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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GDTshirt quilt

make it as fantastic as this one. A few years ago I got a tearful call from a friend of a friend who announced that she had a “quilting emergency.” Her brother had been a fan of the Grateful Dead (an American musical group that toured for 30 yrs) and had made his living tie-dyeing t-shirts, which he sold at Grateful Dead concerts. He had died unexpectedly at a young age leaving behind three small children. His sister had volunteered to take his hand-dyed shirts and make a t-shirt quilt for his children but she had never made a quilt before.

She asked us for design advice, technical assistance and the use of our long-arm quilting machine so the finished quilt would be sturdy. The woman and her mother took turns lovingly and tearfully quilting it on our machine and we were so glad to put our technical skills and machine to use for such a wonderful project.

That’s the thing about t-shirt quilts. If they’re made with really fun, sturdy t-shirts in a simple design, they bring back wonderful memories and are soft and comfy. The problem is that many t-shirt quilts are made with tattered t-shirts with crumbling silkscreens and aren’t worthy of the time that goes into them. The quilt is only as nice as the t-shirts that they’re made from. The other real success in this quilt is the design–there’s no sashing that frames each of the quilts in a box so the composition is much more dynamic than most t-shirt quilts that are laid out in a grid.

Below are some links to resources for making t-shirt quilts.

HGTV’s Simply Quilts t-shirt quilt instructions

PSHQuilts basic t-shirt quilts instructions

The technical advice is good but I’d simplify the design more. Eliminate the sashing, carefully crop the images on the shirts and use a very lightweight fusible interfacing. Try to play around with the sizes and proportion of the blocks and don’t try to add any pieced quilt blocks or large-scale fabrics in there. They will be too visually distracting. If for some reason you need to use other fabric, try a solid that will keep the focus on the graphics in the t-shirts not a busy pattern on the background fabric. It’s all about the memories of the t-shirts–everything else is a mere distraction. I knew that the Grateful Dead quilt was perfect when I realized that by just looking at the quilt made from man’s t-shirts I immediately felt as though I knew him, even though we never met. That’s one amazing quilt.



There’s a new environmentally friendly quilting batting on the block called Eco-craft. It’s made from corn (I know–corn?) but looks in every other way like polyester batting. Mountain Mist, the manufacturer of Eco-craft, and The International Quilt Study Center are hosting a competition using all natural materials. I’d love to hear from anyone who has actually quilted with it.

There are also some new offerings from Quilter’s Dream, the makers of my favorite batting. There’s a new polyester batting called Dream Puff that the manufacturer claims is warmer than down. Given that I live in Chicago which sees its share of cold weather, I’ll be trying this one out as soon as I can and will report back. I’m already a huge fan of their cotton and wool batting, both of which can be machine washed and dried. The really great thing about Quilter’s Dream batting is the soft drape that it gives to the quilt.



I admit that I can’t stand plastic shopping bags. I don’t like the sound of them, the feel of them, the effects they have on the environment, the way they get caught in trees or become bothersome to wildlife. I’m a cloth shopping bag girl from way back. They’re stashed in the car, on my bike, and even in my luggage when I travel. Even our 6-year-old daughter has her own cloth bags (shown above made with fabric designed by Jane Sassaman) for books, games and snacks.

So I was really excited to read about morsbags‘ efforts to organize groups of people, known as “pods,” to make cloth shopping bags from any kind of fabric available and hand them out at grocery stores around the world. Morsbags has a nice animated tutorial for making simple bags. In future posts I’ll include tutorials for various types of bags that I’ve found useful including shoe bags for travel, a child’s tote bag and a large heavy-duty tote bag for hauling books to and from the library. A friend and I have allocated one canvas bag for trading magazines back and forth between our houses before they get recycled. Show me your bags. I’d love to see ’em.



I received last week a copy of the book that features the quilts that were selected in Quilt National 2007. I opened the box with excitement as one of my quilts was accepted in the competition and therefore would appear in the book. So I thought I’d write a review not just of the book but also about the quilts that will appear in the show that will tour the US for the next two years and of the experience of being in the show.

Over the years I have had mixed feelings about Quilt National. While I am deeply appreciative that there exists a high-caliber, contemporary, international quilt show, I have often thumbed through previous years’ books and not purchased them because I was not inspired by enough of the quilts. I’m not as interested in surface design as the jurors and some of the pieces appear to have been embellished to death. In some years, subtlety and craftsmanship seem undervalued.

There have been in each show, however, a handful of quilts that take my breath away. I mean, really amazing quilts that I would never have seen were it not for Quilt National and for that I am deeply grateful. These quilts stay in my memory for years and I have learned a great deal from them. Even though I disagreed with many of the selections for the show, I greatly admire Quilt National and am honored to have had a quilt chosen for it.

Having had three books published I knew that colors in the printing process are hard to control and that errors often creep into books at the last minute. At FunQuilts, we have had so many mixed experiences with having our work photographed that twice in the last year we have sent handwritten thank-you notes to photographers who have done an exceptionally good job at a magazine or newspaper. I know it’s hard. The thing that made me nervous was that as a part of the competition you have to sign away rights to the image of your quilt. This was new territory for me and while I wasn’t thrilled about it I wanted to try to have a quilt in the show so I signed on the dotted line.

So when I opened the book and found that my quilt had not been hung straight so the stitching is a bit off and that the only image of it that appeared in the book was cropped, I was mystified. If you see it in the book, the stitching should be straight and the top has been chopped off so the proportion is misleading. But they got the color right.

There are three quilts in the book that have been cropped. It looks as though a couple of others have detail shots overlaid on them. And yes, there are some breathtaking pieces in the book that make the book worth the price. So here’s my advice to aspirants: If you are required to sign away your rights to an image of your art, ask if you can approve the image before it’s published. It only seems fair that if you can’t use the image yourself, you should at least be able to approve how your work is being portrayed.

All in all I’m still thrilled to have a quilt in the show, but the whole experience kind of reminded me of my high school prom–I was so excited to be asked but in the end the fantasy was better than the reality.