Can I copy an existing design?

This question comes up in various forms, but it boils down to: How much am I allowed to copy from, or be inspired by, an existing product when designing patterns.

First and foremost — and this should go without saying — this is not legal advice. And while we’re at it, please forget the idea that there is some sort of basic set of legal rules that governs this. What is acceptable and what is not — in the eyes of the law — varies based on where you live. So while it’s fun for legal scholars, it’s not that useful of a debate to have inside our community.

Instead, your guiding principle should be: Don’t be a dick.

So while we’re not in the business of telling people what to do, when it comes to contributing to FreeSewing, here are some practical examples:

Do you accept contributions that are a copy of a commercial pattern?

Absolutely not.

Copying a commercial pattern is obviously a dick move, and we won’t accept any contribution if we know it was ripped from a commercial pattern.

You are directly undercutting the original designer. And regardless of whether that’s an indie designer who might be depending on the sales of their pattern to put food on the table or some big pattern company that you feel should be taken down a notch: It doesn’t matter. Not cool. Don’t do this.

Do you accept contributions that are a copy of an existing garment?


Do you own something you really love or saw something on the runway that has you swooning? Go ahead and (try to) replicate that look in a pattern you design yourself. It’s fair game; it’s how the fashion industry operates.

One could argue that it is probably impossible to come up with a design that is not — to some extent — influenced by things we’ve seen before.


Don’t pretend trademarks don’t exist

This should go without saying, but this does not mean you can put “Gucci” (or whatever) on your design.

Do you accept contributions that are based on instructions in a book?

It depends.

Is the purpose of the book to provide blueprints for garments?

In this case: back off. By providing the pattern for free, you are clearly undercutting the original author and their business model.

An examples would be Müller & Sohn.

Is the purpose of the book to teach you?

In this case: go ahead. You can use what you’ve learned in the book to create your own designs. That does not undercut the original author as people buying these books want to learn about pattern design. They are not looking for the end product.

Examples would be: