Monday 26 March 2012

The “Pandora’s Box” of Quilting

Update: 27 March:
Thanks to everyone for commenting and leaving your opinions -all of which are equally valid and interesting. I really think that this whole issue is something that as quilters we need to dialogue about.... it could effect any of us and I personally don't want quilting to 'look' or feel like this. By this I mean uneasiness and anxiety around the creation and exhibition of our work.

I did want to mention that I know the issue being discussed relates to the printing of an image on a tote bag for promotional reasons, however the printed image in question was not a re-print of the printed fabric, but was an image of a project which featured the fabric. Therefore, the question of quilters / designers/ printed fabrics and creation rights still stands as a concerning and I think unresolved question.

Here is an updated link that you might like to read if you have been following this issue:

Please read these blog links to see what I am talking about.
Imagine this: you design and create a quilt (or project) using commercially available printed fabrics. Perhaps you’re a well-known quilter publishing a book of your work and perhaps a fabric manufacturer sends you some fabrics to create your projects with. So far, this all sounds rather ordinary, yes? Now, imagine that the designer of the fabric range you used in your project sees your published book and decides to sue you, the quilter ($150,000) for breaching their licence. Unlikely? Impossible? Ridiculous?
I have been following the development of this very same scenario over the last week with great interest, concern and annoyed confusion.
I really feel that the Pandora’s Box of Quilting has had its lid pulled off…and the implications may not be nice for quilters.
  • How often do quilters see a quilt pattern and decide to purchase the very same fabrics used in the original quilt? Very often in my experience.
  • How often do quilters go out of their way to ask the designer what range of fabrics were used in a particular quilt? Very often in my experience.
  • How often have you purchased a fat quarter with no selvedge or fabric manufacturer details (not the retailer) listed anywhere on the fabric? Very often in my experience.
  • How often have you been pleased to know what range a fellow quilting blogger is using in a shared pattern or design? Pretty much always? Almost expect as much?
What are the implications of this situation? Does it mean that quilters are not able to create designs with commercially available printed fabrics free from the worry of being sued? Even when the fabric manufacturer sends it on to them? Are we all exposed to being potentially sued by designers who didn’t issue written permission or approval to us specifically to feature their fabrics on our blogs? Does this mean that, as a quilting blogger I am not allowed to show what fabrics I am using, creating and or simply like?
I don’t sell any fabrics and I don’t receive any monetary value from listing what fabrics I like or select for projects here on my blog. I know that the issue at hand is regarding a quilter publishing a book which included her projects being made up with a designer’s fabrics (which are commercially sold and available and in this instance were provided to the quilter for use), so my question is, if quilting fabrics aren’t allowed to be exhibited or shown or published as used examples without the permission of the designer…what are quilting fabrics for? Should we all be working with solids and hand dyes exclusively? Or are we simply not allowed to show and exhibit or publish any works which involve printed fabrics? And what are the implications for Quilt Shows and Festivals?
Surely quilted fabrics are made to be used in quilting and associated projects, so what’s the problem? Should designers have an avenue to sue quilters for promoting their own work using fabrics that were designed by someone else…and who’s designs were sold for the express purpose of quilting?
Anyone who follows my blog, website or is a member of my Yahoo Bom Group knows how seriously I take Copyright – it always matters. But is this really about Copyright? Surely designing a quilting fabric range means you expect quilter’s to use it?
This issue raises so many questions…for quilters and bloggers. If you blog, you are publishing.  So these questions are important.  It’s something I really think all quilters should be talking about, blogging about and expressing an opinion about.
Do I have to ask every single designer’s permission before sharing commercially sold fabric on my blog? Is that even possible? I couldn’t possibly discover the designer of each fabric range and writing to a manufacturer like Moda would take months.
This is my blog and this is my personal opinion. I sincerely hope that I don’t offend anyone because that is not my intention. But I am one of many quilters now questioning my design possibilities. I love finding new fabric ranges…will that have to stop now?
I have removed all Kate Spain’s fabric from my range, which is a shame because I love her work…but really, who needs the worry and heartache? And who wants to ask permission for every single fabric I use? I use hundreds of fabrics. Even in a scrap quilt??
Also, regarding selvedge’s on the fabrics ( when they are there), should they really tell us specifically what they mean by Rights Reserved? If something is Copyrighted, I am the first person to abide with it. However, I didn’t think quilting fabric was copyrighted to the extent that it couldn’t be shown once used.
What do you think?


