The Sincerest Form of Flattery.

2 Mar

Or, what happens when looking at Etsy too much gets your brain stuck in an ‘I can make that!’ rut.

Image thanks to Guin's View

This is a difficult topic for me to write about, but I’ve been thinking about it lately and feel like blogging about it might help me to clarify where I stand. As a crafter, perhaps even a ‘fabric artist’, I’m terribly passionate about making sure fellow crafters and artists are paid fairly for their work. Not only for materials and the time it takes to make something, but also intellectual property rights.

The craft-web is full of gorgeous, one-of-a-kind, innovative creations that artists are rightly asking high prices for. You should be paid for the effort you put into making that hand-knitted sweater, as well as for dreaming up the design and innovative construction. When you buy a handmade item, you’re paying for the intellectual as well as physical labour that went into creating it. However, as crafty people, it is also in our nature to look at something and wonder how it was made, or if we could perhaps make something similar. My student budget doesn’t allow me to spend hundreds on beautiful handmade dresses, but often I can create that look for myself using materials in my price range.

To put it bluntly, sometimes I can copy something that I can’t afford to buy.

How do I feel about this? I have no troubles looking at a site like Anthropologie and knocking off a skirt that costs $300 with my own thrift store fabric, but when it comes to copying the ideas of a fellow craftsperson- a small-business operation- I feel rather differently about it. I know mass marketers of fashion are always copying new designs from emerging artists and that fact makes me angry, so am I any better when I use my crafty knowledge to re-create a garment I can’t afford otherwise? I would never sell the item, or make the process known for others to use commercially. The result is a one-off creation for my own personal use. It doesn’t make me feel fantastic that I have ‘stolen’ someone else’s idea, but cross-pollination of trends and ideas is part of what makes the internet such an interesting place, and a vital source of inspiration for a girl living in a backwater town.

As much as I would like to think of myself as an incredibly cutting-edge, imaginative designer who makes clothes that are completely unlike anything else that’s out there, I know that’s so far from the truth it’s laughable. Sometimes I just have to think, ‘Gee, I wish I’d thought of that’. Being a moderately crafty and resourceful person sure helps when I can’t afford amazing clothes!

Is this a dilemma every crafter and fiber artist wrestles with? At uni, when writing essays for my Media/Arts degrees, I always learnt to ‘acknowledge my sources’ – is this something we should do in our crafty lives as well? I’m not sure I can come up with a satisfactory answer to this, but I’d love to know how others deal with it.


17 Responses to “The Sincerest Form of Flattery.”

  1. Lily March 2, 2010 at 8:42 pm #

    I know what you mean.

    I don’t like copying things because it seems very lazy and uncreative. And often when I try to copy something I end up changing it half way through or it doesn’t look anything like the original anyway. That’s not to say that I haven’t copied anything outright (because I have), but I’m always honest that it’s not my design.

    BUT, let’s be honest, nothing is ever original. What you’re copying was probably at least “inspired” by another item in the first place; and even if you do come up with an “original” idea, if you looked hard enough you’d probably be able to find someone else’s design that is essentially the same anyway!

    If I’m making something for myself and I was never going to buy the “original” item in the first place, I have no moral problems with copying someone’s design. They haven’t lost anything. If anything they will receive more publicity from your version because you’re telling everyone that you’ve copied their design!

    I would never copy something for uni, though. Unless you’re doing some sort of deliberate “homage”.

    • whipstitchsewing March 2, 2010 at 9:09 pm #

      Oh, of course copying something for school/uni/TAFE is completely out of the question! I may have been a bit unclear in my last paragraph, so I have edited to make that more clear.

      I like your point that even the things I am inspired by are probably inspired by someone else. It happens in runway shows all the time – how can so many designers have such similar ideas at the same time? There must be some cross-pollination!

  2. Alyssa March 2, 2010 at 11:12 pm #

    Almost nothing’s a new idea anyways! But yes, it makes me feel very guilty when I save pictures of handmade stuff I eventually intend to copy for my own use at home (never to sell, of course). It took me about 10 minutes until I got the picture. My boyfriend would be so ashamed! I kept thinking, why does she want to make lego stormtroopers? They aren’t handmade!

  3. Miss Emmi March 2, 2010 at 11:22 pm #

    Hmmm… I think so long as you aren’t making it for financial gain or submitting it as your own creation in any contests/school portfolios… that it’s okay. Like it or not, the fashion world revolves around taking ‘inspiration’ from other designers, who were in turn probably ‘inspired’ by the fashions of yesteryear. If it makes you uncomfortable, would changing some of the details/fabric/cut make it more acceptable in your mind?

