The Value of a Pattern

by Weeks on 28/08/2007

in Whip-Up


So here’s the question: Are crafters who are making things for their family and friends that are not to be sold obligated to respect copyrights on designs the same way profit-driven manufacturers are? Before you answer, think about it from one designer’s perspective.

My husband and I design and make quilts for a living. It takes a long time to develop each design, not to mention all of the years of education that went into learning how to design. As is the case with any designer, we need these designs to pay for our mortgage, health insurance, groceries and deposits to our daughter’s college fund. Each design is worth thousands of dollars to us in potential royalty payments and commissions. Once we let someone copy a design, we have no control over who sees it and what happens to it. These designs have very real monetary value to us so we have copyrighted them. In our minds inspiration and color combinations are free for the taking but designs should be protected.

Soon after we started our company it became clear that hobby quilters liked our designs and wanted to reproduce them. We didn’t want anyone else to reproduce the designs for the quilts we made for our clients because we wanted to have some designs that would be made only by us. It’s kind of like a chef who wouldn’t want to publish every single recipe she develops. We want to keep some things exclusive to our studio. So we decided to design new patterns that would be available to hobby quilters who wanted to purchase patterns. We published two books with patterns, developed our own pattern line and often sell the rights to some of our designs to American Patchwork & Quilting Magazine so they can be reproduced by hobby quilters who want to make contemporary quilts.

A year ago a quilt that we made and sold to a collector appeared on the cover of a design magazine. The magazine credited us as the designers of the quilt. Since then we’ve had hundreds of calls from people who want to make that quilt and others that have appeared in magazine spreads that have featured our work. This leaves us in the awkward position of having to tell people that these patterns are not available for reproduction. The person always explains that they will not be selling the quilt, only making it for themselves or someone else. Their reasoning seems to be that if they are not receiving money from copying one of our patterns that there would be no loss incurred by us, which is not the case. Each person who asks assumes that they are the only one who is asking and thus it shouldn’t be a big deal to just let them copy a design, just for them, just this once.

An intellectual property attorney who is also a quilter once told us that it’s hard for quilters to understand and value the concept of intellectual property. She explained that because so many traditional patterns are in the public domain (not protected by copyrights), most quilters don’t see why all patterns shouldn’t be available to copy as easily as those that are not protected by copyrights. The believe that everything should be up for grabs to hobby quilters and that copyrights should not apply to people who aren’t selling things. Many people think that it’s wrong for a big profit-hungry corporation to knock off a designer but they don’t think there’s any harm in individuals knocking off designers because the individuals aren’t planning on making money from the designs they knock off. What they don’t see though, is that they are taking something from a designer. They are taking ideas and techniques, which are the livelihood of designers. This is less a legal issue to me than an ethical one.

The irony is that if designers let everyone reproduce designs that have not been released as patterns, the designers would have no designs left to sell, so they would no longer have a company, so they could no longer develop the designs that the crafters want to copy. When we ask people not to copy a copyrighted design that we want to keep exclusive to our studio, we’re not trying to be mean, we’re just trying to make a living and support our family. I know that imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery, but flattery will not pay for my daughter to go to college.

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1 Katy August 28, 2007 at 10:04 pm

I’m glad you wrote this post. I think it directly addresses something that is often over looked about artists and craftsters: that they need to pay the rent too.

It is rare in other professions for people to be asked to give their services for free, or to be asked not to make money off it. You won’t find people asking a plumber for some free work “for exposure” or an architect’s work copied without their permission.

The amount of time, effort, education, dedication, sweat, blood, tears, etc. that go into producing art – be it painting or quilting or otherwise – is no less than any other types of work.

I’m glad you addressed this on your blog, and I give you kudos for the work you do. Don’t be apologetic: you deserve to be paid for the work you do.

I don’t think your mean or selfish; I think you’re practical. And hey, if it were just about the money, I think we all would have gone home some time ago…!

2 Lemon Tree Tales August 28, 2007 at 10:29 pm

I don’t think that the average hobbyist quilter realizes how much work goes into designing a quilt pattern (or any type of pattern for that matter) until they’ve tried it themselves. Nor do they realize how much it costs to design that pattern (the overhead of rent, utilities, downtime for inspiration, sketching, technical sketching, revisions, actual making of the quilt, publishing, marketing etc.) and what it means to the professional designer. I’m sorry that people haven’t been able to respect that. As more designers publish articles such as this one, perhaps more people will come to understand it. This is also at the crux of the problem with pirated music/books/movies. Great article!


3 miss elizabeth August 28, 2007 at 10:37 pm

This is interesting, and I have never considered it before. I haven’t actually done this (I’ve only made a few quilts), but I’ve considered copying designs from other quilters before, and to be honest it never would have occurred to me to ask permission as long as I was keeping it for personal use. I don’t use patterns, so I would have just made a sort-of copy of the design. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been an exact replica; just a similar layout.

With modern quilts, especially, I think it’s hard for hobbyists to see what’s wrong with this. I understand where you are coming from, to be sure, but I honestly had never thought of it before. If I use a design that is similar, but a bit different, and I use different colors, and I put it together in my own way, is it an infringement? Especially if I am keeping it for myself? I say no, but I think you might feel differently. I think most people will feel that you can’t copyright some lines and dots, and while I understand how difficult it is to make those lines and dots (I also have a background in design) I have great sympathy for the hobby quilt makers.

It’s very difficult to design these things and have them look “right” and with so few modern quilt designs for sale out there, by removing the ability of the hobbyist to be inspired by, and to some extent copy, your work, I think you are leaving a lot of people without options. And I think, personally, until you’ve created a few modern quilts (or abstract paintings, or whatever), it’s very hard to make your own. Layout and color theory are best learned by doing, and with the trouble and expense of making a quilt, I think it’s unreasonable to think most people won’t do their learning on things that are essentially copied. But, I think it benefits everyone when more people become interested in working with modern quilt design.

I know I don’t have a coherent argument here, and I’m not really trying to make one. I see where you are coming from, even thought I’d never thought of it before. I’m just telling you how I feel, as a hobbyist, and a great admirer of your work.

