Copycat? or Flattery?

Does this title sound a bit confusing?  I'll try to explain...  This is a topic that I think of often.  It's likely a classical problem that has been argued and talked of in many places and in many forms.  But today I'm going to say how I see it and how it applies to my little corner of the world.  The reason I'm thinking of it now is because of this quilt I just finished.

About a month ago, I stumbled across Leslie's (onegirl) blog.  I had seen her cute little oobee's and sewn items before, but had somehow missed her quilts.  So I found myself in love with her style of quilting.  And, to make a long story short, that's what inspired my most recent quilt.  Now, I would agree with you that really my quilt is quite different than hers.  I used larger pieces, it's not as randomly pieced, she has more vintage fabrics, and a much scrappier look.  But ultimately, that's what inspired me!

So then I have my classical little battle with feeling a bit dumb, like why can't I have my own original idea, and a specific style that's "all mine"?  But wait!  This is my whole point here:  Where is the original inspiration for anything, anyways?  If anyone thinks they've come up with a completely original idea that has never been thought of before...  my question is:  Is there such a thing?  I'm not thinking of just quilts here, but I'll use it as my examples.

So how are we gonna find out who made the first quilt with strips.  And once we've found him/her, are we going to give them (posthumously, since I'm sure it was many many years ago) a copyright on all quilts with vertical stripes?  If you make a pattern with a variation of this style, you must give credit to Sally Smith who first had the brilliant idea to sew long pieces of fabric together?  (Before you leave in a huff, I'm gonna bring out the other side yet :))

I've always loved Rossie's CopyLeftist Statement that she has on her blog and have read it quite a few times.  I find it to be a refreshing viewpoint.  Follow the link and scroll down till you see it on the right sidebar.  And while you're at it feel free to look around.  She always has interesting thoughts and quilts!

But back to my subject here:  I really think that everyone, whether you're an artist or just a simple crafter like me, needs to acknowledge the fact that you are not an amazing phenomona that comes up with unique ideas that have NEVER been seen before, and that were not inspired by someone or something.  (If you are inspired by nature, then you've found the True Source of all beauty)

One doesn't need to get all uptight about giving credit to hundreds of places in the fear of missing someone/something.  Just the realization of this humbling fact is enough.  And when you know what inspired you, don't hesitate to give credit, even if your piece isn't anything like what gave you the tiny seed on an idea.

There have been a few times where I've seen a thumbnail photo on Flickr, and I've had this instant little sick feeling, cause it looks so very much like something I made a month ago.  And then I click on the photo, and find out they linked to my blog as  inspiration for the quilt...  and guess what!  That absolutely makes my day!!  Thanks so much if you've done this.  And I'll try to do this as well.

Again, I'm not saying that you always have to do this.  There are many times when I've made a quilt, and although I know it's been partially inspired by the beautiful work of others, I honestly have no idea of any specific source.  And when someone makes something similar to what I've made, I must realize that I've unintentionally done the same thing many times.  And who knows, maybe I'm just having a big head to think that they actually saw my work at all!  They may have been inspired by something completely different and come out a similar place.

But I do not think that everything in life is one big free-for-all.  I just read this blog post, and it was another part of the reason why all this has been whirling around in my head today.  Even though I've said that there's no original idea, there is still such a thing as seeing someone else's work, realizing that it's lovely and that it might sell well, and blatantly taking that idea as your own.  Grrrr.

Sometimes I think that just living above it and continuing on with new ideas is the best.  But when it happens to me, I might not feel so benevolent about it...  Ok, I know that my style rambles and jumps all over the place so it's not likely that this will happen to me, and if it does it will be unrecognizable, right?!

Ultimately, the only thing I can do at this point, is to realize that change begins with me.  I will continue to be inspired by those around me, and I'll do my best to spread the love around to the talented designers around me.

Honestly, I've thought about this topic a lot, and I'm not sure I've covered everything that I've thought about, so I may add more yet sometime.

And I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.  Or send me links to other's thoughts on this subject.


  1. I've thought about this many times, and I came to the same conclusion as you. I think there are no "original" ideas really - just variations on the same principles...although every idea is unique in it's own way. I also think there's a definite possibility that two people's creative minds can be working on the same thing at the same time... meaning two people may make very similar quilts without ever have seen the other's. I feel that one of the reasons we all write these blogs and upload to Flickr is the hope that we will inspire someone. I also completely agree - there is a difference between being inspired and blatantly stealing someone's ideas. I'm all for giving credit where credit is due!

  2. I agree- originality does not really exist, but we can all have our own take on things. It kind of makes me crazy when someone spouts about their brand new copyrighted quilt design, and I look at it and think, "Looks like a Bento Box to me!" or something like that :-) But I also agree that if you out and out copy someone, you should credit then, or if you find inspiraton somwher, why not give them a plug? And when someone "copies" me, I try to remember what my dad always told me growing up when my pest of a little sister copied my every move....imitiation is the most sincere form of flattery :-)

  3. Amen to all of this!

    This is such a difficult subject, because "plagiarism" and "inspiration" and "originality" all exist on a continuum of sorts—especially when it comes to quilting, which is an old craft, and there are only sew many ways you can cut up fabric and sew it back together again. And as Annie said, isn't the point of having blogs to inspire each other and share ideas? That sharing has been a big part of quilting since it began. I think people just need to use a little common sense and give credit where it's due, as you outline above.

    And I agree that Rossie's copyleftist statement is wonderful!

  4. Oops. That should be "there are only SO many ways you can cut up fabric." I'm not big on the whole sew/so puns, so that was not intentional. : )

  5. I think it all depends if you are quilt blogging for fun (which I am) or quilt blogging because you want to turn it into a business and make money. If it is the latter then perhaps you look at things from a different point of you.

