Walking into your favorite local quilt shop and seeing your pattern hanging on the display wall would certainly be a thrill. For many sewing pattern designers, the idea of selling print patterns is very appealing. It means your designs will be sold all over the country and bought by customers who might not ever read a sewing blog or shop online. Print patterns mean gaining a whole new audience. It’s great exposure.
Producing print patterns is daunting, though. You’ve got to master page layout, vectorizing templates, and creating illustrations. Then there’s technical editing and copyediting. You’ll need to purchase a bar code for each pattern, then source cost effective printing. Once you’ve got your patterns in hand, you have to collate, fold, and bag them yourself. To get your patterns in stores you’ll need to get picked up by a distributor, and then pack and ship boxes of patterns to them. The lead-time between when you design a pattern and when it’s actually available in stores can be several months or more. It’s a lot of work!
A typical sewing pattern in a quilt shop sells for about $13. Going this route you can expect to earn $3 on each sale and that’s got to cover all your costs and your time. (To hear more about the process of creating a print pattern for sale listen to my interview with Bari J.)
In Australia there’s a popular innovation on print patterns that caught my eye: creative cards. Where a print pattern is typically several pages folded and bagged, a creative card is a single sturdy piece of glossy cardstock printed double-sided. It’s got instructions and templates, plus a color photo of the finished project, and it sells at an attractive low price point that makes it a great add-on purchase for shoppers.
A sampling of the creative cards now available through Creative Abundance.
A print pattern in Australia typically sells for $16-$20, while a creative card is just $5. Creative cards are displayed at the checkout counter in Australian quilt shops and have become a very popular product. The leading Australian pattern distributor, Creative Abundance, carries several dozen in their catalog. Australian designers Jodie Carlton and Claire Gee have been selling pattern cards through Creative Abundance for a year now and say the cards do very well, some months surpassing their standard-sized print patterns in sales volume.
In the U.S. mini patterns are becoming more popular as well. Several designers offer lower price point mini patterns, including Valorie Wells, Heather Bailey, Jeni Baker, Oliver + S, and Patty Young. Although mini patterns in the U.S. are less expensive than a full-sized pattern, they aren’t quite as low in price, and they aren't necessarily as single page card. Still, I see a trend forming.
I really like the idea of a pattern printed on a card. They’re easy to kit and great for workshops and they’re a fun add-on purchase for customers. Pattern cards are the type of thing you might pick up while you’re at the quilt shop for something else and then tuck away for a rainy day, or just to have fun with.
Even though pattern cards are an attractive concept, offering a nice product at a great price, creating them is almost as challenging as creating standard-sized patterns: layout, editing, printing, and distribution are still fairly big hurdles to jump.
What if there was a way to create a pattern card and get national distribution without having to take all of those steps?
Checker Distributors is one of the biggest U.S. distribution companies of quilting and sewing products. When you walk into your local quilt shop the merchandise you see was almost all purchased from a distributor’s catalog and most likely that distributor was Checker. They’ve got a huge booth at Quilt Market and carry patterns by all of the big name indie designers.
About a year ago Checker opened a print-on-demand pattern card division called Cut Loose Press. Independent designers work with Checker to print and distribute pattern cards for sewing projects. These cards are then sold in brick-and-mortar stores all over the country. Checker handles all of the layout, editing, printing, packing and distribution and designers earn a royalty on each one that sells.
A sampling of the pattern cards available now through Cut Loose Press.
Cut Loose Press cards are all print-on-demand. When a store places an order that particular card is printed and sent out. They are the standard 8.5” x 11” size and are printed on 80 lb. heavy weight paper, in color, on specially treated paper that inhibits photocopying (the paper turns black when copied).
Last week I reached out to Alyssa McCoy, pattern buyer at Checker, and Kathleen Gill, Project Manager for Cut Loose Press, to find out more. They encourage indie designers to submit projects for consideration. Submissions are open to everyone, including international designers.
Here’s how the process works:
1. Submit your project. Unlike the smaller Australian creative cards, there is not really a size or complexity limitation when it comes to Cut Loose Press pattern cards. Your project can be a small easy-to-sew project or a king sized quilt. Once you have something, email an image and description to: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Wait a week. A review committee at Checker meets weekly to approve projects. If your project gets approved, they’ll contact you and send you a contract to sign. When you print a pattern with Cut Loose Press you give Checker exclusive rights to that pattern, meaning you can’t sell it anywhere else. But because Cut Loose is a print-on-demand service, you can pull your pattern at any time. If sales aren’t doing as well as you’d like, let Checker know that you’d like to discontinue it and then you’re free to sell that pattern in a different way.
3. Fill out an online template. Checker will provide you with a straightforward online form to upload your instructions, beauty shots, diagrams or step-by-step photos, and templates. Checker staff will edit the pattern. Then it goes is up on Checker’s online catalogue, usually within two weeks from submission. That’s a short lead-time!
4. Your pattern is in stores. Checker sells the cards to the quilt shops for $1.75 and then the shops sell them retail for a nice low price point of $3.49 retail. For every pattern card that sells you’ll receive a .25 royalty. Although .25 may seem like a small percentage for the designer (you’ll need to sell 1,000 in order to make $250), when you figure in the costs of printing, collating, bagging, and shipping print patterns yourself, plus lead time, it really isn’t much different from the $3 you’d get for a $13 print pattern.
Right now Cut Loose Press has 163 pattern cards available and, according to Alyssa McCoy, all of the designers involved have been satisfied. In fact, two of Checker’s top selling patterns are Cut Loose Press patterns. Not every pattern has to be for a small-scale project. A top-selling Cut Loose Press pattern right now is Tropical Blues, a pattern for a king-sized quilt.
Integral to Checker’s mission is to keep brick-and-mortar quilt shops and fabric stores alive. That’s a mission that I support. Cut Loose Press provides an exciting opportunity for indie pattern designers to get their work into those stores. In order to make a living as a pattern designer it’s vital to have multiple income streams. Perhaps Cut Loose Press should be one of them.