4 amanda August 28, 2007 at 10:50 pm

great post. thank you for expressing that sentiment much more eloquently than i was able to when i posted about it a few weeks ago… :)

5 colleen August 28, 2007 at 11:17 pm

you are right. at first, i thought: huh? why not be able to copy the design to one’s hearts content. but you are able to convince me otherwise. my thought is that there are so many resources, i.e., books and quilting magazines, that tell you exactly how to make something or present so many ideas on how to personalize traditional quilts or vintage quilts — one doesn’t need to copy what is protected.

6 floresita August 28, 2007 at 11:36 pm

“Personal use”, and “commercial use” issues are really confusing, especially with a very collaborative, visual art like quilting.

However, I don’t think that crafting for personal use is a good enough argument for you sharing your designs for free. They are your designs and I’d never expect you to give them away for free! :)

7 Jen August 28, 2007 at 11:49 pm

Well, if I see a dress design from some designer, and I can’t buy the pattern but I like it … I can try to figure out the construction and make it myself.

Technically – sure – I didn’t buy the dress and that takes money away from the designer. And I couldn’t buy the pattern to make my life easier making it. That’s fair if the designer doesn’t want to sell that. But if I want to figure it out myself, for my own use, no one can restrict that. Because that’s the fine line of the whole scenario … that’s how innovation happens … I can try to make that dress, and decide to refine it and come up with something new. And that’s how my love of design grows …

It’s always tricky with design – this is how innovation happens – learning from what others have done. And inspiration can come from many places.

You have to think though .. what percentage of people will actually go and figure out the pattern themselves and make it? Probably not enough to worry about.

As with the chef … there are people who will try to recreate the recipe, but most people will just buy it directly …

It is a tough situation and there is no clear answer. But for personal use … there isn’t a whole lot you can do … Just continue to refuse to sell the pattern.

And as a designer myself – and married to an artist, I completely respect the design issue you are bringing up.

8 rebecca August 29, 2007 at 12:14 am

this issue is a difficult one because applying a business standard of copyright, etc. to a “field” that has always shared information (patterns, stitches, etc.) amongst itself, for the most part, creates much tension, especially when that shared knowledge can be freely accessed, altered, packaged, and then slapped with a copyright so that nobody else can arrive at the same conclusions/designs, or can use previously available information/designs/patterns.

the gentle arts are historically undervalued by those who do them, as well as those on the outside, who view those endeavors as frivolous and worthless. naturally, people have trouble when trying to force copyright and business conventions on an organic, communal process such as quiltmaking, or other arts/crafts.

quilt patterns (or other patterns, for that matter) are an example of sphere collision. you have an intersection of public (business/copyright) and private (home, hearth, quilt/craft) spheres, wherein the public sphere deems something worthy and then rushes to make as much money as possible from it, while placing restrictions on members of the private sphere from going about their daily creativity.

i agree that the quilt designer and her partner have every right to restrict their products, but there is only a certain amount of protection that copyright allows. enforcing copyright outside of academia is difficult, especially when you get into very grey areas of arts & crafts.

it is important for artists to share their stories so that we may all benefit from the varying perspectives on the issue in order to reach our own understanding and be at peace with our use of copyrighted works.

9 gleek August 29, 2007 at 12:25 am

i agree with jen. if you don’t want to offer the pattern for quilt hobbyist then just don’t and let them figure it out on their own or not. i believe that this rule of thumb applies to most things sewn, knit, crocheted, etc.

if i see a $1000 missoni dress that i absolutely adore, i will scour patterns to find the same cut/fit, buy similar fabric and recreate it on my own, and i might even make another one for a friend. in this case, my making the gown does not take business away from missoni because i would NEVER spend $1000 on a dress in the first place. i see nothing wrong with doing this. if i turned around and sold the dress online as a missoni knock-off then i could see how it would be a copyright violation. otherwise, it’s just me sewing something that i love.

10 Marilyn August 29, 2007 at 12:25 am

I think about this all the time and it is making me go nuts! Every time I post something online I think about it. I can’t believe people even think it is okay to ask if they can copy a designer’s original work.
Why would you even WANT to make something that has been created already??? I can understand if you see something and want to TRY to copy it so you can familiarize with the techniques and materials. But consciously going out and ripping off people’s designs is disgusting. See here for my personal experience -

Intentionally copying an artist’s work is definitely not flattery!!! Especially if the copier doesn’t give any acknowledgement to the person they copied. Like, I was inspired by…
The worst offenders are the ones who try to pass it off as their own work!

How the hell does the public expect artists/designers to make a living?!

11 Laura August 29, 2007 at 2:06 am

I think you’re right that quilting has a unique culture, used to reusing old block patterns and such. Additionally, in quilting there’s a combination of the block pattern, the cloth used, the techniques and the quilting itself that makes each quilt unique (unless they’re being made on an assembly line).

Marilyn, I think this is one of the reasons why quilting is more of a craft than an art – not that quilts aren’t artistic, but they are also about responding to the traditions of quilting in your own way. Even if you set out to reproduce another quilt, it would always have your own take on it and not be the same, which is quite different than other fields of endeavor.

But creators have the right to put restrictions on how other people use their work. If you don’t want to provide a pattern for your work, you are perfectly ok not doing so, and I can hardly believe people don’t just leave it at that when they ask you. (By the way, Weeks, I own one of your books and love it – haven’t made a quilt, yet!)

12 camilla August 29, 2007 at 2:42 am

On, Wist swaps were all the rage for a bit. THey’re where people make wish lists of other crafted items, and then they’re swap buddy copies those things, many of them made by other members of the site, and many of them with posted copyrights by the original maker. It makes me so angry. I don’t make much money when I make things and sell them, but I always make something original, and rip off artists dilute the originality of those things I made.

13 Danii August 29, 2007 at 5:16 am

I can totally seewhere your going with this one, but I have to pick up a bit of what laura says…….however hard someone tries to recreate your ‘pattern’ then its not going to be the same, there will always be some little detail which makes the pattern your own. You have to ask where you got the inspiration for the pattern in the first place, aren’t quilts variations of patterns already floating about that may be centuries old?

