Just Patterns Kate bias top by Sewing Tidbits

Selling Digital Sewing Patterns – Year 1, Income Report and Lessons Learned

Dear readers,

I want to start by telling you that I have tons of ideas of things I would like to talk about on the blog this year, but I have to admit that I, again, put too much on my plate and I’m currently juggling to make it all work. But I finally managed to complete this post that has been in my draft box for 2 months (yay!!) so grab a coffee because today we are talking business!!

pexels-photo-373076.jpegAfter almost a year of activity in our PDF sewing pattern endeavor, I thought it would be a good time to gather some of our early findings and lessons learned. I’m a great admirer of bloggers operating with a high degrees of transparency.  Income reports are quite common in the blogging world but  not so much in the sewing community. There are of course exceptions, I think most of us are familiar with Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps.  My lovely friend, Sanae Ishida, also discusses her blogger/writer income very openly with Furoku members. Transparency doesn’t necessarily mean discussing $$ at length and I always loved the behind the scenes posts published by various indie pattern designers (like Sewaholic or Closet Case Patterns). For all the years that I delayed taking the leap and starting my own project, reading about it was my little window into that world.

Just Patterns Kate bias top by Sewing Tidbits
Just Patterns Kate Bias Top

The way I approach Just Patterns, is largely shaped by all this generously shared knowledge. So it seems only fair to apply those standards of transparency to myself and share with you what we tried so far and where we stand. I try to be as genuine as possible so I hope it doesn’t come of as complaining, bragging or something like that.  If it does, then you are more than welcome to set me straight! I always felt that this blog was a space where I would always get valuable feedback from you, which is why I’m sharing my thoughts so openly with you.

2017 in numbers

5 patterns released

370 patterns sold:

  • 345 on Etsy (our main shop)
  • 24 on Makerist (we listed 3 patterns there in December)
  • 1 on Craftsy

1383$ of revenue:

  • 1315$ on Etsy
  • 65$ in Makerist (We listed there in preparation of a sale, so basically patterns were sold at 50% off)
  • 3$ on Craftsy

289$ of e-commerce fees:

  • 115$ for Etsy Credit Card Processing
  • 155$ for other Etsy Fees
  • 19$ for Makerist Commission

892$ of other Expenses:

  • 210$ for digitizing (that includes our current patterns and some of our future releases)
  • 630$ for the licence of our CAD software.
  • 52$ for the domain of our website

That leaves us with a positive balance of 200$. But that’s not entirely correct because major expenditures are being left out. First, we are currently able to get the photography done professionally at no cost. However, it may not last forever. There are also costs not being charged to the business such as Adobe Illustrator (for which I pay about 240$/year) or fabric for samples. So it would be fairer to say that we approximatively  broke even this year but it does raise the question of the sustainability of our approach.

Lessons and questions

Obviously, getting rich out of selling PDF patterns was never a goal. What I really wanted out this project was to experiment, learn and challenge my own assumptions about what is going on in the world of independent patterns makers. None of the lessons below are breakthroughs, they are things that I believe we already know, but I’m a hard-evidence type of person. So I won’t believe anyone until I see it for myself!

Lesson #1: Simple patterns are the ones that sell

Duh! That one is easy and from looking at other popular indie designers, we know the answer. It’s the simpler styles that sell better. That’s about it. You can spend weeks developing a pattern like Linda but you will sell a lot more Stephanie. The investment is lower, the risk is lower and the sales are higher. Simply put, releasing complex patterns is not a good business decision.

Pattern  Release Date Sales
Linda Wrap Dress  June 2017 57
Stephanie Skirt  March 2017 110
Yasmeen Skirt  December 2017 23
Christy Bias Slipdress  February 2017 73
Kate Bias Top  February 2017 107

Of course, things are more complicated than that. First of all, the process of getting a pattern ready for release is long and sometimes tedious. I find it more rewarding to work on designs I truly love. I’m also not a marketing wiz, so to “sell” a style I need to truly love it! In addition, I believe that releasing more complex styles actually  the credibility of the simpler patterns. By showing that you can achieve this, it gives confidence to customers that your drafting/grading is on point.

