What makes a quilt pattern unique enough?


February 9, 2016 by tessaraewilliams

I’ve been thinking a lot about pattern-making recently. I want so badly to come up with ideas that are fresh and new, but I’m worried I’ll come up with something that is “too similar” to an already existing pattern. I don’t want anyone to feel like I stole an idea from someone else, or that I changed something just enough to call a pattern my own. But there’s SO MANY patterns out there! How can I look through every quilt pattern ever created to make sure what I came up with doesn’t already exist?!

It’s true that great minds think alike. It’s happened all throughout history that people have come up with similar ideas around the same time without even knowing. Calculus was invented by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz independently of each other! So it’s absolutely possible for extremely similar quilt patterns to have been created independently of each other. There’s also that old saying that there are no new ideas; that everything has already been done. If that’s the case, where can quilt patterns or pattern-writing go from here?

(Disclaimer: The point of this blog isn’t to point fingers or to accuse anyone of idea-stealing. The idea is to look at what’s out there, to decide if there’s such a thing as “unique enough”, and to see if there’s a limit to what people can claim as their own idea.)

First, I’d like to look at the Swoon Block, a Thimble Blossoms pattern by Camille Roskelley. This pattern is also called a Dutch Rose block.


Camille has said that she found this pattern on an antique quilt and simplified the construction. Since she changed the construction and the name of the block, I know it is fair to release the pattern as her own. The question I have is this: Is it okay to “re-release” this pattern since the original Dutch Rose block is an old traditional block and there’s no one to attribute to its creation? If there were an original creator, would that make it less okay?

Modern Quilters Ireland wrote a fantastic in-depth blog specifically about the history of this block, which you can read here. Double Nickel Quilts also has a free tutorial for a 16″ Dutch Rose block here.

My next thought is that some ideas are just so general, can anyone create something based on that idea and call it their own pattern? The example I’m thinking of is the Spiderweb Quilt.

A spiderweb quilt is a style of string quilt constructed in triangles. The center corner is usually solid, and the two opposite corners are pieced with strips.


Sewing By Moonlight has a tutorial for making this block. Jacquie Gering at Tallgrass Prairie Studio also has a tutorial using selvedges.


A paid pattern for a spiderweb quilt is Jennifer Sampou’s Octagon Shimmer. I have not read the Octagon Shimmer pattern, so I do not know if there’s specific widths of strips listed for each section, or if it is more improv. (I’d love to hear from someone who’s made this quilt!)

Lastly, I’d like to look at similar blocks in a free/paid perspective.

The pattern on the left is a free tutorial by Jednoiglec, the right is a paid pattern by Lysa Flower. Obviously, both patterns are portraying cassette tapes.

The pattern on the left is MY free tutorial for a to-go coffee cup, the right is a paid pattern by Sew-Ichigo.

With these four patterns, I think they’re examples of having similar ideas independently of each other. With the cassette tape patterns, the free tutorial was released first. With the coffee cups, the paid pattern came first. Obviously the construction/details on each pattern is different. Speaking for my own pattern, I created it during all that “Red Cup” Starbucks controversy, and I thought it was funny. No ill-intent was meant toward preexisting patterns, and I think that’s the case 99% of the time when patterns come around that are similar to something else.

The conclusion I’m coming to (which may be totally wrong!) is that if you have specific directions, you can basically release anything. If the basic idea comes from a traditional block or quilt with no known creator, it seems safe to release a pattern. If something similar already exists, the construction for your design has to be different enough that you can call it your own pattern.

I’d love to hear from pattern writers or anyone who has any insight into what’s safe to release. Thanks for reading!



4 thoughts on “What makes a quilt pattern unique enough?

  1. lorieast2 says:

    I struggle with this EXACT same thing. I have pretty much decided that, not including flat-out copying someone else’s work and calling it your own, which I find detestable, there is really nothing new under the sun. In my everyday work, I see hundreds of quilts (I’m a quilt appraiser), so I am probably even more cautious than I should be. I do think it’s important, if you write a similar pattern that you should say that your design is “inspired by” the previous work (if you know it). I think it’s also basic courtesy to indicate on a label that you used so-and-so’s pattern if you make a quilt following their design too. But still, each way of doing things, choice of colors, etc., IS your own.

    A friend just shared the link to your red cup pattern with me today. I am in love! I will definitely be making at least a couple of blocks using it. Thank you so much for sharing it!

    I will be curious to read other people’s thoughts on this too, and maybe any more thoughts you have on it.


    • Thanks for reading! What a cool job! I bet you’ve seen tons of different patterns. I get worried when I see so many patterns that I’ll unconsciously remember one and incorporate it into a design without realizing.
      Let me know when you make some! I love seeing other people’s interpretations and fabric choices. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. princespolkadot says:

    This comes up in recipe writing/cookbooks, as well.

    The heart of the matter is this: the ingredients in a recipe cannot be copyrighted. Your prose – how you direct the assembly of the dish – can.

    Now, patterns a bit more complex. But I think that even writing a pattern based on an old block is perfectly fine. You did the work to test out the block, write up instructions, and likely give a specific set of recommendations regarding fabric choices and how the blocks are set.

    Someone else could take the same block, and write a pattern that makes it a different size, maybe sashes it where yours does not, and uses color differently. Their instructions will be different, and the result unique. That’s their own pattern.

    Of course other patterns you’ve seen will invade your mind and your design work. That’s inspiration!

    Those of us who routinely take something and rework it often fail to recognize that there are a LOT of people out there (*cough* my mother *cough) who cannot do that. They’d rather buy the pattern and be told exactly how to make something than fuss around with altering it. To that person, both of the above patterns have value.

    Liked by 1 person

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