I think it’s OK to use someone else’s pattern as long as you make it your own/put your own take on it but I would be pretty angry if I had spent alot of time and effort into planning the design, going through the whole design thought process etc only to find similar or the same patterns cropping up everywhere. I sometimes think that when a person buys something handmade they seem to think they have sole ownership of that piece of work……….hmmmm I can see that i’m going to loose sleep over this one already!!!!

14 Paula August 29, 2007 at 5:26 am

Oh, I don’t think it’s about the traditions of quilting at all. I think women devalue the work that women do. “It wasn’t really that big a deal, it’s only a quilt!” I can see the justifications in these posts from people who say they nominally agree with you, BUT…..

I am not as naturally creative in my design as many people whose art I admire on the web. I also don’t want to spend time making something that’s already been done unless the pattern is commercially available and I can be faithful in my reproduction. There’s a reason why the original design “works”. My near knockoff is going to be inherently unsatisfactory. If I want a Missoni dress, I will spend $20 for the pattern. I will not be happy with a near-Missoni. Making the Missoni from a Missoni pattern will teach me things I did not know that attempting to copy a Missoni would never be able to do.

Don’t feel bad about saying “no”. It’s the least you can do.

15 Erin August 29, 2007 at 6:29 am

I understand the desire for exclusivity, the need to make a living, and protect one’s own interests, but come on. If you don’t want to sell the pattern, don’t sell the pattern. Of course, someone clever will come along and figure it out anyway, and you’ll receive nothing in return. That’s the risk you run in a creative industry.

I really don’t think women devalue the work that other women do. Quilters (and women) are used to sharing things. Quilts most certainly are art, but quilting comes from humble beginnings, where women had to rely on scraps, their imagination, and what they were able to learn from each other. What better way to value someone’s work than to want to learn from it? If someone wants to BUY a pattern you designed, how is that a bad thing?

Weeks, have you never admired another person’s work and borrowed ideas from it? I’m not even talking about just quilts – you never saw a rug or a pattern on a wallpaper or any other type of design and thought some aspect of the design might look cool as a quilt?

16 meg August 29, 2007 at 6:54 am

This strikes me as kind of harsh.

17 olga*orange August 29, 2007 at 7:24 am

Marilyn — how horrible! I can’t even imagine how you must feel. I love etsy dearly and it’s really sad that someone would bite your style like that (pun intended).

I totally agree with the people who are saying that much of this has to do with women devaluing women’s work (and their own work). Crafting is such a great community, which implies sharing, but so often women have hard time creating boundaries and demanding that their work be valued.

Does anyone have any thoughts on Amy Butler? I’ve heard from my mother, a quilter, that she objects to people selling items made with her fabrics. I know her fabrics have that scary warning on them, but I had always thought it meant no large-scale corporate use. If she’s stopping people who buy her fabrics from using them for sale, that’s taking the original poster’s point far too far, I think.

What Jen wrote really resonates with me. I set out to “copy” designs for all sorts of things all the time, knowing full well that what I end up creating will bear absolutely no resemblance to the original. I guess that’s how you tell “copied from” from “inspired by.”

18 Laura August 29, 2007 at 8:46 am

I do understand the sentiment and raw emotion surrounding this subject. I struggled with this years as an art student. At one point I found painting and photography to be ‘dead’ as it seemed that there was no way to ever create an image that someone couldn’t say “That reminds me of xyz’s work” or “I saw something similar to this before.” Thus, I quit shooting, or at least sharing my work on a professional and educational level.

We all are exposed to the same, or at least similar, events, experiences, feelings. It is hard to say when someone is plagarizing, or just had a similar idea.

I do feel that outright copying someone’s work and trying to pass it off as your own is wrong. But what if just so happened to make a crochet alligator, without ever seeing Marilyn’s creation. I am I infringing on her IP?

Anyone familiar with Negativeland? I love some of the points they make about IP.

19 Weeks August 29, 2007 at 10:18 am

I want to jump in here to reiterate a few points made in my post that seem to have been misinterpreted. We love to sell people patterns. That’s why we release some of them. We want people to be able to make some of our designs, just not every single one. We are flattered when people are inspired by our work. What I am writing about are the people who want to make an exact replica of our designs that have not been released as patterns.

Inspiration is great. Duplicating someone’s work that is copyrighted is not.

Marilyn’s cautionary tale is a great example. As for the line between inspiration and copying I always think that if it looks like someone else’s design, it probably is. If you were to put them side by side and they look as though the same person made them, that’s a problem. If you see something you like and it inspires you to design something of your own, that’s not a problem at all.

I would also like to add that I really appreciate all of the thoughtful responses to this post.

20 Sheri Coleman August 29, 2007 at 2:55 pm

Great post, thanks so much for the insight!!

21 Marianna August 29, 2007 at 5:52 pm

Hello. You are very right to feel and act the way you do, and I believe that there will be a day when most people will arrive to the same conclusions. However, there are a couple of misconceptions about the issue of intellectual property and copyright alike. There is no way to actually calculate loss based on the assumption that those who copy would otherwise purchase. Most would simply live “without,” quilts, patterns, songs, and poems are not essential needs.
The other is the extent to which the laws on the matter are being imposed. People in Gambia, Guatemala, or Bangladesh for example should not be expected to pay royalties and fees. Why they should care for the college fees of the designers when their children cannot even finish elementary school? Their needs are far greater than ours; surviving is more important for them than respecting rights that protect expression. It seems to me elemental. People are more important than things. Life is the supreme value. In every country the conditions, the culture and people are different.
Thank you for your great post. Marianna.

22 Jes August 29, 2007 at 7:56 pm

I fully agree with your decision to not sell the pattern. However, most people choose the career that pays rent, or puts a child through college. If it’s not working, other avenues can and should be taken, if possible. The simple fact of the matter is that there will be people who copy for nefarious reasons, or just because they don’t know better. Those numbers will usually be much smaller than those who can and will pay.

