Prying Control from Your Cold, Cramped Hands

Remember this, people.

With a couple of important yet not universally applicable exceptions (patents can be used to protect unique manufacturing processes; copyright can be used to protect the distribution of text and drawings), you cannot control what others do with your work.

The minute it escapes your possession, your work will be interpreted, judged, manipulated and sometimes downright defiled by people you don’t even know. One day I’ll tell you the story of how Greg reacted when his parents hung one of his stunning mosaics over the toilet*.

This is the nature of creative work. Hell, this is the nature of some dude on Twitter overhearing your vacuous conversation on the bus.

And I’ll argue till I’m blue in the face that this isn’t a bad part of creative work. Even if it stings. Even if it offends.

Which is why I think this post by Katrina over at the Salt City Spice blog is bunk. In it she argues that it’s bad behaviour to publicly bookmark (on Pinterest) a product with the intent to make something like it yourself, specifically if it’s a handmade item. That somehow it’s failing to support crafty businesspeople.

But that’s not how it works. The onus is on crafty businesspeople to make products that people will buy.

If your products are constructed very simply and you photograph them well and you market to a crafty audience, you’re going to find that some potential customers will make something similar for themselves instead of buying from you. If you want fewer people to do themselves and more to buy from you, you’re going to have to create some sort of perceived value that convinces them to buy your goods instead of making some on their own. This is totally possible. It happens all the time. Look at how many people turn a profit selling zipper pouches.

Even if your products are complex, people may take inspiration from them for their own projects. So what?

The scope of Katrina’s post is limited to recreational use – she’s not even talking about the far more complicated topic of where the lines get drawn when the parties in question are all selling things[3. Remember the recent example of the jewelry designer who accused Urban Outfitters of stealing her design? And then it came to light that her idea wasn’t terribly original in the first place?].

There is an insidious undercurrent of rule-following in the crafts world. Did you know there are people out there who think they could get arrested for altering a crochet pattern for their own use? They think making a short-sleeve sweater with long sleeves instead is violating the designer’s copyright.

Their fear of breaking these rules (that don’t exist) hinders their enjoyment of their craft. And then there’s the effect it has on their creative expression, in general.

That’s an extreme example, but as evidenced by Katrina’s post there’s a far more widespread assumption that we need to watch out for people’s feelings when we make creative decisions. And though of course I’m not advocating rampant assholery, I do think our creative business community would benefit from a somewhat tougher attitude. Not an attitude of everyone for himself, but an attitude that as businesspeople, we sometimes need to be headstrong rather than soft-hearted.

Creative work is personal. And so it can really hurt when people behave in ways we wish they wouldn’t when it comes to our work. But the sooner we accept that we can’t control these things, the sooner we accept that the free exchange of ideas is the basis of a healthy society, the sooner we’ll be able to return our focus to creating a sustainable business for ourselves.

A business, I hope, that participates in the exchange of ideas and knowledge in our creative community.

* He was all, “Uh. This isn’t really the best place for it, is it?” And they were all, “We don’t have room for it anywhere else.” And I was all, “Dude, you relinquished control over where this piece could be hung when you gave it to your parents.” And then his parents moved it.

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Tara Swiger

OR! Or you could stop marketing your handmade thing to the community that handmakes everything themselves. You could find a market of people who will NEVER make the thing you’re beautifully making and are thrilled to pay you to make it for them!
(ah! this is my soapbox. I will step off it now)

Tara Swiger

“Which is that crafters read crafts blogs! If you don’t want crafters to rif off your ideas, don’t write a crafts blog to promote your work!” Exactly!

Kirsty Hall

I’m not scared of people copying me because I always reckon that very few people would be daft enough to undertake the sort of crazy-ass obsessive projects I do. Of course, I don’t usually manage to make money at what I do, so my point may be entirely moot. But still, not scared of the copycats (and I do get them).


Heh! You weren’t kidding about the whole “gloves off” thing, were you?

At the end of the day, though, I totally agree that creatives need to stop wishing to control the fate of the stuff they release to the internet. And I agree with Tara, that marketing to other creatives isn’t necessarily barking up a productive tree. (Lord, that’s torturing a metaphor.)

It’s interesting to me how Pinterest is getting used. I see it as, primarily, a personal tool for saving and organizing stuff you like. But I see Etsy sellers posting their products for sale on there all the time. I see crafters posting their own tutorials on there in hopes of getting more traffic (heck, I’ve tried that myself).  And I see the same people who get up in arms about protecting indie designs pinning pictures of products from big companies as inspiration for DIY projects. Clearly, we’re bleeding a lot of lines here.

If I had one wish for Pinterest, it would be that it incorporate a more foolproof attribution engine. That can’t be impossible, right?


Tumblr recently changed (well, a couple months ago) to make attribution an absolute in it’s posts. images, at least, always carry a line at the very bottom of the post that links back to the original poster, once it’s been reblogged, and on the original post it will link back to the source of the image (such as where the image is on flickr, or what website it was lifted from). I can’t imagine that pinterest would find this impossible? It could also be a case of pinterest not really have the employee/codemonkey power to do this in its current state?


That’s great news about Tumblr! Attribution frustration was the major reason I quit reading Tumblogs. I’m so glad to know they’ve addressed that messiness.

kalin whyte

It seems like there’s not just a lack of awareness about how not-snowflake-special our craftiness is, but also no idea that sharing creativity is super awesome. Maybe it’s because I’m not trying to make an income off the items I make (and occasionally sell) but I really enjoy someone see my items and be inspired to make their own version of it. 


This. Creativity is fun and feels special, but a crafty biz is still a biz and a lot of time I think the creative community in general just needs to get over themselves.


Hi Kim, I’m sorry we had to meet like this! I caught this post through SisterDiane’s tweet. I’m Katrina, the original blogger who wrote that post and I can appreciate your difference in opinion. This has been a pretty heated debate on all sides.

I want to make clear that I’m not referring to someone being “inspired” by something and riffing off of it to create something new – that part is the amazing thing about creativity, seeing something and being able to re-interpret in your own way. I’m talking about a pin that is perceived as a literal copy of the original idea.

To me, the concept of “recreational use” on Pinterest is kind of a misnomer. Pinterest is a very public site where users are encouraged to share, NOT a personal notebook full of ideas that will never see the light of day. This is my whole point – finding something for sale in a place of business (I’ll broaden this to mean anywhere, not just Etsy) and publicly declaring you’ll be making your own copy may not be illegal, but it’s definitely tacky. And possibly unethical. Honestly, I’m still thinking about it myself.

For me personally, checking the sources for my pins before pinning and being picky makes me feel better about the content I create.

PS I have a follow-up post on Oh My! Handmade appearing tomorrow if you’d like to check it out –


Disagree completely! People often begin crafting (knitting and sewing spring to mind) specifically because they see something they want, but decide to make it rather than buy it. That’s often how we, as crafters, grow, learn new skills and improve. The food analogy springs to mind — there are artisanal bakers and cheese makers out there, so should I never attempt my own sourdough, my own ricotta?

Should people be able to sell stuff that is a direct copy of someone else’s creative work? In most cases, no. But people can make themselves whatever the heck they want for their own home and private use. I don’t see anything “tacky” about it.


I’m going to use knitting as an example, as it is my primary form of expression and where my creative business is firmly stationed. I can see your point. I can, but i can only really see it in certain, specific situations. Such as, if I see you’ve designed and knit a sweater, then released a pattern. I haven’t bought this pattern, but i spend a few minutes examining your sweater (possible in person or in pictures), then declare that i will be making my own but not buying your pattern to do it. This seems fairly tacky, particularly if i say it to you! I knit my sweater and it looks like yours. I add it to my ravelry projects page and link you pattern. Yeah, i find that tacky – but really only socially. I still had to sit down and figure some math and chart some stitches and swatch at stuff, there’s a good amount of work that goes in to it at least. However, if i’m in a store and i see a sweater i like and i file it away in my brain for later, i don’t think that’s tacky. Hell, i might even spend some time dissecting the stitch pattern or construction, then i eventually go home and make some more notes and swatch and chart and do a bunch of math (i’m a big excel fan, there would be lots of math involved) and in the end i knit a sweater that more or less resembles the sweater i saw in the store. I don’t really think this is tacky. There are lots of differences between the sweaters. I probably used a different material/fiber, i probably used a different weight of yarn (since so many storebought sweaters are much finer than i’d ever… Read more »


I agree with this and a lot of the comments.  I think it’s sad when the creative community gets so protective of their own work that they inhibit the “I could make that myself” impulse in others.  It’s what first gets us all started, no?  Plus, like Tara said, most won’t ever get made, and we all still go buy stuff anyway.  People that never buy stuff weren’t the target market to begin with.

In fact, since we so regularly bounce off other’s ideas, I’d say we should all take a more humble mindset and release things into the world with an attitude that says, “I love this & think it’s fantastic, but someone out there will probably jump off this and find another way to do it.  Maybe even better.  Long live creativity.”


Recently, a friend of mine knit a sweater vest pattern of mine for her husband (she purchased the pattern through ravelry, which i really appreciate, but i also would have gladly given her a copy) and then was tasked with knitting a sweater vest for her brother in law. Not wanting to knit the same thing again (can you blame her?) she decided to plug a different cable into the vest pattern (which is a really smart way to go!), but before she even got started she pulled me aside at knit night and asked if it was okay for her to do this. I think it’s really respectful she asked – but completely unnecessary! She paid for the instructions, if she wants to use them with her own cable chart, why would i ever try to stop her? I almost felt kinda bad, wondering what kind of browbeating had she received or been near in the past where somebody made it seem like this kind of thing was totally unacceptable?  Realistically, it’s not as if a sweater vest, particularly my pattern, is a new invention, invented by me, exclusively for my use. I relied on knowledge that came before me in order to understand how to write the pattern, and yes i put a lot of work in to it, but that doesn’t make it sacred it any way.  I think a lot of people repin things, particularly patterns or tutorials, because they’re excited about them, and even if they have the capability of making them without looking at your information, or visiting your webpage/doing more than looking at the pin, the chances are most craft & creative people will choose to at least defer to your instructions before ever going it alone.  What really frustrates me is that… Read more »


Fun fact: the pattern is copyrighted, but the finished objects are not. You can do whatever you want with stuff you make from patterns no matter how “browbeater” people get.

Jessika Hepburn

Hi Kim, I’m not usually compelled to leave a comment on a site I have never visited before and disagree, but I just have to call attention to a few things I feel are being missed in the discussion.  What is bunk about seeing something that feels wrong for you, noticing that others feel the same and finding a solution that makes you feel more at peace? Not in control-but like you have respectfully said your bit and can move on. I agree that once we create something and send it out into the world that we release control of it, but that doesn’t mean we stop caring about it. As illustrated perfectly by the anecdote about the mosaic-it felt crappy to see the beautiful piece stuck over the toilet, he said something, they moved it. He didn’t have to, but by saying that their decision didn’t feel good for him he made them consider how they may have affected him and change if they chose to. While we can’t control what others do with our work or what is done with once shared it is completely within our rights to say how we feel about it! And encourage others to think of whether their actions are truly respectful. In my eyes this is very similar, Katrina & other creatives were upset about seeing their work dismissed and wanted to do something about it. Its rude to go up to an artist and tell them what they do is easy and I would react to a statement like that by telling the person they were being hurtful and dismissive but good luck with their creative adventures. Same thing here. By all means pin the work with a link to the shop or the name of the artist under inspiration or… Read more »

Jessika Hepburn

Hi Kim-I think these are definitely two different topics. The first is that small creative businesses can absolutely act and behave like large corporations that think the bottom line is the end all be all of a successful business-I fail to understand why they would choose to. I disagree with profit being the sole determinant of a successful brand. Businesses that demonstrate that their bottom line is the people they serve, the quality of their product,  their community and their ethics/integrity are the ones that get my money every time. I think the power of creative businesses is to build a supportive and innovative community that has values above and beyond that of making money. I can think of a number of large businesses that are highly ethical/respectful with how they interact with their communities and would never consider them “bottom line” corporations. Its not the size of the business its their attitude/ethics! I think the idea of small businesses growing bigger while valuing things other then just profit is awesome. Which is why I have dedicated a lot of my career towards social enterprise and entrepreneurship. 
To me Katrina’s stance is the opposite of whining or complaining about feelings being hurt.   There is no kowtowing or demands, just saying that she & others don’t think its cool and are making a statement that they won’t be doing it. No ones forcing anyone to bend to whims just offering another perspective. In response to Kristen below I don’t think sharing how people feel about seeing their works pinned as projects is suppressing discussion but opening it up to a genuine dialogue.

