Is Free an Expectation?


everybody loves getting something for FREE right?

And you know what? I’m no exception!

As a matter of fact, years ago (circa 2004) when I was struggling to get started in this business, a very wise person who I admired very much advised me to try placing a couple of free patterns out on my website. The logic? “If folks try your free patterns and enjoy them, it’ll expose them to ALL of your products, increase your website traffic and then maybe they’ll come back and purchase one of your full-sized handbag patterns.” And you know what? She was right! After placing a free downloadable pattern on my website the increase in traffic and subsequent sales was almost immediate and undeniable!

So… how you might ask, can there be a downside to FREE?

Well… maybe this question is best answered by relating to you what happened just the other day on my FaceBook page. If you “follow” my FaceBook page, then you know that I like to post all kinds of stuff . Videos, cat pictures, fashion trends, items for children and holidays, funny stuff that makes me laugh and of course pictures of gorgeous quilts and other pieces of fabric art, many of which include a link to an available tutorial or pattern, (many of which are free).

So on this particular day I posted a link to a little cute-as-a-button clutch purse featuring a very clever twisting action in the fabric on the front of the bag. In a word… it was adorable. Mind you, it wasn’t free, but the pattern itself was available by download for $6. Within minutes of posting this however, the following responses appeared in quick succession…(the names of the commentors have been omitted to protect the guilty)

“Very Cute! And thank you for sharing.
But $17 is bit more than I was expecting for a pattern.”

“Whatever happened to sharing for free?
Seems so many have their hands out”

So… I responded back to the commenters and this is what I said, “Actually _____ and _____, the pattern is $6 via download. I think that’s a fair price. It’s only $17 if you want to order the KIT. Since this designer probably put a lot of work into this pattern, she should not be expected to give it away for free!”. I wanted to correct that misconception on behalf of the designer since incorrect statements about price can potentially kill what few sales she might have otherwise enjoyed from the free publicity we gave her. Now admittedly I responded as Kathy Southern, and these commenters probably weren’t aware that StudioKat Designs is my alterego, and I suppose its possible that these folks might have tempered their comments a bit had they known this, but nevertheless these are the answers they posted in response to my comments on FaceBook.

“All the kit includes is the zipper and pattern.  Pretty sure I’m not going to pay $6 for a pattern and then $11 for a small zipper.” (now admittedly, $11 for a zipper & jump rings is kinda high, but the pattern price is very reasonable)

and then this… “I remember a time when folks sewed their own things because it was less expensive than buying store bought items. Also, folks shared because it was the right thing to do.”

Now I’ve got to tell you, I felt VERY discouraged when I read those comments.

Because I could almost feel the contempt in those words. It made me feel devalued as a designer and as a person. And here’s the thing… if this were an isolated incidence it would have been easier to dismiss, but comments like this are starting to crop up more and more frequently now. (It just so happened that these particular comments may have been two too many for me!)

Are these folks really so callous about how much time and effort it takes to bring a quality product to Market? Is it really so unreasonable for a person to make an honest living by way of their creative talents? I find myself shaking my head and thinking… “Are you kidding me?”…. “Really?”


I could have continued to engage these two, but chose instead to walk away from the conversation, (the old adage of “knocking the dust off your feet” seemed to apply here) because I also knew it was unlikely I would have changed the mind of either one of them. But you know what? Exchanges like this are really starting to weigh on me. Since unkind comments such as these seem to get quite a few likes, and since only rarely does any one else step forward and call people out for boorish comments …. does that mean that we can expect this kind of attitude to be more common in the future? Is it actually indicative of our current “social temperature”? Because if so, it begs the question,

“Is FREE becoming the EXPECTATION?”

Of course I can’t answer this question, nor can my fellow designers for that matter, but we sure have a vested interest in the answer, don’t we? So I guess what I’d like to do right now is just start the conversation with a few rhetorical questions? Let’s take some time to think about where we’re headed and what each of us can do to make sure the products we love to make and use (whether we get them for free or not) remain available to ALL of us in the future. So here goes… Given the virtual explosion of free patterns and tutorials that have become available via the social networks in the past few years…

  1. Do you think that FREE patterns are really becoming the new normal? Do you have any theories as to why this has become so?
  2. Do you think that in the future, say 10 years from now, there will even be a niche left for anything other than FREE patterns?
  3. For those of you who have taken advantage of the wide variety of free patterns that are now available, do you find that the quality of these items is generally on a par with the patterns you have bought from the Big Majors, or from smaller independent pattern companies?
  4. What if anything can we, as a sewing community do to encourage an environment where designers of all types of patterns can flourish and succeed?
  5. Are independent designers (myself included) sending mixed messages by offering free patterns on our websites, in addition to the full-sized patterns that we sell?

And now it’s YOUR turn!

I would REALLY love to hear what the online sewing community (YOU) has to say about this subject (even if it’s not what I want to hear). I really could benefit from  some honest, yet courteous feedback on this very important subject. Please feel free to provide commentary on any or all of the questions posed and I look forward to some constructive discourse!  🙂

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