Theory

The labor of creativity: Women's work, quilting, and the uncommodified life

Debora J Halbert

University of Hawai‘i, Manoa, Hawai‘i, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Quilting is an area of creative work rich in tradition that demonstrates how ideas and inspiration flow between quilters as they share with each other, move to new parts of the country, and develop their own designs. While commercial patterns have been copyrighted, quilting has generally existed under the radar of copyright law, primarily because quilts are most often exchanged within a gift economy. However, as quilting becomes big business and patterns and pattern books are more centrally located in quilting culture, issues associated with copyright protection emerge. This article investigates the relationship between copyright law, innovation, and sharing as it is understood by quilters who responded to an online questionnaire. Survey participants feel that quilting is a creative activity in which copyright plays a very small role, except when it restricts the actions of quilters. The survey suggests that respondents see quilting as creating a connection between themselves, their families, and their communities. Their creative work, in other words, is a gift they want to share, not a product they want to sell.

[0.2] Keywords—Art; Authorship; Copyright; Quilting

Halbert, Debora J. The labor of creativity: Women's work, quilting, and the uncommodified life. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 3. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2009.0041.

doi:10.3983/twc.2009.0041

1. Introduction

[1.1] Kathleen Bissett's 2004 lawsuit against the Central Canada Exhibition quilt show highlights the controversies emerging around copyright and quilting. Bissett sued the Central Canada Exhibition for including a quilt using her pattern in the exhibition. The quilt won first prize, but the quilter had not sought permission to show it, nor did she attribute the winning design to Bissett. "Buying the pattern design does not entitle a quilter to 'copy' it without permission, [Bissett] explained. That includes showing it off in public competition. 'Display is a form of copying' and goes beyond the definition of personal use, she said" (Quilt kerfuffle 2006).

[1.2] Bissett's interpretation of copyright gives her, as sole author of the design, the ability to control the quilt as a derivative and unauthorized work (Bissett n.d.). Once the quilt is understood as a derivative of the pattern instead of the creation of the quilter, the pattern's designer can exert control over anything produced from it. The Central Canada Exhibition now refuses to display quilts without the permission of the pattern designers, as a result of Bissett's complaint (Quilt kerfuffle 2006).

[1.3] Bissett's maximalist views on copyright run counter to a long history of sharing, inspiration, and transformation in quilting design and creation. In fact, for generations the display of quilts at state fairs has spurred copying and provided inspiration for other quilters. According to Virginia Gunn,

[1.4] Nineteenth-century women regularly exhibited their quilts at community fairs where thousands of visitors admired them. Women themselves carefully examined the quilts and needlework on display, noting and commenting on the results of judging, as people normally do. Since fair organizers encouraged people to study the prize-winning items and return home and emulate them, it would have been unusual if quiltmakers were not consciously or unconsciously influenced by what they saw on display at county and state fairs. It is highly likely that these quilt exhibits helped shape regional taste and style preferences in quiltmaking. (Gunn 1989:105–106)

[1.5] According to Gunn, the entire point of the state fair competition was to display the best work, on the theory that "competition stimulated invention, and prizes helped people recognize superior quality and design which they could later copy" (107). Sharing is preferred over strict enforcement of ownership. Bissett's interpretation suggests a sea change in attitudes toward quilting. Her argument also ignores the fact that a quilt is a collaborative work, of which the pattern design is only one element.

[1.6] Copying, sharing, learning from others, and quilting collectively are hallmarks of American quiltmaking history. Authorship in quilts and the stories told about them are diffuse and multiple (Elsley 1996:58–59). Copyright law, in contrast, is designed to protect creative works that are fixed in a tangible form. The paradigm it imposes on quilting is different from the one that evolved within quilting circles. The copyright paradigm makes the public display of a quilt, the donation of a quilt to a charity fundraiser, or indeed any nonpersonal use of a quilt a complicated, and perhaps even illegal, endeavor.

[1.7] However, underneath the concern with property rights imposed by copyright law, there exists a culture of transformation—a culture finding inspiration in color choices, material choices, pattern designs, and nature itself. These inspirations, generated through interaction with the world, are then used to create new and different quilts. Quilting is heavily reliant upon a shared culture of designs using traditional motifs, often transforming them into new and innovative art. The modern commercial world in which quilt patterns and designs are subjected to copyright rests on top of the rich and textured historical tradition of a quilting culture where innovation and originality are closely linked to sharing and exchange without prioritizing ownership. It is a "hybrid" economy, to use Lawrence Lessig's term (2008), where commercial uses build upon noncommercial culture.

[1.8] Although commercial pattern makers and quilt designers have made inroads into quilting culture, copyright law has not fully penetrated it. Thus the culture that creates the conditions under which quilts are made and shared can serve as an interesting counterpoint to the more commercialized culture of other fields of intellectual property. Quilting culture highlights the transformative nature of creative work and the ways in which ideas flow freely when concerns about property rights are not predominant.

[1.9] This essay examines quilters' attitudes toward copyright as they were revealed in an online survey administered in 2006. The project began with the hypothesis that because quilters operate under a paradigm of creativity informed by a culture of sharing and gifting, they would find the application of copyright to quilting problematic. The intent of the survey was to use the answers of the women who responded to better understand the relationship between creativity and copyright. The stories told by the women in the survey suggest a varied response to the problems associated with copyright, creativity, transformation, and appropriation, and they tell a complex narrative of the relationship between copyright and quilting. To set the context for the survey, I'll first discuss the history of quilting, and then the relationship of quilting to copyright law.

2. A brief history of quilting as women's artistic work

[2.1] Contemporary quilts, like the ones produced by survey participants, must be seen within the larger history of quilting. While quilts are produced around the world, this paper focuses on the American tradition. The quilters who took the survey are not isolated from the tradition of American quilting, but instead are a contemporary extension of it. However, as this section suggests, copyright did not play a significant role in earlier quilting. Instead, the convergence of copyright and quilting is a relatively recent phenomenon that has emerged as proprietary forms of ownership begin to trump cultural norms of sharing. The growing importance of copyright today does not mean claims of authorship and ownership were absent in the past. However, copyright has not been a useful way to understand innovation in quilting, nor has copyright been historically helpful in understanding how quilting was integrated into the lives of the women who did it. This section seeks to provide a history that highlights the creative and transformative nature of quilting and gleans, from existing historical narratives, insight into how women understood their creative work.

[2.2] The concept of the author, as it is connected to written work, has a history of its own (Rose 1993). For the legal doctrine of copyright to become relevant to quilting, the quilt had to be seen as more than a utilitarian device. It had to be understood as an original work created by a single author. The requirement of originality helps to separate the utilitarian function of the quilt from the creative aspects and helps to transform a blanket into a work of art.

[2.3] Quilts only gradually became accepted as artistic works. Although quilt scholars called them art as early as 1935 (Hall and Kretsinger 1935:28), the mainstream art world was slow to recognize their artistic value. Scholars widely agree that it was only in 1971, when the Whitney Museum of American Art produced an exhibition of quilts entitled "Abstract Design in American Quilts," that quilts became "officially" recognized as art in the United States (Pritchard 2006:4; Berlo and Crews 2003:5).

