Category Archives: Blog

The Tutorial

This is the story of how a bad thing happened, and a good thing happened because of it. But a big part of the story is how you can keep that bad thing from happening in the first place. It takes two of us to tell the story, so we agreed to write it together and post it on both of our blogs.

Melanie: I’m Melanie McNeil and I write the blog Catbird Quilt Studio. I design my own quilts, mostly medallion quilts. And I help teach other people to design, too. Part of that is showing and describing my process as I work, and part is figuring out how to do things, and then creating tutorials. I enjoy the geometry of quilts, including the math. If someone knows how to do the math, they don’t need other people’s patterns, and they are more powerful because of it.

Lorna: I’m Lorna McMahon and I blog at Sew Fresh Quilts. I design and make quilts and, after testing, offer the patterns for sale. I offer basic quilt making information as well as a variety of free quilt alongs. And host the Let’s Bee Social Wednesday linky party as a way for other quilt bloggers to meet up each week, to connect and to share what they are working on.

Melanie: So the bad thing that happened — the story starts well before that. It starts in early 2014. I wanted to use a square-in-a-square block in a quilt, the kind of block that is called an “economy block.” I didn’t know how to do the math of creating them, and I wondered if someone else had a tutorial out there that would show me. I looked at lots of quilters’ blogs. Several had tutorials on how to make a specific size of block. Some were by paper piecing and some were by cutting patches for their own size of block. None of them were generic with the math included. So I wrote one.

It explains the math (which is actually very cool) and also gave a cheat sheet for people who want to make one of several sizes of blocks without doing the math. Almost since I posted the tutorial, it’s been my most-viewed piece.

Lorna: I took on a project where a quilt fabric company sent me fabric to make a quilt. I really should know by now that this is not what I want to do. Yet, it is hard to resist the idea of being sent fabric to use. It’s just that you must then use only the fabric they have sent. I have long struggled with using prints. And this project was all prints with no solids or “reads like a solid” in the mix to break things up.

I had committed to making something and knew these prints would not be suitable for my usual style. They would not work for me to design my typically pieced block. So I started looking for an easy way to just get something made and chose a traditional block.

I looked up a tutorial to make those blocks. Made those blocks. Put it together. And my quilt was finished. But I was not proud of the quilt and dreaded posting about it. I wanted to offer something more and decided to add a tutorial to the post. But I was lazy and feeling low about the whole experience.

I found Melanie’s Economy Block tutorial online and then – I stole that tutorial. Now an explanation – not that I am attempting to excuse what I did, but rather to attempt to describe the reasons behind the why I did what I did. No, I did not simply copy and paste the tutorial. I took my own photos. Made my own charts. Omitted the math formula because I wanted the tutorial to be simpler. And did not really change much concerning the written instructions. There really isn’t much you can do to change how you say, “Place fabric A on fabric B and sew a seam”. But even if I had found a completely unique way of writing it…. It was still wrong. It was still stealing. If nothing else, at the very least, I would have stolen the style of how that tutorial was written. At the time, I must have felt that these changes would make it “less wrong”.

And I published it without another thought. That is until I received an email requesting that I remove that tutorial.

Melanie: Um. It wasn’t really a request. Recently I wanted to post about a new cool thing I found out about economy blocks, a math thing. And I googled the term just to see if there was anything new out there. The third item on the list was Lorna’s tutorial. My tutorial. I knew it was mine because I knew there was nothing else out there like it at the time I wrote it.

I was mad. And I sent her an email and commented on the post and put up a blog post of my own, asking my readers to demand she remove it. I didn’t mince words. ugh. Embarrassing. I do not always react well when I am mad, and this was a prime example of it.

Lorna: I emailed back a reply right away. I apologized and complied immediately. I did not go to the links provided in the email which would have enabled me to compare the tutorials. Even if they would not have been considered by some to be without question the same, I knew what I had done was wrong. And I was able to freely admit that. But that was not enough.

Melanie had written a post about it on her blog prior to me reading her email. But I did not get a chance to read her blog post. When I sent my apology, she edited her post. But there were comments on her blog, naming me and the tutorial I had posted. And that bothered me. Why? Why did that bother me? Selfishness again. I wanted the whole thing to simply go away.

I had apologized and deleted the tutorial. Shouldn’t this have been handled just between the two of us? No. She had every right to post about it on her blog. She did nothing wrong. And I deserved to be “named and shamed”.

