These days, much of my time spent on the ravelry forums is spent in the various forums for designers. A lot of the time I am using it as a resource to get a sense of the business and understand the way other people approach the work. I do come at the process a little differently since I have designed for other pursuits as well (architecture, theater, graphic design, etc), so I find the posts about design originality especially interesting. I have stopped responding to every such post that I see, but below is my general feeling on the topic and the way I respond.
Usually the flavor of the post is something like this:
“I’ve just spent X weeks/months oan what I thought was an original design butRavelry logged into Ravelry/looked at a magazine/browsed the loose patterns at my local yarn store/etc, I saw a pattern that looked a lot like the one I’ve been working on. Should I still publish it?”
Publish it. You have put the work in and deserve to be paid for the pattern.
Even if two designers come up with the same pattern independently (assuming the best of the other designer here), both deserve to be paid. Both developed the idea, drew the schematic, worked out the math, wrote the pattern, made the sample, had it tested and prepared the pattern for publication. Writing patterns is work and designers who write patterns deserve to be paid for them.
When architects design a house or a building, they don’t drive around trying to make sure they their building is unique from all of the other buildings out there. Yes, they are designing for one client instead of designing a “house pattern” to sell…but it really is similar. Architects all use similar building blocks and drawing tools, and yet every building has unique characteristics. Knitting design is very similar in this way. The yarn, the gauge, the stitch pattern, the method of construction are all so variable that there are really endless possibilities. Many similar possibilities…but still almost an infinite number of results can be achieved with the “building blocks” we have.
I’m sure if you spent enough time in ravelry, you could find hundreds of pairs (or groups) of patterns that are similar but from different designers. Just because they are similar doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be compensated for putting the pattern together or that one stole from the other. And with different methods of pattern delivery – personal website, ravelry, patternfish, retail, books, magazines – it is very likely that lots of knitters out there would only see one version of the pair. There are 2 million knitters and crocheters on ravelry…but that is still only a fraction of the knitters and crocheters in the world.
Those who have made your designs before may choose your “version” (for lack of a better word) over the other because they know the quality of your work. Or they may choose it because it costs less. Or they may choose it because they see it at their LYS and not online. Or they may choose the other one because they see it on the other designer’s website, etc, etc.
In short, it is annoying, but don’t sweat it. It wouldn’t hurt to consider ways that you could market your pattern differently or reach a different audience, but there is no reason to pull the plug on a project just because someone else has done something similar. Don’t get me wrong, originality is wonderful and most designers would like to come up with things that are distinctive, but overlapping ideas with others is nearly unavoidable.