Now that the stole is finished, I really can’t put off deciding about writing it up much longer. The problem is that I can’t decide what my motivation would be for writing it up. I am a big fan of open source and free sharing of knowledge. This makes me tend toward writing it up as a free pattern. After all, I looked in a book, took three patterns I liked, knit them one after the other, and called it a project. Is this really a “design”? Somehow, that descriptor doesn’t seem to fit. There was nothing complicated to figure out; I just assembled a few small pieces into one big piece.

On the other hand, by that criteria, most patterns out there aren’t really designs, either. I don’t usually buy patterns, and the ones that I do buy tend to be the more complex kind, that involve much more than choosing a stitch pattern. But I don’t have a problem with someone selling a pattern for a simple shawl or scarf. And I know that these patterns are usually quite popular, so people must find them worth buying.

I don’t want to undervalue my work, and I don’t want to undercut the value of other’s work by making something available for free that they would charge for. And yet, craft has always seemed to me to be something that should be shared freely. If these skills had not been passed down openly through generations, where would handknitters be today? Someone invented the stitch patterns that I used; they came to me through a book that assembled hundreds such patterns without name or recognition for the people that invented them (except in the rare cases that the patterns were submitted to Walker’s collection from a specific person). The inventor is gone and long forgotten, but the pattern lives on. Is this so horrible? Is it wrong of me now to profit from someone else’s genius in deriving a stitch pattern I’d never have imagined?

Intellectual property is such a huge issue in our society. From music to academic papers and right on down to knitting patterns, it seems that one can’t get away from the litigious nature of thought in the modern world. I understand that ideas are important, and I understand wanting credit for things that we have done. I would be annoyed if someone took “my” design and claimed that it was their own (particularly if they attempted to profit from it). And yet, I think that a person would be fully justified in seeing my stole, liking it, and deciding to copy it. And then, if they accomplish this without a pattern that I’ve authored, have they copied, or used my stole for inspiration? It’s a fine line, and one that people draw in different places. The problem is, I’m not sure where I want to draw mine. And it seems that one should be pretty darned sure of where one stands on this topic before releasing anything out into the world to be subject to all of the acrimonious IP discussion.

Fleegle has done a beautiful job of summarizing her stance on the issue, and I do tend to agree with her conclusions. I don’t need the money (though who can’t use more knitting funds)? I don’t want to prevent people from knitting something they like simply because they don’t have the $5 to spare (and I think we all know someone in that situation). Knitting is a craft, a hobby. As such, I don’t think that it should be something you have to buy into for every project. I happen to be fortunate enough that I can afford to buy patterns and yarns that I like, but there have also been times in my life where I had $25 a week for groceries, and $5 is just too much when you’re in that situation.

On the other hand, writing up this pattern will take me a fair amount of time, if I want to do it right. (And I have a sometimes unfortunate tendency to believe that something that is worth doing is worth doing the right way.) Time is a precious thing in my life (I’d really like to meet someone for whom time is not precious…), and it’s hard to say that I want to write up a pattern more than I want to knit. That’s the tradeoff; I have no spare time to put into writing. I use it all knitting. If something takes time to do, it’s my knitting that stops. This makes it seem that perhaps one should be compensated for such sacrifices.

There are lots of people out there trying to make a living selling knitting patterns. If I give one away free, am I making it harder for them to make a living? Perhaps. I’ve heard the argument stated that way, at least. I’m not sure if this is the strongest argument I’ve ever heard, but it’s another thing to consider. I gladly buy patterns that I like, usually from independent designers. Since I buy so few, it’s important to me that I buy from the people doing the designing. When I want a project, I look to those people first to see if they have something that will fit. It’s the same as going to a LYS or an independent dyer instead of eBay when I need yarn; I choose to support the businesses that mean something to me, even if it costs a little more. I consider it part of being in the community; I read the designers’ blogs, I enjoy their wit and humor, and when it suits me I buy their patterns. But not everyone shops this way. Many people look for something free first, even if they can afford the pattern; cheap is often the bottom line. There’s nothing wrong with this; everyone has a right to choose how, where, and why they spend their money. But I can see how an abundance of free patterns makes it harder to be an independent designer, and I certainly wouldn’t want to see them go away for lack of business. I can see how generating one more free pattern helps to reinforce the expectation that patterns should be free, and could in some ways erode the value of a design.

Maybe I just overthink things. I can see both sides of the argument, and I’m torn. The simplest thing to do is to just not write the pattern, staying conveniently out of the whole murky situation. And yet there’s the sharing thing; isn’t that why we blog in the first place? To share what we’re doing?

Enough existential angst for today. I will continue to ponder. If you have opinions, I’d be happy to hear them. Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I should show you the other reason that I’m not rushing to write up the pattern:

As this post is already quite long, I think I will put off the full telling of that tale for another day. But we couldn’t have a blog post without some yarn, now could we?