Melanie: I’m gonna break in here and say “yes,” I should have first just emailed Lorna. Even if that in particular had been ugly because of my ugly mad, it would have been better to do that in private. And I’m incredibly sorry that I made it public before first contacting her. It really wasn’t fair in any way.

Lorna again: At the time, did I not know what I was doing was wrong? I had never done this in school. I knew that it was wrong to take someone else’s work, change it around a little, use a few different words. Why did I do it? That is something that I have been questioning of myself ever since.

I thought about my children. How would I feel if they did something like this in school now? How would I react? What would I do to make it clear they understood that this was wrong? Well, I would talk to them and hope that they learned their lesson of course, but I wouldn’t punish them severely. Lesson learned. And I felt I deserved that understanding too.

Then I read a piece in our newspaper about a police officer that told an inappropriate joke. He offended those in his presence and was reported. Now he is being put through a “process”. In his interview, initially I felt for him. You do one thing wrong and you are judged for that one thing, no matter how many good or positive things you did before. This is the one you are now known for. You have lost people’s trust and respect. And you cannot take it back. You cannot undo it. You cannot make it right. Then he said something about how if he was disciplining his children, if they were in his situation, he would “leave the sledge hammer in the garage”.

And it dawned on me….

I am not a child. I am a grown woman. I know better. I deserve the punishment. Because what I did was wrong. I was not afraid to admit it to the one person that I had hurt directly. I wholeheartedly apologized. I did not try to diminish what I had done. I did not try to deny it. But what I was now afraid to do was to admit it to everyone else. Afraid to lose followers. Afraid to lose sales. Afraid to lose face.

I would never have taken a person’s pattern and copied it in this way. I would not like, and have not liked, the experience of having someone copy one of my patterns in this way. It’s happened to me with blog posts. It’s happened to me when my Elephant Parade had been printed by someone else in a quilt magazine. Why did I not think of this when I took the tutorial? Why did I not simply state “This is where I found a great tutorial for making this block” and provide a link? Selfishness. And a big ego.

It took me a while to go through a range of emotions that started with selfishness, shame and fear of this coming out to everyone else. “Everyone else” includes you, if you are reading this. I wronged you too. I took someone’s work and told you it was mine. I lied to you. And I am apologizing to you now, too.

I am over the fear of losing friends. Losing followers. Losing sales. Losing respect. If all those things happen, they happen. I will go on from here as a better person. I have learned a great lesson. And I could not go on without writing this post.

Melanie: It was a bad thing that happened. She did the wrong thing, and I reacted both wrongly and out of proportion. Bad happened.

But then something amazing and good happened. Lorna and I started to email, and we found that we actually like each other. And we both love to write and analyze what we do and why and how we do it. And I think we both understand how such a thing can happen, even as an exception to our normal behavior.

We both wanted to write this post together, because the main subject of using someone else’s work as your own is important to both of us. As we emailed, we discussed — how many? — lots of situations of our own or that we’d seen where whether and how to give credit isn’t always clear. I know I fail at it on the edges, even though I try to do the right thing. So I know for people who aren’t thinking about it, it’s easy to do someone wrong.

Lorna: It was a bad thing that happened. Bottom line is – I did do the wrong thing. It was helpful for me to do more than simply apologize for what I had done. Through our email thread it became apparent to me that I also owed Melanie an explanation. Not excuses, but a real analyzation of what had caused me to do what I had done and to override what I knew was wrong.

And that is where the healing began. I was introduced to the kind and generous person that Melanie is. Through our shared emails, and as I explored her blog, I could see that she deserved the respect I had not provided her with. And I am so grateful that she was willing to make this turn into something good. At the very least, we have become friends. But we also have a desire to help others avoid the pain and hurt that was caused.

Melanie and Lorna: In a way, the first part of this post is selfish on both of our parts, confessing our sins, so to speak. If you’ve gotten this far, we’d like to  wrap up this post with a positive ending and give you some helpful information.

What are some ways to respect ownership of other people’s work? They include both giving credit appropriately and not using someone else’s work without permission.

