Patterns are a sewist’s best friend. Even if you find yourself changing hemlines or altering sleeves, having a pattern to start with is a great way to give yourself a roadmap to creating your projects. Patterns are also a great way to add to your handmade business without having to sew even more projects for your inventory. There are several options for selling sewing patterns, from designing them yourself to collecting and re-selling vintage patterns, and selling patterns online is just as easy as listing the rest of your handmade items for sale. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
Selling Vintage Patterns
Vintage patterns are increasingly popular, and you can make a fair bit selling them online if you know what you’re doing. You won’t be able to list them on sites like Amazon Handmade, which restricts its listings to strictly handmade items, so check the policies on the sites you plan to use before getting started.
Original Vintage Patterns
To be most successful with selling original vintage patterns, you have to have a good sense of which patterns are most valuable, which will take a bit of research and study. Uncut, original patterns with all their packaging are the most sought after, and typically these are purchased by collectors rather than sewists looking to actually create the designs they contain. Hunting for valuable patterns is tricky; while you might get lucky with estate sales and charity shop finds, your best bet will probably be to buy patterns online by the lot. It’s a bit of a gamble, though. A lot might contain a dozen amazing patterns, or just a few, or none at all. Make sure you set parameters for what you’re willing to spend, and what you expect to make in sales.
Recreating Vintage and Historical Designs
Another option for selling old patterns is to duplicate the designs yourself. You must only duplicate a pattern if you are certain that it is in the public domain. Don’t assume that just because you can’t confirm a copyright that it a pattern is fair game. Pattern companies don’t take kindly to that kind of infringement, and the repercussions could be crushing for a small business. It’s not worth the legal or financial hassle. Besides, there are plenty of vintage and historical patterns that are very much available in the public domain. Often, they’re in poor condition, or tough to find, so while anyone could technically retrieve and use these patterns themselves, most people don’t bother.
Once you’ve got the pattern in hand, it’s just a matter of recreating it. This has more in common with selling patterns of your own design; we’ve covered that process below.
Designing and Selling Digital Patterns
Whether you’re making patterns completely from scratch or making it easier for people to access public domain patterns, digital is the easiest option.
A Solid Investment
Digital patterns can be downloaded over and over again, so once you’ve created your patterns, online sales of them can become a source of passive income—that is, an income source that doesn’t require ongoing effort or continued investment. Not all online selling platforms support sales of digital downloads, though many of the main ones, including Etsy, do.
You’ll need a bit of technological know how to make sure that you can create pattern designs that print clearly and scale correctly—that’s the biggest factor—so your customers can easily download and print your work. This typically means you’ll need some kind of design or editing software, like Adobe Illustrator, but before you go out and spend a fortune on pricey software, check out this resource that digs into the details on actually producing your first digital pattern.
The Reality of File Sharing
The biggest downside to digital sales is the ease with which your work can be stolen. It’s quite tricky to share used physical patterns among sewists, as every sewist will want to make some modifications, but when the file can just be emailed, or multiple copies printed out…well, you get the idea. It may be worth the effort to occasionally search the internet for your pattern names to catch blatant piracy, and though reputable sites can be helpful in getting copied work taken down, it’s impossible to catch it all. However, as tricky as this can be, the investment required to sell digital patterns is so low that it’s often still worth your time and effort.
Designing and Selling Print Patterns
Printed sewing patterns are the most traditional way of creating and selling patterns to sewists, and there’s something immensely satisfying about seeing your own designs printed up and tucked in pretty envelopes. It’s also the most resource intensive way to create and sell patterns, so make sure you know what you’re getting into before diving in headfirst.
Practise Makes Perfect
If you’re just getting started designing patterns, the first thing you should know is that it’s going to take some time to get good at it. Like anything else with sewing, practise makes perfect, and with patterns, perfection is especially important! Not only should you make up test pieces from your original pattern, but you should have friends and fellow sewists try them out too! Make sure not only the patterns are great, but that the instructions are clear and easy to follow.
Work With the Pros
There are some parts of pattern design that are just better left to the professionals. Printing is one great example. Professional printers are going to be able to produce higher quality large scale prints than you could manage yourself, especially if you’re not prepared to invest in a gigantic printer. Having a professional printer that you work with can also make it easy to manage your inventory. When you’re just starting out, you may only get occasional orders for patterns. This means you might not want lots of funds tied up in a huge stock of printed patterns, so, if the turnaround is quick enough, you might be able to work with a local printer to get them made to order as those orders come in.
Another thing you might want to leave to the professionals is garment grading. Patterns for garments are graded to allow for different sizes to be cut from the same piece, but unless you’re adept at altering patterns on the fly, it might be worth it to pay a professional to grade your designs for you. While it is another expense to consider, if it saves you time and frustration, it’s a good investment.