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Quilt Pattern Making costs

Autumn Leaves quilt pattern

Quilt pattern making takes a lot of time, experimentation and ideas. There’s a lot said about the costs of making a quilt, but what about the costs of being a quilt designer? We all have followers looking for ideas – the ones who copy and purchase elsewhere, hoping no-one spots them as a free rider. Many designers offer some patterns for free to try to encourage buyers. I always think this is false economy and the idea of a non-business person. People who want freebies end there, they do not suddenly dip into their pocket and start paying out.

Please understand that most businesses do not happen overnight. Most have spent years and countless thousands building a website, brand, designing before they even set up shop. Of course, there are those that dip their toes in and maintain a job, part or full-time whilst creating. I am a full-time designer maker, so I have given all to my craft, in the hope of making a small living. If I don’t sell, I don’t eat – it is as simple as that.

The costs involved in running a small business are:

Website domain, design, hosting, email, back up and these costs can vary enormously. Mine are minimal, I have a back-up drive and I am fortunate that my son helps with website design.
How you are going to sell patterns, quilts etc needs to be considered carefully in the light of VAT on automatic downloads and soon to be on physical goods. If we Brexit, the hard-earned limit achieved mostly by the work of one brilliant lady, Clare Josa, will be wiped out. So you might be forced to use Payhip or similar to send out patterns and cost that in too. Then you might have fees such as PayPal or stripe fees, it all adds up.
Software for design if needed, personally I do not use it currently.
Memberships – it’s good to belong to established groups etc to get noticed but also to have a sense of belonging. You might also wish to subscribe to industry standard magazines.

All this adds up to several thousands pounds a year. Divide by the price of a pattern, and you are left with how many patterns you need to sell, just to break even – that’s no profit yet at all.

Imagine your overheads are 1500 a year – that’s quite conservative and assumes you are working from home not a rented studio. If your patterns are 12 pounds each, then you need to sell 125 patterns a year to break even. That sounds like nothing if you are not used to selling. So let’s put it into context – the average paperback book from a good publisher sells only 2000 copies a year and it is in just about every book shop, physical and brick and mortar imaginable. You are one person with a small website lost at sea.

If you need outside help producing patterns such as editor, graphic designer, tester – these are not cheap and have to be costed in too. One thing you will always have to spend on is the fabrics to make a sample quilt and this is expensive (unless you are fortunate enough to have a company provide them for you). I am not. I spend well over 120 pounds on a test quilt. Then there is the wear and tear on tools including your sewing machine, at some point they all need to be repaired/replaced and if you have not factored a small percentage into every pattern, then you have no money to do that with. I still have not added anything for my time. Add these costs to the above and you can see with fabrics etc alone and no outside help, I need to sell another 10 patterns to break even.

Which brings me on to the main cost – one that is often overlooked, but absolutely necessary. Advertising. Word of mouth is great, but believe me you can be dead before anyone has said Karen who? Advertising costs big bucks and newbies often go wrong placing an ad here and there. Consistency brings results with advertising. So look at places where you can get your name around for free. You should plough some of your profits back into advertising and building awareness of your brand. How long is a piece of string? In my first year, I used my own savings to book a stand at the Festival of Quilts. The total expense including leaflets and accommodation of being there was over a thousand pounds. Whatever your advertising costs are has to be added into the mix and it is probably going to be your single most expensive factor because without it, no-one is going to know about you. That means over a 100 extra patterns before I break even.

I am already wondering why I am doing this!!! Then you have to remember if you are selling wholesale, you will be lucky to get 50% of the pattern price, so you have to double the number of items you sell to break even.

Do you earn enough to be taxed? Do you use an accountant? These costs too need to be factored in.

Then there is what you pay yourself. Forget the average wage, unless you are very lucky it is probably unachievable, at least in the early years. Minimum pay is a possibility, but unlikely that you would achieve it over the course of 37.5 hours a week for a year. The minimum wage in the UK works out at 15,269 per year (according to 2017 statistics). That is a low wage, difficult to live on. Even at this level, I would have to sell 1273 patterns. That is 25 patterns a week direct. Again it does not sound like much, but it is.

At my age and with my experience, it would not be unlikely to expect to earn 30 to 40,000 or more. But this would mean at least 50 pattern sales a week.

To cover my household costs and overheads I would need to sell at least 12 patterns a week before I even start to pay myself. It is an uphill struggle.

But designers sell patterns to magazines and must make thousands you say? Many patterns are obtained by magazines for free in exchange for ‘publicity’.

It’s hard to justify freebies. Please dip into your pockets quilters. It is hard to fathom why people are willing to pay for sewing machines, every tool imaginable and mountains of fabrics they are not even going to use, but that they expect a pattern to be free. So please be kind to pattern makers.

Take a look at my quilt patterns. Any support, no matter how small, not only means I can eat, but that you made my heart sing! Thank you.