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How not to steal other designers' work in a world of limited originality. The difference between inspiration and stealing a crochet pattern.
Designers' Corner

Limited Originality: The Difference Between “Copying” and “Inspiration”

Before I begin, I need to preface this article with the following:

In no way does this give you or ANYONE permission to copy patterns you find on the internet! You cannot be a respectable designer and fill your portfolio with the common beard hats and c2c blankets and then call them your “original designs.” While I will explain that this is not illegal, it is immoral, lazy, and will not do you any good in your business over the long haul.

This article also does NOT give you permission to freak out on another designer and claim that you own a basic concept. Unless someone copies your pattern word-for-word and labels it as their own, you don’t have a legal leg to stand on — freaking out only raises your blood pressure.

Limited Originality

As a crochet designer, your goal is to make awesome patterns for crocheters that are both desirable to the artist and desirable to their potential customers. Staying on trend is important and effective. It’s what keeps us looking cutting edge as designers and keeps our customers coming back each season.

But trendy items seems to get recreated by every crocheter in the field. Was there once an “original” slouch beanie? Of course! But it was probably designed by Abercrombie and worn by Jared Padalecki before it was touted as the next big thing in crochet. In this industry, coming up with a truly novel idea is very difficult and rather rare.

Part of crochet design (and most any design) is that we ALL get our inspiration from somewhere. So unless you live in a cave and are inventing your crochet patterns without contact from the outside world, you have undoubtedly used a few ideas from others in your work as well. This industry is full of creative individuals; it is ripe with inspiring artwork.

Heck, even magazines will send out photos, “mood boards,” and “look books” full of images of crochet meant to inspire and direct the designers.

There is nothing wrong with being inspired by someone else’s work. And if someone is inspired by YOUR work, take it as a compliment!

But “inspiration” and “copying” are two totally different things.

Looking at a photo of someone else’s crochet work and then reverse engineering it is not design. That’s like tracing the last picture in the Draw 50 books. It’s copying. It’s not your pattern, even if you figured out the stitches on your own.

Using an aspect of something in your own work — the shape of a purse, the stitch of a sweater, the bird feet of an amigurumi — is inspiration. You are not taking the whole idea and making it your own. Rather you are taking something you love about someone else’s work and utilizing that aspect to make something new and different.

Strive For Originality

So, we’ve established that staying on trend is important and helpful to your business, whether you sell patterns or finished products. And you might be able to sell 100 basic, standard slouch beanies at a craft fair because they are trendy and cool.

But taking a special twist on those trends is what will make your business thrive. You, as a designer — as a professional artist — are better than “basic.”

So you want to add a slouch beanie to your pattern shop because they are all the rage and you know they will sell well. However, if you post a basic, average, seen-everywhere slouch beanie in your shop, two things will happen:

  1. Customers will skim right over it while they are looking at the other 200 slouch beanie patterns.
  2. Anyone who does buy your pattern won’t remember where they got it because it has no distinguishing features. They will end up directing others to “just search Ravelry” and those shoppers only have a 1/200 chance of being your future customer.

Instead, make something that is LIKE the popular slouch beanie, but has elements uncommon to similar projects.

Note: I get the majority of my ideas by finding pictures in home decor catalogs or even snapping pictures of real animals to use as inspiration. Stray from crochet when designing and you won’t be able to design something anyone has seen before. Some of my best work has come from asking the question, “Now how could I make yarn do that?”

How not to steal other designers' work in a world of limited originality. The difference between inspiration and stealing a crochet pattern.
A recent “look book” of mine for mythical creature inspiration.

Go From “Everywhere” To “Only Here”

Look at NON-CROCHET things for inspiration.

Do some stitch testing.

Find something you think is missing from these slouch beanies. How about a brim? A ribbed one!

Find something that will draw attention and make your beanie stand out in a sea of beanies. Your goal is to take that idea that everyone seems to be copying and take it from “You can find that pattern everywhere!” to “You can only get THIS pattern here!”

Your new, unique take on this trendy item now accomplishes more:

  1. Customers are now drawn to something slightly different and more interesting in the search results for “slouch beanie.” They choose your pattern because it doesn’t look like the rest.
  2. Customers remember you and your shop. “This pattern is great isn’t it? I got it from this great new shop, Dolly’s Dinglehoppers! She makes really cool patterns!”

While they may be part of “limited originality” in a crochet concept, there is no limit to how you decide to utilize a concept and truly make it your own.

Don’t just make patterns. Make patterns you are proud of and that represent the artist in you.

What About Beginner Patterns?

I was talking about limited originality to a friend and she replied, “Okay, I get making things stand out. But I’m just a beginner. I can’t do a pattern with too much extra fluff. I still need those basic patterns.”

“But would you pay money for that beginner pattern?” I asked.

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She shook her head slowly. “No. I think they are really easy to find for free. I would be willing to pay for something more complex when I am ready for it, though.”

