Derivatively Yours


There is a long tradition of learning by copying. My journey in creativity has been no different. I started quilting several years ago by making quilts by Kaffe Fasset and Malka Dubrowsky using their patterns and their fabrics to make almost identical replicas of their work. Attracted to the aesthetic of the Modern Art Movement and buoyed by my improved skills I soon started designing quilts using artwork seen on Pinterest as guides in my making.

Why is this germaine you ask? Last year I had two quilts accepted and displayed in the Modern Quilt Guild Exhibit at the Houston International Quilt Festival. It was the first Quilt show I submitted anything to. I was so naive to the whole process, as a quilt show virgin I think even Jacquie Gering weighed in on IG and helped direct me to a tutorial on making quilt sleeves. Of the two pieces that were accepted and shown, one piece I call “Life in the ER” was a fairly direct copy of a 1958 poster I reinterpreted in fabric. The other piece “5/325” was highly inspired by the work of Cecil Touchon but certainly not a direct copy of any of his work.

Fast Forward to this month when I have another piece hanging in the Modern Quilt Guild showcase in Houston. This piece, “Bloberella” is a work inspired by many but designed soley by me. In it I see the color inspiration of Gwen Marston, improv piecing techniques of Sherri Lynn Wood and needle turn appliqué learned from Carolyn Friedlander. It is unequivocally improved by the quilting art of Krista Withers.


There has been significant unease over the Modern Quilt Guild’s recent blog post and discussion about “Derivative works”. As one who has been pretty derivative in the past I welcome the discussion. Clearly everything we make is to some extent “derivative” and I don’t envy the task force of the MQG who will need to parce out what is “too derivative” for consideration in future quilt shows.  For perspective, these copyright topics are not isolated to the MQG and have been evolving in the rest of the world too. I know in day job, I now need to get permission now to use photos by others for lectures. Speaking to my brother who is a photographer if he wants to gain profit from pictures that even display public art he has to get permission from the artist.

To be clear, I have not profited one cent from any of the derivative pieces I have made. In some ways though I have benefitted from standing on the shoulders of the design work of others though also likely have gained the disdain of purists.

This year of making has been one of significant evolution as I have directly steered away from trolling Pinterest and instead have been experimenting, designing, drawing, painting and sewing, sewing, sewing. Designing work from scratch is hard but oh so satisfying.

In all of this I am not suggesting that derivative work will ever go away (indeed there are several directly derivative pieces again on display this year at the International Quilt Festival from what I have seen of pictures). We all should be allowed to grow as quilters and artists and again the normal evolution of that process for most means being derivative. For me however it has become important to move forward and discover my own voice. I am finding that much more satisfying. In my opinion if I want quilting to be considered the art form it is, I owe it that.

Thanks for listening and keep making.


9 thoughts on “Derivatively Yours

  1. Thanks Hillary for such a thoughtful comment.

    All my life, I have studied fine art–mostly 20th and 21st century painting and collage. I know that looking at thousands of pieces of art over the years has influenced, informed and educated me. Like you, I stand on the shoulders of so many wonderful creative people. And, like you, and like every artist, I work hard to discover and “grow” my voice — each new piece is a step in discovery, on a path that began in the past.

    So, yes, I want my voice to be big and loud and uniquely me!

    Thanks again! Quilt On!!

  2. It’s a tricky and touchy subject, isn’t it? You know, I don’t know if anyone can call anything truly original anymore. There is such a huge backlog of creative endeavours that it seems ridiculous to think anything we make isn’t reminiscent of something, even just a wee part of it. That said, creating derivative patterns doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t set out to do it, but often when I’ve come about designing something in my own way, not directly copying, it is still similar to something else. People might say “oh, isn’t that a co-oincidence” (said in that sarcastic way, you know the one I mean) and actually, yes it is – it is statistically probable that anything any of us make will be somewhat like one of the trillion artworks that have been created to this day. I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt and just enjoy a new spin on a known seed idea. And far out, life is short, art is here to make us happy (making it and viewing it), so we should let it!!

    1. Kirsty, I love you and agree that there is not much “new” out there. I have had the weirdness of doing an improv piece and having someone point out it looked like the work of another. IMPROV-grabbing pieces of fabric and randomly sewing together?? And yes art is for enjoying derived or not. Xo

  3. I agree completely with what you say,Hillary, but I also feel as Kathy says above that sometimes people come up with the same ideas completely independently of each other. I wrote a blog on this myself a while back. I trust most quilters if they say they came up with an idea on their own. I always credit my inspiration if I know where it came from, but sometimes I just don’t.

  4. As student artists traditionally learned by copying the styles and technique of more experienced artists, we too learn by starting with a pattern and often pre-chosen fabrics. As our confidence grows, so too does our creativity and originality. It is all part of the process, as long as we respect and adhere to copyright law, and credit our inspiring influences.
    I love your Bloberella. However, instead of Jane Fonda images, I now have an old Duran Duran song stuck in my head: Electric Barbarella! Is the name derivative or an homage? I vote for the second. Electric Bloberella has a ring to it!

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