    I'm quilt blogging purely for fun and what I put out there is for the enjoyment of others (though of course I like the nice comments, who doesn't!) and to learn from others.

    Where I have been inspired by others I play fair and acknowledge and hope that others do likewise. If they don't, that's life I guess. No one's going to become a multi-millionaire from stealing a quilt idea and I am still of the belief that what goes around comes around in all areas of life.

    Interesting blog post!

  6. I think very much the same way that you do. I have seen things on blogs and chosen to make something almost identical, but those items are always ones that I keep or gift. I'm not making money off of them and I'm certainly not running a sweat shop! The area that I worry about is when a friend asks me to make something for them. If I sew using Designer A's pattern, are they going to come after me for making a whole $20 off the item?
    I personally would be totally and completely flattered if someone copied my work. But I guess I'm weird like that. And it's nice to get credit for the "original" idea, but like you mentioned, sometimes you don't even remember where that idea came from! I would be hurt if someone copied my work and then said that it was all their idea, but I think that's different. Tho I think I've been in that situation before, too! I recently pieced a quilt that I really thought that I had dreamed up on my own. While in the process of piecing it I stumbled on something VERY similar, that I know I saw before. So there, it wasn't really my original idea. LOL
    Yesterday I read a blog post where the author was putting down people who don't take the initiative to create their own designs, and it struck a chord with me. I have no problem with those who choose to create from patterns exclusively. There's a whole big quilting world out there, and there's enough room for everyone!
    (Oh, and I often get the same worry as you-why can't I think up great designs of my own?? I'm trying to let go of that, though, and just do what I want!)

  7. I know what you mean. I keep asking myself, "why can't I have an original idea?" I surf and see so many lovely projects that inspire me. I often copy them, not literally, but try to do something like what I have seen. If I remember I do try to give credit, however, sometimes I forget where I got the idea in the first place. So, I just say I saw something similar on another blog. I'm doing this for fun and I hope others feel good when I make a project similar to theirs.

  8. I think the point about whether you're doing this as a hobby or whether it's for money is what it comes down to. I think the only reason to care is if you're trying to market your ideas to magazines or book publishers...otherwise it doesn't matter. I just want to make pretty quilts and look at other people's pretty quilts--I don't care if they are copies of other people's designs or if they are copies of something I did. But maybe that's because I don't try to be original or put a lot of value in originality in my quilting. Maybe if I was trying to make something new and different or trying to make money some day with quilting I would care about copying and credit, but since the stuff I like--basic patchwork squares, strip quilts, improv log-cabin-style quilts--is so common in modern quilting, maybe it doesn't matter to me as much?

    I make quilts to enjoy them, not to make money or to get internet fame, so I wouldn't care if someone made an exact replica of something I made and didn't give me credit, because their item doesn't at all diminish the enjoyment I have with my own item. But if I was selling quilts or patterns or teaching classes, that would be different. (And that's one of the reasons that I would never want to do that--it would take the fun right out of it.)

  9. I agree about getting inspiration from another persons work. how else do we try new things. I was thinking of a doing a ticker tape quilt. seen on the net, and thought about doing one in a mosiac.. and about 2 wks later I seen someone do it in the shape of an owl... geesh they musta been reading my mind. I try to give credit as to where I got an idea.I could never think of taking someones ideas or instructions and making them my own. maybe interpret things I changed to suit me and my sewing.I think of it also with recipes, who on earth would ever give all the credit where it is due? we all put spins on our creations no matter what it might be. BTW I love the quilt with this post.

  10. For me it's very simple.
    If it's something exactly the same as the one you saw and you don't give the credit, it's plagiarism. But if it's inspired by something you saw, it's nice to mention it.
    As for people copying my work - I'm totally flatterd by it!!!

  11. I feel the exact same way! I'm super-careful to give credit to those who inspire me. Kudos to you for speaking your mind.

    For now, this is a hobby with minimal income from commission pieces for me. But I'm trying to take this further and make a "career" of it. When I put my ideas out in cyberspace, I have no legal right to them any longer. But when I see one of my designs - literally, the exact design, colors and quilting- on one of the modern quilt celebrity's blog and her Etsy shop without giving me credit - it hacks me off. These people are getting book deals and income from their blogs, quilts and patterns. Do I want a cut? No. But do I want credit for inspiring the design? Heck yeah! And if we want to continue to be a "community", then, my goodness, ladies (and gents) mind your plagiarism manners.

    Big sigh - I feel better. Thanks for letting me vent!

  12. Great post. I personally think you have a very beautiful and identifiable style. You inspire me! And I have seen copies of the quilts that you have made on flickr ... and often wondered what you thought about that. So thanks for your thoughts. I also think it's really important to give credit where credit is due. In the scrapbooking community it's called scraplifting to copy (but it's common practice to link to the original work). Does it have a name in quilt land?

  13. It is tricky! I think you have a style, and I love it! ;0p I always am inspired by someone or something. Everyone is. I always try to give credit to who inspired me though, esp. if it came from a blog or photo I saw. ;0)

  14. Very interesting topic. Late last week two artist (drawing) friends posted this on Facebook:

    My philosophy is if something inspires your project, man up. Cite the inspiration.

  15. Completely off topic but I nominated your blog for the Stylish Bloggers Award on my blog but your email will not accept a message from mine. Keeps rejecting it as spam and I don't know why. So if you could take a look at my blog you will see the details there. Hope you don't mind as I regularly read and enjoy your blog and hope that through this even more people will do so. My blog is -

  16. well i, for one, am completely flattered : ) and i see absolutely nothing copycat-ish about your lovely quilt, in fact, i have never even made a quilt in strips! although, now that i see yours, I may just have to try one... ;)