Valuing Our Work

I’ve written about this scenario in the past, and I’m afraid I’m going to bore some of you with the same sad tale again. This is a long one, with no pictures…

If there’s going to be a pool of high quality, established hand knit and crochet designers, there has to be an understanding among the larger powers in the knitting industry that these designers MUST be supported – or at least not taken advantage of as a matter of course.

My personal belief is that once a pattern is printed in a magazine, the rights to that pattern SHOULD eventually revert to the designer. This is how, for instance, Yarn Forward treats their designers.

The Back Story
Last year – right around this time – I wrote about Interweave Knit’s announcement that they’d be opening an online pattern store. They stated that designers of patterns IK chose to sell in the store would earn 10% of sales. Ten Per Cent. Heck, that won’t pay the rent!

This seemed incredibly small to me, so I didn’t sign the agreement and mulled it over for a while. I sell my patterns online, why would I sign a contract to undersell myself, AND get only 10% back into the bargain?

In talking with other designers (why do the magazines think we don’t chat with each other?) it became clear that we fell into two camps:

  • Those who thought this was a raw deal,
  • and those who thought it was raw deal, but felt they couldn’t change it, so they signed up anyway.

I didn’t expect much when I wrote about the issue on my blog, I was pretty much just blowing off steam. But my post attracted enough attention that the powers at Interweave began to reconsider their position. They were gracious enough to open up a dialog and eventually they created a much more fair sliding scale of payments.

Now when you purchase a pattern at the Interweave online pattern shop, a designer earns between 20% – 50% of the purchase price.

All The Way To The Bank
What difference could this make? I just received my check for pattern sales for the past 3 months. It was $600 [yay!]

Because I also offer my patterns on other websites, I only earn 30% of the pattern price, so this figure reflected $2,000 in pattern sales. IK keeps $1,400, I get $600. If I sold my online patterns exclusively with IK, I’d get a bigger cut. Additionally, if I had a link on my website to IK’s pattern store AND sold exclusively through them, I’d earn 50% of the pattern sale.

However, if the 10% IK originally offered was still in effect, my check would have been a measly $200. That would have been wrong, and I’m very glad that IK was designer-friendly enough to make that change.

In my perfect world, I’d like to see online compensation for designers set at 50% across the board, and I’m sure deep down Interweave would have liked to have kept the compensation closer to 10%. However, since neither of us got our way, I think it’s a good deal.

It’s certainly MUCH nicer than the original offer, and Interweave has gained many very enthusiastic proponents of their online pattern store (including me!)

More important, designers who may have been hesitant to design for IK are happy to submit, and that makes the magazine – and the knitting world – better for all of us!

Times Are A’Changin’
In the past year several designer-focused entities have popped up, The Stitch Cooperative, Ravelry’s pattern sales feature, Twist Collective & Etsy pattern sales, to name a few. The web-savvy knitter has many more options for buying patterns than just the original big knitting magazines, and the smart magazines are understanding and embracing the change (and respecting their designers.)

Here We Go Again…
But now the issue has reared it’s ugly head again with another of the big knitting magazine groups – once again in an email which was probably supposed to be positive, but only ends up sounding a bit patronizing.

In November I received this email from Soho Publishing, the entity which produces the family of Vogue Knitting books and magazines.

Dear Designer:

Due to the increasing demand for online content, publishers are now able to reach a broader audience and better serve that audience by making their print content available online. Soho Publishing Company is excited to announce the launch of our web-based initiative, which will allow us to offer the content from our print magazines (Vogue Knitting, Knit.1, Knit Simple and Family Circle Knitting) in digital format. Specifically, we will be reselling patterns from past and present publications as downloadable files, accessible via the Internet.

What does this mean to you? As one of our valued designers, you will receive a ten percent (10%) royalty on all net revenue received from the resale of patterns designed by you. While Soho contractually has the right to reuse this content without further payment to our designers, we appreciate the value our contributors bring to our product and sincerely wish to maintain a relationship based on respect and good faith. All royalties will be paid annually (one time per year) by August 15th for all sales through June 30th of each year. These payments will be made in check form and will be mailed to the address provided by you.

In order to receive your ten percent (10%) royalty payments, please fill out and return the attached form by March 1, 2009 to verify your correct mailing address. Without this information, Soho will be unable to issue and mail your annual check–we want to be sure your payment is heading to the right place!

Thank you for sharing your talents with us, and we look forward to seeing more of your work in the future, both in print and online.

Very truly yours,


Once again, I sat on this for a bit.

90%?? What Are They Thinking?
Each company has different contracts, and to be honest most designers are just so darned glad to get something into a magazine like Vogue they’ll sign a contract and not read the fine print.

There are a few notable exceptions, but once a the cycle develops (designer submits, yarn is sent, contract is sent, contract is signed, etc.) it’s hard habit to break.

Vogue’s contracts have always been a bit less designer friendly than Interweave’s (IK t
raditionally asked for ‘first North American serialization rights’)
but many of us figured that this was the price we paid for getting into Vogue.

Also, at the time that many of us started signing the Vogue contracts, no one really expected there to be an alternative method for selling our patterns independently online, so that wasn’t covered in the contracts.

And, fools that we were, we signed away our rights.

So What Now?
I give Interweave a HUGE amount of respect for addressing this issue in a fair way, I’d like to see Vogue do the same thing. All I’m looking for is a little respect. And 20-40% more back on sales.