It’s your duty to do what you can to make sure that happens in various ways, rather than focusing on the smaller negative. Work toward making unique, innovative designs that are hard to copy, without use of a purchased pattern. Expand your territory to reach out to more people (who will purchase), so that you have more college money for your daughter. There’s always something an artist can do to stay ahead of the pack, rather than focus on being a victim.

That said, I can see how there has been (& will continue to be) a larger necessity where copying without intent to sell, has importance.

Above our desk, is a photo of my boyfriend’s mother (as a toddler), wearing a flour feedsack dress. With numerous children (thanks to no birth control and little education), her mother didn’t have time to figure out how to come up with dress patterns on her own. The feedsack usage comes from being unable to afford material, which is a separate issue. From the very few store bought clothes she had, she figured out how to make more clothes. While it may have taken money out of someone else’s pocket, her mother had no skills (& little way to gain them) back then, to join the workforce No way to pay designers or store owners who may have been angry that she (& others) were taking money out of THEIR pocket. I’m sorry, but I can’t fault her for that.

Also, quilts of olden days were often copied for reasons of needing to get families through winter, with little money. I don’t fault them either.

Present day: I have a girlfriend in a small Virginian town, who was abruptly left to be a single mother of 3 children. Because she can’t afford most necessities, she’s taken to making certain things herself. She is NOT creative, nor does she have the time for it. The nearest Goodwill or thrift shop is around 150 miles away. She doesn’t take government handouts (which of course, takes money out of other’s pockets), because she feels there are others who are handicapped, and need the money more. She copies clothes she’s purchased, to make more things for her rapid growing children, in a cold climate. She also makes makes some bed linens, based on previously purchased linens. She can’t even afford a computer or Internet service, to find inexpensive, vintage patterns to purchase online. I don’t find fault with her, and will not go on a campaign to tell her why it’s not okay to copy. Should she ever want to sell her copied clothes at festivals in their rural town to put food on her table, I will not bother her with the issue of someone worried about putting their child through college, when there’s nothing wrong with a child repaying a college loan.

23 Jes August 29, 2007 at 8:03 pm

I just read over what I wrote, and it sounds as if I were being harsh and uncaring. It wasn’t meant to be. Just pointing out situations I’ve seen, where basic necessity sometimes trumps the issue of copyright. I may be way off, and that’s okay. I just can’t in good faith worry a friend who is barely making it in a poor, rural town where she doesn’t have much ability to better herself, or to get out.

It’s only a side issue to those who just want to copy for other reasons, and not out of basic necessity. In those situations, I fully understand that copying is a problem.

24 gleek August 29, 2007 at 9:37 pm

olga*orange, the amy butler note that you mentioned has already been addressed on whipup. here’s a link to the original article:

25 sniffer August 29, 2007 at 11:03 pm

What a shame. Copying the works of the masters has been an important way for artists to learn their craft for centuries. I hate to see creativity set on a pedestal so that only specially trained people who could afford to go to art school can practice it, and must defend their works from the masses. I wish that more hobbyist quilters had the confidence to develop their own creativity rather than wanting instructions for making exact copies for their entire lives. Then copying could be seen as a valuable step toward developing your own creativity and original designs, rather than an end in itself. But, oh my, that wouldn’t placate copyright holders!

26 bethany hissong August 30, 2007 at 12:10 am

I totally agree with you! When I worked in advertising, clients would want to copy something they saw, as if the idea wasn’t important…just the finished work! My husband started a company five years ago and he wrote the business plan. Last year he got out but his “intellectual property” was not valued, so he spent five years for basically nothing. In this new age of instant information, sometimes original thought and creativity are devalued because it’s so easy to copy from many available sources. Artists and designers need to stand firm on copyright laws. Crafting, not “high” craft, but “low” craft has always been just copying a pattern so this will take many by surprise (as written above). People who can’t create ideas won’t understand.

27 Kim August 30, 2007 at 12:43 am

I LOVE that people are discussing this topic!!!

I think the world is hard on artists – there is so little money to be had – that this issue of intellectual property is an important one. However, there are blurry lines are everywhere with this topic.

It is the irony of all creativity – once something has been released into the world rather than hidden, it influences and is copied and used by others. If art is meant to be witnessed, it will be reproduced.

Some senarios:

Photographers profit from photos that include statues or architecture or landscapes – in these cases royalties are not paid to the architect, the landscape architect or the scupltor who created the scene that served as the inspiration for the work. One can argue that the visuals are set and altered by the photographer, but truth be told, it is not soley their work and inspiration. And, there are millions of amateur photographers out there too.

At work, we had a committee about our unruly website, and everyone compiled a list of spectacular websites. Our graphic designer (who is technically gifted but no-so-artistic) studied them and redesigned our website. While our website improved, it was not spectacular because the intellectual properties latent behind these sites could not be mastered by this person.

What these people can do, however, is skim the cream. The easy money to be had. The smaller commissions. A few “tricks”. And our commerce system, at this point in history, is full of skimmers.

I am an event planner in Los Angeles, and believe me, this happens in event work all the time. My tack has been to be first with a “fresh” idea, get it out there, run it a few cycles, and then get on to the next “fresh” thing. I don’t hold onto things. Mostly – because I can’t anyway -they are photographed! I have had titles and themes ripped off, visuals, color palettes – you name it. Because my brain is relentless with ideas, it does not bother me too terribly much, unless my titled event is running in the news alongside the ripped off title – that has happened to me several times. It confuses people.

The only thing that I can say that may give you courage as you look at your bills and your efforts- is that it is your mind and your hand that is the true property, not the quilt itself. These are things that no one can take from you. No one is you.


28 Laura (the first Laura commenter) August 30, 2007 at 12:50 am

I think the Amy Butler example is a good one – she decided to put this restriction on her fabric, which she as the designer and copyright holder was able to do. But people responded very negatively and it kinda bit her in the face. She smartly realized that this move was going to cost her money, not gain her money, and changed her policy. In this collaborative, networked world, gaining goodwill and having others reference your work is key. Because of that, sharing your creations and ‘patterns’ with others (creative commons license, whatever) can often bring in more money in the long run than being tightfisted about your work.