  • Instead of writing a new post to explain something, if you have already found a well written tutorial, simply provide a link to that tutorial. And you may even want to go the extra mile – contact the author and let them know how much you enjoyed their post and tell them you would like to provide a link to it.
  • Have you seen a quilt that you liked while searching online? Don’t share that photo on your blog without first asking the person who has posted it online. If they are willing to allow you to share the photo on your blog, always provide a link to the maker.
  • Even if a quilt is antique and the maker is long gone, photos of the quilt may be copyright-protected and not in the public domain. Someone owns the quilt, and someone owns the photo. Museums often provide photos freely, but some do not. Check their policy before sharing photos.
  • Some quilt shows and exhibitions invite you to photograph. Others request you don’t. Please honor that request. For those that allow it, take a picture of both the quilt and the maker’s name card so you can give credit correctly. If you want to share the photos, get permission from the maker first.
  • Sometimes our inspirations are diffused — we like a set of colors or the idea of something, or several things. But sometimes our inspirations are specific and unique. Again, check with the source if possible, and regardless, give credit for it.
  • Copying a pattern someone else bought is stealing from the pattern designer. If you like the pattern enough to make it, and to pay for the fabrics that go into it, do the right thing and pay for the pattern, too.
  • Just as copying a pattern someone else bought is stealing from the pattern designer, if you see an example of a quilt that you like, and you don’t need the pattern to reproduce it because you can figure out the math on your own, you should still credit the pattern designer when you share about your quilt on your blog or enter it in a show.
  • And if something is free to you, it doesn’t mean it is free for you to share. Online sources, in particular, provide freebies to draw you to their site. If your friend or your blog reader wants to use the free pattern you used, give them a link to the site where you got it.
  • Don’t pass off someone else’s work as your own. Taking credit for something someone else did, even by omission, is wrong.
  • If someone else quilts for you, and you label your quilts, include the quilter’s name on the label, too. It shows respect for the quilter’s expertise.

Laws are different in different countries, so we can’t give you specific laws to go by. (Always consult legal experts in your own country if you have concerns about this!) Instead, we’d like you to consider what is fair to the originator of creative work, whether it is words, photos or drawings, quilts, patterns, or tutorials. They have put time and effort and expertise into their creation. Regardless of their intention to make money off of it or not, they deserve acknowledgement and respect for their work.

Here are a few links if you want more information and perspectives on this difficult issue.

How Copyright Affects the Quilter by Kathleen Bissett. Discusses Canadian law but also general principles.

Can You Copyright A Sewing Pattern? by Abby Glassenberg at While She Naps. Primarily discusses US law.

A Word About Ethics: Photographing Quilt Shows and Judging by Anna Hergert at Anna Hergert, Art & Design. On taking photos at quilt shows.

Why Stealing Patterns is Like Killing the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg by Sam Hunter at Hunter’s Design Studio. In particular about using patterns you haven’t paid for, but also the broader topic.

Giving Credit and Avoiding Copyright Violations by Melanie McNeil at Catbird Quilt Studio. A general discussion on playing fair, with links to other sources.

Did you Plagiarize that Quilt? by Joanne Cleaver at Chicago Tribune. A story of taking a quilt design you have found on Pinterest and making your own instructions. Is this wrong?

 

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Giving Credit and Avoiding Copyright Violations

There’s a new skirmish in the quilting community. Apparently the admin for a Facebook group used tutorials and patterns created by other people, without attribution. When challenged on it, she kicked the complainers out of the group and made the group private.

Stealing is wrong, and though I don’t know the details of this story, it sounds like the admin did the wrong thing.

A couple of bloggers/quilters I respect have written about the incident and how to avoid copyright infringement. (See Sam Hunter’s post and Lori Kennedy’s post.) I’ve written about it, too, with some different links and thoughts. Since the last time I posted about it was a couple of years ago, I’ve updated that information below to provide it again.

Do you remember Robert Fulghum’s famous essay? “All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten” begins like this:

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 5.20.28 PM

The essay was published in Robert Fulghum’s book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I am using this excerpt based on “fair use” rules for copyright.

Honestly, we don’t share everything, but I know bloggers and crafters are incredibly generous. Mostly we don’t hit. And as to messes, what happens in your studio should stay in your studio!

But there are three things here I think we should take seriously. One is playing fair, and one is not taking things that aren’t yours. And when we do mess up, we should apologize.

I see two separate areas of trouble when it comes to playing fair and giving deserved credit. One is for bloggers, and the other is for quilters and crafters. Obviously the two groups overlap.

BLOGGERS
Sometimes, in enthusiasm to share cool stuff and brilliant thoughts, bloggers use work that is not their own. Using information from other people might include photos, words, charts, tables, logos, or illustrations. The easiest violation is with photos. I wrote some about this earlier this year.

