Why Knitting Isn't Free by Michelle Miller the Fickle Knitter

Posted on May 15, 2012. 18 comments

Lately I've received a flurry of questions asking why my knitting patterns aren't free. I hope that this article will help shed some light on what goes into a knitting pattern and enlighten knitters a bit and give insight on the knitting pattern writing process. I don't intend to make anyone feel badly, but to open your eyes on the costs associated with producing knitting patterns and the expertise that goes into it. So instead of asking a designer "Why isn't your pattern free" maybe you'll have a deeper insight into all the hard work, sweat and tears that goes into producing the knitting patterns that you love to knit so much.

Why Isn't Knitting Free Dammit?
Yarn and knitting needles are not free. I've never gone into a yarn shop and demanded to have yarn and knitting needles for free (although I would have loved to do so many times), and the same goes for knitting patterns, books and literature that I've read and utilized in my knitting over the years. You pay your electrician, your dentist, your doctor, your plumber, and your yarn bills as they come due. And unless you write your own patterns or rely on those that do write free patterns, you spend a certain amount on books and knitting patterns each month so that you have something to knit with those beautiful yarns that you bought.

So What goes into a Fickle Knitter Design Pattern?
First and foremost, I wouldn't be able to write any pattern without the technical background I have in physics, mathematics (including many years of studying calculus), computer science, and experience that I gained in college, graduate school, and working in the defense industry. How much does that cost?

Undergraduate Education 2003
$50,000 (Although I had to work three jobs while attending full time, and I got approximately half of my tuition paid for because I was a minority in physics who maintained good grades while putting myself through college). This does not include living expenses.

Graduate Education in Physics for a Masters Degree in 2010
$25,000 (No discount on this one, folks).

Years of Experience learning Excel, Word, Powerpoint and all that Math
This one is hard to price, because how much do we value expertise and experience? For argument's sake lets say all my experience and time is worth only $30,000.

The Cost of being a Small Business
Okay so now we've racked up a debt of $105,000 getting me ready to write knitting patterns. Let's include the fact that since I own my knitting design business I'm not able to also work in the defense industry where I'd make anywhere from $65,000-$85,000 yearly as a physicist with a Masters Degree who has excellent work experience, plus some pedigree from working for Sally Ride and other prestigious collegiate institutions during the short months in between full time schooling each year.

I've been working in the knitting industry instead of defense since 2008. We'll take the lower end of the salary spectrum to be conservative which leaves us $65,000 times four years. That's another $260,000. Now we're at a personal cost TO ME of $365,000 to be able to write the knitting patterns that I sell to shops and knitters.

Well what about all the people who contribute to the publication of a knitting pattern? If my knitting patterns are free, what do they get paid?

To produce my first book I paid for:

  • Professional Photography
  • Professional Tech Editing
  • Printing
  • Sample Knitting
  • Graphic Design
  • Test Knitting
  • Computer that can handle the demands of publishing
  • Adobe Publishing Suite

For a total personal cost of approximately $12,000-$15,000 to bring the products to press. And this was using frugality, doing as many things as possible myself! I spent six months researching publishing before I went to press, which costs a mere $32,500 at my billable rate as a physicist. So totaling that column, Leaves, Fickle Knitter Design, Volume 1 cost me $44,500 and that doesn't include all the labor spent on designing and knitting the patterns that went into the book!

What do you get when you buy a Fickle Knitter Pattern? And why must I pay for it?

For every pattern I publish I do the following:

  • Professional Tech Editing
  • Test Knitting
  • Sample Knitting (for many patterns)
  • Professional Photography (for most patterns)
  • Graphic Design Costs
  • Printing
  • Yarn Support

What this argument doesn't take into account is all the money spent to STAY in business as a knitting designer these days. This year alone I'm traveling to a minimum of 20 separate knitting events, which costs me time, money, and resources to get myself there, money spent to bring products to market, and money lost from time missed at work while making appearances.

Additionally, each bullet point that goes into Fickle Knitter Design pattern publishing helps support OTHER small businesses stay afloat. For each line item another woman owned business is making money so they can stay in business during these tough economic times. So by taking money away from my business by making patterns "Free", you're also negatively affecting small businesses in the knitting industry! And if we keep taking money away from these small businesses because we are hellbent on free products, there won't be anything left to buy or give away. So who is affected if I give away my work? Farmers who grow the sheep who make the wool, dyers who dye the wool, yarn shops who sell the wool, graphic designers, photographers, sample knitters, test knitters, tech editors, and knitting designers as well as the families of all these individuals who depend upon the income however small or large it may be.

Owning a small business is a juggling act where you must constantly rearrange yourself and your work to make a shoestring budget work. This is year four of Fickle Knitter Design as a professional business and I still haven't made a profit! What does that mean? It means that I put more of my own personal resources into my business than I get back out. And believe me, plane tickets, hotels, and all the other behind-the-scenes costs are not cheap.