  4. mollymolly March 3, 2010 at 1:19 am #

    I agree, so long as you’re not selling the things you made from copies, I don’t see a whole lot wrong with it. And like you said, you can just tell everyone who you were inspired by and give them some free advertising. I do consider myself a creative person, but I’m getting a degree in non-creative thinking (civil engineering!) so my time is very limited. Because of that it doesn’t really bother me to collect pictures from the internet to use as inspiration – most of the time my finished product is too different from the originals that no one would really know.

  5. Carla Hills March 3, 2010 at 4:12 am #

    I’m the only person I know who would try to replicate something seen somewhere else; everyone else would buy it because most of them can’t even sew a button. In our little crafting community, yes, we might all be able to copy…but the people buying these products CAN’T…hence, they buy them. The NONE-CRAFTY are the market for the crafts.

    Therefore, I have no qualms with copying something I like, for personal use only obviously and if someone likes it and asks where I got it, I would say that I made it myself but you can buy them on Etsy too.

  6. Claire March 3, 2010 at 8:38 am #

    I know your feeling exactly, sometimes I sew items that I have pretty much copied of Etsy. I normally am fine if they do not make it in my size (Being a bigger girl) but I offten feel a bit of guilt that I copied and didn’t buy. Its hard to find a line in sand of what is fine to copy and what is really ripping off someones ideas.

  7. atomic mum March 3, 2010 at 2:20 pm #

    I’ve never visited etsy but look at it from the point of onr object.
    Many woman get wedding dresses made and most of them use ideas from other dresses they liked. The seamstress who makes the dress will suggest things and fabric from other dressess. While no two dresses will be the same, if only the size is different, they most likly all started with they same simple dress so long ago we can’t remember what it looked like, but it was still a dress.
    Does that make sence?

  8. Abi March 4, 2010 at 12:40 am #

    This is such an interesting line of thought, and I honestly never really considered this point of view!

    Over the past few years I’ve become really disillusioned with the current fashion industry. So much that I see is made of cheap fabric with poor quality sewing and rarely fits properly. The few items I do like are priced way out of my league! Now that my sewing skills are up to scratch, I would much rather have something that fits properly, has quality finishing, is in a style/colour/print that flatters me, and most important for me – is long enough! Generally the only items I buy are t-shirts and knit-wear.

    I generally find that even if I take inspiration from something I’ve seen, whether it be runway fashion, a handmade item, or a vintage pattern/photograph, I’ll still tweak it to add my own flair and style to it. It’s very rare to see something that is utterly perfect exactly the way it is! I agree that so long as no profit is being made from that person’s idea, then it’s ok. Though I guess it also depends on how original the idea is, for example, a circle skirt or a simple a line skirt would have to have some original element in them (pockets, stitching detail?) before the creator of said item could claim it had been stolen. I hope that makes sense!

  9. Casey March 4, 2010 at 12:47 am #

    I too have wrestled with this question: when does one cross the line between “inspired by” and blatant copying? Especially in our small world of crafting/art? I find that over time, I have become more and more reticent about outright copying anything–even things that aren’t handmade (in other words, mass produced). To me, it just defeats the purpose of the act of being creative anyway. Instead, I find I am inspired by elements of designs (whether handmade or not), rather than copying the whole.

    Of course, that being said, sometimes cross pollination occurs in such a way that two artists come up with very similar ideas around the same time. Or one artist is inspired by another artist’s path and takes it and begins to experiment with it on their own. Eventually, that first artist will manipulate the technique or inspiration in such a way as to make it their own style/design (it’s inevitable since as craftspeople our styles are influenced by our own lifestyles and paths!). This is one thing I love about the internet art/craft community: we can feed each others imaginations and need for finding and exploring new techniques and ways of looking at and seeing things. In this sense, if you are truly fueled and excited by something another person is working with, I say take it and play with it on your own. However, the moral trickiness comes to play when selling/marketing enters the arena. I daresay this is something each and every person has to hash out on their own: where the line between a copy and work that has been inspired by (e.g. “derivative” or something that has elements similar–but is not a copy–of another person’s work) is drawn. It’s a fuzzy area: one I am still figuring out myself!

    Anyway, I feel like I just rambled and didn’t really make much sense. But thank you for this post–it got me thinking this morning about some important topics! 🙂

    ♥ Casey
    blog |

    • Kitty May 10, 2010 at 4:53 am #

      one of the things I have to point out here is that copying is a legitimate way of learning and in the art world, the copies of some of the students of the masters are considered valuable in their own right.