[2.4] Quilting had remained on the margins of artistic work for a variety of reasons. First, the functional nature of many quilts meant they were understood as utilitarian in purpose (Hall and Kretsinger 1935:13). Second, quilts are made almost exclusively by women and were thus often relegated to the category of domestic crafts rather than artworks (Hedges, Silber, and Ferrero 1987:47; Parker and Pollock 1981:75; Parker 1984:5). As Parker notes in her feminist analysis of the distinction between arts and crafts, artworks were created for purchase, and thus were things of value, while crafts were created in the domestic sphere for love, making the distinction gendered as well as economic (Parker 1984:5–6). Such a dichotomy is important from a copyright perspective, since only when art becomes a commodity does it generate the value copyright is designed to protect.

[2.5] The Whitney exhibit was a breakthrough because it positioned quilts as embodiments of artistic design traditionally made by women. This show, combined with the feminist movement of the 1970s and the already existing culture of quilting, catapulted quilts into prominence as much more than utilitarian devices (Berlo and Crews 2003:14). Despite its importance, however, some quilters criticized the Whitney exhibit because, while it situated the quilt as art, it also "depersonalized the quilts," taking the "heart out of what the quilts mean" (Elsley 1996:25). The shift from craft to art and the commodification of the quilt will be returned to later. However, the quilts must first be understood within their own historical context, which is deeply linked to women's history.

[2.6] Since women's stories are often excluded from historical narratives, contemporary scholars have turned to material culture to understand the lives of women, including the rich history of quilting and clothing more generally (Barber 1994:286–300; Hornback 1993:68; Berlo and Crews 2003). Quilts can be read as women's history because their designs tell stories of the women who made them and they are symbolic of the larger American picture of which they are a part (Berlo and Crews 2003:12). Each quilt bears the story of its making, and its subsequent history often links together generations of a family.

[2.7] There is a fine line between accurately depicting women's work and romanticizing it. For example, Berlo and Crews note that much of what has been written about quilting was intended to "ennoble and reclaim the artistic work of women" (Berlo and Crews 2003:12). However, it is clear that femininity and needlework have been closely linked, and remain so to this day. Women quilting today do so because of a history that makes it a legitimate form of artistic expression for women. However, overcoming the historical disregard for women's creative expressions demonstrates that these histories are political. It also problematizes the way we understand the distinctions between art and craft, and thus the distinctions between what can be protected by copyright and what is considered unworthy of protection. Quilting, then, is a story that can be told as women's history: a history that links quilts made in the past to the work done by the women who responded to the survey.

[2.8] It is likely that quilts arrived in America with the earliest colonists, but the first documented quilt is found in the 1685 inventory of the property of Captain George Corwin (Orlofsky and Orlofsky 1974:10). Even quilt scholars like Orlofsky and Orlofsky call these earliest American quilts "considerably more utilitarian than decorative" (10). They were most likely made to help the colonists survive the harsh North American winters. The fact that quilts become increasingly referenced as household goods during the 18th century suggests that they gradually become more valuable over time (19).

[2.9] It is important to avoid situating the quilt as an "emblem of classlessness" that would mythologize an American past, picturing it as without class conflict (Miller 2006:94). That being said, quilting and needlework crossed socioeconomic boundaries and were done in both rural and urban locations, with elite women and poor women, black and white, making quilts (Benberry 1992; Hall and Kretsinger 1935:27). Needlework was an essential skill learned at an early age by both girls and boys (Hedges, Silber, and Ferrero 1987:16–29; Orlofsky and Orlofsky 1974:27), and early American quilts were often produced using the labor of the entire family (Orlofsky and Orlofsky 1974:45). But despite the collective nature of these efforts, quilting is most closely linked to women's work. Especially important for women's spaces is the history of the quilting bee as a way of solidifying community (Elsley 1996:54; Hall and Kretsinger 1935:21–26).

[2.10] The feminization of needlework and quilting is a crucial part of the history of material culture. According to Bilger, needlework became fully feminized in the 18th century (1994:18). During the 18th century, it was essential for women to engage in needlework as a way of "labor[ing] for male attention" (22), a goal that was further solidified by 19th-century Victorian attitudes that linked needlework with feminine "purity and submissiveness" (Parker 1984:37, 82–109). Writing in 1929 about the history of the American quilt, Finley argued that male domination meant women had no control over purchases, and that "in needlework only did women hold full sway" (1929:20). Needlework was "a covert means of negotiating the constraints of femininity," providing women with the opportunity to "make meanings of their own while overtly living up to the oppressive stereotype of the passive, silent, vain, and frivolous, even seductive needlewoman" (Beaudry 2006:5). As Finley notes, "trained from babyhood that she might make good in the marriage partnership, a girl was first taught sewing; and the first thing she sewed was patchwork" (1929:33).

[2.11] Integral to the place of women in the home was the understanding that sewing was the essence of the feminine. Women who sewed were developing appropriate feminine skills and learning their place (Hedges, Silber, and Ferrero 1987:26). Thus, women were strongly discouraged from participating in "masculine" creative processes, such as writing. Feminine pursuits, like needlework, were considered excellent alternatives (Bilger 1994:23).

[2.12] The 19th century changed the position of quilting within the American household. In the later part of the 19th century, the industrializing economy meant most productive work moved outside the household and the ensuing "cult of domesticity" for elite women prescribed sewing as an essential element of women's work (Hedges, Silber, and Ferrero 1987:24). Industrialization introduced cheap cotton and new technologies, both of which changed the nature of quilting. First, as quilters gained access to more fabrics and colors, they were able to express more complex artistic visions (Orlofsky and Orlofsky 1974:33). Second, by 1850, textiles were easily available and quilting became more popular, even as other domestic crafts were supplanted by factory production (Orlofsky and Orlofsky 1974:58; Hornback 1993:68). Third, the introduction of the sewing machine radically transformed quilting by eliminating tedious hand stitching, allowing women to focus on the most expressive parts of quilting, though it would be almost a century before machine-sewn quilts were considered as "authentic" as hand-stitched ones by many traditional quilters (Brackman 1997:24). As Berlo and Crews note, the contribution of women to 19th-century visual culture "was one of constant innovation and experimentation, constant openness to new materials and ideas" (2003:14).

[2.13] The 19th-century commercialization of quilting aligned it more closely with the commercial culture associated with copyright. While histories of quilting generally do not consider the influence of copyright, a focus on quilt patterns and the methods through which they were developed, exchanged, and transformed can provide insight into how quilting culture continued to evolve in the commercial world of the 19th and 20th centuries. The remainder of this section will focus more specifically on the role of the pattern and commercial quilt culture.