Thanks again for getting my gears whirring: )


While it’s great for people to think about issues such as respect, one of the things that can bug me about being part of the online crafty community is the sense that hurting someone’s feelings is the worst thing one can do. I sell knitting patterns, and people complaining publicly about my patterns or coming up with their own way to make the same project might be aware that I might see their comments. And yes, they might (and do) sting when someone dismisses my work. But a culture that suppresses such discussion, or suppresses the ability to take inspiration from the work of others is one that will collapse inward. An insular community that suppresses perceived rudeness is one that allows unscrupulous practices to flourish, because if you suppress anything that might hurt someone’s feelings, you also suppress genuine issues such as sellers who don’t follow through on orders, employers who don’t pay promptly, bloggers who make promises they don’t keep. We’re talking about a specific issue here, but it’s part of a larger idea that crafty businesses are personal to the exclusion of business. When sellers complain publicly about others copying their work, or pinning things that are handmade with the intent of making them themselves, or are perceiving appreciation as a threat, then this creates a culture where customers may feel like they’re being put on an opposite side from the makers, or where the makers are perceived as an exclusive and protective clique. Of course it’s good to promote attribution, but I think telling people not to use our work as inspiration at all will in fact lead away from attribution. Why risk being accused of copying or unscrupulous behavior if you liked someone’s doohickey and later made one that was similar? Instead, I think greater… Read more »


so i’m one of those people who pins something that i like and files it under “i want to make all of the things.”  and if it’s simple enough, yeah i’m not going to buy the pattern.  or if i like the item but hate the color or have a better idea for a color, yeah i’m not going to buy it. but chances are, given that i’ve got 100’s of pins now, i’m not going to make it anyway.  but even if i did try to recreate work that i had seen online in a photo, what i’ve come to learn, is that very little of anything that we make now is truly original.  all i have to do is look at the multitude of knitting pattern books with a basic v-neck sweater pattern in it.  but i’m a knitter and a crocheter.  i’m not going to buy a cowl pattern unless it’s really really special.

on the other hand, if i see something that’s sewn or quilted and i love it? i’m not going to try and recreate it because my sewing skills are just not that good. 

anyway, that’s my thing.


As an avid Pinterest user, occasional DIYer and a knitter, I would just like to note that the comparison to knitting patterns with these craft items on Etsy is not really viable. I work for a company that hires designers to write knitting patterns for us that we then publish — a LOT of work goes into these patterns, and not usually just by a single person. In addition, many of these patterns are protected by various types of copyright law that *do* exist. If someone knits it up on their own and posts it as inspired by, that’s not illegal. It’s only if that person is trying to SELL the final item that it becomes sketchy.  From the original argument (that caused this blog post), I got the feeling that the pinning was more of the issue than the making. And selling copies was never even addressed. If you put something up on the internet, which is huge and public and unregulated, it is going to show up other places. Pinterest is an online bulletin board that you can share with the world. I constantly pin things that are clothing items, couture items, paintings, crafts, objects from corporate stores, objects from Etsy stores — as DIY. How is it that none of the major stores seem to care, but the Etsy sellers are getting whiny about it? Because their profit margins are effected? If you aren’t making something that makes you money, and is easy to duplicate, maybe you should ask yourself why you have a business online in the first place. There are many different markets available. If you want to be the only soap seller or believe you’re the only person who can melt crayons onto canvas, go to your local farmer’s market. Don’t put things up… Read more »