  1. Esther, the way I understand this case is that it was about the tote bags that the book publisher was selling, not the quilt in the book. They used part of a photo of the quilt on the tote bag and then sold them commercially. This part of the photo included the designer's fabrics.

    That's what I have read...

  2. Surely copyright is to protect the pattern on the fabric from being copied and repeated on fabric and sold as the repeater's own work. Otherwise the copy right on other items such as sewing machines for instance would prevent us showning them in books and on blogs. If you use a sewing machine in a tutorial on a blog does this mean the sewing machine manufacturer will sue? Surely he will be pleased you are "advertising" his product.

    This action is absurd, lets hope the courts agree and drop the case.

  3. I often don't have a selvedge on my fat quarters, I guess it's just the way it is cut.

    Funny though, as a beginning quilter I would think the designer would want me to see her line displayed on a variety of things I could make. I am just terrible at figuring out what do do when I see a fat quarter bundle. I wish they would all come with pattern suggestions.

  4. Very interesting discussion. I hope you keep us updated on the developments!

  5. From my quick reading of the various blog posts, I understood it was about the tote bags (which is what Erica said) not the actual fabric.

    Reading Kate Spain's blog post I also understood that she was happy for people to use her fabric in various applications, (but obviously not for commercial gain).

    I sometimes mention the fabric line and designer when I blog about something I have made, as in the past I have been asked what the fabric was, I will continue to do so.

  6. I am not taking issue with any designer; however, why would a person designing fabric be allowed to profit from the sale of said fabric and THEN TELL ME WHAT TO DO WITH THE FABRIC? It's like me buying a car and the Manufacturer telling me that I cannot for any reason PAINT it. The copyright should refer to the copying of the design on fabric and if the court allows "extended" copyright, I will not purchase anymore fabric with designs on it. It is unfair to sue a quilter for USING fabric...that is going too far because the designer has made money on the fabric when the fabric is purchased. They shouldn't be able to control the fabric beyond the design ... JMHO

  7. I understand it that the issue was the bag. If you see it, the bag has at least one of the large sides looking simply like a composite of fabrics from one of the designer's ranges - it's not as though you see a whole quilt and the fabric is just a component. I don't blame the designer. While the 'threat' sounds overboard, I believe it's fairly typical of a lawyer's letter.

  8. Here, here, I agree with Creativedawn. I never mention the fabric line and/or designer because I buy what I like and it may sit in my studio for a long time before I actually use it. I don't purchase whole lines of anything, I am not a fabric designer junkie who has to have the latest designer's lines and I find this whole thing a bit ridiculous.
    Does this mean that if a person who makes and sells teddy bears makes a little dress for that bear and then sells the bear, is liable to be sued by the designer of the fabric that was used in the dress????
    All that said, I do, however, give credit for a pattern that I use. I have seen way too many quilts where the maker did not credit the designer of the pattern. Those viewing the quilt automatically think that the person who made the quilt came up with the pattern that was used. That is not fair.

  9. Bravo! Great post! "if quilting fabrics aren’t allowed to be exhibited or shown or published as used examples without the permission of the designer…what are quilting fabrics for?" I am so with you.
    If the issue was printing the designs on the tote bag without permission, I totally see that. HOWEVER, the impression is that the fabric designer did not want the fabrics to be used in the book or on the patterns, that is a bigger problem.
    I also buy what I like and only mention the designer/manufacturer if I remember it or if I feel it is relevant. My blog is not monetized so I receive no compensation from that sort of advertising and since I paid for the fabric, I do not feel I need to give them free marketing for my use of the fabric.
    We can always design our own using one of the many digital printing services available. And dye our own solids.
    Thank you for your bravery in publishing this post!