It’s a tricky question, because imo Weeks and her studio have developed a very distinctive look, and understandably she wants to protect the time and money she’s spent developing it. But I’m not sure that people making an interpretation of her work that’s not for sale, people who are not currently in the market for one of her quilts anyway, are going to somehow take money away from her business. In fact, as people see more quilts like these, the market for modern quilts may increase and she might make more money from her quilts and books. (That’s not to say that she has any responsibility to provide a pattern to people if she doesn’t want to; who uses a pattern to make a quilt, anyway? (Besides perhaps a basic block layout, interpreted) )

29 Patty August 30, 2007 at 2:18 am

I very much support what Weeks wrote – I worked in the clothing industry and things I designed were knocked off brazenly. The knock offs were not as nice, or as hip – but I feel and felt the same frustrations as Weeks.
Nevertheless,I think as an artist the right thing to do is keep moving forward. Sell as much or as little as you think is right of your work, patterns, prints and let your work be in the world doing what it will and don’t let the frustration cramp your creativity. I find it unlikely that FunQuilts would run out of ideas for great quilts. Check out for Nina Bagleys’ fume on August 22nd about similar things…

30 Kate August 30, 2007 at 8:23 am

Totally agree with Sniffer and Erin. The narrowness of Weeks’ viewpoint amazes me. Grow up and get on with your own work. Or maybe use some of the education you refer to in the original post and realize that no one creates in a vacuum. You are undoubtedly “copying” design motifs, details, ideas, etc. that you don’t even remember you ever saw, but they are part of your memory and experience. I guess what really bothers me, and why this post is “harsh” is the focus on art = money. Art creates beauty, and god knows the world needs more of it, wherever it comes from, including the people you scorn for wanting to live with the beauty of your design. And I seriously doubt that you are actually losing money when a person copies one of your designs to put on her own bed. If anything, your “look” is gaining a wider audience, and you probably profit in the end.

31 Wendy August 31, 2007 at 12:42 am

I agree with Erin, Sniffer, and Jen as well. I think it’s just human nature for someone to see something beautiful and want re-create it. I don’t understand Week’s example about the collector who showed the quilt and credited her. What is the problem? So now people call asking for the pattern, and it is her choice to not sell it. She is getting credit, and she could obviously make money from the pattern if she really wanted to. It seems it’s not necessarily a money matter so much as wanting the recognition. I just think it’s unreasonable and naive to expect that no one would try to reproduce something similar. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but she needs to get over it, because that’s just not how it works out.

32 medea August 31, 2007 at 12:50 am

If “asking permission to make the quilt” is requesting a pattern or instructions for free, as a designer I wouldn´t have done it.

However, if based on the quilt on the cover of the magazine someone decided to draft a pattern, I don´t see any problem with that.

33 leslie August 31, 2007 at 4:58 am

There seem to be 2 separate points being made in Weeks’ original post: one, that art is labor, and as we live in a free market, democratic, capitalist society, that that labor should be rewarded in the same fashion as the labor of a plumber or lawyer. I am in complete agreement. Art/craft/design is grossly undervalued in American society as a whole, and I have often encountered people asking for my work/labor for free as, since I “am doing what I love,” I shouldn’t also expect to be paid. That I should be happy to design their brochure, or poster, or invitation, or you name it, for free, because I love my work. The presumption being that lawyers and plumbers do not, I suppose. While I am consistently maddened by this, I am never surprised. Unless we demand acknowledgment in the form of payment, this will never change.

That said, if I understand what I think to be Weeks’ second point, that she/her work is somehow damaged/compromised by “hobbyist” quilters copying the designs she has deliberately made UNavailable to them, I could not agree less. As someone’s earlier post pointed out, once a work of art is in the public realm, there is limited control an artist can exert over it’s reception or reproduction. It is absurd to think otherwise. Particularly given that the public realm now includes the internet. I am of the postmodernist opinion that ANY creation, a photo, a book, a painting is “completed” by the viewer. That the creator doesn’t get to dictate what the art means to the viewer or how it functions beyond their studio. And that’s GOOD. The idea that ANY design has been birthed in some “pure” form, uninformed by the art or culture that preceded it, is laughable.

So, the price Weeks’ charges for her work should reflect all the things she lists as necessary to the creation of that work. Education, materials, labor, etc., And if the market is such that she can command that and more, she should ask for it. THAT is the part she can dictate. But the notion that anyone encountering her designs shouldn’t borrow some element from them or steal it outright – what is that Picasso quote, “good artists borrow, great artists steal”? – for their own use, is fundamentally ridiculous.

34 emily August 31, 2007 at 5:09 am

There is a fantastic exhibit at the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis) right now about Picasso’s influence. They have Picasso paintings alongside work by Braque, de Kooning, Dali, Jasper Johns, Warhol, Pollack & Lichentstein. It’s very apparent that some of the greatest artists of the 20th century are exploring Picasso’s ideas by COPYING, imitating, and exploring. Learning from great work helps other artists explore your ideas about color, form, technique, texture, etc. I don’t condone copying, but there is a difference between an exact knock-off masquerading as an original and something clearly influenced by something else.

Every artists has a signature that helps you identify their work. We know the aesthetic that differentiates Balenciaga from Prada from Comme des Gracons. (I intentionally selected companies without garish labels like Fendi & Gucci). In the grand scheme of things, did people knocking off Dior New Look hurt the legacy of that fashion house? I’d argue that it helped define his look and bring it to a larger audience. I can buy a couture-like dress knock-off after the Oscar’s, but it ain’t couture.

And Weeks, what you make is couture. We all know it. And we admire it. And when we see one of your designs, we know it is a funquilts design. Two quilts with the same dimensions and pattern and color are not the same. We can tell the touch of the quilt-maker. It is distinct. Don’t sell yourself short. While some of us may be trying to steal, most of us are just trying to get a little of your Dior couture to our Sears lives.

35 Laura (second Laura) August 31, 2007 at 8:33 am

FWIW, I just noticed that Amy Butler has changed the policy, and now allows her fabrics to be used for production and items intended to be sold.

I agree with Medea, as long as the products or artwork credits the original for inspiration.