Lesson #2: Making money out of sewing patterns is difficult

With Just Patterns, we made the deliberate choice to start at much lower price than the current indie offering. Since then, we were told repeatedly that our patterns were too cheap. We heard it from pretty much everybody: bloggers, customers and fellow indie pattern designers. I’m very stubborn, and I was very committed to our price point but looking at the numbers that I outlined above, I have to admit that we have a sustainability issue. How long will we find the energy and time to do something that is very far from paying even a portion of our own time?

At the current pricing level, we would need to sell significantly more patterns. That would require stronger marketing efforts which is definitely a weakness. Marketing is time consuming and not a favorite of either Eira or myself. It also brings out another question, how big is the market of people who do not expect detailed instructions? Is it that we are not reaching our people or that there are just not that many of them? The answer of this question, which I obviously don’t know, leads to very different paths. If we are not reaching out enough then we need to focus our time on marketing and expanding our horizons. If the answer is that there aren’t that many sewists not looking for detailed instructions then the possibilities are 1/ outsourcing the development of instructions, because there is no way for us to do it, and then hike up the price to the level of other indies 2/sticking to the spare instructions and finding a middle price that allows us to keep catering to the same small crowd in a sustainable manner.

Just Patterns Linda Wrap DressLesson #3: I am terrible at keeping my balance…

I don’t talk about my personal or professional life that much around here but I think most of you know that I have an interesting and demanding day job, and I am the single parent of a small but growing human (in the middle of sleep training…). Obviously those responsibilities come first, and then there is also the need for some kind of social life, the personal sewing, sewing and writing for Sew News, and everything Just Patterns related. Even though her responsibilities are not the same, Eira also has an extremely busy schedule outside our little pattern venture.

I feel lucky because I love every aspect of my life, but I tend to over commit. So I do it all, then I reach my exhaustion point, take a break and restart all over. Exactly what every business book tells you NOT to do. Because it even shows in our online presence. For some time I manage to post regularly on social media and then suddenly disappear. I know it’s bad but I don’t think there is anything i can do about it for now. So I guess I’ll have to hope that our customers are patient and understanding!

The post is getting longer than initially intended so I will break it in two and keep my questions and goals for 2018 for a follow-up post. I hope that the first part was of interest to you, and as always don’t hesitate to let me know what your thoughts are or if you would like me to expand on any of the things I mentioned! 

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Just Patterns Yasmeen Skirt in Progress

A move, exciting news and what to expect around here in 2018…

Dear readers,

 

The last quarter of the year just seem to have been on fast-forward. Life has been busy at Tidbits HQ.  The main reason behind my silence is that I traveled to France for holidays (Yes, I saw the Dior exhibit. Yes, it is absolutely amazing!!), came back to New York and was then learned that I would be moving back to Haiti (on Thanksgiving weekend…) less than 2 months later. A Things were hectic. I had break my lease, sell all my furniture in New York, organize the shipment of the rest of my belongings (aka the sewing room), find a place to leave in Haiti and start my new job! I’m going to miss my friends, the Garment District, my nice apartment and the City in general, but I’m also really glad to be back. Haiti is a beautiful country and I managed to avoid the freezing New York winter!

Christian Dior Exhibit by Sewing Tidbits
The Paris Christian Dior Exhibit I visited in September

As things are finally starting to slow down, I started writing this post 3 weeks ago. I initially thought that I could write some more before the end of the year, but that quickly became unrealistic. So I figured that I may as well make it an end of the year kind of post. Currently, my sewing room is in a container somewhere in the port of Port-au-Prince and I’m trying to arrange for customs clearance and delivery, right between Christmas and New Year. This is going to be fun… But in the mean time, I am completely restless! Without sewing to keep myself busy once the little human is asleep, I just don’t know what to do with myself.