[2.14] As social changes left elite women with more leisure time, they turned to quilting to demonstrate their domestic skills. National magazines helped situate the quilt as a creative work associated with civilized life instead of a mere utilitarian piece. According to Hedges, Silber, and Ferraro,

[2.15] Many of these women, no longer involved in essential work in the home, were much affected by popular magazines such as Peterson's Magazine and Godey's Lady's Book, which urged them to make highly embellished, non-utilitarian display pieces…These quilts were decorative, reflecting Victorian taste and the status of the quilt-makers' husbands. Women had become symbols of leisure; to have a wife who was leisured reflected very favorably on a man. During this time, quilts were no longer found exclusively in the bedroom; typically we see them in the parlor, where art and music and women's "civilizing" influences could be practiced and displayed. (1987:25)

[2.16] Thus, while early quilters considered their labor simply a form of women's work, and gave little thought to the artistic value of their quilts, industrialization, the cult of domesticity, and the increase in leisure time created an opportunity for quilts to be understood as more than utilitarian devices. Quilt pattern designers, who were often associated with fabric manufacturers, saw patterns as a way of selling more fabric and the result was a greater variety of artistic quilts.

[2.17] Quilt innovation and design spread across the United States as specific techniques became popularized, shared, and commercialized (Hornback 1993; Waldvogel 1990; Hall and Kretsinger 1935). Historically, ideas were generated from family traditions and by looking at traditional designs, because patterns were not to be found (Waldvogel 1995:52). As women traveled, they shared designs with those they met (Hornback 1993:87). Quilt researchers note that design elements were passed from quilter to quilter across the country, even before popular patterns were nationally available (Nordstrom 2002:44–45; Hall and Kretsinger 1935:14). Patterns were influenced by contact with African, Asian, and Native American traditions. The beauty and unusual style of Hawai`ian quilts, for example, demonstrate the manner in which cultural flows and transformation forge new patterns and art forms as cultures interact and exposure to new ideas inspires art (Murray 2003; Jones 1930; Orlofsky and Orlofsky 1974:246; Hanson and Smucker 2003). Patterns were exchanged among friends, and often women would make sample blocks for future reference and build upon those innovations (Orlofsky and Orlofsky 1974:248). Even though women were now more likely to get patterns from magazines or purchase them from quilting companies, they were normally shared with other quilters.

[2.18] Multiple permutations of a single pattern, with different names but the same design, began to appear as patterns migrated across the country (Finley 1929:97–103). Many patterns exist in multiple versions, and collections of patterns may include thousands of designs (Orlofsky and Orlofsky 1974:245; Brackman 1993b; Walker 1983). These traditional patterns are part of a history that can be drawn upon; as Ruby McKim writes in the introduction to her pattern book, "We have found bits of interesting history about these [quilts] and drafted patterns from which you can copy them" (McKim 1967:3). However, the taxonomy of quilting patterns is in disarray and researchers Forrest and Blincoe find that many active quilters do not remember, or perhaps never even knew, the names of their patterns (1995:1–4). Quilt patterns had traditionally been passed down locally by families and friends, and their origins were often forgotten (Orlofsky and Orlofsky 1974:245). Copyright was not a relevant concept for ownership because patterns were freely exchanged and transformed, and they quickly lost their link with their author. One study of 19th-century Ohio quilting notes that it is doubtful the most talented quilters were anonymous at the time they were quilting (Gunn 1989:122); however, while some famous quilters are still remembered, many more are lost to history.

[2.19] Industrialization changed how many women found and used quilt patterns. By the end of the 19th century, patterns began appearing in newspapers and magazines (Breneman 2007a). Mail-order patterns became available nationwide and strongly influenced quilting trends in the 19th and 20th centuries. For example, in the mid-20th century the Double Wedding Ring pattern became so popular that middle-class women across the entire country were sewing it (Horton 1989:140; Brackman 1993a:107). While ready-made kits were available, women often personalized and adapted a pattern by using their own colors and fabrics, as well as altering the design (Brackman 1993a:107).

[2.20] Quilting became increasingly commercialized in the early 20th century. For example, in 1914 Iona and Rosalie Wilkinson opened the Wilkinson Quilt Company and began producing quilts (under copyright) for American households; they advertised their products as "art quilts" (Goldman 2002). Commercialization allowed designs to be exchanged more easily. Waldvogel notes that

[2.21] well before the Depression, the wide dissemination of quilt patterns in print—through magazines like Farm and Fireside, syndicated newspaper columns, and pattern books—was altering the dynamics of traditional quilting, just as records and radio were dramatically accelerating the circulation of folk music styles and repertoires. Folk quilters, once limited to traditionally inherited patterns, were increasingly exposed to unfamiliar designs from impersonal outside sources, some traditional patterns from elsewhere, and others entirely new. (Waldvogel 1990:xiii)

[2.22] Mass marketing was considered a mixed blessing. In part, the revival of the '20s and '30s, spurred by cotton manufacturers and quilt kits, continued an American tradition (Hall and Kretsinger 1935:17; Cord 1995). However, for some traditionalists, purchasing precut pieces took some of the "joy" out of quilting (Hall and Kretsinger 1935:17).

[2.23] Patterns were used to encourage women to buy specific brand-related materials (Waldvogel 1990:14). Mountain Mist, for example, printed patterns on the inside of the paper wrappers of Mountain Mist batts so women would buy textiles from the company, as well as purchase additional patterns for a small extra charge (Waldvogel 1995:105–6). During the Depression, most women living in rural areas copied their patterns out of newspapers and shared them with friends (Waldvogel 1990:14). There is no way to determine if the pattern designers were fully compensated by the newspapers (21–23), but several of the patterns distributed in this way became symbolic of the era: the Grandmother's Flower Garden, Dresden Plate, Double Wedding Ring, and Sunbonnet Sue (23). Although the designs may have been protected by copyright, in most cases we cannot know if copyright was established or not. Whatever the official copyright status of these patterns, it was their uncontrolled copying that allowed them to become classics.

[2.24] Two parallel cultural approaches emerged in the mid-20th century. The "traditional" approach allowed quilters to create "variations into inherited designs, the better ones contributing something of themselves to the common stream of tradition" (Waldvogel 1990: xiv). However, commercialization fashioned a "synthetic equivalent in its place" (xiv). Thus, ownership claims emerge out of nationalization and commodification, which take individual quilters out of community-based folk traditions. Furthermore, as quilting became associated with "art" instead of traditional "craft," serious artists became interested in protecting the boundaries of their work from appropriation by others, a concern that is clearly evident in contemporary quilting. Copyright becomes more important as quilting becomes "artistic" and quilters begin to see themselves as individual artists instead of members of a community of women sharing a craft.

[2.25] The renewal of interest in quilting in the 1970s led to a proliferation of new organizations, publications, and groups (Davis 1993:177). Quilting shops multiplied and pattern books appeared that included both new and traditional patterns (Pritchard 2006:43). Their publishers sought to copyright both types of designs.

[2.26] Modern quilting exists in a world where copyright matters to the creators and publishers of quilting books, patterns, designs, and fabrics. These are all items a quilter needs and thus may have to purchase, placing quilting more firmly within a commercial paradigm. When ownership and authorship of patterns matters, the traditional culture in which they were shared is replaced with a legal mandate that each quilter must purchase her own copy of a pattern. Copyright helps condition women to understand the pattern as something that must be bought from an original author, not as something that can be shared. Pattern designers see photocopying as a problem, because it allows quilters to buy only a single copy of a given pattern and share it, as they have been doing for hundreds of years. The relationship between authorial control, the use of patterns, and the creation of quilts has shifted.

