Monday, 15 August 2016

Interpretting Patterns

My older brother studied music at university and composition at Music College. He went on to work as a classical music composer for a time and worked on some major commissions.

After attending a performance of one of his pieces, I remember having a discussion with him about the creative process. I asked him how he felt about handing his music over to other people to perform. Whether it upset him if they interpreted it in a way that was different to what he had put down on paper.

His answer stuck with me. I can't remember the exact words that he used, but he said that once the music was written down on paper, his work was done. If he had done his work well, then people would interpret his work in the way that he wanted. Basically he said that he wrote the music down and then set it free in the world.
My version of the mini seahorse on the left, Amazing Seascape mini quilt by Lydia Cheney (@mamabeelydia on instagram)

When it comes to my patterns, I often think back on that conversation. My job is not only to draw a pattern, but to give instructions which will help others to interpret it as well as they can.

That said, if people interpret the pattern differently to me, it's generally not wrong, often it is better and blows my mind! The photos in this post include a few examples where people have taken my patterns and run with them. They have put their own spin on the designs and given them a more personal meaning. I think that the finished results are all the better for it!

My first patterns were sort of thrown together, but as I have written more, I have adapted the information that is given and how it is presented. I do my best to give guidance but not orders as to how you work with my patterns. That is why I include several different diagrams. Not everyone's brain works the same way and I think it is important to give options.

It is deliberate that my patterns aren't shaded. It is not because I am being lazy. It's because I don't want to limit your interpretation of them.

Once upon a time, I sewed a lamb pattern that someone else had designed. The pattern was designed as a black sheep, but I wanted to sew a white sheep. The coloured paper templates did nothing but confuse me. They limited my creativity and encouraged me to interpret the pattern in exactly the way that the designer had.
Boxer on the left, my original boxer mini quilt as seen in issue 37 of Love Patchwork and Quilting. Boxer on the right altered to reflect Amanda Castor's (@Materialgirlquilts on instagram) beloved dog.

I don't want people to sew exactly what I sew. I WANT them to give the patterns their own spin. Honestly, there is no greater compliment that you can pay me!

These days I will sometimes add colour placement advice to my patterns where I am confident that it is necessary, but I will do it with letters not with shading. This way, it is less distracting and you can easily choose to ignore it. For example, the zebra patterns are a lot of work. Marking the colours to be used in the black and white stripes seemed like a logical thing to do. I did not however give guidance on how to shade the colourful background. Use all your scraps, have fun with colours! I don't want to limit you to specific number of fabrics. Have fun, go wild, do what works best for you!
On the left is my original Singing in the Rain mini quilt. I didn't release the eiffel tower pattern, only the figures. On the right is a beautiful mini created my Debbie Grozzkopf (@mumziepooh on instagram)

To me the greatest compliment is when someone takes my pattern and interprets it in their own way. I think that I mentioned about the creative chain in my last post. I am not the last link in that chain. The person who sews the pattern is the last link and it is not fair for me to steal all credit from them. That said, their finished item is not possible without the earlier links on the chain. It's a symbiotic relationship which needs cherishing not shaming.

The people who sew my patterns build on the foundation that I gave them. They choose the colours and the fabrics. They decide which fussy cuts to include, they work neatly or not. I may be the one who writes the patterns, but I am not necessarily the best at interpreting them.

I am more than happy for people to enter their interpretation of my patterns in shows. They don't need to ask my permission (although if they do ask, I will happily say yes and cheer them on from the sidelines!). The only thing that I ask is that they credit me as the designer, not because I want to steal their thunder but because that way other people can find the pattern and have a go at it if they wish. We all benefit by being open and honest about our sources and inspirations.


  1. Oh my I love Lydia's interpretation of the Seahorse! And the hexies with Singing in the Rain - wow!!!! Indeed, in most of life, we would all be much better off if we would just realize that we need each other in order to grow and be our best. We encourage and inspire each other - for good or bad - and that's how communal life is supposed to work!

  2. I think its wonderful people see a pattern in a different light, would be terribly boring if we all did things the same way :) And I would love to see once a month everyone have a review of their work and if they missed mentioning a pattern designer or giving credit where its due, they could add and name :) sometimes its nice too dream :)

  3. I saw your boxer dog in a search and was looking for the pattwrp but didn't see it in either of your stores? Is it available? Could I get the link to purchase if I missed it? Thank you!


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