36 Katie August 31, 2007 at 10:05 am

It seems to me that some have strayed away from the obvious and clear point Weeks was making. Her art; her science and recipe, her exact decisions and thoughts are being stolen when they are copied. While many of us would allow ourselves to be inspired and challenged by someone else’s end result or simply the style why should those who are stealing/copying be allowed to do so without criticism?

How will those who are unknowing learn that there is a difference? If you have ever been imitated you would know that it is not flattery. It is someone being either void of their own creativity or thoughtless. Those void should purchase available designs and the thoughtless should be forced to wake up.

As far as being influenced…we can do so responsibly can we not? Intellectual Property does exist. We each spend much time creating our own vocabulary, our own recipes. This needs to be respected in all forms of art whether it is the visual arts, audio arts, culinary arts, and so on.

If this commentary was started by Annie Lebowitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Barbara Kingslover, Janis Joplin or another woman would some be so quick to defend the thieves or tell her to suck it up and move on? I doubt it. This is an important dialogue that needs to be shared.

37 AnneB August 31, 2007 at 10:37 am

In looking at your original question:
“Are crafters who are making things for their family and friends that are not to be sold obligated to respect copyrights on designs the same way profit-driven manufacturers are?”
…I would have to disagree with you, if only for this reason:
If a person hears a song on the radio, and hears it many times, so that they learn to sing it by heart. As a present to their friends and family, they record themselves singing the song on a tape, and give it away (do not sell it). That is absolutely considered ‘fair use’. A professional artist who records the song on his next album without permission would be sued.
The amateur singer was exposed to the art in a similar way to the example of the hobby quilters who saw the quilt in the magazine. In fact (if you ask me) to extend my example, they were asking for the equivalent of the sheet music to the song.
I know that performance art is not the same as designed or decorative art, but really… Aren’t there details that set a genuine quilt made by you apart? Sewing details, etc?

It seems to me that if you do not wish to be hounded for patterns, you should not be in the business of designing quilts. I think refusing to sell the pattern that had obviously had great exposure could possibly injure your reputation with potential customers (of your patterns, not the quilts).

Don’t get me wrong, I agree that you have a right to refuse to sell a pattern to a quilt you may have promised would be one of a kind. But your potential customers also have a right to demand a product they are willing to buy. The question isn’t whether they are going to use the quilt for personal use, the question is, are you going to supply their demand?

Why not price the pattern at a high price? Say…$200? That would reduce the demand pretty quick, I guarantee.

38 Supernøtt August 31, 2007 at 7:33 pm

I totally agree with you, and think people are quite rude to assume that you would give away a pattern for free, regardless of use. One should not even have to explain why, a simple ‘no’ should be enough.

39 Christelle August 31, 2007 at 8:12 pm

I think some of the confusion probably comes from the way quilters have traditionally worked. Traditional quilt patterns have been shared and handed down for hundreds of years. Long before the invention of modern copyrights, someone invented the “nine-patch” and the “lone star” patterns and countless others. Since traditional quilting was often done in community, patterns were shared and handed down over generations. I think most people are not out to hurt you financially when they want to buy your quilt patterns, they are more likely trying to carry on an age-old tradition.

40 Linda September 1, 2007 at 5:21 am

Goodness, I’m scared to even write my question here. I’m a pattern designer myself and have looked all over to find advice on this question, short of going to a intellectual property attorney (my business right now is VERY small). From what I’ve gathered, copyright applies to the written pattern and of course, diagrams and the such. Thus, because quilts are flat and can be diagramed, they more easily fall under copyright protection. Let’s now take something 3-D, like a diaper bag. Copyright protects my written pattern – no one can copy it without my permission. But does copyright protection actually extend to the design of the bag itself? I may not know what I’m talking about here, but from what I understand, the design itself falls under a patent. I could patent my design and then have the rights to manufacture it myself, correct? I’ve called the US Copyright office and have gotten 2 opposite answers to this question: is it legal to buy a pattern and make something from that pattern for sale? I completely agree that it is an ethical issue, I’m just curious about whether the law would back the small pattern designer like myself. I write on my patterns, “This is a copyrighted pattern and is intended for personal use only. Please do not create this item for sale.” Certainly there is some agreement made when someone buys the pattern, but is it legally binding? I realize you are very busy, but would appreciate some input here. Also, if I’ve openned up a can of worms, feel free to delete this comment. Thanks!

41 anonymous September 2, 2007 at 7:59 am

I also am a pattern designer. Ideally, nobody would like the things they do to be reproduced, and each of us wants be be original. However, most of what we do is an idea that someone else came up with. Do you stipple your quilts? Someone else came up with that, as well as binding techniques and applique and piecing. I am guessing that since you saw those somewhere and knew you could do them yourself, you didn’t have a second thought about where it came from. If you have a quilt that you don’t want shared with the world, that you don’t want anyone to reproduce because they are smart enough to do it, then keep it locked up, and don’t show it to anyone. Perhaps when you sell one of these original quilts, you should have some kind of legal form for the buyer to sign saying that your design will not be published in any way.

One thing that really bothers me is your approach to the free advertisement you received- no gratitude for the many people who were drawn to your business because of it, only frustration. And free advertisement as well as a growing customer base does a pretty dang good job of paying for college. I think you may be missing the point of designing, and it makes me sad to see that it isn’t about sharing with others, and is based solely on monetary value.

42 Emily September 3, 2007 at 12:12 am

Linda – THANK YOU FOR ASKING THAT QUESTION!!! I have had the SAME question for weeks and havent found the answer. Craft magazine had a great article on copyrights in the most recent issue, but barely scratched the surface in this way. I wrote to the editor asking for another article on this subject, but have yet received no response. Does anyone know the answer????

43 inspiration September 3, 2007 at 7:21 am

It seems that what the author is writing about refers to _exact_ copies and does not refer to people being inspired by others’ designs and I’ve got to agree with that. We are all influenced by the world around us and build on each others’ ideas. All artists will agree to that. The issue here is that copying any design exactly without permission is not right. I think that’s all that is being said. I’m confused by the hostility in some of the comments- perhaps it comes from people who feel guilty for what they’ve done. So go ahead, be inspired but don’t just copy without permission.

