Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sharing -- why not?

For some reason the theme of the week seems to be sharing -- authorized or not.  "Ask Harriete," a blog that I follow, focusing on art and craft, has been discussing the ethical issues regarding people getting information from a workshop, book, magazine or blog and passing it along to others.  I've gotten into a protracted back-and-forth via blog comments with Harriete Berman over whether it's a sin to do so.

Meanwhile, on the SAQA email list, people are discussing the etiquette of teaching a class or workshop based on somebody else's pattern or book.  To my pleasant surprise, the consensus is that the original artist should be gracious about giving permission to do so.  (Many past discussions on this and similar lists have taken the opposite tack, with people all up in arms about protecting their copyright.)  

I do agree with Harriete and others that it's a sin to commit plagiarism; that is, you should not copy a tutorial or workshop handout and distribute it to other people as if you had written it, nor should you teach a workshop on somebody else's pattern or technique as if you were the originator.  But I don't think there's anything terrible about passing along information that somebody else has written, or a technique that somebody else has developed, if you give credit to that person.

In fact, as I mentioned in one of my comments on her blog, I regard tutorials as free advertising.  Just because I've posted a tutorial on how to piece very fine lines, for instance, doesn't mean that people might not want to take a workshop on the same subject.

When you think about it, how much information can fit into a magazine or blog tutorial?  Perhaps enough to occupy a half-hour of in-person teaching time.  If the tutorial is interesting, won't a lot of people want to learn more?   (If a magazine tutorial constitutes the sum total of your knowledge on a subject, you're probably pretty lame to begin with.)

And people rarely sign up for a workshop simply to learn a certain technique, except at the really low end of the food chain.  Especially for multi-day sessions, they do it because they want to hang out with the teacher.  In such situations students learn a lot that's not in the curriculum, little techniques or tricks that come up in passing, or impromptu discussions of inspiration or work habits or organizing the studio or entering shows.

I've always believed that it's better to share information than to hoard it.  I love to do tutorials and to teach, and when people ask if they can use my techniques I always say yes.  After all, what's truly new in the world of art?

On the subject of free advertising, let me announce that I'll be teaching at the Crow Barn next year, a one-week workshop on fine-line piecing.  The 2014 workshops aren't up yet on the Barn website, but I'll let you know when they are.  And if anybody wants to come hang out with me in the finest quilt teaching/learning facility on the planet, I would be most honored and pleased.


  1. Putting aside the ethics of sharing, I do wonder why anyone would want to teach someone's stuff.

    Sounds pretty darn boring to me. I have too many ideas of my own, which are much more interesting to me.

    1. I agree, but then the stuff you teach is different from the project-oriented tasks taught in many local quilt shops and similar venues.

  2. Dear Kathy,
    I've been asked to teach your technique of fine line piecing at an evening of round-robin workshops in June for the Front Range Creative Quilters in Denver. When I share my work done with this technique, I always give you credit as my source. Is it all right with you if I share your techniques? This is a volunteer teaching opportunity.
    Thanks, Linda

    1. As I said in the title of this post, why not? If people are enthralled and want to learn more, send them to the Crow Barn next year! I always appreciate photos of how people have used the fine lines; send them to me afterwards and I'll post them in the blog.

  3. I love sharing and I do believe in it. I know that there are people who copy your work - there is a whole industry out there doing it- but there are two points that need to be made: 1. Copying works of art has been a time honoured way of learning 2. How much do you learn if you only copy?

    At the end of the day, if you copy something the likelihood is that you will be copying someone who is known and people will know that you are doing, with consequences to your reputation.

    I find it amazing when people spend ages debating the fact that someone copied 'their' line, square, mark or whatever.

    We live in an age where we can share and have the tools to spread ideas, so we must use them. After an idea goes round the block a few times you will find copies - good and bad -, but you will also find out that someone got hold of the concept and took it forward, to a new direction, to give new insights.

    Will I ever consider not taking a class because I learned the basics in a workshop? No. A tutorial, either on line or on a magazine, is no substitute for human interaction.

    If I teach someone something I learned at a workshop I do give credit.

    We have more to gain by sharing, than by becoming fearful of the sharing process in my humble opinion.

  4. When I did a course with Lisa Call - she is absolutely a wonderful teacher - we discussed this subject and she suggested a book: Steal like an artist by Austin Kleon.
    Good reading.

  5. Funny that you bring this up. Last week I was guilty of teaching another's pattern - sortof. It was a wrist pincushion and the audience was my small sewing guild group. I bought a inexpensive pattern online that turned out to be poorly hand drawn with a too-short wrist band fastened with a button, and the only instructions were a link to a 1 minute video.

    By the time I had prepared the pattern for class, I had redrawn the entire thing, changed the fastening to elastic, written out all the instructions, and it was a memory of it's former self. I still gave the original out as the inspiration piece though, and explained my changes. It seemed only fair.

    The funny thing is that in our little group, I probably could have just handed out the supplies and not made a pattern at all. We'd still have chatted our way though to a finished wrist pincushion.

    Glad to hear that the lynching mobs aren't likely to get their pitchforks out for a person who is teaching a class on someone else's technique, especially if credit is given. I do some garment sewing, and really, what is a blog-led sew-a-long with everyone answering each other's questions, providing tutorials on various aspects of construction and changeups? Pretty much teaching someone else's pattern and techniques.