Is This Pattern Really My Design?
My Pattern Design Ethics
Recently a fan asked me this question “At what point does this become my pattern vs an altered pattern that belongs to someone else?…. Perhaps you could write a blog post for all of us newbies about the guidelines of altering patterns? Is there a rule of thumb about how many changes you need to make before it’s your own design? What is considered a “significant” change? I always want to give credit where credit is due and I think everyone else should too, including yarn companies.”
This gets to be a very tricky subject, I am hesitant to write a blog post about it because there are a lot of fine lines but I will give you my personal thoughts on it here. This is NOT legal advice and it is solely my opinion.
I think any time you start out with someone else’s pattern, even if you alter it a bit, it is still their pattern. Let’s use a sweater for example. I’ll use my toddler striped sweater. Now say you make this pattern but you just make the edges ribbed and don’t use the hood. That is still my pattern. But if you change the stitch counts to change the size, change the actual stitches (you make yours in hdc and shell st’s) and you do it in a different color pattern and palette (top half one color and bottom half another color) and you decide to do a peter pan collar, now it is your pattern because everything is different. Maybe you just used my pattern as a base line on how to construct a sweater. You can claim this pattern as your own. (Since it is mine, I can give you permission).
For me, this also depends on what the item is. Hats are very common, a basic beanie is a basic beanie and there is only SO much you can do with it. But you can’t put out a pattern using the same colors, same stitches and same embellishments as another and call it your own. (You can use my post on how to design your own custom crochet hat to come up with a pattern of your own, without copying from anyone else.)
Something like a hooded cape is different, it is not as common. I am currently working on a hooded cape, using my Pixie Shell Bonnet as the base and adding the cape part in the same shell stitch. This idea was born organically. It started with my bonnet and I am adding to it. There are quite a few hooded capes out there but I am not looking at any of them to model my cape after. Even my bonnet idea was organic, there are a bunch of bonnets but I have never seen one that was all shells, most start with a basic hdc or dc and then go into shells after the increasing rounds. That is not to say it doesn’t exist but I have never seen one. I know that my pattern came from me and not someone else’s idea. It could have been inspired by a bonnet in general but no specific one (and in this case it wasn’t.. this design actually started off as a mistake).
I don’t follow patterns at all because I don’t want to run the risk of “copying” from someone else. I have been inspired by looking at other designs, but usually I see a design and like “something” about it. I then create something different. Or maybe I see a knit hat that I want to replicate in crochet, but the difference is that I am never looking at their pattern to see how they did it. I create everything on my own from sight. Or maybe I like the “concept” of a bulky cowl and design my own. For my bulky stacked shell cowl I saw something on tv that was big and bulky like that and had ribbed edges, the item I saw was knit and probably factory made. But I liked the way the ribbing looked on the top and bottom so I decided to make something similar. My bulky striped cowl was inspired by a striped scarf that I saw someone wearing wrapped around their neck (to look like a cowl) and I sat down and created it.
There are two ways to copy…either by using an actual pattern OR by using a concept. If it is a new concept and never done before, then you can’t just do the same thing, even if you don’t look at the pattern. You can however come up with your own design if it is different in enough ways. There is no steadfast correct rule. I have seen a “three change rule” which states that if you change three things the pattern becomes yours. I have also seen varying percentage myths… that are just that, myths! In my opinion, these guidelines should refer to large changes such as size, type of stitches and silhouette. Not minor changes such as color, stitch count and embellishments.
My recommendation is to never sit down with a pattern with the intent of altering it to make it your own, from the beginning. If you are making something and it inspires you do something similar but different, than run with it. Be sure the thoughts behind it are pure. For example, you are making a button down cardigan with a collar and you are inspired to make a hooded pull over with cables and a large pocket in the front. Maybe it is the same size and therefore will start off in a similar matter, but it is still your design.
Inevitably at some point in your designing journey you will probably end up making something that is very similar to someone else’s work. It’s bound to happen. I’m sure some of my designs look just like things other people have created, but they have never been direct copies and never done on purpose. There have been numerous times that I have been working on something and then BAM I see someone else publish nearly the exact same thing, or the same type of pattern. Let me tell you, it is incredibly frustrating. Typically I hold off on publishing mine until some time has passed but I will eventually publish it. I don’t have to wait, especially because I know that it happened to be a coincidence. I choose to wait to publish my work so that it doesn’t compete with a similar design.
Most of the designers I work with are very respectful of other artists and will give credit where credit is due. I do believe there are instances where similar patters are created, organically and without intent.
Jessie, of JessieAtHome, and I will be discussing pattern design and inspiration on the next episode of Cre8tion Crochet LIVE (airs Wednesday 08/28/13 at 9pm EST). Jessie and I have extremely similar views on organic design and in fact speak about it quite often. Jessie says it best, “my Litmus test is if my mother and grandmother will be proud of my actions and I’m not ashamed to tell my children what I’ve done, than I’m good.”
I’d love to hear your questions so that we can discuss them and hopefully give you some answers.
*Disclaimer- As stated above this is an opinion piece and only written as a general guide to explain pattern alterations vs original design to a new designer, as requested by a fan. Everyone has to use their own morals and ethics when deciding these tricky decisions. You need to be able to face yourself and the decisions you have made. If you are not sure it is always common courtesy to contact the original designer. Maybe someday there will be some steadfast rules to follow, but it is unlikely. Until then you can attempt to interpret the copyright laws that are available.