The Modern Quilt Guild stirred up controversy recently in a blog post on ‘Understanding Copyright, Derivatives and Design Credit in Quilting’. Now retracted thanks to considerable criticism from its members, the post outlined the MQG’s stance on derivative quilt designs. Unfortunately the post conflated what the MQC would tolerate (at QuiltCon) with what’s allowed under US copyright law. And of course, laws are different around the world; what works in the USA may not work elsewhere, and vice versa.
US copyright law is intentionally imprecise, which means that ‘derivation’ and ‘inspiration’ are often in the eye of the beholder (at least until the courts are involved). There’s an inherent subjectivity involved in determining the difference. How can we tell whether someone has been inspired by another design or designer or has created a derivative of the work? Can we develop guidelines (as the MQG has tried) or must each case be decided on its own merits (as in US law)?
Recently I completed a quilt top based on a block design that I created as part of Blossom Heart Quilts’ My DIY Block Design Challenge. Week 2 of the challenge was all about sketching: using the lessons from Alyce’s ebook to design a quilt block. I started playing around with Excel (yes, Excel) and came up with this design, among others.
(The same design could be made more easily used striped blocks set on point, but I was in the midst of trying to perfect my half-square triangle technique!)
Week 3 of the challenge was all about making. Using fabric that I’d recently added to my stash, I made a block based on the Excel design (which snagged me a prize, yay):
Over time, I made another 3 blocks in coordinating fabrics, with the intention of arranging them into a larger square:
Excel’s fill and background colours don’t have quite the same range as Kona and Moda solids, but you get the idea: each colour would feature three times across the four blocks; each block would have a different background colour; and no colour would extend between adjacent blocks – the continuity across the blocks would come only from the design itself.
I set aside the 4 sewn blocks for a few months while I considered 2 possible arrangements, stressed about wrangling Essex linen alongside Kona solids, and further practiced my HST technique.
In the meantime, in one of my many meanders around Pinterest, I came across a remarkable artwork that immediately caught my eye. (I won’t post a picture for fear of breaching copyright.) An untitled work by German graphic designer Anton Stankowski, it’s a large square separated into quadrants crossed by bold diagonal lines. Unlike my design, the lines extend across vertical pairs of quadrants, and the horizontal quadrant pairs share the same background colour. But like my design, Stankowski uses only 4 colours (his are yellow, light blue, a purplish blue, and black; mine are mustardy yellow, light blue, dark blue and Essex Linen charcoal).
Before stumbling across this image, I had never seen this artwork or heard of Stankowski. But – to my mind, at least – the similarities between the two designs are striking. The fact that I only saw the image long after I’d finished my design reassures me that I didn’t inadvertently derive from Stankowski’s work, but for the same reason, I can’t claim that my design was inspired by it either.
Any similarity between my design and Stankowski’s is pure coincidence: ultimately there are only so many ways you can combine geometric shapes and popular colours. Considering the prevalence of simple shapes and standard block sizes in quilting, it’s no surprise that some of the same designs pop up again and again. Sometimes due to inspiration, sometimes derivation, and sometimes just chance.
I finally pieced together the 4 blocks without difficulty, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out.
Each block comprises an 8 x 8 grid of 3″ (finished) squares and HSTs; the quilt top measures 48.5″ x 48.5″. It’s back on the WIP pile for awhile as I think about how to quilt and bind it.
I’d love to pretend that I’ve been too busy quilting over the past 4 months to blog frequently, but in reality, a combination of distraction, self-doubt and procrastination has hindered my progress. Analysis paralysis, in a nutshell.
I’ve finished the half-square triangle quilt top, but that project is resting for a few reasons:
1. I didn’t know what to do for the backing, which is too wide (48″) to use a normal-width fabric (42-44″).
2. After deciding not to do anything fancy, but just run a vertical seam down the middle, I ended up buying backing fabric, but not enough. When I went back to the fabric store, they’d run out. Rookie mistake! I ended up ordering online — CherryBFabrics (via Etsy) had charcoal grey peppered cotton in stock. Yay!
3. I wanted to redo some of the points on the quilt top, since my corner-matching was woeful (to say the least). A few dozen corrections later, and it’s still not much better than it was. Failure’s hard! But I found awesome tips online that I’m going to try next time — using positioning pins and basting stitches. Why didn’t I think of that?!
4. I didn’t iron the seams well on the quilt top, so they’re facing all different directions and some joins are quite bulky in places. I’m not sure how to quilt around them. So I wait… and wait… hoping the answer will come to me in a dream. (It hasn’t.)
5. There’s nowhere in the house to take a nice picture of the whole quilt top!
So instead of trying to figure any of that out, I started on a new quilt.
I took inspiration from the ‘Whisper’ quilt in Mary Fons’ Make + Love Quilts, which features rows and rows of equilateral triangles in whites and creams. Yep, more triangles. I need to practice, practice, practice.
Since (at the time) Christmas was only a few months away, and I was feeling optimistic, I settled on a series of red festive fabrics, and got cutting.
I ended up with 8 different fabrics, and cut loads of equilateral triangles — so many I lost count…
I’m going to alternate the reds with Robert Kaufman’s Kona Cotton in Oyster. Which means cutting around 250 or so triangles of that too. Once again, I bought too little fabric, and had to go back to GJ’s to buy more… without knowing what colour I’d bought the first time. I’m learning so many important lessons from each quilt I make….
So — the quilt will be 18 rows of 12 triangles across, measuring approximately 54″ x 72″ when it’s done. (No idea how I’ll do the backing on this one either.) I’ve planned out the 18 rows of reds, and have paired and sewn each red to a white (aka oyster). Now I need to iron all the seams in the right direction, and start piecing together the pairs. And then the rows. And then figure out the backing. And quilting. And binding.
Christmas is 46 days away. No rush!
ps. I’m going to keep ‘Try, Try Again’ in mind more from now on.
It’s been a few weeks, but I’m finally making some progress with my half-square triangles quilt.
You may remember I made a small mistake last time, and ended up with half-square triangles that were a little too large. Well, I eventually cut all 150+ squares down to 4.5″, and now have a nice bag of scraps for some future project.
We only have one space in the house where I can lay out squares and find a good design that I’m happy with: the bed. On Friday, I finally placed all the squares in a 12 x 12 arrangement and found a design I liked. Here’s a sneak peek:
I stacked up each row into a pile of squares, then sewed them together. I tried chain-piecing to save on time (and thread), which ended up working pretty well. I thought I’d get confused about which squares I was sewing, but I managed to find a system to keep it all organised.
In the space of a few hours yesterday, I sewed rows 1 and 2 together, 3 and 4, and 5 and 6.
Today I’ll do the remaining pairs, then start sewing together the pairs until (hopefully!) the whole quilt top is finished.
I’ve had mixed success with getting all my points lined up. The design of the quilt top is fairly random, which means that the intersections between blocks can have up to 8 fabrics meeting in the middle. Getting all those points to line up is tricky and relies on a lot of careful pinning. Sometimes I managed fairly well…
Other times, I was a smidge out:
If it was more than a smidge, I got the seam ripper out and tried again!
You can also tell from some of these images that the intersections in some places are quilt bulky, thanks to the number of seams that are coming together. I think I should’ve been more careful about which direction my half-square triangles’ diagonal seams were pressed. I pressed them all before cutting down to 4.5″, which means the seams were all facing in different directions when I laid them all out in the final design. Perhaps then I should’ve re-pressed them in single directions depending on which row they were in? That seems like a lot of work! There must be an easier way, but I haven’t figured it out yet.
It’s just after midday here in Melbourne, so I better get busy!