Thursday, December 20, 2007

So You Want To Design Hand Knits...

So I've finished one project (all it needs is buttons - and we all know THAT could take another year...)

And I'm well on the way to project #2. This is a milestone for me because I haven't felt this excited about a sweater for QUITE a WHILE!

So I've decided to blog about this piece to keep me honest. I'll update daily on how it's coming, and once it's finished, the pattern will be for sale (baby!)

Think of it as an experiment whereby I walk you guys through the design process as it happens. Better get your swear-filters set up...

It's going to be a cardigan worked in 2 weights of the same yarn, based on a cabled yoke (the yoke is worked, then stitches are picked up and the cardigan / skirt-peplum and lace sleeves are worked down from there.

Later more stitches are picked up around the neck edge of the yoke, and a shawl collar is worked in lace. Too fun.

Why does this make me so happy? Because for the first time in months I woke up thinking, "I've GOT to get back to that project!"

I've been on SUCH a hiatus from design - well, a hiatus compared to my rapid fire work habits of 2006 - but perhaps this means that 2008 will be a year that I'm able to break this designers' block and leap back into the wool?

Contracts
Speaking of patterns for sale, I wanted to comment on Natasha's comment. Interweave Knits is offering patterns online which had previously been in their magazine. Up until a few years ago, the contract they offered was pretty clear that they were given 'first North American serialization rights' to a pattern, but after that the rights reverted back to the designer.

Then the contract changed, and they began claiming further rights - as in the right to distribute a pattern online.

Recently IK contacted folks whose work had been in previous issues asking them to sign a new agreement that would allow IK the right to use ANY of their previous work in their online pattern shop (or in any way they wished to, online)

I demurred. Not only was I protected by my earlier contracts (which did NOT allow IK the right to distribute my patterns electronically) but the compensation was incredibly slim. (And that was only if IK chose to sell a pattern. If they GIVE the pattern away, as they do with so many via the Knitting Daily newsletter, then the designer receives NOTHING.)

For many designers this is a moot point - if a designer doesn't have a venue or structure set up where they can resell patterns that appeared previously in magazines, this would be the only way they could recoup $ on a pattern that appeared years ago (and for which they'd already been compensated.)

But It's MY Pattern, Right?
But for a designer like me, who does sell her patterns online through my own website, and would like to RETAIN the right to do so, signing this after-the-fact agreement would basically mean giving up my the rights I currently hold to sell these specific patterns online.

The fact that I haven't offered the involved designs through my own website is simply a question of time and inclination - but it doesn't mean that I don't want to make these patterns available at some future time!

So, if anyone is wondering, this is why I haven't agreed to make my patterns available through IK's new online pattern store - at least, not the earlier work I did for IK before they changed their agreement.

This is in NO way an indictment of IK - they're terrific to work with, and I've found their contracts to be among the clearest and most fair of all I've signed as a knitwear designer.

However, this internet pattern sale thing is - to my mind - very similar to the complaints the comedy writers union has against the media industry right now.

It's just that the comedy writers are a LOT better organized (and better paid?!) than the average hand knit designer.

When we give away our work - especially so that someone else benefits - it should be our choice and with our full understanding of the implications. It's already very hard to make a living as a hand knit designer - I know of precious few who do this as their SOLE form of income, even folks who are relatively well established.

Add to that the extra demands that are made in terms of self-checking our work, providing our own tech editing in many instances, and you see how quickly a knit designer can end up behind the eight ball (with mortgage staring us in the face...)

And Now, We End With A Rant...

Yarn Market News ran an article a while ago breaking down the cost per knit magazine page (who is paid what; photographer, model, makeup, designer, editor, etc.)

Guess what? The designer earned almost less than anyone. And I would hasten to add that the amount of work involved in the designers' portion is WAY more than the other folks pony up.

Designers portion of the work requires the following:
  • We have to come UP with the design
  • We need to FIGURE out a way to work it up
  • We need to WRITE THE PATTERN so it can be understood by the basic knitter
  • We must RESIZE IT into several different sizes,
  • and finally, we have to PROVIDE THE SAMPLE for photography
That's a lot of elbow grease for someone who's generally paid less than the makeup person.

And then on top of everything else there's all of the time spent undoing 'helpful' edits by non-knitting editors (usually this is a book problem, and definitely not a problem with IK!) and even MORE time spent answering emails from confused knitters who are trying to decipher a pattern that may have been incorrectly edited or badly proofread - or just screwed up by me, the designer...

Donna Druchunas wrote about this recently on her blog - it's worth reading!

Hand knit designers, unite!

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posted by Annie at

29 Comments:

Blogger Marseille said...

I *love* that yoke! Can't wait to see the whole sweater! And I think I know I want the pattern already!

December 20, 2007 1:19 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I'm with you on IK -- I have been unhappy with them and have emailed them several times on my displeasure. The latest displeasure was when they had promised to republish the Central Park Hoodie and then all they have is other sizes and for More Moolah. I consider that unethical, double charging and bait-and-switch advertising. Now, they may have clear contracts (which is a huge plus) but they are not seeming to improve the reputation of the publishing world. Too bad. My heart has always been in fiber and honorable journalism (shakes head...also a difficult venue).

December 20, 2007 1:41 PM  
OpenID kitmf said...

When it comes to errors I mostly figure them out on my own. Partly this is due to my incurable tendency to mess about with patterns. I rarely make something just exactly as it's published. Almost always I use some other yarn, and often enough I make a pattern they never did the numbers for. So when I run into trouble the person I swear at is me. However, I'd like to introduce one thought - the one time I tend to make stuff exactly as written is when I am trying to extend my skills. If I'm doing something I've never done before, I am probably more or less blindly following the instructions in the pattern. And when that turns out to be wrong, then I'm in deep trouble. Does that make sense?

December 20, 2007 2:18 PM  
Blogger Kathleen C. said...

Very interesting pattern developing there! I'm quite intrigued by it already. I love the mix of textures... looking forward to seeing it grow.

I recently took a class with you in Staunton VA. I'm the costume designer that you made cry. ;^)
I still feel what I learned resonating with me as I knit. Thank you so much for your time and sharing!
I wrote a brief discussion of my experience on my blog. If you read it I hope you think it's okay.

December 20, 2007 2:38 PM  
Anonymous mwknitter said...

This reminds me of free lance writers. I had friends years ago who wrote one of the regular weekly columns in Playboy (they were on salary for that)but also wrote articles & books on the side (both together & individually - they wrote the Illuminati Trilogy if you've ever heard of that, I think it's a cult classic). I was appalled at the paltry amount they were paid & the amount of time it took for them to be paid (often months). I know that, in the world of novels, almost no writer makes enough to live on - except of course for J K Rowling, Stephen King & a few others - they all have other jobs (or partners who help support them).I wonder if it is related to the phenomenon in government whereby those who do the actual work that is the mission of the agency & which actually affects John Q Taxpayer are paid the least.

December 20, 2007 3:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pattern is fascinating, I cannot wait to see it develop and thank you for letting us watch!

Dana

December 20, 2007 3:25 PM  
Blogger Tana said...

Careful, Annie. You're starting to sound like a certain British knitter whose stuff we all love but cannot get our hands on because one book of hers that is out of print costs $250 on ebay. And supposedly it hasn't been reprinted due to the failure of the designer and the publisher to come to an agreement as to who should be paid what. As it stands, neither of them is making any money on it at all because it is not in print.

I'm not faulting you for not signing the agreement with IK. I probably would have done the same thing. I just don't want to see you get old and bitter. We love you too much to want to see that happen to you.

I wish I could see the article you reference about how much everybody gets paid. I do freelance technical editing and I get paid by the project or $10 per hour. That ain't much either.