[2.27] Copyright protects a creative work "fixed in a tangible form" for the life of the author plus seventy years. It also gives the copyright owner control over all direct copies, public displays, and derivatives of the work, as well as control over its general "look and feel." In other words, the copyright owner has been granted broad control over a creative work and the uses it is put to. The brief examination of the history of quilting outlined above suggests that copyright has not played a substantive role. Sharing, finding inspiration in the creativity of others, and transforming one design into another have been valued by the tradition of quilting, though not by copyright law. As copyright expands, these values are targeted as violating the rights of the copyright owner, and the culture of transformation is undermined. In the next section I'd like to examine the uneasy fit between copyright and quilting.

3. Copyright and quilting

[3.1] The pattern is an important and underlying framework that helps the quilter create a quilt. For example, Brackman found that most of the 13,000 quilts she surveyed were made from existing patterns instead of original designs (Brackman 1993b:109). There is evidence to suggest that while quilting was often a cooperative effort, when quilting involved competition, some women carefully guarded their quilting designs to keep others from copying them to enter in future competitions (Brackman 1993b:124). However, while more research is needed here, they do not seem to have used copyright to do so.

[3.2] Copyright can disrupt the traditional flow of ideas and expression associated with quilting and other needlework. Compare, for example, the story of Kathleen Bissett's assertion of ownership over her design to Mountain Mist's marketing strategy of using patterns to encourage women to buy their products. At the 1933 Sears Quilt Contest held at the Chicago World's Fair, three of the top quilts used Mountain Mist patterns. Mountain Mist owner Frederick J. Hooker wrote to the finalists to find out if they had used his batting and then proceeded to put their testimonials in his advertising (Waldvogel 1995:128). By not rigorously policing the boundaries of their work, early pattern designers were able to facilitate innovation and transformation instead of halting it, while making money on associated products. It is unlikely that the transformations in quilting could have happened if strict copyright protection had inhibited the transfer of designs then, as it does today.

[3.3] A second example of how copyright disrupts more traditional cultural flows comes from the blog of a woman who had sewn several wallets to donate to a charity auction. In an effort to do the right thing and attribute the wallets' pattern to its designer, she added a link to the pattern owner's website from her own. The pattern owner then notified her that the donation of the wallets to the charity auction was a violation of her copyright (Lilian 2007). Controlling a final product donated to a charity auction based upon a pattern design is a long way from the culture of Civil War quilters' societies, in which quilts were made to raise funds for the war effort on both sides (Breneman 2007b).

[3.4] The Internet has made it difficult to enforce copyright protection of pattern designs while making patterns more easily available. One Web site offers instructions to quilters regarding what can be copyrighted (Elkins 2007). It and similar sites take strict copyright control by pattern designers as a given. Consider, for example, the information a Bluffton, Ohio, quilt shop has put on its Web site regarding the use of quilt patterns under copyright.

  • [3.5] When you buy a pattern from a shop, then you have the right to use the copyright.
  • When you buy a pattern from a shop, then you have NOT purchased THE copyright.
  • You alone have the right to make quilts from it.
  • Your friends do not have the right to make quilts from it.
  • Your club or guild does not have the right to make quilts from it.
  • Your class does not have the right to make quilts from it.
  • You may have the right to sell the pattern, but those who buy that pattern from you do not have the right to make quilts from it, even if you give it to them.
  • You do not have the right to swap your patterns or trade them in any way.
  • You can not photograph a quilt and make a copy of that quilt.
  • You can not download illustrations, patterns, or pictures of a quilt and make copies of those quilts, unless specifically authorized in writing [which can be on the web] by the copyright owner.
  • When you receive a quilt pattern free of charge, it does not give you the right to distribute it to others. It is the copyright owner's choice as to how it is distributed, not yours. Free patterns have their economic payment in that you have been rewarded for visited their web-site, store, meeting, class, or any number of things.
  • You must read the copyright wording. Some copyrights:
    • Limit how many quilts can be made from it.
    • Require labels to be put on the quilt.
    • Require that the quilt is only for your use and can not be sold. ("Copyrights, licenses & quilting" 2007)

[3.6] I am not primarily concerned with the legal inaccuracies of these claims, but it should be pointed out that these rules prohibit almost all uses of the pattern and thus eliminate the reasons for buying one in the first place. In this analysis, the pattern designer is the original author and the quilt itself is a derivative work, which can be controlled by the copyright owner. Virtually all methods of gaining ideas and inspiration from already existing images and patterns, as well as all forms of sharing, have been prohibited.

[3.7] Although this Web site and others offer some information, there is little reliable legal guidance regarding how copyright should be applied to quilting, and many gray areas exist regarding authorship, originality, and sharing. These lines are especially blurry when the pattern designer asserts broad control over the uses of the quilt. In the remainder of this section I'd like to investigate the problems associated with the use of copyright as it applies to quilts.

[3.8] Quilting, as practiced by the vast majority of women, is an art that flies under the radar of the copyright regime because it is not a "good fit" (Bartow 2006:573). First, as the examples demonstrate, authorship of a quilt is not the sort of unitary authorship envisioned by copyright law. Quilting can involve multiple "authors," including the pattern designer, the quilter, quilting friends, and professionals who are paid to add the finishing touches. Historically, quilting bees have been sites of collective practice, where women work together on a single quilt, or work on their individual quilts within a more social environment (Finley 1929:36). As Phillips notes, often the top of the quilt is worked by one woman, but the quilting itself would be done collectively (Phillips 2007:361–62). The collaborative nature of quilting defies the presumption of an isolated and original author; the final product can be the result of the work of many. The multiple techniques for creating a quilt make it difficult to ascertain sole or joint authorship. Who is the author, or who are the authors? How many authors are there? Is the pattern designer the author, as designers like to assert? Or is the author the person who chooses the fabrics and creates the top? Or are the quilters who help fashion the stitchwork authors?

[3.9] Second, from the perspective of copyright, the relationship of the pattern to the quilt is unclear. Are all quilts simply derivative works based on a pattern design? Some quilters work with basic blocks; others rely upon patterns that may be copyrighted and are often shared; others design their own patterns, or alter an existing pattern for their own uses. Some exchange fabrics with each other, widening their options for colors and textures. This complexity makes it difficult to determine how copyright can (and whether it should) play a role in the general creative process of quilting as practiced by most women. Furthermore, many traditional patterns carry multiple names and are not copyrighted, and no information regarding their original authors is known (Finley 1929).

[3.10] Some quilt scholars suggest the pattern is only one element of the creative work that goes into a quilt. As Forrest and Blincoe note in their extensive study of the quilt, "specific choice of materials for the various parts of the quilt is profoundly important" (1995:75). They claim that the underlying pattern is the "generic foundation," but the methods for bringing the quilt into being offer "endless variation" and a single cell "can be transformed myriad ways in the construction process" (126–27).

[3.11] For many quilters, a pattern is only a starting point, and new design elements are often added. These designs, while perhaps "derivative" according to the standards of copyright, reflect the creativity of the quilter. For example, quilting requires the sophisticated use of color. One quilting scholar describes the relationship of adaptation and invention in the work of two respected Kansas quilters this way:

[3.12] The most distinctive of the Kretsinger and Whitehill quilts are the original designs—Whitehill's Kansas Pattern and Rose Kretsinger's Orchid Wreath—that cannot be traced to pattern companies of the day. Such original designs are a minority; most are creative interpretations of traditional designs, nineteenth-century appliqué patterns redrawn for a more formal, sophisticated balance. But even the patterns obtained from commercial sources show creativity in the way design elements are rearranged and borders redrafted to provide strong, symmetrical frames for quilts that looked as good on a wall as a bed. (Brackman 1993a:107)

[3.13] Such analysis suggests that quilting is a blend of adaptation, sharing, and the commercial pattern, all to create a new original. Ultimately, patterns and the resulting quilts are a combination of inspiration, copying, and the use of already-existing designs, which until recently were simply part of the flow of quilting (Forrest and Blincoe 1995:98). However, the role copyright should play is less clear.

[3.14] Relatively few cases of copyright infringement associated with quilting have reached United States courts, so there is little case law to help sort out the confusion. Most such cases have dealt with the unauthorized commercial exploitation of a quilt design by an already commercially oriented designer. For example, artist and pattern designer Paula Nadelstern sued the Hilton for taking one of her quilt designs and using it as inspiration for a carpet placed in their Huston hotel. The case was settled out of court in 2006 in favor of Nadelstern (Sophie 2007). Another commercial designer, Judi Boisson, successfully sued six U.S. retail stores for using unauthorized copies of designs that she had produced under a contract with a Chinese manufacturer (Woodward 2000).

[3.15] One of the more prominent cases actually focused on a poster of a quilt displayed for less than 30 seconds during a television program. In Ringgold v. Black Entertainment Television, the court found that the public display of the quilt poster on the set of a television show was a violation of the copyright holder's rights (Marques 2007:337). The decision didn't provide much in the way of insight into how the quilt itself should be treated; instead it focused upon the commercial use of the poster as part of the set design.

[3.16] The decision in the Ringgold case is consistent with Canadian quilt designer Kathleen Bissett's interpretation of copyright as it applies to her quilt patterns. She claims that "anything in any artistic print or media that uses the artist's design is a copy. This includes: quilts based on the original design (even with significant changes they are derivatives), copies of the pattern, photographs, slides, drawings, etc." (Bissett n.d., emphasis in original). She strives to track down unauthorized uses of her designs, including online pictures of quilts made with them, and keep them from being made public.

[3.17] Bissett claims that the only "fair use" is the use licensed by the copyright owner. Any transformative use is a derivative work and violates her copyright. Bissett's attitude is reflected in the copyright warnings of other online resources as well. As one quilt blog notes, quilting patterns are "unusual" because they are printed designs that guide the creation of a stitched work, but, it maintains, that does not change the fact that even in the new medium, the work may be legally used only in specific ways (Copyrights 2000).

[3.18] Issues related to appropriation, fair use, and the look and feel of a quilt are central to the legal questions raised in Boisson v. Banian (2001). This ruling by the second circuit court found in favor of Judi Boisson, who sued Vijay Rao for illegally copying two of her quilt designs and producing them for sale in the United States. Boisson began her quilting business selling antique Amish quilts, but as those became more difficult to find, she started designing her own. Two of these quilts used variations on an alphabet quilt pattern: Boisson used hand lettering and arranged the alphabet into horizontal and vertical rows. Boisson accused Vijay Rao of copying her quilt design for his own ABC quilt (Boisson v. Banian 2001:4).

[3.19] One central question in the case was to what extent Boisson's quilt design could be owned, given that the elements of the design—the alphabet and a standard quilt layout—are fairly common within quilting traditions. The trial court found that neither the alphabet nor the layout were protected under copyright, in part because that particular design can be found in patterns at least 100 years old. However, the second circuit court rejected this argument, noting that the standard for copyrightability (besides applying for copyright protection) is simply a "minimum degree of creativity," even when that creativity relies upon something existing in the public domain. It extended protection to the layout of the letters, while recognizing that the letters themselves were not protectable (Boisson v. Banian 2001:13).

[3.20] Although it was acknowledged that Boisson had seen quilts using an alphabet design prior to designing her own, the court required the defendant to demonstrate that Boisson had actually owned an alphabet quilt in order to claim that she had copied the design from an already existing pattern (Boisson v. Banian 2001:15). While acknowledging that quilts with the letters of the alphabet on them are fairly common, the court claimed there was no evidence Boisson had copied her alphabet quilt from the public domain, and thus she could copyright her design "despite its identical nature to a prior work, because it is independent creation, and not novelty that is required" (17). The court also found that the color selection could be copyrighted, even though colors themselves cannot (19).

[3.21] The court thus upheld Boisson's claim of copyright ownership. In its opinion, it was acceptable for her to appropriate and copyright an expression from the public domain, but the defendant's copying of what was now her "original" idea was a different matter. Boisson had sufficient ownership of the design that a work "substantially similar" to it would violate her copyright (20–21).

[3.22] The court used a "more discerning" test instead of the "ordinary observer" test to compare Rao's quilts to Boisson's, focusing on the "total concept and feel" of the work (23). The "ordinary observer," according to the court, might not understand fully the distinction between the copyrightable and uncopyrightable elements of a particular design. Thus, the court sought to employ a "more discerning test" that is required when the work incorporates elements in the public domain (21–23). Using the more discerning test, the court found that despite the fact Rao's quilts used different pictures and colors from Boisson's, and had differences in pattern design, his quilt titled "ABC Green" was similar enough to constitute an illegal copy (27–28). The other, "ABC Navy," did not infringe on Boisson's copyright because the icons were scattered throughout the quilt in a different pattern and the colors were sufficiently different. The court remanded the case for appropriate remedies.

[3.23] Like the two other cases discussed here, Boisson involved two commercial entities, each trying to sell a commercial product. The court acknowledged that there was little original about Boisson's design, given its heavy reliance upon traditional quilting patterns. Its focus on overall look and feel, however, led it to grant Boisson a level of control over her designs that limits future transformations. The defendant's quilts used different colors and different, "cute" icons, and the court did not grant a copyright to the lettering itself. However, the offending quilt's substantial similarity to the plaintiff's quilts was sufficient for the use of these alternate designs to be barred. The legal analysis leaves no room for inspiration and transformation. Instead, despite the limited creativity of Boisson's design, she was given extensive protection against a broad swath of possible permutations.

[3.24] Boisson has sued numerous major retailers for copying her designs. Schoenberger writes that "she argues that as long as you alter a color or add a distinctive border,…public domain designs can be copyrighted" (2000). Boisson freely appropriates from the public domain and thus privatizes what would otherwise be a public good, but, notwithstanding her own appropriation, is quite willing to limit the appropriations and transformations of others. While Boisson has only sued commercial manufacturers to date and has not pursued litigation against individual, noncommercial quilters, she has set the stage for other copyright infringement cases based upon the standard of "substantial similarity."

[3.25] One last example further demonstrates the ways in which the legal system can interfere with the transformation and innovation historically part of quilting culture. Attorney Paul C. Rapp wrote about a copyright dispute between two quilters, both of whom had created new designs based upon the same traditional quilt pattern. Because they had used the same pattern as their inspiration, their final quilts were similar, and the case was made more complex by the fact that the quilter Rapp represented, whom he refers to as "Jane," noted that she had been "inspired" by a picture of the other quilter's work, which she had seen online. While she could document that her own quilt had been created independently, and she had only meant that seeing a completed version of a similar quilt had given her confidence that she could finish her own, the other quilter hired an attorney who proceeded to accuse her of copyright infringement (Rapp 2003).

[3.26] While this dispute ended without litigation, Rapp's analysis of quilting as an act of transformation is significant. He notes,

[3.27] If he [the opposing counsel] had sued, we would have had an interesting little case on our hands. Say the facts turned out that Jane had liberally borrowed from the Iowan's quilt, and that the quilt block was indeed "original." Jane may well have been found liable of copyright infringement. She saw an original creative work and copied it. That is infringement. End of story. And if every quilter (or even a lot of them) had a similar Machiavellian streak and a bull-headed lawyer, quilting as we know it would come to a grinding halt. Because the essence of quilting is copying, but there's no folk art exception in the copyright law. (Rapp 2003)

[3.28] Thus, while there is little case law, there is some reason to be concerned that the strict enforcement of copyright will have a damaging effect on quilting as it has traditionally been practiced.

[3.29] These conflicts are substantively at odds with the practice of sharing and transformation that has generated the richness of the quilting world for hundreds of years. If copyright is to become the prevailing mechanism governing creativity, it will become extremely difficult to produce quilts outside the commercial sphere. If such prohibitions on sharing had existed historically, it is likely that few patterns would exist instead of the thousands that survive today.

[3.30] The controversies and complexities of imposing a copyright system on the practice of quilting spurred me to conduct a survey of quilters. I wanted to assess attitudes toward copyrights, creativity, and quilting. The next section describes the results of that survey. In the remainder of this paper I will highlight the key issues emerging from the stories told by women in the online survey, in an attempt to capture quilters' attitudes toward their work and the subject of copyright.

4. The labor of creativity

[4.1] The initial call for participants was sent to several different online quilting groups, including the American Quilt Study Group, the American Quilters Society, the Quilters Bee List, the Quilters Online Resource Connection, and Northwest Quilters. Additionally, the survey was sent to quilters known to me personally. Those contacted were encouraged to forward the survey to their friends, thus creating a snowball sample from which the results are drawn. Sixty-five people responded to the survey and all the respondents were women. Given that there are an estimated 20 million quilters in the U.S. alone (Pritchard 2006:88), this survey cannot claim to be representative. However, it does provide insights into the attitudes of women who see themselves as quilters. Future surveys could be designed to more systematically assess these attitudes.

[4.2] The survey was designed with several hypotheses in mind. First, I posited that women who quilt would primarily see their creative work as a labor of love, and that the quilts themselves would be intrinsically linked to the social structure within which these women live. Second, I expected that the concept of copyright would be foreign to most women, and their perspectives on copyright would help clarify how everyday creators interact with the law. Third, I hypothesized that the culture of quilting would undermine the assumption (by advocates of copyright law) that creative work exists only within an economic incentive structure and offer evidence that there is a divide between the regime of copyright and the motives for creativity associated with quilting. Fourth, I was interested in stories related to the process of creativity: how people learned and engaged with their craft. In this section, I will report on those questions whose answers specifically provide insight into how these women saw their work as creative and transformative.

[4.3] Several broad categories of questions were asked. The initial questions established the women's experience with quilting and the number of quilts they had produced. The second set of questions delved into the relationship they had to quilting and the meanings associated with their quilts. The third set focused specifically on copyright and the ways quilters saw copyright helping or hindering their creative work. Many of the questions were open-ended because I was most interested in capturing the stories told by quilters to enrich the picture of why they quilt.

[4.4] The respondents generally had substantial quilting experience; the majority had made more than 25 quilts, or had been quilting for more than five years. All survey participants quilted most of their quilts alone, but most had also quilted with help or suggestions from friends. Fifty-five percent had worked collaboratively on at least one quilt. The type of collaboration differed, with most explaining that the quilting (as opposed to the blocking of the pattern) was done collectively or sent out to be machine-done. This response supports other empirical research on how quilts are made, but disrupts the larger narrative of quilting as a traditionally communal activity (Forrest and Blincoe 1995:150).

[4.5] Only a few of the women in this survey were interested in quilting as a commercial activity. A future survey should seek to identify quilters who understand their work as commercial, in contrast to the sample here. Respondents could select more than one answer to the question of why they quilted, and many did. Most quilted because it was relaxing and artistic, and allowed them to be creative. Quilts were most often made as gifts, typically for a special occasion or person, or for personal use, and 77 percent of respondents signed their quilts in some fashion.

[4.6] Participants were asked to tell the story of their first quilt, and the responses suggest several things about those first quilts and the women's reasons for quilting. First, many quilts were made for relatives, often to celebrate a birth or wedding. Often, learning to quilt and having a child were intertwined. As one respondent put it, her first quilt "was a baby quilt for our first son. I made it with little pieces of fabric I had on hand, with all sorts of textures. I still have it and it will be his Christmas present this ye[a]r." Second, many of these first quilts were loved and, despite their age, were still valued. Many commented on how their first quilts had become worn over time. While several respondents had discarded their quilts because of their age (and still regret the loss), most of these first quilts are still owned either by their makers or by the people to whom they were given.

[4.7] Third, these quilts symbolize connections between people. One respondent noted,

[4.8] "My daughter told me she wanted a rainbow quilt. I thought for years, about how I wanted to do it. I bought several fabrics, cut them out and she helped me place the pieces the way she wanted it. It's still her pride and joy even though I've made other quilts for her since. Everyone who sees it wants one just like it. It will always be one of a kind. My daughter is now a teacher and an artist. It is the only thing we have done together in quilting.

[4.9] One story evokes the numerous ways a quilt connects generations, embodies an act of creation, and also gains value through being used:

[4.10] The first quilt I ever made actually partly was made by my mother when she was young. We were visiting with my grandmother and she was cleaning out her cedar chest. She had these old quilt squares that my mom had made when she was young. She asked me if I wanted them. I really didn't want to mess with them, but my mom suggested I take them so as not to hurt my grandmother's feelings. She even helped me plan on how to finish it. So, we went to the fabric store for the backing and batting. I worked on it and finished it when we got home. It ended up being used a lot! It became sort of sad because of the use it had and it started to fall apart. When my sister's dog died we ended up burying the dog in it. I still have pictures of it and someday would like to make it again. Especially now that both my grandmother and mother have passed away.