Are you sharing photos of someone else’s work? (This happens a lot after quilt shows.) Did you give them credit? There are both ethical and legal concerns on this. Legally there are copyright rights to the photo itself, and also to the creative work being photographed, such as a quilt. I am not the best person to speak about the legal issues, but I know enough to be very careful about sharing photos of anyone else’s quilts. In fact, unless I am linking directly to a picture someone else posted, I pretty much don’t do it anymore. (Some photos are in the public domain, meaning there is no copyright protection. Those can be shared freely. Still, information about the creator and the owner of the work should be included.)

Ethically, using someone else’s work without crediting is taking something that’s not yours, and it’s not playing fair. Ask yourself how you would feel if a photo of your quilt appeared in various blogs, but the bloggers didn’t have the courtesy to credit it with your name, or a link back to where they found your glorious quilt. Or even to ask permission to use the picture.

If you’d like more information on posting other people’s content appropriately, see a really helpful post from HubSpot Blogs. It is on citing sources and not stealing other people’s work on the internet.

QUILTERS, SEWISTS (SEWERS), CRAFTERS, ET AL
When it comes to creating tangible (rather than digital) work, there are other ways to take things that aren’t yours. Here again, there are obvious (I hope!) examples of wrong-doing, as well as others that might seem more grey.

First, a lot of people see no harm in copying a pattern that someone else purchased. If your friend buys a pattern and you want to make the same thing, you can just make a photocopy or scan of hers. In fact, your whole bee or swap or small group can have copies, too, right? But there is harm, as it deprives the creator of pay for their work. Imagine working — many hours of effort — to create a product for sale. Imagine someone taking it without paying for it. That is stealing, plain and simple.

Sam Hunter wrote about this better than I can. When a friend-of-a-friend stole one of Sam’s patterns rather than paying for it, it created a sticky situation, to say the least.

And remember, this isn’t true just of patterns that you buy one at a time. It also counts when you didn’t buy your own book or magazine patterns, but photocopied someone else’s instead.

Now comes the harder part, the grey area. Now also comes the caveat. I am NOT an attorney and am not providing legal advice. Most of the information provided below is based on two posts by Jen Bernstein. [Links below.] She is an attorney, but she also is not providing you legal advice. If this is an area of concern for you, please retain your own attorney. 

The design (what a quilt or project looks like) and the pattern (instructions of how to make it) are separately copyrighted. So let’s say you see a quilt and don’t want to buy the pattern. Instead you spend time figuring out how the block is made, how many of them there are, and how big they likely are based on the size of the original. You draw it all out in EQ7 to get your layout and fabric requirements. Ta-DAH! It’s all good, huh? Well, maybe not.

Depending on how closely “your” design matches the original, you may have infringed on a copyright. For more information, see Jen Bernstein’s guest post “Can You Copyright a Sewing Pattern?” on Abby Glassenberg’s While She Naps blog.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours. That’s the legal part of this. Now I’ll return to the ethical part: play fair. To me that includes acknowledging others for their inspiration and contribution.

That might mean literal acknowledgment in blog posts and Instagram and pins, or on labels. Some people say when you label your quilts, you should include the pattern and designer’s name, or the source of inspiration. I’m not likely to put that stuff on labels (I design my own quilts), but I agree with the intention.

Or it might just mean having an attitude of gratitude when we create. None of us is the first ever to make a quilt. That happened thousands of years ago. Regardless of how original we think we are, how fresh our designs, we were inspired by something.

Even if we are “self-taught,” likely that means learning from online sources or books, which someone else wrote and made available to us. We should be proud of ourselves and our work — we do amazing things! But we can be humble enough to feel gratitude for those who came before us, and for those who work by our sides.

Facebook Catbird Quilt Studio Page

For a variety of reasons, I’ve decided to shut down the Catbird Quilt Studio Facebook page. If you’ve been getting links to my blog posts there and wish to continue following me, please follow me directly from here by using the Follow button on the right margin. Or if you use another reader service such as Bloglovin’ or Feedly, you can add the blog to your list that way.

After this post, I’ll no longer link posts to Facebook. In a week or two, I’ll remove the page.

Thanks so much for reading and following, however you choose to do so!

Some of My Favorite Posts from 2016

Carousel kaleidoscope

When trying to figure out why last year seemed so darn weird, I reviewed both my photos and my blog posts. (Sense of weirdness explained here.)  I also checked my stats to see which posts had the most views. As it turns out, only two posts from last year finished in my top 10. First was the aptly named How to Finish UFOs. The other one was Carousel,the Kaleidoscope Quilt. The quilt is pictured above. My all-time most viewed post, including last year, was Economy Block ANY Size! (With Cheat Sheet).