      I always considered myself creative in that I have an eye for using materials in different ways, but I’ve never had or taken the time to develop that. So when I want to make something I usually use a pattern. when I don’t, I’ve spent days staring at my material, and measuring and remeasuring, and trying different solutions in my minds eye.

      When it comes to garments, I’ve deconstructed garments that I’ve bought and liked to make new ones, with my own tweaks to make them fit better, and in doing so I learned why that particular garment fit me so much better than any other one. and I know that would be wrong (and illegal) to sell those garments that I made. I also know that being as I made them to fit me, they wouldn’t fit anyone else anyway. LOL

      but ideas. well, every day every tiime you walk down the street and see things in the store window or surf the net you’re picking up ideas. Just because you did it purposefully because you liked it so much doesn’t make it stealing because as it ferments in your brain, it eventually becomes part of you and part of your idea bank. It will come out a bit different for you than it would for any other person.

      The Bible says there is nothing new under the sun, and that goes for ideas as well. it’s a matter of how we execute them that makes each of us unique. and your garment will be unique as well.

  10. roe March 5, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    Everyone’s addressed the former, so I’ll take the last question.

    I think Open Source is SO important because it seems like that’s how everything gets better. The risk is offending the creator by greedy thieving but if no one’s allowed to get inspired by the way a creator does things and builds on that idea, how does Craft and Fashion and Art progress??

    As for Mystique of Secrecy, the value is in the not knowing, the guessing, and being the Only Who Who Could Ever Do That. But—shouldn’t someone be rewarded such prestige because they are so incredibly adept at what they do that it can’t be copied, not because they are protective of the process and want to keep it for themselves? I smell insecurity.

    It’s a dilemma. But to keep the creator unoffended and as a nod and respect to fellow makers + a humanity that is always making and building new things in our world, we should source them. Why not?! Why withhold someone’s due? “Because nothing is original. There is only authenticity”. How beautiful to reference and be referenced so we can always keep the inspiration macrocosmic wheel rolling.

  11. Nadja March 7, 2010 at 12:28 am #

    I think almost everything is already said, with my poor english I just like to ad that most people seems to only take inspiration and make something more or less simillar instead of trying to produce a ripof….(me included) .Though I think you should always give credit to the designers that inspires you!

    Thank you for the good post, this is really something that every one need to think about and remember in the back of their heads!

  12. Karin March 9, 2010 at 7:58 am #

    All the commentators before me have basically said what I wanted to say but I’ll ad a quote by Coco Chanel; “If there were no copies, how could there be fashion?”.
    I think that someone copying your work is the ultimate compliment, and if they are crafty enough to do it themselves there’s nothing wrong with it. But if I had something for sale on Etsy and someone else started to sell copies of it I’d be a bit upset …

  13. Anna October 19, 2010 at 8:39 pm #

    What you’ve described reminds me of this quote you may like: “While everything may have been done before, it hasn’t been done by you.” I do graphic design and realise that in order to learn you have to look at what other people do and why they are doing it, and take those skills to apply to your own creations. If we didn’t do that then art and fashion wouldn’t grow.

  14. Pashminalingaling January 14, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    Some things are so basic they cannot be considered original ideas. Who owns the idea of the circle skirt? Who invented the sleeve? Who owns the concept of a buttoned shirt with a collar and cuffs? No one owns these ideas. Making a garment with a sleeve or a collar is not ripping anyone off.

    On the other hand, cutting apart a Marchesa dress, making a pattern out of it, and mass producing it in similar colors is going way to far.

    Today with every designer producing at least 3 if not 6 lines every year, there is going to be more and more borrowing and inspiration. It’s not possible to come up with that many new designs out of the one person’s brain. The real designers who work for the famous “Designers” are constantly copying (er… I mean being inspired by…) everyone else in the fashion world.

    If you want to truly be original, never look at anyone else’s work. Avert your eyes when you walk down the street. Don’t watch any television or movies. Otherwise you can’t help but be influenced. You don’t have to credit every advertisement, commercial, store window, girl on the street, or 40’s movie star that combined in your brain to create your newest dress.

    Unless you are mass producing exact copies, it’s probably not worth spending time worrying about it. If you are producing a small run that is indistinguishable from someone else’s work you should definitely get their permission.


  1. More thoughts on imitation, inspiration and insight. « - March 8, 2010

    […] thank you all for leaving such insightful comments on my last post. I’m glad to hear lots of us crafty types are wrestling with this problem, and it’s not […]

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