44 Becky September 3, 2007 at 9:31 pm

I saw this and just had to comment. If the author choses not to publish a pattern that is her choice but I don’t think that she has the right to tell anyone that they can’t replicate her work by figuring it out themselves. By the very nature of having to figure out the pattern on ones own and having to find fabrics and notions that are available the reproduction would not be exact. On that same note I believe that this should only apply to something for personal use and not something made to be sold.

45 Mae September 4, 2007 at 7:51 am

I am sorry that Weeks is so easily offended both on and off this website. She is a very talented individual. I think most quilters get the issue and try to respect designers’ work. Most quilters are out here quilting for the sheer joy of it. Many of her designs inspire others, and I’m sure Weeks has also benefitted from the inspiration of others.

46 Kari September 4, 2007 at 9:04 pm

It’s interesting how some commenters refer to clothing “knock-offs”… I think the two aren’t really similar enough to be compared, and here’s why.

Clothing and fashion is an industry that’s had to deal with copyright infringement for quite some time. Seeing department store copies of bigger names isn’t uncommon at all. Each fasion designer tries to build her/his own style enough to attract more customers; but naturally, as more people are drawn to a particular style, more will think about skimming the cream so to speak, and “knock” it off. The industry thrives on this sort of copyright theft each successive season. It’s hurt by it, but also helped.

Quilts, and other handmade crafts in general, are a different breed (to me at least.) If I walked into a store that sold quilts, I wouldn’t want to see the same design over and over again. I’d want to look at different artists styles and perspectives. Different colors, different techniques and different sizes – simply for the fact that there’s lots of ways to piece fabric together in the form of a blanket, and I’d rather come up with a “new” design for myself than rip off someone else’s.

That’s not to say I think it’s right or not right to limit personal use of a pattern that’s not technically in the public domain. You can not like it if you want; but at the end of the day, how Weeks runs her business, is her business. And, I don’t think it’s right to tell her she’s doing something wrong, simply because you might not agree with the way she decides to do it.

I think it’s refreshing that we’re all talking about copyrights, though. As a community we have to decide how much copying we’ll tolerate, I’ve already seen so much, and even though most of it isn’t meant to take money away from someone else, as someone starting a small business and as one posting my ideas and projects in the public domain – it concerns me because I’m not sure what the ramifications could be for my business later on.

47 Anu September 5, 2007 at 2:02 am

I can’t understand people calling and asking for the pattern anymore than I’d call Donna Karan and ask for a pattern for one of her dresses since I would just be making it for myself. Now, if someone was skilled enough to look at the pattern and make one for their own personal use, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.

48 Kristina September 6, 2007 at 2:34 am

This is a very interesting debate, and it’s nice to see that people care enough to be curious about it. Here’s my non-professional opinion.
There’s a pretty famous case called Baker v. Selden, decided eons ago, but still mostly good law. Selden came up with a system of double entry accounting that made accounting easier and published it in a book. Using Selden’s method, Baker described the method differently in his own book. He did use some of Selden’s same illustrations and examples. However, the Supreme Court said that this was okay because there is a distinction between an idea and the expression of that idea. The IDEA can’t be copyrighted, only the EXPRESSION of that idea.
This case isn’t exactly on point, but it’s a similar concept. There’s no doubt that Weeks’ quilts are copyrightable. If someone copied her American Pie quilt with the circles in the same spots, and used the same fabric in the same colors (or even mostly the same), and tried to sell it, they would likely be infringing, and could be sued. It would be harder to sue someone who used the same basic idea (shaded circles on a solid background), even if they sold it, and even harder to sue someone who made it for their own use (how on earth would you police that?).
Personally, the making of things from patterns and then selling them issue is harder for me. If I copied the pattern itself, and tried to sell that, clearly I would be infringing. But it doesn’t seem like making something from the pattern and then selling it is infringing on the expression of the pattern. Who would I be harming if I did that? Simplicity isn’t selling clothes made from its own patterns. Maybe it’s like a play script (limited license). Technically, you’re supposed to buy a copy of a script for each actor in a play, not copy them all from one script. Should I buy a pattern for each piece I make? Has anyone looked to see if the patterns say one way or the other on the instructions or pieces somewhere?
It’s all very tricky. With art, the line between expression and idea is much narrower. The best rule of thumb (especially if you’re planning on selling) is to ask permission first, even if it requires asking a lawyer.
But if you’re interested, here’s a teeny tiny set of guidelines that I go through when I’m trying to decide whether something might be infringing:
First, what does copyright protect?
Copyright protects original works of authorship fixed in tangible medium.
Copyright does not protect ideas.
What rights does a copyright holder have?
Copy (reproduction)
Derivative works (adaptation)
Distribute (publication)
What is fair use? (factors to consider, taken from 17 USC 107)
What is the purpose and character of the use (commercial? nonprofit? educational?)
What is the nature of the copyrighted work (fact/fiction, published/unpublished, etc.)
What is the the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole?
What is the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work?
(As a side note, fair use has been limited in light of the Napster and Grokster decisions, so don’t be too sure that your use is protected by fair use)
I know that was confusing, but I hope my very VERY non-professional opinion was somewhat helpful, at least in knowing the questions to ask a real professional.

49 Kristina September 6, 2007 at 2:36 am

hmmm, part of the reason it looks so confusing is the lack of ability to format anything (highlight, bold, tab, etc.). everything seems scrunched together. so sorry. :(

50 Edie September 6, 2007 at 4:57 am

Here is a little more on the issue of copying/copyright – over at Embroidered Collage, Beth asks if it is okay to use recognizable images from specific sources in a collage –
I too wonder what is legal in regards to this issue.

Also, to respond to Linda and Emily – me too! I wish the designer would make it clear that “yes, it’s okay to use my pattern to make something to sell” or “Pattern is for personal use only; do not make objects to sell using this pattern”. Ethically, I wouldn’t use a copyrighted pattern to make things to sell; I’d rather make my own pattern and have that for sale right along with the stuffed toy or whatever, just to eliminate the “I like it but I don’t want to buy it, I’ll just copy yours” comment I’ve gotten from shoppers. Frankly, I’m a little discouraged about making and selling things; anything simple enough to make and sell is also simple enough to copy and make yourself.

