Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A mixed bag

As you may have guessed by now, if you have been a reader any length of time, I have a lot of quilted stuff that has never been registered as a "quilt" and this bag is only one of those. I love this Japanese fabric. I don't know the technical term but the base thread is black and the colored thread is woven across. All are either solids or stripe. I made this bag to carry my quilting things when I go to group meetings. The handles can clip to the bottom and become a back pack. Not fancy but serviceable.

However, this post is not about the bag.

This morning, as is custom in Japan, I was sweeping the street in front of my gate. There were persimmon leaves from the neighbor's tree to the North and maple leaves from the neighbor's tree to the South, one bamboo leaf from my own garden and some cigarette butts and drink cans, (our house being just about that far from the cigarette and drink machines). No one would think about where those things came from, only look at the mess and think the house owner to be quite careless as the condition of the street reflects directly on the house owner.

This is an interesting aspect of life in Japan. Thinking people to be very neat and clean, I was horrified the first time I went to cherry-blossom-viewing and saw the mountains of trash left behind. Even on Mt Fuji I was appalled at all the trash dumped along the paths. My husband explains that the farther a person gets from their home, the more anonymous they become, and while they would never drop trash in front of their own home, dropping it elsewhere causes no shame at all.

While I swept the street to avoid the shame, I was thinking of another problem that is not too far removed, this years auction quilt.

You must be wondering what the connection is. The first meetings to decide the theme and design for this project did not include me. The idea was discussed and the fabric was purchased and I met at the given time to help in my usual way. The chosen design and fabrics are truly lovely.

BUT, the problem is, the plan is almost a direct copy of someone else's quilt... at least it is enough alike to recognize where the idea came from.

When I attended the Yokohama Quilt show, there in front of me I saw that same quilt. A member of the committee had seen the quilt at an earlier show and taken a picture and was working from the photo in buying the fabric and deciding the plans.

Doing a bit of research on the quilter, we discovered that she is one of the top "Senseis", a teacher who is probably making a living out of teaching quilting. If I didn't feel comfortable about the copy from the first, you can imagine how I am feeling now. There was much discussion about what to do next and I understand a letter will go to the quilter in English. Well, that is a start BUT, if the contact goes to her school and no one understands what it is about... she may not even see the message... she may not reply... Then, I am still left between a rock and a hard place.

My husband has said he would be glad to write a translation of the letter and he is very good at writing diplomatic Japanese. While, to me, imitation may be the highest form of flattery, the teacher may not feel that way. At the same show I heard how one quilter, who makes her living by her craft, felt about someone she believed was copying her designs.

As my name has been linked with the ASIJ auction quilt since the first one in 2004, I am more than a little concerned. The only quilts I have ever made copying something more than a block design are the two I drafted after seeing those of Lucy Boston, no longer alive at that time and even in my diary I give her the credit though not copies. Yes, of course, the teacher would be given credit but somehow I feel that her blessing is needed too.

I have discussed this by e-mail with some of my blogging friends and have been encouraged to post the issue. Many of us may never face this problem. I have seen famous Baltimore album quilts copied by Japanese quilters down to the last detail and the worry is not about being sued... This is a school where children are taught not too plagiarize their reports but is this any different? If I am involved in this, will my reputation be damaged? Do I have the guts to withdraw myself from the group which I happen to love? Am I worrying about nothing? Have I been in Japan so long that I am worrying about cigarette butts on the street in front of my house?

One thing my paper quilt diary never got was feed-back. Now I do believe I could use a little.


  1. Oh Juie, you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. I hope everything works out for you.

  2. A conundrum indeed. Imitation IS the highest form of flattery, but to copy someone elses' design which includes the use of similar/same fabrics, seems to step over the line - especially as the finished product will be out in the public forum. In my opinion (and that's all it is, an opinion)I believe you need to have Ms Sensei's permission to use her design and if that is not forthcoming, for whatever reason, then another quilt should be created. I don't know anything about Japanese copywright law so whether you have a legal issue is also worth considering. Good luck!

  3. I think I would want her permission to use her design especially seeing as you are using fabric very closely to what she used also. Copy write law is so complicated now. Good luck in whatever you choose to do.

