Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Pattern Design - The Real Cost

This post has been bubbling in the back of my mind for a few weeks now, and I think I'm ready to share my thoughts.

We've all seen the meme: Why do Quilts Cost So Much? (This one was made by Gail Lizette of I Think Sew.)  We've seen it, and we've nodded sagely to ourselves. We think YES! This is what the people who don't appreciate my work need to see! We share it and we share it again. Why? Because we want to be appreciated. We want people to see that what we have made wasn't a "cheap handmade gift."

Pattern designers feel the same way. We hear over and over again how patterns cost "too much." Everyone is looking for free patterns. "Designers are making so much money, look how much the patterns cost." "It won't hurt if I copy this pattern and share it with my friends. I paid for it already." "Digital patterns should be cheaper than the paper pattern of the same design."

I would like to share what it costs to design a pattern, and then take a look at what we make off those patterns. I'll share some pretty pictures along the way to keep from all boring text.

The designing stage

First there is the drawing up of the actual design. Sketching out the idea, figuring out sizes of units, adding it to a design program, adding color (taking color away and starting over, ha). This can take a few hours to a few days.

Time: 8 hours - 48 hours (lets pay ourselves $15) = $120 - $720

Next, there is writing out the instructions, making sure each piece fits as you go along. Figuring out number of units to cut, when to piece them, trimming. Then, how much fabric will be needed. (Yes, you will use math when you grow up. *grin*)

Time: 15 hours x $15 = $225

Then testing begins. I print out the instructions so that I can make the needed changes. (Read cost of paper and ink.) Depending on the difficulty of the pattern I need enough fabric to make at least one full quilt, which will not get quilted, but needs to be pieced. Then it's off to the testers.

12 testers x 12 patterns at $10 each = $120

Some designers are able to pay for testers and their time. Think about how much that can cost. How much is your time worth? I give my testers their choice of any of the published patterns I have available, or the finished pattern of the one they just worked on. They use their own fabric and then they go through whichever size they have chosen and make the whole top to check for accuracy. This part of the proccess is invaluable.

Making of the design

For my patterns I make two samples for the cover of each pattern. That's two quilts worth of fabric, materials and time, I'm going to use the amount used in the meme above, but only once, because I don't usually have to buy thread etc every time.

Quilt one and two = $1220.88

I send mine to be quilted, because paying for that service is worth the extra time it "buys" me. Each quilt costs anywhere from $150 - $280, it depends on the size and quilting pattern chosen.

Quilt one = $150

Quilt two = #275

Once I get the binding on, the quilts are off to the photographer. Mine lives in a different state, so each package is sent with insurance up to $1,000. Then mailed back for the same cost. The cost of the photographer varies from one to the other.

Shipping to = $40

Photography = $300/shot (this varies greatly)

Shipping back = $40


If the designer only does digital patterns, what's left is "just" the set up fees for their website or etsy/craftsy page. Each listing comes with a fee, and each sale comes with a fee.

Etsy listing = $0.20

If there are paper patterns involved then the pattern is off to the printer (or printed at home). A general amount for me, for a pattern with color pages and a nice glossy cover runs around 2.468 to 2.856 per pattern, usually with orders of just 25. This varies for each designer/printer.

Total cost: $61.70 (repeat if the pattern happens to sell well)

Now it's time to decide, will you pay to have the printer fold them for you, or will you fold them yourself.

Folding yourself; 45 mins x $15/hour = $11.25

Then it's time to stuff the in those nice clear bags. Those run around $50 for 1,000 bags, plus shipping.

Using 25 bags at $0.05 a bag = $1.25

Total cost = $3,465.28
(using an average of 28 hours and 3 images from the photographer)

Selling  the pattern

The pattern has been designed, pieced, quilted, photographed, printed and bagged. Now it needs to be sold. Many patterns run from $10 - $12, some even higher. For this I'm going to use the $10 example.

Retail is $10.
If I sell it from Etsy or Craftsy I am charged a fee for listing and for selling. I would need to sell 346 patterns, plus a few more to cover fees, to break even.

If it is picked up by a quilt shop, the shop pays a wholesale price: $5 per pattern. I would need to sell 693 patterns to break even.

If it's picked up by a distributor they pay 35%: $3.50 per pattern. I would need to sell 990 patterns to break even.

The Border Quilt

There is a lot of give and take to these numbers. Sometimes a designer can get a fabric company to sponsor the design and give fabric. If the quilting is on a smaller quilt, or it's a large motif, it can cost less. Printing costs vary as well. I hope, though, that this helps quilters understand that most of the pattern designers aren't getting rich selling their patterns. They work hard with a high overhead. The bigger names in the quilting industry can give away free stuff, because they have many avenues of revenue. The smaller pattern designer doesn't have all of that. So add that $10 pattern to your list of quilting supplies and help support the designers that are working long hours to give you a quality product they can be proud of.

Happy Stitching!

New to Patterns By Jen?

Find paper and digital patterns in my Etsy shop.

The Border Quilt Quilt Along is coming August 2018

Follow me on Instagram and Facebook for daily sneak peeks and updates.


  1. Great entry on a topic that folks have heard little about. I applaud your efforts to bring this out. You make so many valid points. My husband is a programmer, so i have always felt strongly about those who write something, deserve to get paid!

    1. Thank you Kathleen! I wish I was more articulate, because sometimes ideas start brewing and you have to let them out. Fumbling or not. :)

  2. I love this Jen! Thank you for writing it. I think I may follow suit for clothing patterns. It is a bit different but the concept is the same.

  3. An eye opening post. Thank you for sharing, for letting us peek behind the curtain, so to speak! :-)

  4. Thank you for breaking down the cost of pattern creation so well. Much needed info!

  5. Hear hear! Thanks for spelling it all out Jen.

  6. I appreciate the time and thought that went into this article. I write our quilt club newsletter and will put in a link to this article so others can read and understand why pattern prices keep going up.

  7. Very good post! I always figured that there was so much time involved in developing a pattern. It is like a copyright of a book, it should not be copied.

  8. I get far less from a distributor (less than $1 I think) great post though

  9. Great post!!! Thanks for taking the time and writing it!

  10. Great post! Thanks for laying it all out so thoroughly. You've inspired me to keep better track of my time for my next pattern.

  11. Great post Jen! I hope that this educates everyone to think about what goes into making a quilt - and it's a lot! I'll be linking to this post to help spread the word!

  12. Great breakdown, Jen. People have no clue everything that goes into making a quilt from the quilt design to finished product! Thanks for sharing your post on this!

  13. Jen ~ You did a terrific job of explaining some of the costs and time that go into each pattern. Maybe this will help to educate more of the quilting consumers. Kudos!

  14. Brilliant post! Thank you for the time and effort you put into it. The more we educate the more valuable we become! Sparkles!

  15. Well said! Not to mention, illustrated with a beautiful quilt!

  16. Hi Jen.
    Thank your very much for this article. It certainly gives one somthing to think about. I appreciate the hard work you designers are doing.
    Thank you

  17. Hear, hear! Excellent topic, Jen. And one that makes me cringe a bit because I don't know that I ever took such stock of my costs in designing... it's expensive to do this line of work! Thanks for publishing : )

  18. That was scary. I got a complaint from a customer the other day about one of my BOM pattern she purchased from my etsy shop. I sell each block separately because of the size of the files etc and I ran the pattern as a BOM on my blog first. She purchased the last block which was borders and putting it together then complained that I was selling an idea of a quilt and a border she expected more for her $3 investment. I explained to her that the pattern represented at least 100 hand work, plus hours of pattern writing and in order for her to complete the quilt she needed to purchase all the blocks total outlay $20 and I don't make a profit from providing these patterns i do it pretty much for love and spreading a bit of knowledge.

  19. Thanks for that insight! This is a good reminder why you should buy the pattern and not borrow a copy from a friend as so much work, time, money, energy went into the pattern design and publishing!

  20. For sure you guys aren't getting rich. I'm glad you guys love what you do, or else you'd never, ever do it!

  21. Well done, but you forgot to pro-rate your "hard" costs as well: a computer, software, your sewing machine and maintenance/repairs, irons, misc. supplies and the portion of your home that houses your business. Unless people have their own home-based business, they really don't understand the costs involved.

  22. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this very important topic Jen. I've included your article in our latest craft inspiration roundup. Cheers Jodie :)


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