I want to thank everyone for weighing in on this discussion. This topic has continued to bring up countless smaller debates and questions and I think it’s important for each individual to decide where they feel comfortable drawing the line. Are there exceptions? Sure. Is it a slippery slope? Absolutely.   This is not so much about “hurt feelings” as it is about starting at the most basic of community-building concepts – showing outward respect for others. I hope we can all agree that this IS a community covering new territory and with the proliferation of idea sharing sites, we’re all playing a role in shaping these sites from day to day. I’ll say it again that each one of us is ultimately responsible for the content we put out there – what do you want your curated content to say about you? The answers are going to vary since we’re all on our own path here, but I know I’m not alone in my admiration for those that challenge themselves to come up with interesting, original ideas instead of adding to the chorus of complacency with the way things were, are, and always will be.   Whether you’re selling a product, service, or your opinions in the written form of a blog, I completely agree that the onus is on the individual or company to create something worth buying and market it in a way that builds trust. Concurrently, I hope we can also agree that the onus is on artists, crafters, and makers to search for a bit more inspiration inside their own head, drawing from their own perspective rather than relying on too much “inspiration” from outside sources.   Thanks again for taking the time to read and respond – there are definitely specific exceptions and niches… Read more »

Natalia Heilke

This is a really interesting discussion, and something that I imagine most crafters spend at least some time thinking about. For my own part,  I write a crafting blog that specifically teaches people how to do particular crafts, and my personal interest (other than crafting itself) is in creating more community around crafting, and bringing more people into that community, convincing them that yes they CAN make stuff themselves. I’ve received comments on my blog from people who craft a lot, and from people who don’t, and people from both groups have tried my crafts and shared photos. It’s deeply satisfying to know that other people out there can share my passion for crafting, and that I can help to develop that passion in others. A guy in Australia recently told me he’d tried one of my tutorials and it was the first time he’d done any sewing since high school home ec. He seemed to really enjoy it, showed me what he’d made, and even said he’d used one of the crafts as a prize for a local games night. Now how cool is that?!  Also, I am undeniably one of those people who looks at things and says “I could make that,” and I enjoy then figuring out how to do so. So I can’t really stand against that mentality. That said, I try to also honour the skill and creativity of other crafters, linking to them and tweeting about the work of other crafters that impresses me, and I do my best to avoid posting tutorials that specifically demonstrate how to do a craft that is someone else’s clever idea. It can be a fine line sometimes. But there are also many MANY crafts out there that have become sort of public domain. Needle felting a round… Read more »

Amy Johnson

I’m late to this comment party, but I’d like to add another perspective. I’m an art teacher who blogs about teaching art.  I use Pinterest and blogs as a way to source ideas for cool lessons etc. etc. The art ed. community is growing more and more aware of the importance of citing wherein your “project inspiration” derived if you are using it on your own blog (mostly as a courtesy).  But, I’ve run into some online crafty business people who need. to. calm. down. About 18 months ago I was a full time graduate student and a full time art teacher. One of my high school students came across a jewelry ceramicist online and wanted to try and create her own jewelry.  I walked her through the process of creating a piece that was similar to the artist, and then walked her through creating her own, unique piece that was inspired by that process.   The results were so great that I posted images of myself (NOT okay to post pics of underage kids -that aren’t your own- on your blog!) wearing her jewelry. I felt I explained the project.  I didn’t link to the artist because I had forgotten her name -as I wasn’t the person who sourced the inspiration work anyway. But, I did mention that my student had been inspired by an online source. About a week later I got a legal cease and desist letter from the artist.  She also had figured out from my blog that I was a graduate student. She had to research to figure out at which university and then figured out who the names of all of my professors and the Dean of my college.  In that same original contact email she copied my Dean and explained that I was copying her work, selling it, and turning it in for a grade.  She included pictures… Read more »

Jenn A

Kim, where do you draw the line with this example? It doesn’t come from Pinterest, but from someone who saw a wildly successful pattern on Ravelry and made their version of it, and posted it under the name “Purloined”

Jenn A

And how about this example, where a copyscraper/splogger took original material from Ravelry, posted it on their site, pinned it on Pinterest, and now people are looking at it like it’s the splogger’s original material?

