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.
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.
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!