A few days ago a fellow Portlander and acquaintance of mine, Diane Gilleland, wrote a thought-provoking post about originality and creative cross-pollination. I'd encourage you all to go read her thoughts; I agree wholeheartedly with her championing of creative openness paired with credit freely given.
It's true that sometimes people out-and-out copy another's ideas, and that's worthy of condemnation. I'm not saying it's okay to redistribute someone's pattern without their consent, or make a few token changes and pass something off as one's own. But I think, in our eagerness to honor the originality of the artists and designers in our midst, we sometimes go too far in the other direction, minimizing the validity and importance of creative influences.
In the knitting world, I've noticed that sometimes, when a design is influenced by another knitted garment, people can be a bit dismissive of it—it's pretty, it's okay, but not as impressive as a design might be whose inspiration arrived in the designer's head from a mysterious and unrecognizable source. But why should this be? Why should a sweater inspired by, say, ironwork scrolls, or the veins of a trillium leaf, or pure geometry, be any more valid or impressive than one inspired by another sweater? It seems to me that we have become so afraid of copying that we are ending up with an unrealistic idea of how the creative process works. Knitwear inspired by other knitwear needn't look derivative, after all, or even that similar. And knitwear that DOES look similar to another piece wasn't necessarily inspired by it in any direct way: as Diane points out, artists are often developing similar ideas simultaneously, without consulting or discussing them at all.
As an exploration of these ideas, I'd like to do a little experiment in making my influences explicit.
Meet my Autumn Sweater. The pattern is Kim Hargreaves's "Breeze," from Rowan's A Yorkshire Fable (both of those are Ravelry links). While not the first sweater I ever made, Breeze happened early in my knitting career—I completed it about four years ago. Since then, it's become THE go-to sweater in my wardrobe: the one I pull unthinkingly from the closet whenever I need a quick cover-up to take the dog for a walk or head out the door for dinner with friends. It's also an integral part of a number of my favorite work outfits. I just love the way it fits: it's so versatile, yet flattering, and the color goes with almost everything I own. Needless to say, after four years of heavy (read: almost daily) wear, it's starting to show its age.
The snags are getting too numerous to be constantly pulling to the other side with a crochet hook. A few spots are getting fuzzy from the place my bag rubs when I walk to work. It's still perfectly serviceable for wearing around the house or out for a potluck at a friend's house, but I'm starting to feel odd about wearing it to work, even to my casual office. The time has come to replace this sweater with another that can take its place in those work outfits that usually involve this one.
Of course, I could just make the same pattern again. I do own A Yorkshire Fable, after all. But instead, I'm going to try something a little more interesting: I'm going to design a sweater overtly inspired by this current favorite.
Now let's be clear: I am not going to use Ms. Hargreaves's numbers, nor her cable motif. My sweater will not be a "copy" of the Breeze pattern in any sense. In fact, just to make clear the divide between "influence" and "rip-off," I pledge not even to open A Yorkshire Fable at any point during this project (nor have I looked at the book, except for a couple casual glances through it, for the past three years). I will be taking the measurements of my sweater in its current form, which means it will have stretched significantly away from Hargreaves's original schematic measurements, if indeed it ever matched those. I'm just going to use my current, beloved sweater as a jumping-off point, a baseline that will include some of the things I adore about this garment. The finished product may look completely different, but hopefully it will share the basic shape, certain construction details, and a general retro maritime feel with the original.
Ready? I have a good start on this project already, so I'll be updating again soon.