns so customers would know that they’re getting the most for their money.
Originally designers were going to be asked to pay $40 to certify patterns with UpCraft Club. However, the decision to ask for paid certification was quashed after swift backlash from many pattern designers, and because Clark worried customers wouldn’t trust certification if it was paid for by designers.
“The general vibe was like… Who are they to profit off some made-up certification?” White asked, echoing the opinion of many independent designers. “Maybe a new designer might (pay for certification), I don’t know… But I was like, who made them the authority? It seemed weird to me.”
Even though Clark no longer will be accepting payment for certification, White acknowledged that it’s partially the word “certification” that rubbed designers the wrong way, especially after the paid component was removed. After all, there are the curated sites like IndieSew that essentially give their stamp of approval for patterns before selling them.
“I understand the designers’ perspective,” Clark said, adding that most curated sites have a list of standards– UpCraft Club just is among the first to publish theirs. “But I saw how much customers wanted this. Designers are of course nervous… They don’t know me, and there’s no trust yet.”
Clark, who has a business background and is a supporter of many indie pattern designers, said that certification is only a small segment of her site; the site evolved out of the idea of starting an association that would allow members discounts at places like Jo-Ann that give 10% off for those who have quilt club and other memberships.
The site offers classes and patterns, and for a monthly $10 fee members are allowed one free class or pattern of their choice each month. Clark is adding an advanced search criteria so customers can find the exact patterns they’re looking for. She’s also developing a system that, she says, “will fundamentally change the way people find and purchase digital patterns.” Clark is working with a team who will certify patterns and will give designers the option to sell them through the club, though no designer is under any obligation to do so.
Hill, of Pattern Revolution and Bundle Up, is on board with the idea of certification and said she had talked with Clark about the need for standards for the PDF pattern design community. The digital business is changing quickly, and although she doesn’t know if this is the next “big thing,” she noted that designers need to grow and evolve or they’ll be left behind. “Designers are independent and it’s hard to get them around a common goal,” Hill said. “Their works are their babies, like any other author. But if consumers knew that they had a certain level of trust, I think it would take so much weight off the consumer.”
Because the idea is new, it remains to be seen if publishing a set of standards or certifications will catch on and, if it does, whether more new certification sites will jump aboard, causing customers and designers to have to choose where they want to place their trust.
In the Customer’s Hands
While curated shops, pattern bundles, clubs and certifications serve the needs of certain consumers, there’s no doubt that customers will always learn through trial and error which designers have the patterns they’re looking for, whether it be the style of the pattern or the way it’s presented and written. “I think things get weeded out in general,” said Gander. “People aren’t going to buy a second of my patterns if the first one sucks.”
And no matter the medium or method of a third-party selling venue, if bigger-name or more established designers aren’t willing to sign on, it’s hard to get others to join too. The “gold-standard designers” set the tone and the standard for any curated shop, bundle or program, Gander noted.
“The market is saturated, and there are a lot of newer people,” White acknowledged, describing why curated third-party sites are part of the sewing pattern landscape. “It’s hard for me to know what it’s like for a new sewer to navigate all the patterns, other than to just ask the right questions and look for reviews,” she said.
Here’s where you, the customer, can share your voice.
Do you like to buy patterns through third-party sites, in bundles or through monthly craft clubs? Would you relish the idea of having an organization to certify patterns, or provide another stamp of approval? Do you try new-to-you designers based on reviews and friend’s recommendations… Or just go with your gut feeling? Please share your experiences!