Copy and Tell

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I was unsure about writing this post. I always feel very on-edge when to comes to using someone else’s idea. I’ll see things online that I like, whether they are clothes or home goods, and I think to myself, “Oh, I can easily make that.”  I wanted to get your thoughts on this though. What do you think about recreating someone else’s idea?

Sure, there are whole blogs dedicated to telling you how to reproduce that necklace from Anthropologie or how to knock-off a designer dress. We feel okay with those things because surely it “can’t hurt” the big company. What about when we use an idea from an individual though? Is it different to use their idea if you’re making it for a gift or for personal use?

A friend of mine called me up before her baby shower and requested a very specific quilt design from me. She specifically wanted this quilt, originally made by Crafty Blossom. You’ll have to check out the link to see the original quilt, because I don’t have permission to post Erica’s photos on my site. I wasn’t about to tell a soon-to-be-momma that I wouldn’t do it, especially because I loved the original quilt, and hey, the job of picking the colors and the pattern was already done for me!

I did feel a little weird about it though. I’ve never copied something that someone else has made. I did my best to match the colors that Crafty Blossom used, and even used her layout, with the exception of a few blocks that I switched around. CLowquilt1

I think mind ended up being a little larger than hers. I quilted it a bit differently as well, but it still has the same look and feel of the original inspiration piece.

CLowquilt3The backing was my own idea. My friend got her way with the quilt front, but I had my own thoughts on how the back should look. I used a print of cameras for the middle of the back squares (since her husband is a photographer) and I had to include a strip of the Portland Bridges print!

CLowquilt4She was really happy with the quilt, and it looks great in the nursery (the photo is from her Instagram feed).

CLowquilt5I really wanted to share this project and get your ideas on making replicas of the work of others. To clarify, I would never ever make something and sell it when it wasn’t my idea. What do you think about creating a gift like this though? Is it wrong, or is it okay if you are sure to share the original inspiration/idea piece as well?

  • I think it’s fine to copy something as long as it is for your personal use or as a gift. We all end up putting our own spin on things anyway.

    • I’m grateful for those words, Adelaide! I felt like I was doing some sneaky or shameful, which was sad, because I really loved how the quilt turned out! It’s funny, because I wouldn’t mind in the least if someone decided to copy one of my quilts. But I agree, I think it’s okay if it’s for personal use or a gift.

  • I think what you did is just fine (and I can see why your friend really liked this design– it’s very cool!). Where I draw my own personal line is when you’re taking an idea that someone else is selling and trying to replicate it to avoid paying. So for me, “OMG, love the kelly green skirt so-and-so made– I want to make one!” is totally fine, but “Ooh, love this new indie pattern, but don’t want to spend the $12, so I’ll knock it off myself” isn’t. To me it isn’t fair to rip off a business since people are spending so much time and money on designs. But that’s just my own line– I’m sure many other people have other opinions. Great question! I’m interested to read the comments on this post!

    • I thought that it was okay to make since I was gifting it, but I also wanted to get other opinions on the subject. I think it’s a really interesting one!

      I agree that taking design ideas from small businesses so that you don’t have to pay them isn’t right. At the same time though, I don’t think that you have to buy from someone just because they made a certain product available. If I see a pattern that I like from an indie company, and I want to make the garment, it doesn’t mean that I’ll buy the pattern from them. The way that they set up a pattern and construct a certain design may be quite different from how I would do it. I know that if I replicate the design from my own basic patterns, the end garment will fit me much better. Now, I don’t think I should get to say that the design was mine, and I should absolutely give attribution to the original designer.

      The funny thing about my “it’ll fit me better if I make the pattern myself” attitude is that it then takes me about 3x as long to make a garment, because I have make the pattern, muslins and do fittings. Basically I’m redoing all the work the pattern company already went thru in the spirit of correctly fitting my clothes.

      I think I just realized how much time I waste. Oy.

      Thanks for joining in on the conversation!

      • I’ve also found that whenever I say, “Oh, I’ll just draft the pattern myself” I rarely get around to actually doing it! The extra step is enough to make me push the project to the backburner… lazy, I guess! 🙂

        • That’s me ALL THE TIME! Yes, it’s laziness on my part as well. But, I also have this weird guilt if I don’t make the pattern myself, because I’m perfectly capable of doing it. I guess I should get over it so I have more time to actually make things, huh? 😉

  • Natalie

    What you’ve done here seems very normal–being inspired by someone else’s work.

