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Conversational Threads

Design “theft”?

Nancylee | Posted in General Discussion on

Now that I’m a more experienced sewer, but by no means really really really good, when I check out ladies’ clothing stores for what’s new,  I find myself speculating on whether or not a particular design could be copied at home for obviously a fraction of the price.  It’s certainly tempting and not being a designer by nature or trade ideas of such quality don’t come to me on their own.  So… is it okay to go ahead and try a kind of knock-off of a such a  garment?  Maybe it’s just creeping paranoia to ask, but what do others think?


  1. sanderson | | #1

    Kind of depends on your own morals. Legally I think you can copy a concept without problem as long as you don't try to pass it off as having been made by the fashion house.  I'd never go so far as to buy something and take it home to copy a pattern from it and then return it to the store.  That's stealing in my book.  However, I might try something on to see if I liked what it looked like on me without planning on buying it.  I might even make a thumbnail sketch to remember what it was that caught my eye.  When I sell an item as custom made, if I've used a pattern to make that item, I always give label credit to the pattern maker. 

  2. rjf | | #2

    If you looked through a fashion magazine and copied one of those ideas, is that the same thing as copying an idea from a garment at a clothing store? I think trying to pass off the copy as your own idea in order to profit from it is one test. On the other hand, it's very hard to make an exact copy so maybe that's a way out of the dilemma. 

    (As I'm typing this, I'm suddenly remembering that I have a favorite shortsleeved-shirt pattern that I traced from a purchased shirt, kind of a camp shirt style.  But if someone admires one of my "knock-offs", I always give credit to the designer. )

    It's very difficult to come up with a really "original" idea for clothing because there are so many ideas out there that they must share some common characteristic.   


  3. sarahkayla | | #3

    I think there are a few issues going one here.

    1 - If you copy for your own use.. it is ok.. again if you aknowledge your source you are dling fine..

    2 - if you try to earn a living copying other people's work.. that is stealing.

    3- I make Judaica in fabric. This is how I earn my living. When I was just starting out, I got a phonecall from a potential client. They wanted me to knock off the work of an artist who was far better established than I was. They didn't want to pay her fees. I explained to them that 

    a-If I copied her work that wuould be stealing on my part 

    b) If anyone copied my work I would be furios with them

    c)If I copied her work it would not be as good as if i produced something original for them.

    Several years later a friend of my husband's (who was a frequent houseguest) asked me for advice about marketing her work. She shoed me photos. Her work was a line for line copy of my work. She had a hard time understanding that what she was doing was unethical, as well as being not particularly nice. It took her quite a while to understand. I now no longer show her my work.

    Do I get inspited by other people's work??? all the time. To I simply re-produce it?? never. What I do is use it as a jumping off point to create something new. Once i borrowed an idea from another fiber artist. She was at a show where I was exhibiting. i proudly showed her my work and said "See how I borrowed your brilliant Idea!!!" She found the borrowing unrecognizeable.. it had been transformed. This is fair use  and part of the normal exchange of ideas that takes place just living in a society.

    Creativity is a skill that can be developed through exercise. People are not just born with it. Force yourself to create changes in what uyou copy. Make it solve your particualr set of problems

    sarah in nyc

  4. Crafty_Manx | | #4

    What I am about to express is something I read in a book (Couture: The Art of Fine Sewing, by Roberta Carr) and while I cannot take credit for the idea, I do agree with it.  I'll summarize (since I don't have the book with me right now):

    When you try on a ready-made garment, what about it do you like?  Usually it is a detail, like the choice of embellishment or the neckline on a blouse or an unusual skirt hem or a choice of fabric that is "different" from what is the norm.  It is these details that you are most likely to copy into your own sewing.

    The last dress I made was modified from an existing pattern.  When asked if I made it I replied that the design was a Donna Karan but the details (deviations from the existing pattern) were my own.  I think this is a safe way to go.

    It is a different story if you directly copy an Armani jacket and try to sell it as a "real" Armani jacket.


    1. sarahkayla | | #5

      The concept that I go by is one I learned from studying talmud. Before any of those rabbis spoke they would cite who their source was and who their source's source was.. or they would quote something "b'shem rabo" - in the name of his teacher.

      I first learned this rule of always mentioning your source when I was 12 years old. It was an important thing to learn and clearly has value not just in deciphering matters of Jewish law.. but in everyday living.

      No this is not a polemic.. but rather a useful guideline.. I try to give credit whenever I can. I have had may teachers.. only a few of whom I  have actually met. Threads magazine has fr may years served as my teacher. (as have so many of you on this list)

      sarah in nyc

      1. Nancylee | | #6

        Thanks everyone; such an interesting discussion.  The way I'm thinking about it at the moment is to incorporate design ideas I've seen but in a somewhat changed way...and to give the designer credit when a compliment comes my way.  I'm not sewing for profit and knocking off a design and selling it as my own isn't something I'd do; in my books that really is stealing.  Thanks for your thoughts.

        1. sanderson | | #7

          Care to share?  What design ideas have you seen lately that you're pondering?   Maybe this should be a new thread but my beginnings were in CT and hijacking is the only way to go there.  I'll share.  In Australia I saw some denim stuff that had various shades of denim leaves appliqued to the edges and hem.  I am going to use that somehow.  How about you?

          1. rjf | | #8

            ".... my beginnings were in CT"   What is "CT"?  That edging sounds interesting.    rjf 

          2. sanderson | | #9

            Cooks Talk...the Fine Cooking forum counterpart to the Threads' Gatherings. 

          3. Nancylee | | #10

            I love that leaves on denim idea, something even the "over 40's" could wear.  Recently I saw a couple of nifty ideas I'd like to try: 1) a narrow princess dart was sewn on the outside of the blouse &short, perhaps 2 inch long row of very narrow zigzag or satin stitch or something like that was used to stitch the dart down to the front of the blouse.  It was really cute, done on a light fabric summer sleeveless top.  2)white cotton was used to make a summer blouse and first the fabric had been sewn with extremely narrow seams throughout, and seams were again sewn at right angles to the first set.  The effect was like squares on the diagonal throughout the blouse and it gave it a very fresh look.  I thought I'd try doing the seaming carefully and see if I could get it to look good.  It might not work as the manufacturers use machinery to get everything perfectly straight but I'd like to try.

            Any suggestions on how to carry the seaming project off? 

          4. carolfresia | | #11

            Do you mean pintucks, or actually seams? For the pintucks, you can get a special pintuck foot for your sewing machine, which will enable you to keep all your rows nice and parallel and evenly spaced. On the other hand, you might be able to purchase the fabric pre-tucked and save yourself a lot of time!


          5. Jean | | #12

            Yes, I've  done pintucks with a double needle that really turned out nicely.

          6. Nancylee | | #13

            Yes I do mean pintucks.  I had to laugh when I read your post Carol, just shows how much I need to learn.  And didn't realize that fabric could be purchased like that.

            And Jean - how did you use your double needle to create the pintucks? (I have heard of a double needle - hah hah)

          7. Jean | | #15

            Nancy Z explains it fairly well here I think.


          8. rjf | | #14

            "I don't know how I got over the hill without getting to the top."

            I had to laugh.  That's how I've been describing my golf game for the past 3 or 4 years.   rjf

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