A Knitting Pattern Designer's Guide to Collaborating with Indie Yarn Dyers

Updated: Feb 6

As a new knitting pattern designer, it's often a dream to think of collaborating yarn dyers. I remember feeling like I'd be a "real" designer as soon as I started collaborating with yarn dyers.

{Spoiler alert: I still didn't feel like a "real" designer after I'd collaborated with a dozen yarn dyers... imposter syndrome can be a big liar.} I actually find it a bit shocking that yarn dyers were so willing to collaborate with me when I only had three published knitting patterns (and 0 pattern sales), but the truth is, I've always dreamed big and been a believer in asking for the opportunities that you want.


A knitwear designer's guide to collaborating with indie yarn dyers

My First Collaboration with Indie Yarn Dyers


I had a vision to create a collection of four shawl knitting patterns, all with very specific themes, stitch motifs, and colors... and each with a different yarn dyer's yarn. So that's what I did. To say it was "a piece of cake" would be a stretch. I definitely stressed when I received several "not interested" responses, and even worse a lack of response... but, to be honest, I'd have to go back to my emails to even see how many or who they were! I worried that I wouldn't have the yarn in time to release my big collection for New Years.


But the truth is, it all came together and worked perfectly. And that collection still contains some of my absolute favorite pattern designs... and yarns. It's the Guiding Principles Collection, with Hope, Trust, Patience, and Endurance Shawls, if you're curious. You can find it on my website and Ravelry.



Continuing to Work with Indie Yarn Dyers


Since that first collaboration, I've been hooked. I absolutely love working with and sharing the art of indie yarn dyers. Nearly all of my knitting patterns have been the result of collaborating with indie yarn dyers.


I've now worked with over 20 indie yarn dyers (and I've worked with several of them on multiple designs). In fall/winter 2020, I decided to send out a survey to all of the pattern designers that I'd worked with up to that date to get their feedback: what they liked/didn't like, what is helpful for them, and so on. In fall 2021, I hosted three knitting pattern designers inside the Design Circle to talk all about Designer/Dyer collaborations.


And so it is with all of this experience and feedback from designers that I share the ins and outs of collaborating with indie yarn dyers for your knitting pattern designers.



Why Collaborate with Yarn Dyers?


If you're not very familiar with how collaborations work between pattern designs and yarn dyers, you might be wondering, "Why would I choose to collaborate with a yarn dyer?"


There are two main reasons why crochet and knitting pattern designers choose to collaborate with yarn companies, whether that is indie yarn dyers or larger yarn corporations.


First of all, you typically receive free yarn support for your pattern design for free. As a beginning knitting pattern designer to make any money off your pattern designs as it is, this can be a huge weight lifted from your shoulders.


Secondly, a huge benefit of any collaboration is that you share each other's work. So, as you work with a yarn company, you're sharing about their yarn via your marketing, all of your photos, on your pattern information page, and in the pattern itself. In return, the yarn company will often (keep reading for information on setting expectations!) share your design in their marketing.


And bonus: by working in a collaboration, you start to build a relationship with another business in the industry. If the collaboration went well, you're likely to want to collaborate together again, and you're both likely to recommend each other's services and products in the future.



How a Collaboration Between an Indie Yarn Dyer and a Knitting Pattern Designer Works


Keep in mind that not all yarn dyers will work exactly the same way, but here's the typical process for collaborating with indie yarn dyers.



#1: You, as the knitting pattern designer, reach out to the yarn dyer.


While a yarn dyer may reach out to you first on occasion (and more often once you've established a relationship with a yarn dyer), it is far more common for designers to reach out to the yarn dyer first.


When you reach out the yarn dyer, it is important to be clear about what you plan to design with the yarn support. If you just ask for free yarn from a stranger... well, that's not as likely to go so well for you. Instead, share as much information as you have about the design idea. You can describe the concept in detail (that's what most of my requests have had), but you can also include sketches, yarn swatches, and photos of stitch motifs you plan to use. In general, the more information you can provide, the better.


You'll also want to include as much information as you have about the yarn you want. Are you looking for a certain yarn weight, fiber content, and/or color theme? Some yarn dyers will prefer that you tell them exactly which yarn and in which color that you want, while other yarn dyers are interested in collaborating in the yarn decision. They may even want to get on a video call with you to get an idea of what you're looking for and share the yarns (and yarn pairings) live. Many yarn dyers will even dye a custom color for you.


Be sure to include information about your timeline. When do you plan to release the pattern and by what date do you need the yarn by?


Finally, share your expectations for the collaboration. What do you expect of the yarn dyer? Do you expect them to share your design with their audience (on their social media and/or email list)? Will you be sharing photos with them, and if so, when? Are you interested in having the yarn dyer create kits for your design? Are you planning to host a knit along after you release your pattern? Think of everything you want the yarn dyer to know about your expectations and share it either in your first or second piece of communication with the dyer.


A bit of a tip: most yarn dyers (especially smaller/newer companies) are extremely excited about collaborating! Don't feel intimidated when you reach out for yarn support. And remember, if a yarn dyer says "no," it's often because they have too much on their plate and it doesn't have to do with you, your designs, or your design idea. So keep asking other dyers until you find a good fit!


#2: The yarn dyer will send you the yarn support.


After the yarn dyer has confirmed that they're interested in the collaboration, and as a team, you've agreed on the specifics of the yarn you'll be using (and you've shared your mailing address), the yarn dyer will send the yarn to you in the mail.


Sometimes yarn dyers will even share a little something special, from a sweet note to goodies, and sometimes even additional yarn to design with in the future.



#3: You create the design.


Once you've received the yarn from the yarn dyer, the ball is back in your court. You finally have the opportunity to turn the yarn into the beautiful design that you've been dreaming of.


A bit of a tip: If a design isn't working the way you'd envisioned, don't panic. Instead, communicate with the yarn dyer to let them know of any changes you're making to the plan AND any consequent changes to the design release timeline.



#4: You publish the pattern and then you both market the pattern.


After you've designed the pattern and had it tech edited and test knit, your pattern is ready to publish and market! Be sure to follow the pattern launch expectations outlined in the beginning of the collaboration. What date did you say the pattern would be published? Do you need to send the yarn dyer a reminder, along with photos of the design and marketing copy that they can share? Did you promise to share any specific information about their yarn or post blog posts, Instagram posts, or videos?


Need more information on tech editing and test knitting? Check out this blog post.



What Yarn Dyers Want You to Know About Yarn Collaborations:


  • Communication is key. They want to hear from you. They want to see your updates and to know that everything is working according to the original timeline. Also, it never hurts to remind them when the pattern release is coming up!


  • Don't change the pattern release date without letting the yarn dyer know. Sometimes a yarn dyer has adjusted their dye schedule to accommodate your pattern release schedule. Be considerate and discuss and potential changes to the schedule well in advance. Also, know that an earlier release date is often more difficult for a yarn dyer than a later release date.


  • Planning is important. Many yarn dyers are collaborating with multiple designers at the same time. It is important that you contact the yarn dyer well in advance of your idea to give them adequate time to prepare and ship your yarn, and to accommodate the pattern release in their schedule



My biggest tip: have fun and enjoy the experience!


Not every yarn dyer will work the same, and some yarn collaborations may end in a bit of disappointment. Remember each experience is a learning opportunity, teaching you what kind of collaborations you enjoy and who you enjoy working with. Also: the more communication there is, the higher the probability of a good collaboration!



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