Original copy of the MQG’s post “Understanding Copyright, Derivatives and Design Credit in Quilting”

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Understanding Copyright, Derivatives and Design Credit in Quilting

by themodernquiltguild

Inspired by?

Ever heard the phrase “inspiration is everywhere?” If you’re looking at all, it is. We are bombarded with inspiration: on Instagram, in quilt shows, and all over the Internet. Modern art and graphic design are ripe with inspiration for modern quilts. Steven Bradley wrote an informative post, The Line Between Inspired By and Copied From and How to Stay On Its Right Side. This line can be blurry and, in some cases as Bradley points out, it can be a good thing to be on either side. When it comes to entering a quilt in a quilt show, it is important to understand the difference between an original design and a derivative of someone else’s work. Both are welcome entrants in quilt shows, but with derivative work, the maker has additional responsibility to credit the source of inspiration, acknowledge the work as a derivative and obtain permission to exhibit the quilt. All quilt shows have their own requirements, but at QuiltCon, derivative quilts should only be entered with appropriate credit, permission from the original artist and for exhibit only.

All About Derivatives

“Derivative.” It sounds complicated, and you may have heard it in a negative context before. But what does it mean when it comes to quilting? First, let’s define the word. According to the Oxford dictionary, a derivative is “(typically of an artist or work of art) imitative of the work of another person; originating from, based on, or influenced by.” In the quilt world, this means that if you use someone else’s pattern, artwork, photography, or quilt design to influence your quilt design, it’s a derivative.

How can I tell if my quilt is a derivative?

The hard and fast rule is this: If someone can recognize who or what influenced your work, then it’s a derivative. The easiest way to determine this is to ask around: Ask your family, friends and members of your guild. Ask quilters and non-quilters. If it was based on something, show people the original work and ask if they can see the influence in your work. Our best advice: use common sense.

Below are some common examples of derivatives. Read through each one and think about your work.

Using or altering a pattern

If you use a pattern for your quilt, that’s great! When entering your quilt in a show, acknowledge the design source (the pattern and the designer) and get permission to enter your quilt. You may have purchased a pattern and put your own spin on it, but if the original quilter’s work is still recognizable in your version it’s a derivative. Because of the nature of patterns, a quilt created from a pattern — even if it’s different — is still a derivative.

In this example by Jacquie Gering, the quilt on the right is a derivative of the Fly quilt on the left, and credit would need to be given to Jacquie, and permission would be needed to enter this quilt in a show.

The quilt below is also inspired by the Fly quilt below, but it is not derivative. The designer of this quilt took the concept of overlapping triangles and developed that concept into an original design. While you may not need permission from the designer to enter this quilt, it’s always courteous to ask — and designers love to see original work inspired by their own and to be credited for the inspiration.


Inspired by artwork

Derivatives aren’t always based on other quilts — sometimes inspiration comes from the art or design world, but the rules are the same. You may, however, be inspired by artwork and create an original piece that embodies your own voice and style. This quilt by Shannon Page is a great example.

shannonShannon used a “This is a V-Home” placard (left) as inspiration for a quilt (right). The placard was created by the federal government’s Office of Civilian Defense, and is part of the public domain according to U.S. copyright law.

Putting art or designs into another medium does not make it original. Sometimes quilters mistakenly believe that even if they were inspired by a piece of art, the quilt design is an original design because they did the work to figure out the math, draft blocks, make templates, choose different colors or write a pattern to translate art into a quilt.

albers finalLeft: Anni Albers Black White Yellow, 1926/1964, silk and rayon, 80 × 47 in. (203 × 119 cm). Image used with permission © V&A Images, London / Art Resource, NY Permission for quilt from Artist Rights Society.* | Right: A quilt derivative of Anni Albers’ weaving by Jaime David.

Jaime David made this beautiful quilt based on a weaving by Anni Albers. As you can see, Jaime obviously did loads of work to translate this weaving into a quilt, but she will be the first to tell you that this quilt is not her original design. It was a personal learning exercise to learn from the genius that was Anni Albers. What she learned about color, shape and design from this quilt has helped her find her own voice as a quilter. If she wanted to enter this quilt into QuiltCon she would need to enter for exhibit only, credit Anni Albers and secure permission to exhibit the quilt.

Taking a workshop

Sometimes it’s not a pattern or image that inspires new work, but a technique. If you take a workshop with a well-known designer and learn their technique, often the product that comes out is a derivative work. This is especially true of pattern-based workshops. If you’re entering a quilt for show that uses someone else’s technique, your goal is to infuse your own style and voice so much into the quilt that it isn’t recognizable as someone else’s technique. Create and submit a work that is truly your design.

Who decides if it is derivative?

Only a court of law can decided if a work is derivative. Lawyers, legal teams, other quilters, even a show jury can disagree on if a quilt is a derivative. As we said earlier, it’s a fine line and many times a blurry one. A good rule of thumb is the original designer/artist is the one who decides. If you can’t ask the original artist or designer, step away from your work and ask others, but only you know if and how much you were influenced by the work of others.

When to get permission

If you are using a derivative quilt at home privately, you do not need to get permission — though whenever you use someone else’s work it is polite and best practice to ask for permission. However, if you plan to display the quilt publicly or enter it into a show, you should obtain permission to exhibit.

