Posted by: jinniver | April 13, 2009

The price of free patterns, and the sweater that ate Ravelry

queue eating sweater

In June of 2008, this is what my friend’s activity tab looked like. It was the inception of the phenomena known as The Sweater that Ate Ravelry…also known as the February Lady Sweater.  It’s easy for me to see why the sweater became so popular so quickly.  It’s a beautiful design, and from the projects that have been posted, it looks very flattering to a number of body types.  How many projects?

Just a few.  It’s also in 8677 queues.  It’s not quite in the same realm as Fetching (11039 projects) or even Clapotis (10793 projects)…but they were published in May 2006 and September 2004, respectively. February Lady Sweater was published in June 2008. And neither takes quite as much time as a full-sized sweater.

Unfortunately, such popularity can be a double-edged sword, as February Lady Sweater designer Pamela Wynne recently revealed.

If you haven’t read her blog post yet (and you might have, since it’s been Twittered and reblogged extensively recently), please do so before reading further.  Personally, I think this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

I know, even without the benefit of reading extensive convoluted Ravelry threads, that copyright and licensing law can be painfully complicated.  But these parts aren’t:  you don’t take something that doesn’t belong to you.  You don’t benefit from someone else’s hard work.  You do give credit where credit is due.

Too many people think that just because a pattern is free, that means they can do as they please with it.  They can photocopy it to hand out to all of their friends.  They can make things using it and sell those items.  They can sell the pattern itself as if it’s their own, as I blogged about last year…ironically, about the same time the FLS pattern was released.  Or, as has happened to Wynne, they can use her pattern to teach a class–making money off the class and the sale of the yarn–without even bothering to give her credit…even though her Creative Commons license states clearly that the pattern can not be used for commercial purposes without obtaining her permission. Some stores have respected Wynne and her work and done that from the start.  Others have apologized and sought permission after having their error pointed out (and received both forgiveness and permission).

And others have failed in basic courtesy to a designer.

Let’s be honest here:  who benefits from free patterns?  First and foremost, knitters and crocheters do.  I learned to knit thanks to free patterns, and now that my skills have improved, I still have a plethora of beautiful and even intricate patterns to choose from at no cost to me.  Second, yarn stores benefit.  We have to get that yarn somewhere, right?  If there weren’t patterns to knit or crochet (free or for sale), what would we need the yarn for?  And I’ve seen it happen:  people who get patterns for free often decide to “upgrade” their yarn purchase since they saved money buying a pattern.  More money for the yarn store!

It’s only when you get to #3 on the list of beneficiaries, in my opinion, that you find the designer him/herself.  There are designers like me:  I only offer free patterns, so all I get from offering those designs are the thanks from knitters who use them and visits to my blog–which, for me, is more than sufficient…but it would be a whole different story if someone was making money off of, say Jeffrey’s Slipstitch Wristers.  Other designers sell some of their designs in addition to the ones they offer for free, so they get the added benefit of increased exposure hopefully leading to increased sales.

Of course, if people are using one of those free designs to make money themselves without giving credit to the designer, so much for increased exposure, eh?

The outrage I feel over the subject is not for me, even though I offer free designs…partly because as far as I know none of my designs are being exploited.  I’m outraged because I’m one of those in the first category of beneficiaries.  I use free patterns, and I delight in what I’ve been able to find.  So I feel it behooves me to speak on their behalf and let those who would exploit these generous people–whether through ignorance (which it is, in most cases) or malice–that I will not stand by in silence.



  1. The FLS is an adaptation, not an original design. EZ should get the bulk of the credit, in my opinion. If she wants to be compensated for her work, she needs to do original work (not enlargements of baby clothes). Yes, it’s a great pattern, but her work has a bunch of technical flaws. Her work needs to be cleaned up a bunch if she wants to be considered a designer. And the real test is, can she create another piece that stirs up this much attention? If that happens, I will gladly eat my words. As for the yarn shop part, they have been doing the class thing since forever and getting away with it. It’s really no big deal.

  2. Saying that something is ok just because it’s been done before or because it’s always been done is not a valid argument.

    Yes, the designer didn’t design it from scratch, but how much is designed from scratch anyways? Without stitchionaries and the use of other patterns, not many new patterns would be created. Without this one person making the pattern accessible and doing the ground work, the FLS would never have been, period. And she deserves a lot of credit for that.

    I must admit that I was surprised first that she was upset that LYS’ were using her free pattern, but that was not the case. She was upset that they didn’t credit her or ask her permission, which is a different thing all together.

  3. Sue, I have to say that your response summed up “the problem attitude” quite neatly. You’ve decided in your own mind that just because Wynne was inspired by someone else’s design that her rights as a designer don’t deserve your respect. Not having knit my own FLS yet myself, I can’t address any technical flaws, but frankly, your last argument against her being a “real” designer was just snark. A person who writes just one design is a designer and deserves to have their work respected.

    The point to the classes being taught by the LYSs is not that they are being taught, but that credit is not given to designers when their designs are used. When it’s a for sale pattern, most LYSs do the right thing and require each student to purchase their own copy. But when the design is free, too many LYS treat that as their property, and it isn’t. Just because it’s happened before does not make it right.

    The unfortunate thing is that the point to this post was to make people with your incorrect assumptions think about them and realize that hurting designers is bad for all of us, but I see that in your case I failed. Hopefully it’s more successful with others.

  4. I can only say that in chief i utterly agree with your comments, jinniver. Whether one considers the person who conceived of enlarging the sweater, a designer or not, is irrelevant. If she made mistakes, this is not surprising. Given my most recent forray into designing (jinniver can tell you about test knitting my Heirloom Baby Bonnet) i completely understand that it is much more difficult to produce error free designs that i had previously thought.

    One way or hte other, she thought of it. she did the leg work. people are now taking advantage of her work and not giving her credit. NOT COOL. The answer is not, well LYSs do stuff like that and EZ deserves all the credit. the answer is, do the right thing.

    when i was recording CDs, i knew that people regularly illegally copied CDs. this does not make it ok. the fact that i was recording some music that was not my own, didn’t make it more ok. people’s intellectual property is their own, and their rights should be respected!

  5. Thanks for a great post, Jen! I am currently knitting the FLS as you know, and the pattern does clearly give credit to Elizabeth Zimmermann and to Barbara Walker, because it was a sort of meshing of two design concepts that makes the sweater work.

    I have made the baby version and the two sweaters are completely different animals in my opinion. And the lace pattern itself is nothing unique that even Elizabeth Zimmermann would have invented. I’ve seen it in several stitch dictionaries.

    It took a lot of work to take a baby sweater and reinvent it as something that would work in adult form. Pamela Wynne does deserve a lot of credit for doing this so successfully. The fact that this sweater looks so cute on so many different types of bodies can’t have been all accident.

    Thanks too, for reading my blog and for your comments today. You’re helping me to give a little more respect to my own work.


%d bloggers like this: