Heather Thomas

Quilting and Copyright Rules

Heather Thomas
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Duration:   7  mins

Copyright law can be a confusing and intimidating topic. Heather Thomas explains many aspects of copyright law including when a pattern is considered copyrighted, what you can and cannot do with a pattern that is copyrighted and what it means to license a pattern.


From the moment a designer writes a pattern it is considered copyrighted. While some designs and patterns will have an actual copyright symbol on them and some might not, both are still considered copyrighted. This means that the pattern and design belong to the designer and cannot be copied and reproduced. Heather explains that when you purchase a design you are purchasing the rights to make that pattern for yourself. You can also make that pattern and give it to a friend, however you cannot sell what you have made from that pattern. Heather explains several other scenarios in which you can make a pattern for a friend and receive money and explains which break copyright law and which do not. Heather also explains how you can ‘date’ your patterns, meaning how you can prove how long you have had a pattern by either taking a picture of it next to that day’s newspaper or by mailing it to yourself so that the pattern is in a sealed envelope with a date printed on it. Having a dated pattern can be very helpful when needing to prove if a pattern is yours or not when it comes to copyright.


Heather also explains a term known as licensing. This is when you contact a designer and ask for permission to make their pattern to sell. If they allow you to do so, they will often either allow you to make the pattern for a certain period of time for a fee, or ask for some kind of percentage of what you make selling their pattern.

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11 Responses to “Quilting and Copyright Rules”

  1. Ro

    I just came from the US copyright.gov website. It says: copyright does not apply to methods or "procedures for doing, making, or building things." So, that includes recipes and patterns. One could copyright a recipe with detailed written instructions, as in a cookbook. So, apparently that would apply to a pattern. Somebody somewhere has made this before. Your explantation of what to do would be different. That would be protected, but not the idea. That is explicitly stated on the copyright website also. Ideas are not protected. Seeing a design and designing something similar is not copyright infringement. They are not using your pattern and making the same thing. They are using their imagination. How does one know they weren't already working on their idea before you? Or, at the same time? Quilting, crocheting, knitting have been practiced for 100s of years by millions of people. At any given point, 2 or more of the 8 Billion people on earth will come up with same idea. As an example, I saw Hungarian folk clothing that was almost identical to Oaxacan clothing.

  2. Francine

    Great information! I do have a question though. I bought a quilt kit and donated it to a non-profit organization to be raffled off. In the description I did give credit to the person who designed the quilt. Was that legal?

  3. contractswriter

    Have you even read "copyright law"??? There was so much wrong with this information I'm not sure where to start. She either hired a hack IP attorney who knows nothing about contract law, or vice versa. Just because someone is a lawyer doesn't mean they know what they're doing. Some is just plain wrong and some is at best incomplete and misleading. When you buy a pattern you are entering both copyright law and contract law. There is a huge difference. For instance, there is NOTHING under copyright law that mentions whether you can sell things made from that recipe or pattern. Only whether you can copy and distribute or make modified version of THE PATTERN. The part that mentions (if it does at all) regarding what you can or cannot do with what you make, that's contract law. It's an agreement between seller and buyer. If you do not tell people in your pattern "you cannot sell products made with this pattern" then you can't demand or expect people not to. And in most cases, you forfeit that expectation depending on how you present it. Do you have a meeting of the minds? did the person buying the pattern KNOW this up front? If they didn't, then it's not enforceable. If they only find this info out after opening the pattern, they don't agree to that provision and you do not honor a return, then you still do not have a meeting of the minds...a key element in an agreement. Remember software shrinkwrap when you had to agree to the terms you couldn't see yet, but they wouldn't let you return it after opening? Those days are gone because it wasn't fair to the consumer. There are also different areas of law based on the product, like clothing, food, etc. You don't need a $20k attorney, you can write your own cease and desist letter and will usually curb people. I love supporting pattern makers and giving them credit, and I adhere to reasonable rules. But we are all artists and just looking at the photo of something can give you the means to re-create it. That doesn't give the original drafter ownership. Even the supreme court says that recipes are not copyrightable, secret stuff can jump to trademark. If you add some fancy artwork then that snapshot of the recipe with the artwork is, but not the ingredients and how they are put together. I'm disappointed in this channel. I'm REALLY not a fan of her, nor the way she teaches, and the only reason I have a subscription is because it was $3 per year. That's about all it's worth to me. I'm just stunned at this video. The other part that bothers me...do pattern designers thing we are just chock full of money to pay $10-20 per pattern for our own personal use? There is an expectation that we are going to make and sell, even as a hobby, so to be this high and mighty...aggravating. If you want to make money designing patterns, great, design a pattern. But do you think you deserve a cut on the hard work WE put into making the product too?? THAT is being jerk. Perhaps you should NOT sell your pattern and just sell finished product. I can't believe you used the word JERK to describe probably half of the amateur crafters out there. Oh, as for "techniques" (like techniques to make bargello quilts) those can jump over to patent law, now just copyright. Are you trying to protected the process, or the written page and how it's presented. BIG DIFFERENCE. And I'll bet you dollars to donuts your technique is out there for free somewhere. Do you still demand we not sell products made if we also found a free version? It's not quite as easy as she makes it sound, much less what she does say is full of holes.

  4. Jan

    I do not agree with that lady saying if you buy a pattern and make a quilt you cannot sell the quilt. Quilt designers constantly break copyright law because no matter what design they come up with it has been done before. Designers get their inspiration from studying antique quilts. Have they the designers asked for permission to copy these quilts? They may make the block bigger or smaller change it's orientation but it's not their ORIGINAL DESIGN. A lot of modern quilt designer are trying to reinvent the wheel. They are becoming so obsessed with their success that they think they can dictate to the buying public, who by the way help to swell the designers bank balances, what they can and cannot do with a pattern they have paid for and it's the purchaser of the pattern who buys the fabric and whose labour goes into making the quilt deserves to be paid for her/his work. The designer has received payment for their pattern. Therefore what the person who paid for it, apart from not photocopying it, the purchaser is entitled to do what she likes with the end result. If you hire an architect to draw plans for your house you pay him. Then you hire a builder and pay him for his work. 10/20 years later you decide to sell the house is the architect entitled to tell you -you cannot sell your house because I own the plans. There is a lot of crap out there about copyright.

  5. Maree White

    I believe the information you have shared in this video is not correct. Copyright covers your intellectual property the pattern you have designed. Copyright does not extend to the physical product that someone else produces after purchasing your pattern. The pattern maker has no rights to the physical products produced from their pattern. The pattern maker cannot stipulate what the product of the pattern can be used for under copyright law. That falls under contract law. For stipulation of use of the products produced from a pattern a contract must be entered into by both parties prior to purchase of the pattern otherwise a contract has not been entered into. Statements at the end of a pattern such as for personal use only do not create a contract between the pattern designer and the purchaser. Therefore once you purchase a pattern you are legally entitled to make a product from the pattern put it in a show or sell it of your own volition. No permission is legally required from the pattern designer.

  6. Debi

    So if I see a pattern on pinterest or somewhere else and I "copy" the design and make it myself that is breaking the copyright law?

  7. Kristin

    I wish we had references available of where she got her information. Because I have researched this a bit too, and a few of her comments are conflicting with what I read. We had an instructor come to our quilting guild to clarify certain points about copyright, and it seems everyone has different interpretations. The overall rules are clear, but certain things are still obscure I find. Anyway....play it safe quilters and be respectful.


    What is MS THOMAS 'S qualifications for stating these statements? Is she a lawyer? A lot of what she says is limited and inaccurate.

  9. Lisa

    Patterns have different laws, specifically with clothing type items. The clothing industry is aware of this. Selling an exact copy of the pattern is braking the copyright, but not making and selling of the resulting product. Just make a tiny change, and it is different. Quote where she got this info would have be nice. She actually encouraged me to not purchase her patterns.

  10. Lyn

    Hi. As a textbook author I am well aware of copyright, as so often huge sections of my books are copied by educational institutions and used!. If I use a quilting pattern, either purchased or taken from the Internet, I always reference the "author" if I know who it is. With the explosion of technology, plagiarism is so easy and most people don't realise that they have done it.

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