There are a few other blog posts I think are worth highlighting, though they are not necessarily about quilting or quilts.

Things I’ve Learned From Blogging
Thoughts on Work and Play
Green Quilting
Body Armor
Too Much

The posts I most enjoy writing are those that teach me something. Whether it is by articulating process on my own projects, discussing design principles and elements, or considering how we limit ourselves with labels, these posts push me farther in understanding how and why I create.

As we go into this new year, I thank you sincerely for reading. If you follow this blog, thank you for that, as well. There are so many ways you can spend your time, and I’m touched that you choose to spend some of it here.

P.S. WordPress just notified me this is my 500th post on this blog.

Things I’ve Learned From Blogging

This is my 400th post at Catbird Quilt Studio. It feels like this should be a profound moment in some way, but it’s not. In truth I don’t know how many blog posts I’ve written. A few of the posts here were re-blogs, though most were my original work. But I also contribute to the Our View From Iowa blog with Jim. We have 330 posts between us, some written by me and some by him and some by both of us. And before coming to WordPress, I contributed at a couple of other sites, totaling well north of 100 posts there. Let’s just guess there are something like 700 posts.

Rather than worrying about how many I’ve written, it might be better to consider what I’ve learned through the process. Below are some thoughts about writing and reading blogs (and posts elsewhere, such as Facebook,) and about relationships in our digital world.

ABOUT WRITING
Respect your readers. Assume they are intelligent and capable, and write to that level.

Offer something of value; make it worth the readers’ time. A story, a tutorial, helpful pointers on process, or just a great photo can make a reader glad they clicked in.

Edit. Edit for clarity, basic grammar, and spelling. Even with editing, mistakes happen. Fix them when you see them.

Don’t post when angry. Rants can be fun to write and read, but rants also can cause damage. Write when angry, perhaps, but re-read, edit, and post (or not) after you’ve calmed down.

Welcome comments and questions. Don’t just invite them, also respond to them. It’s a small way to acknowledge readers’ time and effort. I prefer to respond on the blog. I think it is more inclusive for all readers that way.

Give credit. Use links, credit photos, provide references and original sources. It’s not hard, and it’s the right thing to do.

ABOUT READING
Give the writer the benefit of the doubt. This includes both the person who originally posted as well as those who comment.

Disagree respectfully. Don’t call names, of the individual or whatever affiliation they seem to represent. If you’re disagreeing on a matter of fact, cite sources. If it is a matter of opinion, remember we’re all entitled to our own. Walking away often is a good strategy, regardless of the point of disagreement.

xkcd “Duty Calls”. http://xkcd.com/386/

Not everyone comes from your background. The online world includes all kinds, from all places. Maybe she calls it a “cushion” when really it is a “throw pillow.” Who cares?

Use your time wisely. Reading blogs is not an adequate substitute for real life. DO stuff, too. If you are a quilter, go quilt. If you have a spouse or other family or friends, talk to them. If you love to bake, bake something. Don’t just read baking blogs and imagine what great things you could make.

ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS IN OUR DIGITAL WORLD
Our online connections include blogging, Facebook and other social media sites, and basic email with people we’ve known for decades. I’ll preface this by saying I’ve had enormously rewarding personal experiences online, as well as deeply disappointing, even upsetting ones. Jim and I have even traveled halfway across the country to meet multiple people we’ve known online. Sometimes that has gone great (Hi Jim F! Hi Ben!) and other times less so.

A lot has been written about how difficult it is to convey meaning in words, without the larger context of intonation and facial expression. Some people always sound like jerks in writing. It can be hard to separate those who actually are jerks from those who are not. This is where it helps to know someone in a broader way.

Because we are working with limited information when dealing with people online, all of the above writing and reading pointers can help. Here are a couple more thoughts.

People disappear. Bloggers quit blogging, sisters slam doors, people you thought were dear friends walk away. After an attempt or two to communicate, let them go.

RPT is key. RPT stands for “Real People Time.” It’s the term Jim and I use for opportunities to socialize in person with others. While it’s tempting to hole up here by ourselves, we always feel better when we have a little RPT.

Blogging, in general, has been wonderful for me. I’ve made friends I would never have made without it. I’ve shared my quilting with thousands more than would have seen it otherwise. I’ve researched plants and animals and history. I’ve sharpened my technical writing skills with tutorials. This may be my 400th post or my 700th post, depending on how you count. The enrichment in my life has been infinite.

Thank you for reading this post. If you stop by regularly, please know I appreciate it.