Size, inspiration and originality

Several things have come together over the past few weeks to make me think about what makes an original design: three requests to use the Star freebies in stitching groups; my own playing with Round Dozen variations; and a Cross Stitch Forum friend doing some Sweetheart Tree designs.

I love small designs. It may be a lack of patience or a short attention span; the fact that I find large pieces of fabric cumbersome to work with certainly has something to do with it; but the plain fact is that large designs (such as the Ink Circles BoINK project and the Papillon Around the World in 80 Stitches SAL) tend to get neglected and end up in a drawer. The only reason why I haven’t abandoned a large project recently is that I don’t start them. My own Stitch-Along was deliberately designed as 12 small projects rather than 12 parts of a large design. I very rarely design charts larger than 200 stitches. And I have a particular weak spot for anything card-sized.

But there is a problem with small designs, especially what you might call mini designs: whose are they? Let me explain. Suppose you want to design a cross stitch ladybird, which has to fit in a pendant and is therefore limited to 10×10 stitches. Chances are that within that limited space you will choose to stitch the ladybird in red and black only. Now suppose someone else also decides to chart a small ladybird. The two designs are likely to be very similar. Has either of you copied the other? No, because they were arrived at independently. Has either of you infringed the other person’s copyright? I wouldn’t have thought so. So whose is the ladybird design?

This may sound like a bit of an artificial problem, but there is a practical side to it. Let’s have a look at small Hardanger or satin stitch designs. You may remember the freebie stars (which, incidentally, I have now adapted to become this year’s Christmas Craft Event project, of which more in a later FoF) and that I could easily stitch them without the chart because the design is very simple. Are they “mine”? They are, in that I charted them and didn’t copy them from anyone else. But could I honestly claim that no-one else could possibly come up with them without copying me? Of course not.

If you want to design a Hardanger mini involving some cutting, and you want some bars in there as well, you are limited to four or so shapes, and what makes your little design unique is the combination of bars and filling stitches you choose (but there are only a limited number of those, too), any colours you choose to incorporate and any other elements you add (like the backstitch motifs surrounding the Mini Kit designs). There isn’t an awful lot of room for variation.

Hardanger mini shapes

The larger the design gets, the more variation is possible and the less likely you are to come up with an identical design to someone else. But how much variation makes a new design? Take the basic shape of the Round Dozen – as my Systematic Round Dozen chart shows you can vary endlessly with it. I added new stitches to it myself, and you could add whatever you like, even borders from Song of the Weather if you’ve joined the SAL. If someone comes up with a variation I hadn’t thought of, is it theirs or mine? Here I think a case could be made for saying that if it has the combination of a hardanger diamond, surrounded by a diamond in chain or double cable stitch, with a square surface stitch border and four satin stitch corner motifs, and measuring 72×72 stitches, it is a variation on Mabel’s Fancies Round Dozen design – but some people might disagree.

What does this mean for me as a designer? For one thing it means that I have to be careful when I admire and am inspired by another designer’s work. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but not if it leads to infringement of copyright. The Forum friend who got some Sweetheart Tree kits recently sent me pictures of them, and this reminded me how much I like their designs. They also gave me an idea for a set of small floral squares which combined elements of the Round Dozen, the border of a needlebook I designed for a previous Guildhouse course (see below), and Sweetheart Tree’s use of floral cross stitch motifs. Fortunately the little floral emblems I designed turned out quite different from theirs – stitched over one fabric thread instead of over two, and without their elegant backstitch swirls. So it was with a clear conscience that I went about the ever-pleasant task of picking out the colours and materials to use; and I hope to present Floral Lace to you in the near future!

A small needlebook Materials for Floral Lace

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