16 Sep 2016

Making a Living as a Knitting Designer


I’m in the process of revamping my knitting design business for about the third or fourth time. Unless you get a full-time job at a big yarn company or publisher, making a living with knitting is
not a simple job. It’s a complex freelance career that requires wearing a lot of different hats (which is a good thing, if you like knitting hats).

Donna DruchunasMany people might think that having a book published, being a teacher on Craftsy or at big events like Vogue Knitting Live or Stitches, or having your designs in a lot of magazines means that you’re getting rich from your knitting. Far from it! Even the most successful knitting designers have to juggle a lot of different projects to pay the bills. Over the years I’ve done all of the following:

  • Written books and ebooks (with publishers and self-published)
  • Submitted designs and patterns to magazines
  • Designed garments and accessories for yarn companies
  • Taught at local yarn shops, guilds, fiber festivals, and national events
  • Created video classes on Craftsy, Skillshare, and YouTube
  • Done tech editing and copy editing for publishers, yarn companies, and independent designers
  • Translated knitting books from German to English for several publishers
  • Self published patterns on Ravelry and other websites
  • Hosted Knitalongs
  • Had a vendor booth at small fiber shows
  • Sold kits and yarn on my website
  • Mentored other designers and authors
  • Taught writing and publishing classes online
  • Held my own knitting retreats in Vermont

Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t do all of these things every year. There have been some years when I focused on teaching, some when I’ve focused on editing, some when I’ve focused on writing books, and others when I’ve focused on self publishing. But with each focus, I kept the door open for accepting work in other areas to keep the cash flow coming in.

Making a Living as a Knitting Designer 1
I had my first pattern published in Family Circle Easy Knitting in 2002. I kept working as a contractor and employee for tech companies until 2010. My husband also had a full time job until 2013. That’s when I finally had found a focus for my business that could support us. That’s also after we had moved from California to Colorado to Vermont, and lowered our expenses enough to be able to live off of the income from our business without doing outside work. I make an annual plan with a spreadsheet that shows our projected income and expense for each month. And we plan a full year in advance for figuring out where our money will be coming from.

Next year, we’ll be officially opening a yarn shop here in Vermont. We live in a 19th-century farm house that has a back section that probably used to be a summer kitchen that is 400 square feet, with another room of equal size above it. This is the business portion of our house. We’re remodeling this winter in preparation to have a small shop to support the needs of the local community here and to offer more kits and yarn packs to go with my patterns on our website. It’s a risk and an adventure.

Making a Living as a Knitting Designer 2

We’ll also be continuing to host several knitting and writing retreats every year here in Vermont (check out our retreat website at NEKretreats.com) because with a yarn shop, we won’t be able to travel very much. So we’ll be bringing people to us.

Making a living through creative work is always an adventure. I personally find boredom intolerable and I am happy to be able to have so many different kinds of work to do. (I didn’t even mention the back-end parts of running a business like doing bookkeeping, answering customer emails, posting on social media, blogging, and so forth).

I hope this gives you an interesting peek into the life of a designer and author. If you like consistency and security, this life probably isn’t for you. If you like constant adventure, variety, and you can handle taking risks, then you might enjoy it as much as I do.

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10 Responses to Making a Living as a Knitting Designer
  1. A brilliant piece, Donna.
    It sounds exciting, although not something I could venture into myself at the moment.
    Having said that, my husband is setting up a business after leaving teaching. He writes music and is marketing pieces for schools to use, having written many pieces for a variety of levels of instrument skill.
    I wish you and your husband the very best of luck.
    If you don’t go for it, you will never know. And life is too short for regrets of opportunities missed.

  2. I have often thought about designing, but managing the lives of myself and four others eats up a lot of my time. Thankfully Hubs makes enough that I can stay home with the kids, so I figured once everyone’s grown I can start to get patterns out of my head and on paper. Thanks for the insight into your life.

    • It’s something you can do for yourself first. My first designs were things I wanted to make for myself and I had an idea in my head and couldn’t find a pattern or wanted the challenge to make up my own. I’m glad you’re making your kids your priority. Before you know it they’ll be grown up.

  3. Best wishes for the newest adventure!

  4. Thank you for an honest perspective, Donna. Hard work and a goal are always key ingredients in building the life we want.

  5. It makes me happy that you manage to support yourself doing what you have a passion for. Especially since two of my favorite shops have recently closed; Village Spinning and Weaving here in California and the Recycled Lamb in Golden, CO. I teach spinning and knitting occasionally and know the reality of how much income that generates. So I can appreciate the number of hats you need to wear to make ends meet. I wish you much success with your retail shop.

    • Thank you. Yes, having a shop is hard and risky. We’re going to keep it small and it won’t ever be our main business, most likely. But I want to have something for the local community since our villages and towns are so far apart. I’m always sad when a yarn shop closes, but sometimes the owner just wants to retire so it’s not always bad news for them.

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