[4.11] Even taking a quilting class to learn how to quilt is rich with the connections made through learning and sharing skills. One person told the story of her first quilt:

[4.12] My first quilt was a sampler. It was dark green, light green, and muslin. It was my first class at the Community Center. The teacher told the class, I can tell you which ones of you will continue to quilt after this class and which ones will give it up. Then she turned to me—you are hooked on this. I saw her later almost ten years and told her how much her class had changed my life. She had just lost her husband and she was working at the hospital and I made her cry. She said she needed to hear that—that she changed someone's life. She did change my life.

[4.13] Almost all the stories were dominated by the ways in which the quilt became a part of the lives of those who received it. These memories were both good and bad. One woman explained, "My first quilt was a lap quilt for my elderly mother. I had just bought my embroidery machine and I used my Angel memory card to apply one angel for each of her 7 children, followed with all of our names. I also used fabric from clothing pieces that we knew she would recognize. It was just a simple 9 patch [b]ut she loved it."

[4.14] One final story highlights that, while a quilt might be created to share memories and develop connections, sometimes it outlived the relationship it was meant to celebrate:

[4.15] My first quilt was a turning twenty quilt for my son and his new bride. They are vegans and all natural in their approach to living. I made the quilt with beiges, 100% cotton, all natural. It was a mess!!! But they loved it. Since they have parted ways I now have the quilt tucked away. Too many memories for my son to keep it. Too many sad memories for me to show it. And giving it away would deny the past.

[4.16] The creative urge behind these quilts is far removed from profit motives, the desire to protect original designs, or concern for property rights. Instead, for virtually all the women responding to the survey, quilting was a satisfying act of creation, and its product was often intended to serve as a gift. Indeed, throughout their history, quilts have almost always been made as gifts for families and to commemorate special occasions (Cooper and Allen 1999). The "value" of the quilt as a gift allows for the possibility of unalienated labor that can cement relationships between individuals and help form bonds of family and community (Roberts 1994:132).

[4.17] Central to the creative process is the question of where patterns and ideas come from. Two questions, "Where do you get the patterns for your quilts?" and "When you find a new pattern you like, do you share it with friends?" were included to assess the ways in which quilting patterns are used and shared, an area of concern for commercial quilt book publishers and pattern makers.

[4.18] The women in this survey did not all get their patterns in the same way. Consulting quilting books was the most common method of getting a pattern (89 percent; participants could choose more than one answer). The next most popular method was to make their own patterns. However, when they find a pattern they like, 69 percent share it with friends, suggesting that whatever the origin of the pattern, the community itself sees the sharing of ideas as part of the process. More information is needed about this sharing. Specifically, if quilters are sharing photocopies of patterns, they may be violating copyright law. On the other hand, if a quilter makes a quilt from a pattern and then gives the pattern to a friend without copying it, then such an action should be allowed under the first sale doctrine. If quilters are making and sharing their own designs, then the copyright violation is less clear. Either way, when the sharing culture of quilters meets the property culture of copyright, there will inevitably be clashes.

[4.19] To further ascertain how the quilters perceived their practices of innovation and sharing in relation to copyright law, participants were asked if they had ever come across the term "copyright" in relation to quilting, to which 87 percent responded affirmatively. Most of them (45 percent) had heard about copyright in quilting books. Those who were either teachers or had taken some sort of course had been educated in more detail about copyright issues.

[4.20] Thirty-seven women answered the question asking them to describe their encounter with copyright. I had thought participants might provide specific stories of their experiences with copyright. However, they used the open-ended question to demonstrate that they had some knowledge of the law and tried to obey it, but were confused about what was and was not legal. They understood the distinction between personal and commercial use to be a key factor in copyright issues. These quilters tried to follow the law by not sharing photocopies of patterns, buying their own books whenever possible, and opting out of the commercially driven world of copyright by creating their own patterns or using ones in the public domain. One respondent said she used quilt books as a source of inspiration for creating her own patterns. Several women mentioned attending lectures on copyright either in school or at their quilting guilds, and many others said the topic was discussed on the quilting lists. Thus the quilters were aware of the issue in general, but largely unfamiliar with its intricacies.

[4.21] Most felt that copyright law did not apply to them because they were not engaged in commercial quilting; if they were, they tended to use public-domain patterns to avoid the charge of copyright infringement. None spoke of their noncommercial quilts as having or needing copyright protection. One respondent noted that the only time she shares a pattern, thus infringing a copyright, is when her quilt group is unable to find it for sale, or when someone is having financial trouble. Most (75 percent) felt that copyright had no impact on them. Only two respondents of the sixty-five saw copyright as a barrier to their creativity, one thought it had made it more difficult to quilt, and four understood copyright to have protected their own creativity. Generally, while quilters know copyright laws exist, they see the law applying to commercial quilting, not to their creative work as quilters. They seek to obey the law as much as possible, but continue to operate primarily in a world where copyright is not an issue. Despite their overwhelming sense that copyright has no impact on them, their general confusion regarding the topic and their willingness to share patterns and thus possibly violate copyright suggest that the law does have some relevance to quilting practices, although the survey participants might not recognize it.

[4.22] When asked to explain why copyright had no impact on them, most reiterated that while they seek to follow the law, their work is not commercially driven, and because they do not sell their quilts, copyright is irrelevant. Many spoke of being inspired by quilt patterns: "I know I can't sell a copyright item as my own so I use the ideas, combine techniques and make my own design. That way it is not violating copyright but still get the inspiration I need for new ideas." Of course, according to Kathleen Bissett's interpretation of the law discussed above, such use would still violate copyright if the resulting quilt was substantially similar to the pattern that inspired it.

[4.23] Several respondents said that they completely avoid work that is copyrighted, or engage in the quilting equivalent of an "open source" or "creative commons" approach to innovation and design.

[4.24] It [copyright] has kept me from purchasing licensed products from the likes of Disney or Mary Engelbreit. I choose to support those who in turn will support my endeavors. I remember decades past when one would go into a yarn shop, pick a pattern out of the shops collection of books, magazines, pamphlets, buy the yarn and the shop owner gave you a copy of the pattern. I did not know about copyright as a youth.

[4.25] Another noted that she respected copyrights and "others creativity and right to make a living from the copyright."

[4.26] The overwhelming response was that copyright did not apply to the work done by quilters, because they engage in their craft for personal reasons. Additionally, 75 percent of the respondents would share a quilt pattern they designed themselves with friends or give it away freely to everyone via the Internet, indicating that the culture of sharing remains strong among this sample of quilters.

[4.27] Respondents were asked, in a final question, for any last comments on quilting, copyright, and what the survey had made them think about. While some respondents said they had not thought about copyright before and now would think about it, most summarized their feelings toward quilting and tried to place quilting within the commercial world of copyright. One respondent said,

[4.28] I actually had never thought of the "legal" side of quilting. Why should something that is such a personal creative gift have to fall into the category of "who owns it."…We have become so selfish about things…Beauty is to be shared, and if there is a profit in it, so much the better, but I have never made it the end product of an act of enjoyment.

