In 2011 I was at a crossroads. I had just turned in the manuscript for Stuffed Animals and I wasn’t sure what to do next. For a year I’d been writing a book which meant I was in the rhythm of creating a new pattern every three weeks. I’d learned a lot in the process and I’d enjoyed myself. I wanted to keep going.
PDF patterns seemed like the best way forward. Looking on Etsy I could see that there were several doll and toy makers who had thriving PDF pattern businesses and given how many sales they were making in a single day it seemed like there was room for more. At that time, though, I’d never seen a self-published PDF pattern.
What did they look like? How long was the document? Was it better to have photos or diagrams, or both? How should the copyright language be worded? What else should I know? I wasn’t even sure what other questions to ask.
I had two choices at that moment: just forge ahead and guess or get ahold of some patterns and see what they were like.
At this crossroads there’s a camp of people who would advocate guessing. Their line of thinking says if you look at someone else’s pattern you’ll be unduly influenced. You might accidentally copy it, and even if you don’t, the fact that you bought one of their patterns and then turned around and released your first PDF pattern will make them feel like you’re copying them. (This sort of thinking might also say you should never sew from someone else’s pattern for the same reasons.)
And then there’s a camp of people who would advocate learning as much as you can from successful designers. Their line of thinking says the best money you can spend at this moment would be on five awesome PDF patterns from five experienced designers. Buy the patterns, read them carefully, pinpoint what you like and don’t like about each one, and use them to develop your own priorities for your own pattern line. (This sort of thinking might also say sew from as many interesting patterns as you can in order to learn how soft toys are designed.)
Where do you fall in this divide?
I absolutely fall in the second camp. Before making any other steps toward beginning a PDF pattern line I bought patterns from the softie and doll designers I admired most. I chose these designers because they had a great range and variety of patterns, they’d built significant communities around their work, and they were clearly making money. (I didn’t sew from those particular patterns, but I have from sewn dozens, perhaps 100, patterns created by other designers and I’ve learned from every one. Like taking a class, I consider sewing from someone else’s pattern to be professional development of the very best kind.)
Did I turn around and replicate their templates or photos or diagrams or page layouts? In no way. But having those documents in front of me allowed me to figure out what I wanted in my own patterns. They also took some of the fear out of starting down this new path. Once I saw the actual PDFs I realized that they were nothing magical. I’d just written a book. I could do this!
Maybe starting a PDF sewing pattern business isn’t your dream, but I’m betting that you have a creative business goal of some kind. Do you want to write an ebook? Buy the best ebooks in your niche and see what they really are. Want to start an email newsletter? Subscribe to the email newsletters of the people who are at the top of your field (and maybe a few who aren’t at the top) and see what they’re putting out. Want to design some new packaging for your notecards? Order some notecards from people who are doing it well and take a look at their packaging.
I think spending some money and time investigating what’s already on the market is totally worth your while. You aren’t asking anyone to share trade secretes or give you anything for free. You aren’t stealing or copying. Your doing research before you begin a new venture and that is a wise move.
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If you’d like to learn to start a PDF pattern business take a look at my ebook, The Insider’s Guide to Starting an Online Sewing Pattern Business.