This year I wanted to get a nice camera so I could take pictures of my children and not have to pay $30 for one 8x10 taken by a professional photographer. Well, my equipment cost about $1000, and the camera body - not lens - of professionals costs $2500 to $5000. Lenses run easily over $1000. Photoshop is over $500 last I checked. It may seem that they show up for a half hour and take a couple shots and get paid big money, but they have expenses too.

December 20, 2007 3:45 PM  
Blogger Joanne said...

Amen, Sistah! You've got it completely right. I also didn't sign that 10% IK contract. I felt it just made no sense for the reasons you state...and since I didn't have much for them to re-market, it didn't matter to me. I'm selling an improvement to that original IK kipah/yarmulke pattern on my website...a slow but steady seller.

The system right now is not equitable for deisgners, and it's extremely hard to make a living. Since my other work is freelance writing, I'm not making much. What can be done? I'm currently serving on the board AKD, Association of Knitwear Designers, as it goes through a transformation. We'd like, one day, to be a strong presence in the industry. In the meanwhile, you are totally right to speak out. It's completely reasonable to want to make a living at what we do. Now we just have to create a scenario where that is possible.

December 20, 2007 4:00 PM  
Anonymous j. said...

Re Tana's comment: I think not. The Scottish designer's issue with the publisher is not one that is publicly understood, so whatever the actual backstory is, there -- we don't know. We don't know if it's strictly about money or not, or just about control.

What we have *here* is a designer who does have a vehicle for her own pattern distribution, who is not embroiled in a struggle (ongoing or not) with anyone about what rights she has to do so, and the good sense to realize when a proffered deal is not a good one.
And frankly, if all publishers continue to attempt to carve out more and more rights for themselves without increasing compensation for the actual design, the designers have a right to become embittered -- Annie wouldn't be the only one. Fortunately, there are alternate methods of distribution that simply didn't exist 5 or 10 years ago that allow designers to get their designs out there, without ceding control to a middleman.

December 20, 2007 4:28 PM  
Blogger j said...

Informative post, Annie- thanks. I respect the designers and appreciate their work.

My husband is an artist. We have refused to sign contracts whereby a corporation would enjoy a continued source of income from artwork and we sign off on all further rights. There should be equitable compensation for all.

December 20, 2007 4:44 PM  
Anonymous Sharon said...

I'd like to see designers get more money. A few years ago, I was really into the designing thing. I published a design each in a couple of well known online magazines. Then, I submitted a pattern to be published in a book. It was accepted, but I was a bit shocked at the low amount offered.

I know I'm a new designer, but for my months of work and stress of beating that unusually constructed sweater into shape, I got a copy of the book, a couple of skeins of boring DK weight wool in colors I'll never use (the leftovers) and $150. I turned in the sweater over a year ago and the book is coming out in April. Then, I assume, is when I'll get my money.

I've pretty much given up on designing since then. I do a few things for myself, but it's not worth it to try to sell my designs.

December 20, 2007 5:27 PM  
Blogger Mary Ann said...

Thanks for the information. It seems that those who work the hardest are compensated the least. I appreciate KD and the learning experience. However, I will buy your patterns from YOU.

December 20, 2007 6:11 PM  
Blogger Cindy G said...

Amen Annie, and thank you for posting (also for linking to Donna's good post).
I recently passed on a "call for submissions" that indicated the designer would have to also provide camera ready schematics/charts and if they needed any editing the designer (!) would be charged $30/hour by the publication.

December 20, 2007 9:41 PM  
Blogger jane said...

I love to buy patterns from designer's websites. I look forward to seeing lots of yours available soon! Jane P.

December 21, 2007 5:33 AM  
Blogger bellamoden said...

The 10% compensation from IK is, frankly, appalling.

December 21, 2007 8:48 AM  
Blogger Marin (AntiM) said...

I imagine designing knitting patterns is like a lot of arts: only 2% or so of the people who want to make a living, who try to make a living, are going to make a living. This means you have to either do it for love or be that 2%.