So why do I do it? Because I have a passion for knitting and teaching and want my experiences with others to be TEACHABLE moments. I want you to have knitting patterns that you can TRUST so that you can walk to your own personal stash, pull out a skein of yarn and have a beautifully hand knit garment when you're finished. I want you to learn something new, stretch yourself in ways you didn't imagine possible, and feel like a better person at the end. I want knitters to feel as great as I did when we cast off our last stitches and block an amazing lace garment for the first time.

So basically what does all this boil down to?
That for the bargain price of $7 you can have an enjoyable experience assuming you get gauge where you can rely on the instructions, sit back, relax with your favorite skein of yarn and just knit. And for the cases where there is a small error which is not uncommon when generating 1500+ word documents, I send out a corrected version as soon as possible. For a mere $7 you also get hands on support in the Fickle Knitter Design Group on Raverly as well as additional help via when you need it. And please, let's not forget the shops who stock my patterns. They are your number one resource when it comes to seeking knitting help, buying local, and the community atmosphere that knitting helps create.

If you've gotten anything from this long missive of mine I hope it's that

  1. Designers are not drying our tears with $1000 dollar bills
  2. Shop at your Local Yarn Shops
  3. Support a Designer and support the whole Knitting Industry
  4. Turn your knitting experience into teachable moments

Until next time, Knit Like No One is Watching,

Beautiful Fickle Knitter Logo by Tracy Harris

I hope that you’ve enjoyed my tutorial on Why Knitting Isn't Free! You may also be interested in reading How to Knit a Gauge Swatch, How To Block Lace Shawls, Lace Triangle Construction, or How To Knit With Beads.

Interested in buying Michelle’s knitting patterns? Visit her online shop, ravelry shop, or etsy shop to buy one now. Each pattern purchased helps keep the lights on and gives Michelle time and resources to write more about knitting.


  • Posted by Booa on May 15, 2012

    I also forgot to mention (as did Michelle) all the costs associated with the lack of benefits a small business owner has. My husband was self-employed for a while, and if you are self-employed, you do not get Christmas bonuses, overtime pay, paid vacation, paid holidays, group health insurance (which is so, so much cheaper than individual health insurance, if you can even qualify for it), sick days, and you don’t qualify for unemployment. I’m sure I forgot some, but that’s a start…

  • Posted by Beth - again on May 15, 2012

    Thank you Alex.

    Michelle – I don’t think either of us are putting your education down. I don’t think either of us are saying the work that goes into your patterns should be discounted. I don’t think either of us want every pattern to be free or even cheap.

    What I am saying is that an advanced Physics degree is not a pre-requisite for being a knitting designer/teacher. It is a very lovely thing to have if you like physics.

    Unfortunately the more you harp on your educational background the more it feels like you are the one discounting everyone that hasn’t had your advantages (even at a price).

    I would like to live in a world when all education and all choices of professions are equally valued. I do my best to support the designers and teachers that I like (through pattern purchases, book purchases, taking classes – through my hard-earned money), I pay for patterns depending on how well they are written and what the end result is supposed to look like but I won’t pay $50 for a pattern if the market norm for that type of item is $20 and most other people would agree with that. And that has nothing to do with what the educational background of the designer is.

    I think you are hurting your case by the insistence that your education in an unrelated field has anything to do with being a small business owner and figuring your costs.

    Have a good evening.

  • Posted by Michelle on May 15, 2012

    Hi Beth,
    Thank you for your perspective. To set the record straight I want to say a few things. I was a first generation college student. I put myself through college while working as many as three consecutive jobs including one at McDonalds so I would have a guaranteed meal each day. I parked my car because I couldn’t afford insurance and made many other sacrifices just like I do now with my knitting business. I worked damn hard to get that degree and I’m not going to apologize for it.

    There is a term for calculating costs on projects in business. It is called “know how.” I produce knitting patterns based on my “know how” due to the education that I worked hard for. And I won’t apologize for it nor negate it because you don’t agree. The fact is, that education does factor into what it costs me to bring patterns to market because I am talking about my business. In no way am I claiming that anyone else should have my experience and educational background, I am simply referring to my experience. I hope that you can be respectful of that.

    Good luck to all you do and please keep supporting independent businesses.

  • Posted by Booa on May 15, 2012

    Michelle isn’t saying that a degree in physics is required to design knitting patterns, but she is saying that is her background, and it is impossible for her to separate her physics-knowing self from her knit-designing self. For someone without a physics degree, they would have different costs associated with their opportunity cost of being a knitting designer, but it doesn’t mean those costs are nonexistent for Michelle.

    I used a very specific term, opportunity cost, because it is a real, valid concept in economics. Wikipedia defines it as “the cost of any activity measured in terms of the value of the next best alternative forgone (that is not chosen).” It has been used in courtrooms to evaluate how much someone has lost, in cases where they could not work anymore. For example, a stay-at-home mom that is trained as an accountant, but it not currently working as an accountant, still gets evaluated based on her salary as an accountant, because she could choose to go back to work. That she is choosing to not work does not change the fact that if she dies or is disabled, the cost to her family is the opportunity cost of her accounting salary, not her zero income as a stay-at-home mom.