[4.29] One respondent told a story she had recently heard about a woman who had donated one of her quilts to a nonprofit group for a fundraiser, but the group had been told that raffling off the quilt would violate copyright law. As she noted, "I thought this was very sad."

[4.30] One woman highlighted her own connection to quilting, "Quilting makes me an artist. It helps to lif[t] my spirits and lets me make things that I think are beautiful. I use quilting as my creative outlet to relax and to teach others how to create beauty." Another said, "I have found quilters are more than happy to share their knowledge and patterns with anyone. It is a way to keep the art of quilting alive and pass it on." One respondent noted that if copyright concerns changed the way her quilting guild shares information, it would be a detriment to the community. She explained, "[I] feel the quilting community in our local guilds have been very open and sharing with information about techniques, etc. I would miss this exchange if copyright issues would change people's attitudes." Another simply noted that she saw patterns as a "tool" and not as the most important element of quilting. Finally, one woman noted the complexity of copyright as applied to design. She said, "I think copyright pertaining to the written word is understandable enough for most but design is still a black hole in space."

[4.31] It is certainly the case that it is difficult to know exactly what aspect of quilting is protected by copyright. While the survey participants understood how it applied to books, they were uncertain where designs might fall within the protective sphere. There was significant confusion over what could be protected if one took a pattern, modified it, used different fabrics and colors, and thus created something new. The fact that copyright can also be applicable to fabrics, while not mentioned specifically by the respondents, may also increase the general confusion about what is available for use.

5. Analysis

[5.1] Because of the small sample size, the results of this study cannot be generalized. However, these women's stories and responses to questions provide some insight into the ways in which copyright and creativity function. First, collaboration takes many forms. Ideas and patterns are commonly shared with friends and family, but collaborative quilts are far less common than individual quilts, though individual quilts are often created within a supportive network of friends and family. Second, while respondents were generally aware of copyright, these quilters, unless they were interested in commercial applications, had no interest in applying copyright to the quilts they made or to the patterns they designed. Only upon commercialization does copyright emerge as an issue, and, in this sample, only for those writing quilt design notebooks for their quilting classes or creating patterns for commercial sale.

[5.2] These respondents see copyright as relevant to others, who engage in commercial activity, but not to themselves and their creative work. These quilters create original designs or modify existing ones when the things they see inspire them. They generally operate and create outside the protective sphere of copyright. They do not seek to protect their work using a narrative of property and copyright. In part, this lack of concern with copyright can be attributed to the fact that most women responding to the survey quilt for pleasure and to create gifts. However, it is clear that these quilters can work within a quilting community, without much recourse to the commercialized world. As quilting becomes an industry and some people further professionalize it, issues of copyright become more salient. Quilters do not want to break the law, but at the same time seem saddened by the way property rights erode a community of sharing.

[5.3] It is worth mentioning that all of the survey respondents were women, and men were only rarely mentioned. From these responses, it seems clear that quilting remains overwhelmingly a women's sphere of creativity. Further attesting to the female-dominated nature of the topic, all but 11 of the 340 books listed in the OhioLINK database on quilting were written by women. Women are therefore the primary actors in the commodification of quilting as well as the ones participating in the creation of quilts. The divide between those who own and those who share is not along gender lines, with men understanding and using copyright to protect property in creative work and women sharing their creative work; rather, it separates commodified and uncommodified labor.

[5.4] For example, one respondent mentioned that she avoids Mary Engelbreit and Disney patterns because Engelbreit and Disney approach the sale of patterns too commercially and are not part of the sharing community this women associates with quilting. Engelbreit is a businesswoman who makes a variety of creative products, including greeting cards and fabric. On her Web site she describes herself as an "artist and entrepreneur," a woman who has loved drawing since she was a child and who began her creative work drawing greeting cards. While the biography on her Web site seeks to ground her in her love for drawing, it also mentions her licensed products six times and clearly situates her creative work within what has been called her "vast empire of cuteness" (About Mary n.d.). There is no denying Engelbreit's creative energy, but she has sought to market her work and create a global brand, not share her work within the noncommodified culture associated with the gift economy of quilting described by the survey participants.

[5.5] What is interesting is that survey participants understand that work like Engelbreit's is protected, and instead of violating copyright and using these products in ways that are not permitted, they simply avoid using them at all. Thus, as a commercial aid, copyright can work against itself by scaring people away from the use of restrictively licensed work. Instead, quilters look for free patterns and fabrics. Since numerous Web sites offer free patterns, it is quite possible to quilt without ever violating a copyright. However, it is also true that quilt books, quilt classes, and other forms of commodification make it more difficult to ignore the commercial aspect of the quilting "business."

6. Conclusion

[6.1] The creation of quilts as collaborative projects and as gifts suggests a model for authorship and ownership different from the concept of the original author that underlies copyright law. Quilts often include stories sewn into their squares, they require knowledge of textiles and appliqué techniques, and they have served important political and cultural functions (Berlo and Crews 2003:16–19; Elsley 1996:21–22). Furthermore, the quilt itself has a life history. It cannot be viewed as a static art, but has a story linked with the narrative of its owner (Forrest and Blincoe 1995:97).

[6.2] The act of authoring a quilt continues to exist at many levels outside the realm of copyright law. For the women surveyed, quilting is part of a gift economy and is practiced as a labor of love, not in return for money. Almost all the women surveyed responded that they would be hurt if they found out a quilt they had given as a gift had been sold for profit. They consider quilting a creative pastime and sometimes an art, something that allows them to make beautiful gifts. Thus, not only do they create absent the protective incentives of copyright law, but they also help us see the kind of world made possible through a different type of labor, the unalienated labor of quilting that creates social ties as well as gifts that cannot be assigned a monetary value.

[6.3] Quilting is a culture of transforming the ideas of others into one's own creations and building new quilts upon the traditional models of past quilts. Quilting is also an art form replete with transformative moments. Women share and exchange their ideas and patterns; they use fabrics from old items and make them into something new; they take a traditional design and add their own flourish. It is clear that quilting is a culture premised upon seeing something interesting or beautiful and then working with the design to make something new. Old and new patterns are combined, colors and materials sorted, pieces of older garments sewn into new quilts, and the modern melded with the traditional. Quilting thus demonstrates the creativity that emerges in transformations connecting the past to the present and individuals into a community.

7. Acknowledgments

This paper was originally presented at the American University Washington College of Law conference on Gender and Intellectual Property in 2008. I would like to acknowledge the help of the conference organizers and commentators for supporting and commenting on the earlier draft of this work. Furthermore, I would like to acknowledge the travel support of Otterbein College.

8. Works Cited

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Beaudry, Mary Carolyn. 2006. Findings: The material culture of needlework and sewing. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

Benberry, Cuesta. 1992. Always there: The African-American presence in American quilts. Louisville: Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc.

Berlo, Janet Catherine, and Patricia Cox Crews. 2003. Wild by design: Two hundred years of innovation and artistry in American quilts. Lincoln: International Quilt Study Center at the Univ. of Nebraska–Lincoln.

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