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


  • Debora J. Halbert University of Hawai`i, Manoa



Art, Authorship, Copyright, Quilting


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.

Author Biography

Debora J. Halbert, University of Hawai`i, Manoa

Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa. Previously, Professor of Political Science at Otterbein College.