Sunday, April 26, 2009

some thoughts on originality and theft and reverse applique

The popularity of crafting right now creates an interesting set of dilemmas regarding originality and ethics. The internet is flooded with tutorials and hot crafters are featured in magazines and glossy how-to books. Now that I am back at the farmers market I am asked questions about my process. Sometimes explaining how I work gives added value to the handcrafted nature of my pieces. But sometimes someone just wants some free tips so they can make something similar at home. So as I'm chatting away in my booth I start to wonder,am I making conversation with a curious customer,is this just the friendly tradition of knowledge sharing within the craft community or did I just give away a trade secret to someone about to bite my style?
I am actually not as paranoid about someone stealing my patterns as I am about being accused of stealing from others. I freely admit I take ideas from everything I see,but I have my rules. There are certain books I won't buy for fear of either accidentally stealing an idea or seeing something similar to my existing work and then feeling like I stole it even though I didn't. I was looking through a book on recycled fabric projects and recognized a particularly great Gap striped sweater that I myself have made animals from. And then I saw their little stuffed bird and it was so similar to the chicks I make at Easter time I just had to put the book down. Because at that point I realized even if not consciously stealing, I am making the obvious choices with my craft. The choices that someone else also made and put in a book and is getting paid to tell people how easy it is to make it why would anyone who had seen this book then buy a chick from me?
I struggled with this after purchasing the gorgeous alabama stitch book by Natalie Chanin. I was so inspired by both her business ethics and designs. I wanted to incorporate reverse applique into my cotton projects. After I made a headband from the book for personal use people kept asking me if I was making them for moth and squirrel and I awkwardly explained that I used someone's pattern so, no I wouldn't sell it. But then I felt stumped and paralyzed, questioning if I could authentically use the process at all.
Luckily I remembered I had messed around with reverse applique years ago on my original scrappy rascal wings.

Suddenly I gave myself permission to take this skill further and bring it into my current products. Reverse applique is a process of stitching two or more layers of fabric together and then cutting away sections of the top layer to reveal the fabric underneath.Most recently I have been using reverse applique on the esther amelia cotton hats.

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