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Local Sweater Project and Ethics

I thought my next big project was going to be replicating a commercial sweater in fiber from the Chesapeake Fibershed. Okay, not just using fiber but also processing the fiber, dyeing it (including growing any dye stuffs), and using buttons/notions that are also locally produced. I currently have an idea of where I can source some of this from and have been having fun looking at sweaters that are available online.

Would you like to see some? Here are my favorites so far:

A woman wearing a fuzzy cropped gray cardigan and black pants.
“Mohair Plush Mélange Crew Neck Cardigan” from Eileen Fisher

Eileen Fisher is classic and simple and I can see me wearing this cardigan a lot, allowing me to rely less on an old hand knit gray sweater. Also, this sweater would be a breeze to copy given all the sweater recipe books I have. This sweater is $348.00 and the fiber content is 38% Wool/38% Mohair/19% Nylon/5% Spandex, so 76% natural fiber, 24% plastics. The wool was spun in Italy and the sweater made in Romania.

A woman with long brown hair wearing a light brown cabled sweater cardigan with four large faux horn buttons. She's also wearing sunglasses, a chunky gold chain necklace, a houdstooth check shirt and a jean skirt.
This “Cable-knit Stretch Cardigan” from J Crew

I like this sweater for a number of reasons: cables will keep it interesting to knit and J Crew has great shots of it from all angles. I recognize the cables and could probably approximate this sweater pretty easily also. This sweater, full price, is $141.99 and the fiber content is 44% acrylic/24% merino wool/17% polyamide/12% alpaca/3% elastane. So that’s 36% natural fiber, 64% plastics. J Crew doesn’t have info about the country of origin, they just note the sweater is imported.

Two more sweaters were in contention but they’re off the list now: they are copies of patterns created by indie knit pattern designers. Copying a copy of something stolen/copied is beyond what I’m comfortable copying: indie knit designers are barely able to stay afloat and deserve to be paid for their work.

Isabella Kraemer in a very light gray pullover with colorwork at the sleeves and yoke. The colorwork is orange and different shades of blue and gray.
This sweater has been haunting my ads

I love this sweater – it’s the orange and the subtle blue colorwork. It started showing up in ads on Facebook and Instagram last year. Thanks to my sharp-eyed friend Lisa, now I know it’s a variation of a sweater called Ingrid designed by Isabella Kraemer. Here’s the kicker: the photo – or at least the person in the photo – is Isabella herself: this is her second, more colorful version of the pattern: whoever copied this sweater also copied her project picture. I left a comment with links on her project page on Ravelry to let her know.

A sweater with a gray background and an all-over pattern that looks like geometric leaves or coffee beans that fades from the hem to the neck.
Another sweater

I love this sweater also! The pattern reminds me both of leaves and of coffee nibs. It turns out it’s the Vejers Sweater by Camilla Vad. So it’s also out of contention also.

And now I should probably think long and hard about whether or not copying a commercially-available sweater is ethical. After all, someone somewhere designed it. For me, part of the fun of this project is reverse-engineering a pattern, which many have done before me – I’m thinking specifically of The Fireside Cardigan, which is inspired by a sweater Cameron Diaz wears in The Holiday (2006) and groups on Ravelry that will hunt down patterns that look like sweaters in movies and shows.

I’m glad to have hit this ethical roadblock, particularly now before I’ve spent time choosing a fleece and cleaning it and carding it and spinning and knitting.

So, where would you draw the line? Is it okay to try to replicate commercially-available sweaters? What about sweaters from movies and shows?


2 responses to “Local Sweater Project and Ethics”

  1. Trish Grace Avatar
    Trish Grace

    Weirdly, for me, the ethics of the copy live in the “visual pattern” of the pattern. For some reason, I am totally okay with the plain grey sweater, and also the tan sweater, because it’s more like you’re “puzzling out” its structure. This same sweater has been made hundreds of thousands of times for hundreds of years. Your cabling WILL vary from the original in some way. But with the indies, I agree. This is how an individual artist makes a living. And with the big companies, YES, someone designed that, but they were paid for their design by the company. The individuals rely on purchases from niche knitters. Where 1 sweater sale missed will be nothing to the larger companies, 1 pattern sale missing has an impact on the smaller designer.

    I understand and really respect your thoughtfulness in this matter. I had a potter friend take a picture of one of my early slug mugs and say “I’m going to make these, too!” I said, “Please don’t copy mine exactly.” I can’t remember exactly what she said back, but it wasn’t a variation of “okay”. But I haven’t seen a slug mug from her studio.

    1. Oh man, a direct copy! A girl in my 6th grade art class copied my idea and got lots of praise for it. When I told the teacher (who also taught my Mom), he didn’t seem to care. I didn’t take art again until my senior year of high school and really wish I hadn’t let her bother me.

      Thank you for taking your time to explain your rationale! That definitely makes sense to me and I agree with you about the “visual pattern” of the pattern – yokes and colorwork are pretty distinct so copying them really closely does seem like a bigger transgression.

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