    I personally don’t understand why people get so worked up about copying, especially copying simple ideas. I think people who are concerned about copying should spend more energy making things that aren’t so easy to duplicate. The nature of today’s DIY movement is just that–“I can make that myself.”

    I think copying becomes a problem when you try to duplicate an aesthetic, style or very specific touch–and of course, as you mentioned, when you try to turn around and sell it.

    For personal use though, I don’t think copying is really an issue.

    • I think that sometimes people get worked up about copying because we have a notion that all ideas are “ours” and once we’ve thought up something, no one else can ever have that idea, and if they make something similar, then they “stole” it from us.

      I like to think that ideas never run out. You will always have new ones. It’s what makes me comfortable about sharing my work and project ideas with other people. I don’t worry about being copied. If someone replicates what you’ve done, they’re only repeating your past, finished work. Move ahead and make more things! Also, work is very individual. They can never copy your individuality, so putting your heart into it means that everything you make is always a one-off piece.

      I like what you said about “people….should spend more energy making things that aren’t so easy to duplicate”. It’s true! I saw a fight over copying online where someone had painted a tablecloth with large dots, and was angry about someone copying her. I don’t believe anyone can own an idea as simple as that!

  • sewalife

    I love it.

  • I think as long as you aren’t selling it & claiming it’s your own design, there is no problem with being inspired & copying others work for a gift or personal use.

    • Thanks for your input, Jennie! No, I’d never claim to have thought up something that I got the inspiration for elsewhere. I’m happy that I can replicate and gift it without feeling bad though!

  • Helen McFadyen

    I think if you are honest and are not profiting from it, then it’s fine.

    • Thanks for your input, Helen. I’m glad to hear others feel the same way.

  • yogaburr

    i have a food blog and I hope that others are inspired to make what I post. I imagine quilters and sewers are the same? I would be so touched if someone loved something I made and copied it for themselves or another.

    I agree with not selling a copy of something.

    I think you gave lots of credit to Crafty Blossom and you did change things up a bit. Good for you.

    Your finished quilt is lovely.

    • I didn’t really think about this from a food blogger’s perspective. How would you feel if someone posted what was basically your recipe, but just tweaked it a little bit? As long as they give you credit for the original recipe, would you be happy? I’m just curious!

      And thank you- I’m really happy with how the quilt turned out, and it’s great that I was guaranteed to please the recipient!

  • Yolanda

    This is the price you pay (the “guilt”) for being a good person. That will never change and it’s commendable. It is very nice that you don’t live an un-examined life. I agree with what has already been said by others here. After all, if you are not profiting from your project, and not taking business away from the artist, then there is nothing wrong. We all “copy” every day… when we talk, cook, shower, brush our teeth…we weren’t the first! 😉 And I’m sure that when you sew, you are drawing on numerous little tidbits of experience and information that you have gleaned from others over the years. Creativity is not making something from nothing.

    • Ha! I hadn’t really considered all of the other things that we “copy” from those who came before us.

      “Creativity is not making something from nothing”- I really like that! It’s so very, very true. Yes, I’ve learned a lot from other people, and even when I post a tutorial of some kind, it’s not uniquely “mine”. I don’t know if we, as people, can ever actually claim a thought as being just ours though. We are heavily influenced by each other and our life experiences.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Yolanda!

  • Hélène

    This is an excellent “ethical” question. Why post projects on Internet if not to share ideas and inspirations? I think the international community of sewists and crafters I discovered via blogs is incredibly generous (and this is why I went back to sewing last summer and now buy my patterns from indie companies).

    By giving credit to Crafty Blossom, you brought this crafter’s blog to my attention and that makes more visits to her site, maybe more followers, which is good. By the way, your quilt is amazing. Bravo!

    • “Why post projects on the Internet if not to share ideas and inspirations?”- You’re right, Hélène! I kind of forget that aspect of the internet sometimes. I think it’s because even when someone posts photos or something online, I still see it all as belonging to them. But, as soon as they share it online, it really becomes available to everyone. Anyone can glean inspiration from it, copy it, reinterpret it. It’s up to each person to use their head and heart to make sure they’re being fair and good and attributing to their original inspiration.

  • Marcy Holmes

    I also loved that pattern and color scheme when I saw it and sent it to my sister who quilts as a suggestion.

    Creativity is building on what already exists – there’s nothing really 100% “new”.

    Also you did a Beautiful job and there’s a lot of love in that quilt.

    • I agree that “creativity is building on what already exists”. Even fashion designers take inspiration from past designs, fabrics that already exist, and each other. If someone thinks they’re starting from nothing, they’re probably still inspired from another person or nature, even if they don’t realize it.

      And thank you! I can’t wait to see the sweet little boy I made it for all snuggled up in it.

  • The laws in the USA are pretty clear. Design is not copyrighted when it comes to clothing. With patterns, the directions, drawings, and photographs are copyrighted but the actual pattern pieces are not. Why? Because they are all based on traditional pattern slopers to begin with. So, to show how to make a collar like an Anthro top is not breaking any laws and is, in fact, how we learn. We learn from others. The creativity associated with sharing how a designer did something is not taking any business away from Anthro. Plus, the history of fashion is all about copying and sharing.

    Now, as far as I know, quilt designs are copyrighted. So, taking a published quilt design and calling it your own is wrong. But, if you say this is so and so’s design, is that wrong? I don’t know how the laws work. I do, however, think there is nothing wrong with making a gift for someone using someone else’s design as inspiration. Isn’t that what we do when we decorate our homes? We look at design magazines for ideas?

    There is nothing really 100% new so the best we can do is follow the laws.

    • I like your example of using magazines as inspiration when we decorate our homes, and copying from them. I think that’s what Pinterest does for a lot of people, and it’s a hub of idea sharing and inspiration, and it leads to us basically copying each other over and over again.

      I hadn’t necessarily thought of it from a legal perspective, but yes, I would say it would be very illegal (and morally wrong) to try to sell this design or pass it off as my own. I would never do that though. I remember, many years back, hearing about someone trying to get a copyright on the tee shirt. That may just be an urban legend in the fashion industry, but I’m glad it’s not something that could ever happen!

    • Jane Ellen Brooks Smith

      Interesting. I didn’t know that about clothing patterns. In a way, I could see this applying to quilt patterns also because they are so often rearrangements of geometric shapes. I think if a pattern is in a copyrighted book that would make a difference.

  • jo

    You know, imitation is the purest form of flattery. (Someone else said that!) And if I have learned anything at all in the Age of Internet, it is that I am not unique. My work may be special, but it is not original. I am imitating nature. I am making art. And often, sometimes before I even know it, I have duplicated something that some other quilter has made. Think of our foremothers. If quilters hadn’t passed on their lovely designs and patterns, where would we be? Standing in front of the comforters made in China, I predict!
    Your work is lovely. Your work compliments the crafty blossom. It’s all good.

    • Yes, I’ve heard that saying, and I think of it often when I see my tutorials duplicated online. I have no idea if someone is copying me or whether they just happened to learn the exact same information, but I try to tell myself it’s flattery. 😉

      And I agree with you. I’m often imitating nature, which means that whatever I’m making is still not original; Mother Nature thought of it first! I’m always interested to see if two people who come with similar ideas both arrived at the idea at the same time or in the same way. This is why I really love when people share their creative processes online.

      Thank you for joining in the conversation and also for the compliment, Jo. 🙂

  • Jane Ellen Brooks Smith

    The pattern reminds me of one called broken dishes. Following a pattern, even if you didn’t know that’s what it is, is not quite the same as stealing an idea and claiming as your own. I think that’s where the problem lies. Had you posted this as “look what I created all by myself” and didn’t give credit where it was due, that would have been shameful. I do think if someone specifically asks us not to copy, we should honor that.

    • I agree that following a pattern you’ve seen somewhere is not the same as stealing the idea as your own. I would never claim to have come up with this quilt all on my own. I did look to see if Crafty Blossom asked that no one copy her, but nothing was posted, except that you not use her photos (which is why I didn’t post her quilt here for comparison). I’ll have to look up the broken dishes patterns. Thanks for joining in on the conversation, Jane!

  • to be honest – the Way you did it i think is fine. an inspiration piece. you said yourself you didnt copy it precisely and there is no way your fabrics will be precisely the same and the back is unique to the gift you made. plus you acknowledged the maker of the inspiration. all told i think you not only made a fabulous gift you give the designer of the original a great compliment.

    now some one who copies identically & claims to be the designer and sells said copies i would have great issues with.

    • Thanks, RL. I do my best to always attribute my inspiration sources, because I would hate for anyone to ever feel like I slighted their creative ideas. It’s not often that I take an idea from another person, but I would never claim it as my own. I haven’t heard from the designer of the original piece, but hopefully she is understanding that her work is amazing and that I’m not trying to take anything away from her.

      Yes, I also have issues with people who copy designers and claim the ideas as their own. I will never understand how someone who does that can sleep at night.

  • Jazman

    Good grief. These are just triangles.