I’m particularly impatient because several deadlines coming up. Last summer, I started contributing to the print magazine Sew News! I always wanted to write more formally about sewing. I even have a secret-not-so-secret dream of writing a real book one day, which is a bit weird, considering how long it took me to be comfortable writing this blog! My book fantasy is a topic for another day, but I figured that writing articles for a print publication would be good practice and a fun thing to do. So when I heard this episode of the While She Naps podcast, I decided to be brave and I sent Sew News an email pitching some article ideas and asking to be added to their contributor calls. I was so surprised and thrilled when Amanda, the Editor of Sew News, not only expressed interest in some ideas, but also mentioned that she was already following me on Instagram! After some back and forth, we firmed up on 2 submissions, for which I have sent back my texts already (one of them included  samples and there were some mad sewing nights). I’m now working on 3 more articles with a sample each. I can hardly believe it…I managed to take some in-progress pictures like the 2 above. I’ll share more details once they are published! I think the first piece will be in the March/April issue and I CANNOT WAIT!!

Pushing myself to be more involved in the sewing community was one of my motivations when I started Just Patterns with Eira this year, and it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of running an independent pattern activity. Since releasing the first pattern back in January, there has been so many great interactions with sewists and fellow bloggers. Talking about Just Patterns, we just released our fifth pattern, the Yasmeen Skirt. It’s one of the garments hanging in Eira’s closet and that made me repeatedly beg her to start the pattern business with me so I’m particularly happy about this release! I sewed my own sample of the skirt in a blush color linen and hemmed it to wear with flat sandals for a casual/resort vibe which I think will work well for me here. Unfortunately it’s in my shipment, so I can’t show more than the picture below with Eira adjusting my sample on me! We have already mapped out our next 3-4 pattern releases, so Just Patterns will continue in 2018, despite us no longer being in the same country.

Just Patterns Yasmeen Skirt in Progress

On the blog side, I am coming to terms with the fact that I probably won’t be able to post to post everything that I sew, even if my productivity is not that great. And maybe it’s not a bad thing. I’m realizing that I enjoy more discussing with you what is going on in the sewing community and how we feel about our handmade garments rather than what I sewed. I’m not saying that there won’t be finished garment posts anymore, because otherwise the blog would feel like an empty shell. But, maybe it’s just a matter of acknowledging that it hasn’t been about the clothes for a while now!

It  also helped me figuring out how I want to structure content between the blog and my Instagram account. I fell in love with Maria Martimo’s Instagram Account (as well as with her impeccable sewing, and taste!). She sticks to the same structure for every project: a picture of fabric/notions introducing the next project, some construction pictures and a couple of pictures of the final garment. I decided to  shamelessly copy her strategy for the below Stephanie Skirt I sewed recently (with a gorgeous wool/cashmere coating from Mood!) and the verdict is: I loved it. It brings cohesion to my feed, and gives me the opportunity to discuss sewing techniques. I’ll try to post in that format from now on until, you know, I change my mind again…

Sometimes, I feel like every other post here has me questioning the very fact of writing a sewing blog. And yet, Tidbits just celebrated its 5th anniversary. This is quite incredible to me considering my bad record at any documentation habit. I never thought that I would actually make it that long, so I spent  time reflecting on why I managed to keep the blog running and I think I have the answer: it’s you! No matter how much time past in between 2 posts, you were always around to welcome me back and engage, so I want to say a huge thank you!

I hope you are all having a peaceful end of year and I look forward to hearing your thoughts about what 2018 has in store for the sewing world!

Tidbits #5

Dear readers,

Welcome back for a new edition of Tidbits, where I gather links of what I enjoyed reading, watching and listening lately. This week is all about inner conflict and my naturally french contradictory spirit. You can blame it on my on-going binge of In Treatment. That show is seriously addictive! I decided to add excerpts of the articles I am referring to in case you don’t have time to read through. Let me know if you think it’s the right or wrong approach!