I don’t know whether Vogue was unaware of the arrangement Independent Designers had worked out with Interweave, but the above email sounds a bit like, “We own the pattern so we don’t legally have to do anything in terms of payment. But we like you, kid, so here’s a dime. If you want to cry, go call your mother.”

Well, I can’t call my mom. And I can’t change the contracts I’ve already signed.

But I can blog.

The Hard Part
I can’t think of many things harder for a designer than saying, “No, Big Knitting Magazine Company [BKMC], I won’t sign this contract because it’s unfair and and I refuse to give all the rights to you in perpetuity.”

But it’s exactly what I – and a few other designers – have decided to do.

When I read the email above I made the decision not to submit anything to Vogue until their policy toward ownership of intellectual property becomes more designer friendly – more enlightened.

With this blog post, I realize that I’m most likely nailing the door shut as far as ever having anything in Vogue again. But I feel that it’s vital that knitters – and especially other designers – know that there are OPTIONS to the contracts we’re offered. We do NOT have to accept unfair contracts we can negotiate. And there is strength in numbers, folks.

Designers earn just a hair more now for a pattern than they did in the mid-80’s. Factor in cost of living, and we’re earning less than we did 20 years ago. Add to this the latest slap in the fact – 90% of internet sales revenue will go back to the magazine – and we, as designers, realize exactly how much we’re valued. T E N P E R C E N T.

[Let me hear you, loud and proud!]


If Vogue wants to RE-sell one of my patterns, perhaps the popular Twisted Float Circular Cocoon Shrug (cover, Fall 2005 issue), they should pay me a fair amount. (On a side note; I’ve entirely rewritten the pattern so that it’s universal and can be worked up with any yarn in any size, and I offer that substantially augmented pattern on my website for sale.)

If Vogue sells the Circular Shrug, is it fair that they keep 90% of the income? What if they decide to offer it free as a come-on to get new online subscribers? At that point they’ve effectively destroyed any future sales of the pattern I offer on my website – who will ever pay for something once it’s been given away for free? And I get precisely 10% of nothing.

Folks, I don’t say this for sympathy or pity, but we hand knit & crochet designers earn garbage. This is due to many factors, including:

  • We allowed it to happen
  • There are many who are dying to get into the mags
  • The mags know they don’t HAVE to offer a fair compensation

I say this because I really don’t have a lot to lose in this fight – but I have a lot to gain. And not just for me – but for every designer out there who would like to pay the mortgage.

Fish In A Barrel
In a recent online chat Trisha Malcom, the editor of Vogue, mentioned that VK visits the Ravelry designers forum regularly to seek out new designers. Of course they do, the more established designers are becoming tired of the unfair contracts, or can’t afford to work for peanuts, and the new designers are just so darned happy to get published they’d give their work up for nothing.

I know, I’ve been there.

What Do We Want?
I’m asking other designers to stand with me and only accept contracts in which we retain all rights to our designs after the initial publication.

When Do We Want It?
Ideally this should start with the next contracts that go out. I’d be happy if something can be worked out by the March 9th date given in the email above.

After a certain period, rights should revert back to the designer. Period. If a magazine wants to run a design again in a “Silver Anniversary Issue” or “Best of” book, the designer should be paid. (I wasn’t even aware that my Twisted Float Circular Shrug WAS in Vogue’s 25th anniversary issue until a friend emailed me to congratulate me.)

Now, Raise Your Right Hand…

“Today I pledge that henceforth, I will only sign contracts that allow me the freedom of determining what happens to my intellectual property after the initial publication.”

And To You New Designers…
This is also a plea to new designers; I know where you’re coming from, I know you want to make a name for yourself, but please consider that if you really want to do this as a career – if you’re in it for the long haul – you’ll be in my situation very soon.

I realize that I’m in a unique position – I’m an established designer who’s had work in Vogue Knitting as far back as 1984, but I also have a web presence. This is unusual, and may be why we haven’t heard much about this online from other established designers who don’t have blogs or sell their patterns independently online.

It’s only been in the past few years that designers have been able to network online, and we’re getting stronger.

Believe me, new designers, if we don’t fight this battle now, we’ll be paying for years. You don’t want to look back in 5 years and say, “Geeze, why didn’t someone stand up and ask for a fair contract years ago …?”

Be part of the solution – be part of the change. Please support your fellow/sister designers by working with me to teach.

  • We must explain to the knitting editors that if they prize our talents enough to use them to sell magazines, they must respect us enough to send us fair contracts which allow us to determine the ultimate rights to our intellectual property.

  • We must teach the knitters who buy the magazines about the contracts we sign, and the rights we give up. To my mind, this is all part of the copyright fight – a fight in which Designers have been so beautifully supported by knitters a
    ll over the world [thank you!]

In Closing
I realize by writing this post I’m not just holding the knife, but may be pulling it squarely and firmly across my own throat. So be it. As I said, I don’t have a lot to lose.

If one can’t earn a living as a hand knit designer by going with the flow, then it’s time to swim against the current.

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0 thoughts on “Valuing Our Work

  1. flossdawgg

    I was just about to subscribe to VK, but this completely changed my mind. I’ve only been knitting for one year, but that’s long enough to know what it takes to design something. I hope things change soon.