If not... you know what you're getting into when you decide to take anything artsy as a career path.

That's why I'm not a painter or an actress or a professional knitter -- I love them, I'm good at them, but I don't love them enough and I'm not good enough at them to think I can make them a paying career.

December 21, 2007 10:20 AM  
Blogger knitting chaos said...

That is outrageous. I thought it was odd that they were selling the patterns seperate, but then to pay a paltry amount is terrible.
Stay strong Annie. I love your designs.
On the book front, I was surprised when I heard an interview with the authors of "Seabisciut" and they said they had to pay to have pictures in the book. I shutter to think what it would cost an author to publish a knitting book.

December 21, 2007 10:44 AM  
Blogger Sheknits said...

This post was such good timing - right as this was brought to my attention I am packaging up a knit and felted bag submission to IK. Being a new designer who has only done self-publishing and is trying to "play" with the big kids, the only way I can learn is if people who know what they are doing (like you) are going to be forthright, secure enough in their own talent and AS GENEROUS IN SPIRIT as you are being Annie by sharing this information with all of us who are so eagerly wanting to go further in the design world. - THANK YOU VERY MUCH -
Sharon
SheknitsforKnitters.com

December 21, 2007 11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think the word "rant" applies when you're making an argument that is so (a) reasonable and (b) articulate. So there!

As a full-time communications professional and part-time freelance writer, I find it ironic in the extreme that so many magazines/newspapers etc. (print and online)will try to pay their writers as little as possible -- and sometimes nothing. The publishers wouldn't dream of not paying the costs of production, of designing the website, of laying out and printing the magazine. And yet the raison d'etre of any publication -- the CONTENT -- is the lowest cost item of the bunch.

I don't know if perhaps it's considered the most easily replaceable expertise. I guess as long as there's a freelance writer/designer willing to be paid peanuts or less b/c they want to break into the biz, that'll continue to be the case.

To put it more succinctly, I'm with you!

Your family is in my thoughts during the holidays.

December 21, 2007 10:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely AGREE with your approach to IK. I know of a designer who had written a pattern which was originally published in one of their books - this was several years ago. Not only was her pattern "revised" before it was published, but now - many years later it has reappeared on their website with absolutely no credit to her as the designer/author.

As a knitter - I don't mind paying the original designer for the pattern as it is SUCH a small fee for the incredible amount of talent (not to mention time it takes to write down the pattern!) - but otherwise, there are so many free patterns available through good websites.

You are NOT doing any knitter a disservice by selling directly through YOUR site.

Keep up your designs and patterns. I absolutely LOVE your book (Romantic Knits) - the creativitiy!

December 23, 2007 1:41 AM  
Blogger Theresa said...

Annie, you know I completely agree with you. Joanne's already jumped in and said what I was going to, about AKD - you need to come join us!

December 26, 2007 1:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tana said that she is paid $10 per hour for technical editing of knitting patterns. Tana--I don't know whether you set your own fee or agreed to what was offered, but you are being GROSSLY underpaid for very exacting work requiring special skills. I'm a tech editor and know of no other tech editors who are paid so close to minimum wage. Assuming you are doing this professionally, you should triple your rates, at the very least.

Annie--you are certainly not alone in not signing the "updated" IK contract. I didn't either nor did many of my designer cohorts.

December 27, 2007 7:51 AM  
Blogger Jeanne said...

Interesting. The knitwear design industry sounds a lot like the music industry--the recording artist (aka The Star) is the last to get paid and gets the least! (Manager, agent, record company, artwork, tour, merch, etc. all get paid first and if there is anything left over...) Why is it this way? The "star"/designer/creative should get paid handsomely. If it weren't for the singer, the song would not get sung.

December 28, 2007 8:14 PM  
Blogger Clumsy Knitter said...

Yes, very similar to the WGA strike (which I have had close exposure to out here). The difference is union bargaining vs. everyone for themselves. But good for you for knowing you have leverage and using it. Will online/all future rights be a required part of future published design contracts?