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Sewing Bits

    1. Pillowcase Pattern Co

      The patterns will be available soon from Etsy for just $24, and include detailed instructions with full color photographs, beautiful packaging, and all the information you need to get started. There will also be a big blog tour so get ready!

      Made by Meg

      This April fool’s joke was hilarious. I do see the irony of me saying that, since I just started selling sewing patterns on Etsy. I decided to jump on the bandwagon, when I realized that there were 2 ways of not selling 24$-beginner-friendly-hipster-sewing-patterns. One is not to sell sewing patterns at all, which is what I had been doing until then. The other other is to sell cheaper patterns that would build on sewer’s experience and encourage self-confidence rather than hand-holding. So far, we had a little over 30 sales with our marketing efforts are very minimal and inconsistent so I feel it goes in the direction that there is appetite for a different offer…

 

  1. Sewing Polar Bear

Day 12 of #miymarch17 – Teacher. I suspect there are many patient mothers out there getting credit today ☺Mine is no exception, but my interest in sewing first appeared a few years ago. Since I have studied and worked far from home I have mostly used the Internet. There are some question though that Google has a hard time answering (like "how to get your collar band not to look like a turtle made it" and "how to sew that armhole of your coat without having a mental breakdown"). I have used Skype with my mum in those cases (let's just say she is very, very patient 😂). Side note: I'm currently trying to improve my shirt making skills and have discovered Angela Kane and her YouTube channel. She almost makes me want to quit my job, drink all the tea and handstitch collars all day long! 😆

A post shared by Miriam (@sewingpolarbear) on

I admire makers that are able to create visually pleasing Instagram accounts. I certainly don’t have the discipline to do it myself (hum hum… all the baby pictures) but I wish I did! See what I mean with this lovely lady, Sewing Polar Bear. At the same time, I look at my feed and I like that it reflects my real life, or at least a filtered version of it…

Other Bits

    1. The White Wall Controversy: How the All-White Aesthetic Has Affected Design

      So what does that mean for white rooms and the all-white trend? I think this look is one of the many styles in this particular zeitgeist that will be beloved and revered by some for years to come, but changed and moved past relatively soon for many.

      Grace Bonney,  Design Sponge

      My walls are all whites and my style revolves around classic and simple silhouettes. Still, at times, I am embarrassed about how much it fits current trends. Is it what I really enjoy, or am I a product of too much Pinterest? How do we keep challenging myself visually? Obviously home and fashion trends follow similar cycles. Are we on the verge of going back to a more maximalist approach to design?

 

    1. Minimalism is Boring

      Can I have both — the noise and the quiet; the jeans and the neons? Here are three outfits born out of the totems of a minimalist wardrobe.

      Leandra Medine, Man Repeller

      Gretchen Jones touched upon a similar issue in Episode 7 of Seamwork Radio when she said that she wasn’t really interested in the current fashion scene. I like Leandra’s differentiation of a maximalist style vs consumption. Hopefully, you can achieve an over the top look without over sized closet size.

 

    1. Minimalism: another boring product wealthy people can buy

      We cannot pretend that performative reduction in consumption, or choosing to only consume in certain ways, is not one of the most gratuitous displays of privilege out there, and to frame it as in any way a moral choice is more than a little offensive.

      Chelsea Fagan, The Guardian

      I’m a Konmari convert, but I couldn’t help agreeing with a lot of what was said in the article. This type of writing is essential for me. Although I can never be free from trends or my preconceptions, recognizing that they exist is the first step in minimizing their impact on my behaviors.

 

    1. The Myth of the Ethical Shopper

      We are not going to shop ourselves into a better world. Advocating for boring stuff like complaint mechanisms and formalized labor contracts is nowhere near as satisfying as buying a pair of Fair Trade sandals or whatever. But that’s how the hard work of development actually gets done: Not by imploring people to buy better, but by giving them no other option.

      Michael Hobbes, Huffington Post

      I cannot agree more with what is said here. Buying fair trade is not bad per se, but it shouldn’t stop us from looking at the (very) big picture. Changes have to happen at all levels!

