Why I don't design for magazines

by Laura Eccleston

24 Jul 2022

673 Views

Why I don't design for magazines
I've been asked this a lot, but I did once upon a time.

The first time I appeared in a crochet magazine, I was so excited and honoured to have been approached and to have my work noticed. In fact I've never actively sought out magazine or design work ever, I have always been lucky enough to have been asked if I would be interested in appearing in a magazine or willing to submit a crochet design. 

My very first appearance, I remember anxiously waiting for the issue to come out and feeling really proud at seeing my website and photo in the News we Love section at the front, especially as at that time I was trying to raise money for the Japanese Tsunami appeal, which must date this issue back to around 2011. I remember standing in the local supermarket, holding the magazine and trying to show people around me who clearly didn't care, saying softly "hey that's me by the way. I'm in a magazine!" I just was so proud, but it was the beginning of a very interesting, yet sadly toxic journey for me when it came to working with magazines and yarn companies.

 

I imagine many designers feel exactly the same way when their work appears in a magazine for the first time. In 2013 I was again asked to design a pattern for a special wedding issue and my work even made the front cover, which I hadn't been expecting. I felt a wave of pride wash over me. Even thinking back to these times now I forget all the stress involved and enjoy seeing the work I once designed. These projects had been some of my best work, my most advanced work, but there is always this feeling inside of me that I would never do it again.

So why? Well, to be honest, it became a journey of immense stress for me and one I had become really disillusioned by even though I loved seeing my finished work published and most of the time the people I met were really lovely to work with and I think this is one of the main reasons why I kept going. 



Since the wedding issue I went on to design a top for the same magazine a couple of years later, some cute bear booties for another magazine, and I designed numerous crochet patterns for a yarn company to use under their own brand name. Even after that and gaining zero credit, I was still continuing this line of work, even though I was slowly becoming miserable.

And it comes down to mainly one thing. I knew my worth. Having been a graphic/web designer for many years in the design industry, I was used to being paid a much more respectable rate for my creativity and once the excitement of appearing in a magazine worn off, I was left wondering what I was actually getting from designing for others, especially when my name wasn't even being mentioned with this yarn company taking all the credit. To this day I still don't know why I did that, especially considering one of their employees began to make one of my designs and took it upon herself to email me every few minutes with rude questions about my design as if I had a responsibility to reply. 

And these projects never seemed to increase my following or visitors to my website. The money was less than minimum wage and so much less than what I had been earning as an actual employed designer during my career. It began to feel like magazines were severely underpaying their designers, simple taking advantage of their awe at being published because many have no idea how much their design work is worth, even though these magazine depend on their designers. They literally wouldn't exist without them! But it was worse than that in my case...

 

The sheer amount of work being asked of me became ridiculous. Companies would often find out I was a graphic designer by trade and not only ask me for the basic crochet design, but also chart diagrams and any other required graphics, but not just in pencil scribble form, they actually wanted me to create them on a computer and send them over. Stupidly I always said yes because how do you say no when you've began working for someone, but I remember thinking surely these companies had in-house graphic designers they could use? Was I just the cheaper option? It was so much work for me, all taking away time from my other design work and YouTube tutorial production.

I was already designing for multiple sizes, frogging and re-crocheting over and over again, making graphics, submitting a final piece for photography purposes. It was hours and hours of work that would normally have earned me a decent amount during my career, but I was being paid a fraction of that. I started to feel resentful, unfulfilled and taken advantage of. It wasn't that I was driven by money, I just felt my time was being wasted because ironically, during that same period I was also designing for some charities and of course not charging anything for my work, and that felt a hundred times more rewarding! At the end of the project I had a feeling of achievement and a sense of pride again. My work had purpose.


Beryl Booties for Battersea Dogs & Cats Home


The last straw finally came when I took on a project from a yarn company who wanted me to design some baby booties. A simple task compared to other projects I had worked on, but as companies so often do they sent me some images of similar crochet projects they wanted me to be 'inspired' by. A task that never felt pleasant to me. To this day I wonder how many of my designs get sent to other designers as examples to be 'inspired by'. Such a bad practice, but anyway. The problem was these baby bootie examples had been made with a chunky yarn, they were firm and stood up by themselves, but they were supplying me with an incredibly thin yarn where this wouldn't work at all. This was going to be an impossible task, but I was sure they would be happy with the bootie design I was going to send over. Surely they would understand the difference with how these yarns performed.