    You can feel however you want about opportunity costs, but it will change neither legal precedent or economic theory about the validity of the concept. For Michelle, her opportunity cost definitely includes not earning income as a physicist. It would be foolish and ignorant to suggest otherwise.

  • Posted by AlisonH on May 15, 2012

    Thank you for helping get the word out there. And for your beautiful work.

    I once had someone compliment a pattern in my book and then essentially demand that I give that one (oh, just one!) to her for free because I now owed her because she had stroked my ego.

    I told her that I had spent thousands of dollars in yarn—it was not given to me—and many hundreds of hours knitting and for that I received 78 cents per copy. I felt I had earned my 78 cents.

    She did not respond.

  • Posted by Pat S on May 15, 2012

    I just want to add that anyone who objects to paying for patterns might want to try writing one even half as clear, concise and accurate as Fickleknitter patterns are. It’s a very difficult thing to do. Thanks, Fickleknitter, for doing the work for us! You’re worth every penny, and thank you for explaining what it takes to own your own business.

  • Posted by Lisa C. on May 15, 2012

    Very well said! Thank you.

  • Posted by Kay on May 15, 2012

    Thank you for writing this and making up the bill for people who think that it should be your personal honor and privilege to serve them your terrific patterns.
    I’m not a knitwear designer, but a freelance writer in a field with a vast price range, so the question of the value of my time and the education, experience and creativity that I bring to the table is very close to me as well. In my case the argument goes, “You already get to work as a writer, how dare you expect to make a living with it, too!”

    I was surprised to see comments saying that you shouldn’t make your qualifications part of the calculation.On the surface, I could see how people are saying that if you choose your dream business over the high-paying science job, you shouldn’t say that the time you spent on research is worth the high-paying job’s salary. Y’know, what about the person who does the same kind of business research coming from a job as an untrained cashier, is her work worth less? That’s how I figure the argument goes here.

    I think this is the problem that small business owners especially in creative fields struggle with all the time – in a culture that tallies up salaries and price tags, what IS the value of our work? Why shouldn’t you say that the work on your business is worth the same as the work in a nicely salaried position? That is the cost to you, that is the reality you and your family have to make work and that is the money you have to go without.

    Yes, you made the decision to choose this career path instead of the other, but that doesn’t mean that the price tag on your work, effort and creativity goes down. When someone turns away from the safe, cushy path to follow their passion, their contribution is invaluable in so many ways, because they stand for what they do with their whole heart, all of their skills, life and professional experience and personality. In a world where “invaluable” often translates into “worth nothing”, you are darn right to put a real-economy price tag on it and say out loud that creating something doesn’t come cheap.

    End rant. Thank you.

  • Posted by Alex on May 15, 2012

    Education is certainly useful, but I do agree with Beth that the money that you give up by NOT having a higher-paid career is not a very persuasive argument. I could have gone to business school and become a high-rollin’ businesslady, but that doesn’t mean that my knitting biz costs me $100,000+ a year, and doesn’t factor into my pricing structure.

    There are a million reasons why knitting patterns shouldn’t be free- not least of all, that WORK went into them, and expecting people to work for free is absurd. I just don’t think you can count theoretical-earnings-you-could-have-made.

    I could see someone’s argument that one does not need a graduate degree in physics to write knitting patterns, but everyone comes about their skill and expertise in a different way. For one person it might take $75,000 worth of schooling, for another, many years of trial and error and experience (Personally, I wish I’d gone to fashion school for knitwear design instead of muddling through the slow way!)

  • Posted by Michelle on May 15, 2012

    Hi Alex, thanks for taking the time to comment!

    As I stated above the cost TO ME to provide Fickle Knitter Design patterns to the public absolutely includes the cost of my education.

    Again, without my degrees, student loans, and years of hard work there would be no Fickle Knitter Patterns, the blog that I’ve been working hard on for the past 8 years, nor this very post. Those costs are irrefutable and no one else has the power to negate their value to my business. My education costs are ingrained into the cost of Fickle Knitter doing business because that is what I use to conduct my business every single day.

    In no way did or do I require that other knitting designers have that background, nor do I decide what costs are involved in other businesses bringing products to market.

    I am grateful for every person that keeps me in business. I am not complaining about “theoretical-earnings-you-could-have made.” If I wanted that salary I would have stuck with Physics and I can choose to do so at any time.

    Mainly what I hope people gather from this is not what I personally spent on my education, but that knitting has value. And if we disregard my education as you would like, it still costs a lot of money to bring new patterns to the marketplace, which also has value whether you chose to acknowledge my educational background or not.

    I hope that you will respect what went into my business whether you agree or not, just as I am respectful of what you do in yours.


Leave a comment

Please note that comments have to be approved after posting.