Copyright law and the quilter

I’ve been mulling over the issues of copyright as it relates to quilting in my mind lately. In recent years, there have been some pretty loud rumblings in the quilt world about this issue, as more and more quilters, artists, designers and companies become aware of the law. To me, most of the interpretation of copyright law has been pretty self explanatory and logical really, at least for my purposes. It’s the oft repeated “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” thing. When you purchase a quilt pattern or book you’ve purchased the right to make that project for personal use, or as gifts. Selling the project is generally not allowed, though in some cases, designers have expressly granted permission to make a certain number of projects to sell (sometimes up to ten) for profit at craft fairs and shows.

Quilting pattern

All that being said, I really feel that if I have made a quilt from a pattern in a book, and I want to sell that quilt, I should be able give credit to the designer and price the work accordingly, taking into account only the time and materials I put into the project. In other words, I would be charging for my time and materials, not for the originality of the design itself. If I sell a quilt that is my own design, I would charge for my time, the materials, and for the originality of the design as well. I would happily grant that privilege to anyone who purchased one of my patterns as well. That is not what the law says, though, so that’s not what we are allowed to do.

Recently I’ve seen more and more questions and issues about showing quilts made from commercial copyrighted patterns. This is where it gets sticky and mean sometimes, I think, when designers aren’t credited publicly for their work. If you have purchased a pattern or book, do you have the right to make a project to enter into a quilt show for public display? Personally, I think this should be a given, provided that credit is given to the pattern source. This is how the major quilt shows are handling this, and smaller craft shows and local fairs are catching up as well.

But this leads me to my personal question about all of this: much information exists about copyright on the quilt (patchwork) pattern, but what about the quilting patterns? What about the design of the actual stitching (whether by hand or machine) that holds the three layers of the quilt together? When you purchase a quilt design stencil, or a book of quilting designs, what usage rights have you actually purchased?

Can you quilt the design in the middle of a blank square of fabric, make it into a pillow and sell it as your own? Probably not. Can you use the quilting design on a quilted work, as part of the overall design of the piece, and sell the piece (if it’s your own patchwork design, of course)? If you see a quilting design on a quilt in a book, but the pattern for the quilting design is not provided, can you copy that design and use it on your own quilt? Do you need to give credit to the quilting design designer when you enter the quilt in a show? Is it necessary to get that down and dirty about it all when you enter your quilt in a quilt show? With the current trend in the quilt world, perhaps it is, if only to protect yourself against possible problems down the line.

I use commercial pre-designed quilting patterns a lot, either from stencils or books, since I’m not always able to come up with my own designs. My talent runs in other directions. I combine patterns, or modify them to suit the space or the look of the quilt. I keep track of quilting designs that I like, either the ones provided in books of designs, or the ones I see on quilts in photos to use in my own quilts, and I do show my quilts in national shows so I’m left wondering how to handle that issue. If it were my quilting design, I would say that anyone would be free to use the design in any way they wish, as long as they didn’t claim it as their own. You don’t even need to give me credit for it, just don’t claim it’s yours and try to sell it as a stencil or as a design in a book you’re writing. If you want to give me credit, great, otherwise, no biggie.

Oh, by the way, the quilt pattern you see with this post is my own design, and you’re free to download, save and use if you like! 😉 If you’re interested in more discussion of the copyright issue, check out the Sources page at www.lostquilt.com, which has lots of links to more information.

6 thoughts on “Copyright law and the quilter

  1. A very sensible and realistic opinion about this whole thing. I loved to read it. I get very confused at times when I design something and don´t know if it´s been already done by someone. Pretty tricky and confusing.

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  2. I have just designed and made a quilt for an ethnic cultural fund raiser and would like to protect my design. Parts are basic blocks that are found in multiple books.But together, with some original additions I feel I’d like to protect my design. How do I start???

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    1. Hi Janet. I couldn’t really tell you the process, never having formally filed for a copyright myself. You can search Google to find more answers, and contact the US Copyright Office.

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  3. I’ve been concerned about copyright issues as they apply to things that I might try to sell – my ‘excess inventory’ since I only have so much storage space but can’t stop quilting!
    I USED TO assume that anything I made without a pattern would be copyright free – BUT, not anymore!
    QUILTERS used to share everything from patterns, templates, stitching on each others’ quilts, etc. – everything – then the ARTISTS came along with their copyright demands and got all testy about sharing and wanting credit for everything and now I’m just not enjoying quilting like I used to. It’s not fun if I have to worry about somebody suing me over things I make. I’ve been quilting since I was a child – over 50 years – am I seriously expected to remember where every idea came from? I can’t even remember where my last fabric purchase came from!
    I recently bought an expensive pattern, expecting to make several versions and maybe selling a couple of them – only to find in the small print that I would have to buy a LICENSE in order to sell anything made from this pattern! Now, I could see buying a license in order to mass produce this pattern, but it’s a bit much to buy a license for something I may or may not ever sell!
    I think the pattern designers and artists need to find a middle ground somewhere before quilters take up some other hobby.

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    1. Hi Thea. This issue covers many grey and foggy areas, that’s for sure. Being a quilter and an artist myself, I can see both sides of course! In my opinion, it all comes down to not selling or profiting from something that’s not entirely your creation, and if you stay on that side of the issue, you’ll have no problems.

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  4. Well said! Thank you for sharing YOUR design and giving permission. I appreciate that and if like, ever I make money…LOL…I’ll let you know!!!! Promise!

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