  4. It is never wrong to do the right thing.

  5. Believe in yourself and your standards.The right process will eventuate, and your husband's generous and kind offer to write in Japanese is perhaps a good start.Maybe the others feel that a copy is fitting, and will indicate unwritten praise of her design and choice of fabric, but for myself, I would feel very uncomfortable about the whole thing.A difficult situation, please keep us posted, and maybe from your readers, and their comments, the solution will come.Please try not to worry too much, but then ,only caring people worry.we will share in your dilemma.Fond cheers from Jean.

  6. I understand your feelings and as for myself, I would not do it, if I felt we were copying someone's work. I see it all the time and cannot understand how a person can take someone's idea, change a few things and call it their own. I am always changing designs, but I never consider it my pattern and always give the artist of the original, credit.


  7. That is a sticky problem. Perhaps the other members of your group have little experience/understanding of this issue.

    The advent of the digital camera and computer images has created negatives as well as positives. No wonder the major quilt shows in Japan don't allow photography!

    Could the fabric be used in another design? After all, it is a raffle quilt, not a potential prize winning quilt. Good luck Julie. Be Strong.

  8. Oh my what a difficult spot to be in. My personal feeling is that I could not participate unless I had permission from the designer...if it was an original design. If you were making one for your personal use it would be different - but this one will be in a very public position and for sale. Financial gain from her design is not acceptable without her blessing. blessings, marlene

  9. Do the right thing and contact her. She may just want you to purchase her pattern and give her credit for it. Hope it all works out well.

  10. I too think you ought to get her permission...

  11. It seems like everyone feels the same as me and I suspect as you. That doesn't make it any less awkward for you but I don;t think you will be comfortable with the project if you don't do what you feel is right. Good luck!

  12. YOU are doing the right thing, its always best to ask
    I am sure she will give you permission. I applaud you for pursuing this and asking.
    I loved the story about sweeping your front steps and sidewalk....interesting.
    love learning about Japan ever since I was little I have always been fascinated with the culture/country
    ps I love the bag, GREAT FABRIC!

  13. I think you need her permission and if you don't get it use the fabric to make something else.

  14. I think you must contact the quilter and ask to use her design and then credit the auction quilt accordingly. Better still would be to abandon this design and come up with a more original one. There is nothing absolutely new out there but this one sounds too close to the original to be ethical. Just my humble opinion. I have also been sweeping leaves but the concept of shame is not as strong here (thank goodness). Good luck with your dilemma.

  15. You quilted bag is very pretty!

    I remember having to clean the street in front of the house thatI lived in while living in Japan. Even today, I find myself always keeping my driveway, sidewalk, and my street section clean while my one neighbor's debris is left to blow around the neighborhood.

    I always say imitation is the highest form of flattery, and even then no two quilts are the same. In this case, you are doing the right thing by contacting her. Gambatte!

  16. The first thing of course is to let your group know your concern. It sounds like you have done that... Then try to get the needed permission. It sounds like your group is willing to try to do that. If that doesn't work out - then you are indeed stuck and will have to decide where you need to draw your line in the sand. I am mired in those decisions right now and it isn't fun. Good luck!

  17. I think you're on the right track and I agree with the majority about getting permission and/or changing the design and fabrics. If it's her original design it isn't fair for someone else to profit from it, even for charity.

    It would be as if you swept the front of your house, then the sanitation dept came by and paid your neighbors on the North and South for helping keep the street clean. Just saying...

  18. There were times (when I was less confident about my choices) that I tried to match fabric because I absolutely loved another quilter's quilt. But then I made the quilt for myself, not to auction off or show to other people. I do think since this is a public quilt that you need permission. You got a lot of input! Great!
    Isn't it funny in Japan how that street garbage shows up a certain distance away from the vending machines. Someone could do a survey. Do not build a house 800 yards from a vending machine or something!

  19. Quilting ethics. They should teach this! You are doing the right thing. Maybe she will give you her blessing or maybe her pattern is not for use for financial gain. Either way, it should be her call.

    Love your fabric bag :)