December 30, 2007 12:54 AM  
Blogger Jen said...

Sadly, content providers almost always make less than anyone else on the mag. That includes writers, pattern designers, and anyone else who contributes to content.

I (a magazine art director) wouldn't mind seeing this change.

Loved Sweeney Todd, but I didn't know the story. I thought it was close to a perfect movie. i'd be curious to know what you thought - if you have a sec...I thought the production design and cinematography were just amazing.

January 04, 2008 7:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see a Knit Designers Union.... I'm a member of the AFM (Musician's Union) because I must be, in order to work for several of the freelance groups and Broadway that comes through town. But basically the Musician's Union does very little for the independent musician; it exists mostly for the "big name" rock stars and major symphony orchestras. When I receive the union rag, it is FULL of all the goings-on with the Big Names. Us independents get no help from the union---they will step in if a contract isn't paid, but that's pretty rare. They have set a minimum wage for each "gig", but rarely do I get paid above that minimum, after 15 plus years. (I'm a classical musician).
So, when trying to envision this Knit Designer's Union, I am really curious to think, how will it help the independent designers? Every other union that I know about, ends up being all about the big names: think of your state's Teacher's Union, General Motors, the flight attendants, all of these are working for other really large organizations.
Knit Designers are more like freelance musicians. There just isn't a General Motors of a knitting magazine out there, and there never will be.
I'm not trying to discourage the idea, it's just that having a union does NOT necessarily mean that all of a sudden, you're going to have a liveable income, health care, and benefits. You can't get blood out of a turnip. There just is not that much money to be made in the hand knitting industry, or would someone please enlighten me? It would be interesting to know the concrete figures.

January 04, 2008 10:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous above. It seems there is little money to be made in the knitting industry. I think it is getting harder and harder to make money doing things you enjoy. (I own a yarn shop)This is partly because of a perception that you should accept less because you ARE doing something you enjoy and therefore that should be some compensation. As for designing, so many people seem to have risen to popularity and like musicians enjoy a certain status and perhaps that is why they are paid last and less? After all, the makeup artists, the background folks won't get swag and other goodies that the well-known or famous may get. Also, do you take into account the money a designer may make for teaching or just on designs alone? Those underpaid designs may launch a potentially lucrative and enjoyable career. This is such a complex matter and I am not sure a union or organization (or bitching) will be the thing to help it along. I for one plan on going to law school because I think I have learned my lesson. Then after making money off these fights I can go home to my $30 Darn Pretty needles and $35/skein hand dyed yarn because I certainly can't enjoy those things off what I make now!

February 13, 2008 11:43 AM  
Blogger Windy Prairie Farm said...

What happens to the knitter!!! The cost per pattern for some designers, now is up around $10 to $12 each. Who can afford that and knit!!!

I am not saying you should give away your rights, (hell, I won't even sign an insurance waiver for the doctor's office without an expiration date on it, and limit who it can be sent to), what is the solution? I have purchased your designs, and they are no where near the costs I have seen, they are affordable by the average knitter. So what do you/we do???How do you maintain the symbiotic relationship between the knitter & the designer without both feeling ripped off, used, exploited??? I guess what you do, sell on your website is a good start.

I went back to retrieve a "free" IK pattern and saw their disclaimer which now appears...contracts with writers, etc. I did not know what happened to cause. At first, I felt, thanks a lot for nothing, you're geting what you pay for--nothing!!I guess I should remember, 2 sides to every story! Everything is grey not black and white.

July 14, 2008 3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's my questions....(and I know it's rather rhetorical since I don't expect an answer) Do photographers/makeup artists/editors get paid only when their work is published? I don't think so. If the designer does the work (submits the design, write the pattern in about 3-5 different sizes, knit the sample) why is it that they are not paid until the issue is published....(oh and by the way you don't get paid when the issue hits the newstands, it's usually 2-6 weeks AFTER that)

August 03, 2008 1:18 PM  

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