Is It Ethical to Reverse Engineer a Quilt Pattern?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

When I was still a quilt newbie, I spent a lot of time staring at photos of quilts, trying to figure out how they were made. One day during my lunch break, I was studying a photo of a quilt block, mentally deconstructing it into smaller pieces. I pulled out a blank piece of paper, sketched out a diagram, and started scribbling quilt math. Within a few minutes, what started as curiosity had turned into a usable quilt pattern. As I set down my pencil, I had a sudden realization. If a pattern uses traditional construction techniques, there is virtually nothing a designer can do to keep people from reverse engineering it. It was a scary thought. Then I began to wonder, if there is no way to prevent reverse engineering, is wrong for us to do so?

When I say reverse engineering, I'm talking about the practice of drafting a pattern in order to duplicate a quilt for personal use without purchasing a pattern from the original designer. And when I say ethical, I am not talking about what is legal, so we're not even going to go there. The goal of this post is to start a dialogue on what seems like a common, but private practice, not point fingers.

I've have had several informal discussions with friends (some of whom are pattern designers) about reverse engineering patterns since I first started asking myself this question. In an effort to cast a wider net, I conducted a small survey through Survey Monkey.

Of the 25 respondents, 22 had reverse engineered a pattern, which wasn't a big surprise to me. I've heard people casually comment that they could "figure out" a pattern enough times to guess that the practice is widespread. The reasons people cited for reverse engineering patterns did surprise me though. I expected the #1 reason would be to save money, but more people seemed to approach it like I had, out of sheer desire to solve a puzzle.

In response to the question, "If I wanted to make a quilt pattern that is readily available for purchase, but think I could reverse-engineer it, I would...", only 3 respondents (12%) said they would only purchase the pattern if they were unable to reverse engineer it. However, that's not to say that money doesn't play a part. The results clearly indicated that customers are happy to buy patterns...if they believe the design merits the price. The survey echoed the dozens of comments I've heard and read that many people feel little guilt over reverse engineering simplistic designs like HST quilts or quilts based on traditional blocks.

The overall impression I get from the survey is that quilters value originality and want to support designers who bring something new to the table.

I emailed Cheryl Arkinson for some input in this post after reading an interview in which she stated that she reverse engineered patterns as a quilt newbie, but later realized that designers deserve to be compensated for their creativity. I asked her what prompted her change of heart. Her response:
"One day in a local quilt shop the owner was telling me about the designer whose pattern I had in my hand. In some ways it was a sob story, but not really. This particular designer - whose name I couldn't remember if I tried - got out of an abusive relationship and raised her kids on her own. She made a living from pattern design! It made me see that there are people and a lot of work behind that $8 piece of paper and plastic in my hand."
Cheryl firmly believes that reverse engineering patterns without financially supporting the designer is unethical, and I'm inclined to agree with her. I don't think anyone is going to stop reverse engineering because of this post, but I hope readers will take a moment to consider its implications. We want our favorite pattern designers to keep creating new projects to inspire us and without financial compensation for their work, some may throw in the towel. You can still play your puzzle games, but show your appreciation and buy the pattern too. To quote Beyonce, "If you liked it, then you should've put a ring on it."

What do you think?

3 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Sewing Garments

Monday, March 14, 2016

1. Selecting a size isn't always a no-brainer

We know that garment patterns provide the appropriate bust, waist, and hip measurements for you to select your size, but you may be overlooking some key measurements listed further down: finished garment measurements. I consider these measurements just as important when selecting my size.

For example, lets look at the Cambie Dress. My measurements are 35" bust, 29" waist, 39" hips. According to those measurements, I would fall between an 8 and 10 for bust and waist measurements. (Since I made View B with full skirt, hip measurements don't really matter here.) But look at the finished measurements. A finished size 8  has a 37.5" bust and 30.25" waist. I'm a super petite 5' tall, so even a little too much pattern ease (that extra room in a garment that allows for movement) can ruin a garment's fit for me. I usually aim for a 36" bust and 30" waist for a fitted bodice, so I ended up tracing a size 6 for the bust and blending it into a size 8 at the waist on the bodice pieces. I cut size 6 sleeves and a size 8 skirt.

If I had gone with my initial measurements, my finished garment would have been much too big!

2. It will take you a few garments before you understand your body.

Sewing clothing for myself has opening my eyes to my body's quirks. Nowadays, when I trace a pattern, I know I will automatically need to shorten the bodice by about 1", blend in a larger waist and hip size to fit my pear shape, and maybe even take off some extra length at the hem. But I didn't learn these things overnight. It was only after making muslins for several different garments that I noticed I was making similar alterations each time. Now that I'm aware of my quirks, I can usually alter my pattern in the tracing stages and get a pretty great fit without a muslin.

3. Save your pretty Aurifil, and use polyester thread.

I usually have 50wt Aurifil Mako Cotton in my machine for quilt piecing, so early on, I just used it for sewing my clothes. The problem is that cotton thread does not provide any stretch in the way that polyester thread does. That means when I quickly pulled my Fancy Sailor Top over my head, I got a quick rip in the sleeve seam. After 3+ armpit seam rips in various garments, I made the effort to rethread my machine with some all purpose polyester thread for garment seams. If I have the perfect Aurifil shade, I might use it on hems since those don't get as much abuse. But for seams, save yourself the mending time and use poly thread.