  10. Sounds like someone wants some fast and easy money. Yeah, that sounds crass and vulgar but so does this law suit.

  11. I think that you can use the fabric you buy in any project. However, if you make a project totaly out of one fabric line and use that to sell a project or put in a show, you should credit the designer of the fabric. Since it was a free fabric line to use and it was published as such, give credit to the fabric line.
    But law suit - no.

  12. This issue is another difficult area for the arts. This time there was a warning that most of us didn't even know about, the "personal use only" statement on the selvage (never seen on a fat quarter, you are right). I found that several months ago and just threw the fabric away. I don't publish or sell my work but I do give it away and hang in local shows. I decided that if I ever see that on a selvage I will not buy the fabric, no matter how good it would look in my work. The lawsuit has been dropped but the issue, and all copyright issues, remains. When does something become the property of the owner rather than the original creator? Murky.

  13. After reading all the blog entries twice (and some portions of them three times), here is my take on this issue.

    A book was written and a Kate Spain's fabric line was used to make quilts pictured in the book.

    The book's publisher made some plastic bags to be given away and sold to promote the book. The bags had a picture of one of the quilts on its side. Since the quilt was made from Kate Spain's fabric, her design is prominent on the bag.

    Kate Spain threatened to sue both the publisher, for mass producing bags with her design, AND the book's author. Even after bag issue was settled, the book was still being targeted. So, this cannot be just about the bags. Indeed, there would be no reason for the book publisher to set up a copyright training program for its book authors, if this was just about the bags.

    I often use FQs, and I may not even know who manufactured, let alone designed, the fabric. Even when I do use yardage, the first thing that I do is to cut off the salvages and toss them. I make quilts from my scraps and I often have no idea as to who manufactured them. What if I make a quilt from scraps that someone gives to me; again, I never saw the salvage. What if I cut up clothing and use that material in a quilt? Furthermore, when using scraps, there is no way that I am going to remember what went where. My solution is to try to not use any fabrics that say "for personal use only". I said "try", because as previously noted, there are situations in which I won't even know whether I am using one of those or not. So, do I now have to be afraid of being sued for just posting pictures of my quilts on the Internet?

    I am 100% with what Esther said, this is a can of worms! The following is an article about possible Pinterest copyright infringements. It contains some pertinent information from the U.S. Copyright law:

  14. Esther, thanks so much for opening this discussion! Kate's blog post says what we can't do is use photos from the book (which used her fabrics) to make other items not covered by the copyright. So our blogs, books, and Etsy items which use these fabrics are all okay. She loves to see them used, and has a spot on her blog that features Etsy stores making items with her fabrics. I'm so relieved to know all you designers can continue to show off your lovely work!

  15. I think it is ridiculous. If they dont want us to use their copyrighted, for sale fabrics-then dont release them for sale! We bought them, we can use them for whatever purpose we decide. Next thing will it be toilet paper not to be able to be used on the fanny?
    this world is overwhelmning me at the moment.

  16. Like Bev in TX I read and reread the blog entries on this issue. I agree with what Bev and Esther say, this has opened up a whole can of worms. It will change the industry believe it or not. Sad part the fabric designers will be the ones to suffer the most as the manufactures will think twice about printing their designs and will employ their own designers only in the future so every one will miss out. plus retail out let will think twice about buying the fabrics to resell!!!! It's a sad day when we now have to really think about what fabric we buy in the future as it was not just about the bag but the fabric as well if you read all the details. A very sad issue. Cheers Glenda

  17. As I am reading it, book good, bag bad. So how about a poster of the same quilt to advertise the book? What about a book mark or a pen, a t-shirt worn by the author to promote the book? Are these good or bad. How about putting a photograph of the quilt (and remember we are talking about a photograph of a quilt makers quilt here not just a photograph of fabric) on facebook or pinterest, both actions which give a third party rights to reproduce the image and make money from it in any way they see fit.