Bingo.

Beginner patterns are GREAT! They are vital and important to this craft. After all, no one ran before they could walk. But if what you are writing are basic, beginner patterns, consider instead posting them for free so the beginners out there can use them to learn.

Selling basic, beginner patterns seems counterproductive to me. Why would someone want to spend money on something that is so easily sourced for free and so easy to find? It’s like charging for stones at a quarry.

In my opinion, charging for basic patterns shows immaturity in a designer. It gives the impression that the designer is more concerned with quantity over quality.

If you want to write a pattern for your basic slouch beanie, post it for free! Post other beginner patterns for free! Then when the budding crochet artist is ready, they will come back to you for their first complex pattern because they know and trust you and your work.

Here are a few of my free beginner patterns. These are things I would never claim as “original” work, but they are patterns that are worth sharing.

Hey! They Copied My Idea!

So, someone posted a pattern for sale that looks an awful lot like one of yours. Maybe it has similar stitches. Maybe it is similar in shape, style, or usefulness.

How not to steal other designers' work in a world of limited originality. The difference between inspiration and stealing a crochet pattern.

You feel your collar get hot and you want to send a nasty email to that dirty, rotten thief. After all, how dare they!

Take a deep breath, pour a glass of wine, and then ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is it word-for-word your pattern? In other words, is it a legal copyright violation?
  2. Is yours better anyway?

Odds are that if you found someone who has copied your pattern, you can answer Question 1 with a “No,” and Question 2 with a “Yes.”

By making something similar (but not an exact copy), that other designer didn’t break any laws. You don’t have any legal rights to a style, shape, or stitch. Stop and think about where you got the idea — it too came from somewhere, no matter what spin your put on it. Unless you went out a bought a copyright/trademark/patent for the idea, sending an angry email will only start a battle that neither side will win.

After you have decided that the “copy” is nothing more than a sad imitation, chug the rest of your wine, have a hypothetical argument with the other person in the shower, and then turn your mind back to your own work.

Market Your Superior Work

The best thing you can do (and the most effective method) is to focus inward on YOUR products. It is your job to gently remind your customers that your Brimmed Slouch Beanie Pattern is the BEST Brimmed Slouch Beanie Pattern.

How not to steal other designers' work in a world of limited originality. The difference between inspiration and stealing a crochet pattern.

Insert descriptions into your pattern listing like “Over one hundred 5-star reviews!” or “Originally published in September 2015” or even “The one-and-only hat that started an explosive Autumn trend!”

Remind artists about the features that makes yours the best: Your years of experience make the pattern easier to read. There are several sizing options. The cabling is more sophisticated than other similar patterns…you name it! There should be something that makes your design special, so accentuate that!

Use a phrase like, “Unlike similar beanies, this pattern contains ______.” (Hint: If you can’t come up with a way your beanie is “unlike similar beanies” it may be time to rethink the pattern and add to it.)

In a world where there are thousands of sweater and hat patterns, it becomes your job to put more weight on what makes your pattern unique and draw attention away from what makes it similar to every other pattern.

Taking a 200-year-old art form and making new, unique spins on old ideas is what keeps this business alive. Celebrate the creative freedom if offers by putting your best, most extraordinary self forward. Your customers and your business will thank you for it.


What methods do you use to find inspiration from other crochet and still stand out in the crowd?

I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment or tag me on Instagram or Facebook @hookedbykati or #hookedbykati.

As a crochet designer, your goal is to make awesome patterns that are both desirable to the artist and desirable to their potential customers.  So how do you stay on trend but still avoid copying other designers as the newest "big thing" hits? Here is how to stay unique in a world of limited originality.
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Yarn on,

Kati

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4 Comments

  • Apollo

    Hello! I’d call myself an advanced beginner at crochet and mainly do it as a stress-relieving hobby as I am in medical school. However, I’ve made so much that I started selling it on Instagram and Etsy. If I see something from another designer/artist on Instagram, and create it myself without using a pattern as best I can, using different stitches and colors but overall a very similar product, can I sell that finished wearable product? Let’s say it’s a unique sweater or skirt. Is that wrong? Would love some feedback – I don’t want to be doing anything wrong! Thanks 🙂

  • Mariana Muller

    What a great article! Thank you so much for this. I am only starting to get my head in a space of trying my hand at “designing” something, but I have impostor syndrome and this fear of copying something or using something that I am not allowed to use. There are so many stitch directories and my question is, may I use a stitch in a stitch directory to create for instance a scarf that has the stitch in with some other elements? Would love to get some advise.

    • Kati

      I have used stitches from stitch dictionaries, but beware of using them for something too basic, like a blanket or scarf that only uses that stitch — because then the only creative element to it is the stitch from the dictionary. Shape it, do something unique with it, or make it one of many squares of a blanket with wildly different designs. 🙂 Many stitches become common knowledge over time, but the ways to use them are where we can show off our artistry.

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