 

  1. We’ve Forgotten How to Dress Like Adults

    Each decade of age seemed to offer its own licenses.
    “By the age of thirty, most women were married, held jobs, or both,” writes Przybyszewski. “And they were presumed able to handle the eroticism embodied in the draped designs that made for the most sophisticated styles.” Draping gathers excess fabric into unique waves that draw attention to the wearer’s womanly curves and the tug of gravity.

    Rebecca Huval, Racked

    “Adult” dressing used to be valued and enviable. Back in December, I visited a great aunt in her 80’s with a great sense of style. She was telling about meeting her late husband when she was in her early 20’s and he was in his 40’s. She said “You have to understand, it sounds like a big difference but back then at 23 we were women. We wore gloves, suits and a hat. Not jeans or t-shirt”. I was of course in my rattier jeans with the little human on my lap…

That’s it for today. I would love to hear your thoughts and what you have you read lately that challenged you!

Ramblings on 1 year of blogging. Asking for your opinion!

1. It’s been a year… Phew, I never thought I would make it! This blog is not my first try and all the others failed miserably after a few weeks so YAY ME!

2. After a year it is still very small, growing little by little and I like it. I cannot say that I have found my “voice”, it’s more of an experimentation. I’m not extremely comfortable writing for some reason. Which is weird because I write all day long (reports, notes, minutes and such…) and I read so much about sewing everyday that it could have imprinted (I can never say this without thinking about this creepy part from twilight, yes I read twilight AND saw the movies AND no I’m not 12…) but apparently not. Maybe I’m not dedicating enough time to it, it’s like I’m trying to write the post as fast as possible… Any advice on better writing ?

3. I’m still very uncomfortable in front of the camera. I think it shows (that’s what The Old Man told me when he saw my blog. Doing it by myself with the tripod helps a little, at least there are no witnesses and I can delete dozens of embarrassing pictures!! But my point and shoot camera was already very basic when I bought (in an airport on my way to Zambia) 4 years ago. So now my Iphone takes better pictures. Should I invest in something else or not, the question open for debate…

 

4. I would like to do more informative content (tutorials, uploading patterns, etc.) but I can’t seem to find the time. Also, I’m always wondering about my added value compared to all the amazing stuff already out there. What is missing really? I’m thinking about steps to make your finished results closer to nice RTW, information is available but sometimes hard to assimilate or to adapt to home sewing patterns users. I’m also thinking about how to make them all visual, no text (kind of the makeup/hair ones on pinterest) would it make any sense or am I just being lazy not wanting to write ?

 

5. I’m also reflecting on how to integrate better the blog with my Instagram account, I like Instagram a lot: pictures, no need to talk too much, nice small sewing community… I even toyed the idea of having an instagram only presence… I’ve read with interest this post by House of Pinheiro. I’ve been trying to interact more on other people’s blog, but using feedly to read, it makes it inconvenient to comment. FourSquareWalls also mentioned Instagram as a blogging supplement in her 2nd blogoversary.

 

6. Speaking of FourSquareWalls, her blog has been one of my favorite reads over the last year so I was totally shocked when she mentioned my Lagarfeld for Burda skirt as her inspiration for her Green Army Skirt (although the first commenter said I look weird. Don’t worry commenter, while having my picture taken, I feel super weird so I end up looking the same!). Other highlights have been to have the Ready-for-the-Office Dress and the Open Back Dress featured by Burdastyle.

7. I’m soooo bad at sewalongs… I completed my Thread Theory Jedediah muslin last weekend… Should I keep trying? I think I may want to limit myself to the PR RTW Challenge.

 

8. Finally, blog looks… Not much to say here, It’s extremely basic, sometimes when I visit other bloggers I get a little envious but then I remember that mine is not a business, I have no design skills and I should focus on the content…

 

That’s it! Loooong wordy post for my standards and I’m ready to listen to all your suggestions and advice !!