    In short this issue raises a lot of questions that need to be answered before I feel happy using any printed fabric again. Solids and hand dyes all the way for now. Boring maybe, over reaction possibly, but safe, and I like safe.

  18. I am really finding all your opinions on this equally valid and interesting. I do understand that the issue is regarding a tote bag in this case -but the questions regarding who has rights to usage remains. When a catalogue prints my quilt on its cover or promotional material for the reason of advertising my quilting work...does the designer of the fabric used in making up my quilt have 'rights' to how i use my work and its associated images? Do printed fabrics exist to serve our quilting craft
    or do we serve them? and possibly owe them? this is a can of worms and it should be discussed by quiltes everywhere·

  19. I have been furious about this whole thing since the article in McCall's Quilting magazine several months ago. Quilters are "sharers", they share and trade fabric, ideas, tools and yes, even patterns and books! Were I to design patterns or fabric, I would go into it knowing that this is a fact. If I felt this infringed on my "ownership" of these things, I would not publish or go into this part of the business of quilting. Any day of the week, I could find a pattern in a magazine that I could go into any quilt shop in America and find published by another individual or TWO! I know a very famous, well-published quilter who has revealed that she never attends quilt shows nor does she read books or patterns in fear of being accused of plagiarizing!! How SAD!! Why should I buy fabric? Why should I read quilting magazines or books? Quilting will DIE if this continues.

  20. I have been thinking about this very same issue ever since I read the selvage of a recently purchased line of fabric (AFTER I bought it, of course). Your post is very timely, and very important, and I'm so glad you included such interesting links. It seems that copyright is a land-mine these days!

  21. I think it's a great shame the publishers didn't go to court and sort the matter out once and for all. (though we can forgive them the expense involved for litigation in the USA). I don't believe the fabric designer would have won her case over the book and has only made her name mud in the fabric world. I was also sorry to hear Moda didn't back up the author after giving her the fabrics for the book.

  22. Hopefully the lawyers will not be the only ones benefiting from this fiasco. This controversy will definitely provide clarification and I love that you are giving opportunity for comments and discussion.

    Todd Hensley, CT Publishing, explained it best for me and in terms I could understand - (CT) has stepped up and accepted a level of responsibility - thankfully this will change the way publishers credit back content and guidelines and rules will be established.

    Out of the ashes comes opportunity to redefine the way we express our creativity. Trying to see the good in this - Judy C

  23. IMHO this is an example of one of the seven deadly sins. When the design was sold to the fabric manufacturer, that should have been the extent of expected remuneration from that transaction. This is called "first fruits" or something like that. The manufacturer who gave the fabric to the designer to have her design a quilt to promote the fabric (and also the fabric designer) did so to increase sales of said fabric and said fabric designer. To then not step up and settle the issue the manufacturer created, speaks volumes about the corporate culture of said manufacturer --- perhaps something that starts with "w" and ends with "l".

  24. Thanks Esther. I await to see what the litigation world comes up with on this. Is anything too far - probably not. Chris x

  25. This is soooo very sad! My mind is swirling with all the possible scenarios that could result in litigation or the threat there of. I agree, this has opened Pandora's box and the possibilities abound. This designer's actions and those she allowed her attorneys to do on her behalf trouble me on many levels to the point that I am no longer going to purchase her products. Sooo very sad all around.
    Surly Batiks (without a pattern) aren't eligible for copyright?
    Take very good care,
    Always, Queenie

  26. Leah Day posted an excellent commentary on this issue on her blog today:

  27. Quick update, I am still waiting for more legal advice on this matter, but so far I have been advised to avoid all commercial print fabrics. If the tote bag is an issue so is posting images on blogs, facebook pinterest and many other things. If I get the all clear from any of the legal experts I will let you know, but so far so bad :(

    I have also contacted fabric companies. Some will tell me I can use any of their fabrics for anything but they don't want to put that in writing. On the phone they will assure me this was a one off incident and no other fabric will ever have the same problem.

    This incident has had a huge effect on my business. I am having to replace all my commercial fabrics with hand dyes and solids.


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