How wrong was I. After spending hours trying to design some booties, based on what they wanted and in multiple sizes with their annoyingly thin yarn, I sent through some photos of my work. 

"That's not what we're looking for. We want it to look more like the photos we sent."

"But... but..." I could have cried.

They stated clearly to me, after their board meeting of people who clearly had no idea about crochet or probably yarn for that matter, that my design wasn't good enough. I kindly replied that it would be physically impossible to create a chunky booty that would stand up by itself with a very lace thin yarn. They were going to be floppy. So, my comments went back to the board again, but only the same reply came back. 

So, amazingly, I did actually try again. I thought, okay, maybe I could make my stitches tighter, maybe I could use a smaller hook. I used everything in my design arsenal to try and make what they wanted, but it was impossible to change the physics of the yarn I had to work with. There was no way on earth I could recreate what they wanted, but even after my second and third attempt, and of course redesigning for multiple sizes every time and spending hours and hours on this project, which by now I absolutely hated, they still said it wasn't good enough because the booties were too floppy and not stiff enough. I even tried suggesting using multiple strands of the yarn to make it thicker, but they said no. They actually became annoyed with me, treating me like an incompetent employee. I was shocked they just didn't understand the physics of their own yarn.

I told them where to go.

I had wasted so much of my time on this project and I was still getting nowhere. By this point I was happy to not get paid just so this hellish nightmare would go away. They were actually shocked at my reaction, clearly not expecting me to give up the job, and they did try and change their attitude towards me, asking for just one more design, but I was done. Enough was enough. I was tired of being treated like a factory, being asked for impossible things, being asked for graphic work on top of crochet work and being paid less than the minimum wage for all the hours of work involved. I vowed never to work for a company again. I stopped replying to magazines, I turned down work from yarn companies (one manager actually got really aggressive when I tried to kindly explain why I no longer worked with companies) and turned down a contract to promote a British subscription box.

But, I did slip up last year. 

So, last year I was approached by a book company to publish a crochet book and to be fair to myself this was not something I had considered before and I thought maybe I had become too bitter. I had images of just white men sat in board meetings talking about yarn and crochet and having no idea what they were talking about and only discussing how much money could they make. Surely this wasn't true? I have yet to find out, but maybe it was time to try again and I had actually contacted this same book company many years prior with a crochet book idea, but they told me "thanks but no thanks" so it was kind of satisfying having them contact me directly. I was excited, the people were nice and I went to work straight away.. but... I should have listened to my gut.

I really thought things would be different, but once they had hooked me in with all the smiles and kind gestures, and to be fair a pretty good deal, I was quickly passed on to other people who treated me like yet another employee. They kept messing up my contact, they wouldn't reply to emails and worse of all they weren't paying me when they said they would. All my memories from working with companies before came flooding back and I realised, that even though releasing a book would be an amazing achievement and the people were really nice and apologetic, I just knew it was going to be a long two year ride of misery that would take up so much of my time that could be spent designing for myself and making tutorials. I didn't have time for the extra stress. I knew I had to put my book ideas to one side, maybe even self publish in the future which would also give me full control over the book, but mainly just focus on what I wanted for myself and to do my own thing because it was just way more productive.

It all comes back to being on the outside, which I talked about in my previous article. Not working for others just gives you so much more freedom. It can be a slower way to success, but not having to answer to anyone is a great feeling. That said, of course it wasn't all bad and I don't think badly of anyone who goes down this path. It is completely a personal choice. I do still have copies of the magazines I worked for and I met some lovely people during that time, who have since gone on to other things themselves. I don't blame them, these are business people whose ultimate aim is to make money, but it just isn't for me anymore. I love what I created. I feel proud of what I created and I don't regret giving it a try, but I just felt my worth and my time was better spent on my own projects.

For me, this is my way forward, but I do have hope that the system will change. I would love to see a community based crochet magazine approach happen rather than a top down tiered approach with CEOs and Managing Directors making all the decisions where collaboration, partnership, advocacy, and co-creation are the top values and real diversity can take place. These people at the top often talk about inclusion and diversity when choosing designers, which is great, but when you look at who they are, there rarely is any. I would also love to see designers get paid more. I think they're extremely under valued for the work they create, so if you take away anything from this post it's this. The next time you pick up a crochet magazine, don't just think "wow, what a cute design", think to yourself how much work went into that, how many hours spent designing and how many hours spent getting their design approved, how they juggle their lives around this design project and pop by their website or social pages and let them know how much you love their work because that would mean so much to them.

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