free patterns

Why it's not OK to share patterns - even free ones


One of the most common misconceptions that I come up against in my daily online chat is the enduring myth that it is OK to share patterns as long as they are free. Most people understand and accept the copyright issues around paid patterns but for free ones it seems that it is still very much fair game.

As a designer who makes a significant chunk of her income from online pattern sales I do still make a few of my patterns available for free and I choose to do this for a number of reasons.

I have a baby cardigan pattern which I use for class teachings - the Fuss Free Baby cardigan - and I also make it available free via my Ravelry store. On there I ask that if people use and enjoy the pattern that they consider making a donation to Bliss (a UK charity for newborn and premature babies) which is a subject very dear to my heart.

For every copy of this pattern that is given to a friend, or photocopied or shared (or photocopied and sold on Ebay - yes, that really does happen), that is a lost opportunity for a hard working charity to receive a donation.

Sometimes I will make a pattern available free for a limited time in order to achieve a specific marketing goal. Apologies if that sounds cold and calculating but at the end of the day we designers are trying to earn some form of living from this. As an example the Fuss Free Festival Shawls was available as a free download for a time in order to encourage people to sign up to my newsletter. I was very clear that this was for a limited time and that after the promotion had ended it would revert back to being a paid pattern.

Once the shawl was for sale though I still had a bit of battle with folks who thought it was fine to email copies of it to their friends on the grounds that they “got it for free and so it was only fair to give it to others”.

Sometimes a pattern is free, just because I want to offer it for free. But I would still like people to download it from Ravelry, favourite it, talk about it and generally help to spread the work to other people who haven't come across my designs yet. All of these things help to boost a designers visibility online and can really help to make a difference to the success or not of future pattern sales. A photocopied sheet or emailed screenshot really doesn’t achieve the same results and in the crowded online space of pattern sales all those little bits of exposure really do add up.

Nothing boosts a designers profile more than lots of happy knitters chatting online or in person about your latest fun pattern.

And to those knitters who already do go above and beyond to support and promote the work of indie designers - a heartfelt and very woolly thank you. Your enthusiasm makes everything we do worthwhile.


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Why pattern sharing is wrong!

Fuss Free Festival Shawl

Fuss Free Festival Shawl

Pattern sharing is theft!

There we go. A simple statement but one which I absolutely stand behind. In some circles I am aware that this might be greeted with a sharp intake of breath and sideways looks but as a designer who makes a sizeable chunk of her monthly income from direct pattern sales I feel compelled to point it out in no uncertain terms.

I was somewhat taken aback the other day to receive a private Facebook message asking me to copy a pattern I was using and post it to the messenger. They assured me they were more than happy to pay for postage to cover my expenses. In fact, now that I think about it, the request wasn't even couched in terribly polite, or apologetic tones. There was no "would you mind terribly..." or "I'm so sorry to bother you but..." Just a simple request that I copy the pattern and post it to them please.

I don't recall exactly what I said in response but I think I was polite (just) and firm in my assertion that I support the copyright of the original designer - whose published works are freely available for purchase.

It got me thinking though about the way that designers work these days and that maybe there might be a gap in perception between what indie designers do and how they earn their keep as compared to the big commercial yarn companies.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that there is a significant difference between a large commercial yarn company who produces patterns almost as a loss leader to support the yarn the pattern was created for. Indeed, not too many years ago there was a yarn shop near my parents house who would refuse to sell you a pattern unless you bought the accompanying yarn with which to make said pattern. The large companies almost certainly treat the patterns they produce this way, if not as disposable assets, but at least of secondary importance to their main aim - which is the sale of the yarn.

In the world of indie designers things are very different. The majority of us sell our patterns direct to the public, often via a 3rd party such as Ravelry or Love Knitting. Once Paypal, Ravelry fees and VAT are deducted that money is ours to do with as we will, whether that's to invest in new charting software, pay website fees or get the cat wormed!

For every £5 pattern sale we lose through someone 'sharing' a pattern with a friend that's money taken directly from our monthly income.

The issue which really got my goat from the original request was that the person concerned was more than willing, anxious even, to reimburse me for my time and expense is sending the pattern, but didn't give a second thought that the person who put all the hard work into designing and writing the pattern didn't deserve any recompense at all.

Like all things, it comes down to education. The more we educate people about how independent designers work and the more they come to appreciate the help and support they can get from the independent community then hopefully, they will be more prepared to support us in future.


Free patterns: when you might get more than you bargained for

There is an old adage that “There is no such thing as a free lunch” and never is that more appropriate than when dealing with the multitude of websites which are available these days - all offering Free Patterns. I’m not going to link to them as they have no need of any more free publicity but I’m sure you have all seen them crop up on Google searches at various times.

“No need to waste your money on buying patterns” they proclaim - often in loud shouty letters, offering to dazzle and delight the reader with their range of wonderful free patterns.

Whilst there is nothing wrong in principle with this type of website it’s worth bearing a few things in mind before taking them up on their oh-so-kind offer.

First of all, please bear in mind that many of these patterns are counterfeit - that is to say they are available for download without the permission of the designer. Whilst a pattern may be listed as a free pattern on Ravelry, this does not grant anyone else permission to distribute that pattern - either in printed or in electronic form. Often designers will offer a free pattern as a way of driving more visitors to their website or to their Ravelry designer page in the hope of increasing sales and awareness of their product. Having the pattern available elsewhere detracts from that and reduces the potential for further sales. There is a serious misconception among the knitting industry that just because a pattern is available as a free download it is available for anyone to use and distribute and many of these free pattern sites take full advantage of this lack of awareness.

In addition there have been an increasing number of cases where these ‘free download’ websites have been affected by viruses or other forms of malware. In some cases this may be malicious but often it is just the case that such sites are poorly run and administered and therefore may not be as assiduous in checking all their links as you might like.

 Viruses and malware aren’t just a problem with sites like this either. Patterns downloaded directly from individual’s blogs may also be a problem. This was pointed out recently on my Facebook group - I am knitting a sock yarn blanket the pattern for which was published on a blog several years ago. There is a Ravelry pattern page but to get the pattern you have to go to the blog website rather than downloading via Ravelry. Several people reported that they had problems with their PC after visiting the site and thankfully the Rav team were super speedy in responding.

It serves as a timely reminder though, that as used as we are to the instant gratification of downloadable patterns it is worth checking where your downloads come from. Sources such as Ravelry and Love Knitting are impeccable, I am very pleased to say as all patterns have to be uploaded to their servers before they can be activated.

If in doubt, as with anything, it’s best to double check before hitting that download button.