51 kim from melbourne September 6, 2007 at 8:57 am

My 2 cents…

“What is the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work?”

This is an interesting question as it has bearing upon an issue that seems to have escaped people’s notice.

Weeks refers specifically to one of, exclusive designs she makes and sells to individual high end customers. If people attempt to replicate these designs, it has a direct impact on the value of the piece. It’s no longer a one off. This potentially has an impact on the value, both monetary and sentimental of the piece, and would have an impact on Weeks relationship with current and future customers.

In effect if Weeks made patterns available for quilts that she’d sold as one offs, she’d be breaching a contract with the purchaser, and this would impact on her the goodwill of her business’.

Even if these quilts were made for private use, they can potentially enter the market place via. the second hand market/deceased estates.

Weeks is wanting not only to protect her work and name, but also to protect her relationship with a particular clientele, to whom exclusivity is one of the qualitites she is selling.

Some may not agree with this, or like it, but it’s her right, and the law protects her.

If people choose to replicate, well each to their own moral code, but you can’t expect her to like it.

52 Elizabeth September 6, 2007 at 10:59 am

I totally respect that there are some quilts you may want to release patterns for, and some that you don’t.

Why should you have to put the time and effort into making and releasing a pattern for something when you don’t want to, just because someone wants you to?

I do think that it would be a terrible blow for to have your design work basically stolen and mass produced and/or credited to someone else, but I have a very hard time understanding how someone copying a design in their home, whether or not it enters the market eventually via a secondhand market, in any way diminishes the individuality or value of the original creation made by it’s true designer.

Quilts tend to bear the stamp of their maker, whether the maker wishes it to or not, and especially if they have to figure out the pattern themselves.

I personally would not go through all the trouble of making something as big as a quilt that wasn’t my own design. That’s alot of work to do and NOT end up with something that you can give yourself all the credit for! It also doesn’t sound like all that satisfying of a pursuit. I guess some people are more in the mindset of “I want something that will look nice in the guest bedroom” than “I want to go on the grand artistic journey only a QUILT can provide!”, and that seems like an alright thing to me, especially if they credit you for the inspiration.

So many garment companies have designers that basically SHOP, drop the garment off in their pattern department where the pattern maker copies it, and then they make it in their own fabric. It is pretty much impossible for you to not get your design ripped off as a clothing designer, unless all you do is rip other people off. Clothing designers just have to totally give up on caring about exclusivity of their designs if they want to stay sane. (and it’s not a guarantee that they will stay sane.) It’s not cool for people to shop instead of design, and a good reason to be a quilt designer rather than a fashion designer, since a quilt is atleast alot more work to replicate than a little shirt out of some stretchy material or what have you, and commercial copying of quilts is probably a little less rampant and/or acceptable.

By the way, your quilts and fabrics are beautiful.Thanks for sharing and for doing excellent inspirational work.

53 Wendy September 6, 2007 at 2:23 pm

Legalities and moral issues aside. Wouldn’t two vendors showing up at a craft fair with exactly the same quilts (both stolen from the same designer) be rather embarrassing? Wouldn’t potential customers (or even other vendors) point out “Yeah, those look like the quilt that was on the cover of that magazine.” Honestly, I don’t know of a vendor in any craft that would be willing to risk reputation like that. For that matter, I don’t know many organizers that would allow either of the vendors to stay.

As for the private folks making copy-cats there is a way to prevent having exact duplicates and that’s to make your textiles in-house, or have them designed and exclusively produced for your use, or at the very least use fabrics that are not sold on a retail level. Rather than rely on the goodwill of the dishonest, lock the doors.

The final option that seems most practical to me is not glamorous; simply raise the bar. Make something that is not as easily duplicated, if not using exclusive materials use rarer or more exotic versions that are not readily available, and release new products at lightening speed.

Personally I believe that intellectual property is real property and should be treated as such. I wouldn’t worry about the people with the decency to call and *ask* to use a design, perhaps instead of a ‘no’ you could recommend a design that you sell that has similar elements or feel. I believe most home quilters would be more than happy with the substitute pattern and sales of those patterns would help pay the bills.

54 ivete September 11, 2007 at 12:42 am

It seems to me, from reading the replies, that people tend to believe what’s convenient for them: ie home crafters/artists seem to believe it’s ok to copy for non-profit use (and let’s face it that’s convenient for them) and professional crafters/artists seem to believe it’s wrong to copy EVEN IF it’s for hobby use (and how convenient for them).

I fall kind of in the middle of hobby and professional — I mostly knit as a hobby but I also design and sell patterns. As you might expect from what I wrote above, I don’t have a solid answer to this issue of copying for personal use.

I have to admit to sometimes taking inspiration from designer sweaters for my own knits, but I almost never copy a sweater exactly. On the rare occasion that I do copy a sweater so closely you might confuse mine with the real one (I just finished one such sweater, having used only the photo and my skills/experience to come up with the near-exact replica), I keep the sweater for personal use and do not distribute a pattern.

I believe that distributing a pattern would be crossing the line, but making myself a sweater does not cross that line. No one can stop me from using my skills to make whatever I want, but not everyone has those skills — and some percentage of those without the necessary skills will just buy the $300 sweater instead of slaving through trying to come up with their own version.

Knock offs are a very fuzzy area of the law and probably will always be. There are a few cases going right now of designers suing low-end mega chains for knocking off designs, like DVF suing Forever 21 — one article here:

I’ll be interesting to see the decision . . . and this has been a very interesting post/discussion.

55 Lyn September 11, 2007 at 1:16 am

In regards to the question of how a pattern is used (profit/donation/etc) this is addressed on this website My impression of Fair Use was incorrect, according to the lawsuits filed, and won by this company.

Another issue that should be addressed is Public Domain. A number of the gallery quilts on the Fun Quilts website are variations of public domain blocks. No one owns them – what is copyrightable? Color – Style – Layout?

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