Lauren Venell

Though I don’t really use Pinterest in particular, I have not found an overabundance of politeness to be the issue int he craft community.  I have actually been much more struck by the number of crafty business that seem to have no apparent understanding of intellectual property.  It is amazing what people to think is within the bounds of “fair use.”  A few examples I have encountered lately: –Selling an item made with an embroidery or knitting pattern.  The seller bought the pattern, and therefore thought they owned the rights to do whatever they wanted to with it, including profit from it. –Taking someone’s image and claiming it as their own after minimally altering it, for example, by  changing the color, or pasting an embellishment on it. –Selling prints of someone else’s original artwork because they took an “original photo” of it, and are therefore technically selling prints of the photo. I agree there is often a fine line when it comes to intellectual property, but some of this stuff is getting ridiculous. Just look at the brou-ha-ha that errupted a year or so ago when a woman won a Spoonflower fabric design contest using a free image she downloaded from the blog, “A Print A Day.”  People spotted it immediately and the pile-on that ensued got ugly, but the most shocking thing about the whole story was that the woman was a professional photographer, who presumably should have known better, since she also makes a living selling her images. I wholeheartedly agree with the basic argument in Kim’s post.  I have had my work copied dozens of times, but my business thrives because I continue to make newer and better products, not because I stamp my feet about people “stealing my ideas.”  But I disagree that there is an… Read more »


I agree that there seems to be a lack of understanding of intellectual property on all sides of the discussion.    I would respectfully suggest that your first example – buying a pattern  and selling the item made with the pattern- is not a violation of intellectual property or copyright laws.   The copyright is on the pattern so  I can’t reproduce the pattern or templates for sale but the item made belongs to me to do with as I please.   Ethically, I should give credit to the pattern maker in any postings about it online and in any sales attempt.  I should not put it forth as my own design.  I realize that some people feel it’s unethical to sell a design you didn’t create but it’s certainly not an infringement of copyright and as long as you give credit for the design, it’s not stealing intellectual property.   It’s like recipes.  I made an apple pie from a Southern Living recipe.   I added pecans (buttered and dusted with cinnamon sugar) that the recipe didn’t call for.  I have now modified the recipe and if I wanted to share this modification online with a nod to the recipe that inspired it, I could without violating any laws or ethics.  Even if I made the item exactly as the recipe stated, I could sell it without problem.  That would not be a violation of the copyright.  I can’t reproduce the recipe without modifying it, but I can sell the product made from the recipe. I’m not sure I understand your second example – if you are referring to a photo  – then I agree that’s wrong.   Your description reminds me of a concept in papercrafting – CASE’ing.   Case means Copy and share everything.   The rules… Read more »


I loved Evie’s post about that topic
“I believe anything good is worth giving away – that includes ideas, art, beauty, design – I believe it should be shared. So please, steal my ideas. Steal my artwork and designs. Copy my stuff. Copy my blog layout. Steal my projects, make them yours.
I really don’t mind. I hope it builds you as an artist to find your own original ideas and builds the creative community towards a more giving, sharing place.” Via Evie here

Michell Kaul

Well said!! I have an etsy shop but I also write a tutorial for everything I make! I LOVE sharing ideas and encouraging others…..I would much rather show someone how to make something than sale it!

I can’t believe how many people email asking if they can make and sell a crochet item from a  pattern I wrote for their church or some sorta fair…well that’s why I shared it!

Laurie Wheeler

I heart you Kim. Great post. 

Kevin Bonnett

I’m all for giving craftspeople credit for making something. They’ve spent time, money, and effort in making something. Most of us don’t, or can’t, do such things for ourselves. Those that DO deserve their due… good or bad.

However, it’s clear that genuinely new ideas are more rare than ever. Just yesterday I listened to a science fiction podcast (Aural Delights episode 101, produced by Tony C. Smith of “Starship Sofa”) which contained the best ever explanation I’ve ever heard of the “idea shortage”.

The featured story was “Melancholy Elephants” by Spider Robinson (a sci-fi great!) and I believe a listen would go a long way to helping explain the point you make here. If you’d rather just read the short story, Mr. Robinson has graciously posted it on his site for all to share –
or listen to it here –

I recommend the podcast. Spider Robinson reads the story himself. And, I must say, he’s a marvelous narrator. Whichever way you choose to enjoy it, and enjoy it you will, it’s well worth a listen for any involved in this discussion.

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