How to get permission

This part is usually easy — and fun! Send an email to the designer and show them a photo of the work you’ve made. Explain that you were inspired by their work and ask politely if you can enter it into a show or display it publicly. Be clear that you plan to give credit in your description. Chances are the artist will be happy to give permission and flattered by the work you’ve done. However, if they decline, you need to respect their wishes.

If you enter a quilt for QuiltCon, you may disagree with the QuiltCon jury on whether or not your quilt is derivative. The best person to decide this is the copyright owner. Ask! Sometimes the copyright owner will say it is not derivative. We will also honor the artist’s/designer’s wishes.

What if I can’t get permission?

“I saw the design on Pinterest and don’t know who made it!”Unfortunately credit isn’t always given on the Internet, and it can be hard to find the original artist. But if you want to enter a quilt based on another design, you need to do due diligence. One way to do this is using Google image search. Upload your image to images.google.com, and Google will find image results that are similar. Click through as many as it takes to find the original artist.

“I was inspired by the work of an artist, but he/she is dead!” If the work is not in the public domain, you may consider contacting their estate for permission. See the section below about our process of contacting an estate for this blog post.

What is public domain?

“Public domain” refers to any creative materials that are not protected by copyright, trademark or patent laws. These are owned by the public and can be used by anyone without permission. For quilters, the most common designs in the public domain are traditional quilt blocks. These designs have been around for dozens (if not hundreds) of years, and the rule in many countries is that the work falls into public domain 70 years after the last creator’s death. Once a work enters public domain, it cannot be copyrighted again.

If you create a quilt using traditional quilt as an inspiration or starting point, you do not need to obtain permission. See Amy Garro’s post Copyright & Quilting for a more in-depth discussion of copyright and public domain. (Note: Copyright laws change from country to country, so it’s best to research laws where you live for more information.)

Submitting a derivative work to a quilt show

Quilt show juries for international or national shows almost always prefer to exhibit original work, and since derivatives are not original, they aren’t as desirable in large shows (local shows are more open to derivative work). However, if you feel strongly about submitting a derivative quilt, follow these steps:

  • Request permission. Ask the original artist if you can enter your quilt into the show. Show them a photo of the finished quilt, and get their permission in writing (email is okay). Often times, they’ll be pleased you want to enter a quilt based on their work! However, if they don’t give permission, don’t submit the quilt.
  • Be transparent. Be clear in your submission that the work is derivative. Also share with the jury or quilt show committee that you obtained permission from the original maker, designer, or artist.
  • Give full credit. In the quilt description, you must give credit to the designer who influenced your work. It’s not only fair, but simple common courtesy.

Additional Reading

How do I find my own voice and style?

Great question! Many quilters work on this for years and build up their style over time. Yours will become clear as you make more quilts, learn what skills and styles you gravitate toward, and recognize what you love most about the process and your designs. Here are some ideas to help you on your journey:

  • Stop consuming. Start creating. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the endless quilts on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. Step away from the screen from time to time and simply sew. Make what you want to make — not what the Internet tells you to. Do the work.
  • Take time to play. The more you experiment with techniques and styles, the easier it is to find your niche. Increase the time you spend sewing without a pattern.
  • Do what you love. One technique or design may inspire you more than others. Use that as your starting point and see where it takes you.
  • Watch Latifah Saafir’s webinar, “Being True to Your Inner Quilt Artist.” It’s a great resource for any quilter, no matter where you are in your journey.

latifah copy


Interested in how we obtained permission to publish the image of Anni Albers’ weaving above? Read about it below. Sometimes obtaining permission is as simple as sending a few emails. Sometimes it can be more complicated.

  1. We contacted The Art Resource, Inc., to express interest in using the image of Anni Albers’ weaving as an example.
  2. We were asked to explain the scope of publication, including authors, publish date, distribution, etc.
  3. We paid a fee to the Art Resource, Inc., for the one-time, non-exclusive world English language rights for the use of the one image in the article.
  4. We were asked to obtain additional copyright permission from the Artists Rights Society (ARS).
  5. The representative at ARS contacted the Albers Foundation on our behalf to request permission to use the image in the blog post.
  6. We submitted a draft of the blog post in PDF form for the Albers Foundation to approve and went through a few rounds of changes.
  7. We paid a fee to the Albers Foundation for one-time use of the image.
  8. The whole process from first contact to final approval took about 60 days. But it pays to do the work!

* Reproduction, including downloading of Anni Albers’ works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

themodernquiltguild | July 30, 2016 at 1:33 pm | Tags: derivatives, quilt derivatives | Categories: Design, Quilt Show, QuiltCon | URL: http://wp.me/pLqw6-25z
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You can’t break up if there wasn’t a relationship in the first place

A note before I begin: trying to track down original posts and sources from those years is a daunting task. I may throw myself at it someday, to make the trail, but in some cases blogs don’t exist, archives aren’t available, and most of what I’m going on right now is memory, things that stood out to me at the time and set off my radar as a deliberate choice to mold the narrative to fit some greater agenda. It jives with what others remember, though, in conversations I’ve had over the years, and while I won’t out them because it could damage their careers, I hope they chime in. I plan on doing due diligence as I have time, and adding links to the relevant posts as I track them down. If you know of any, please feel free to share them in the comments. These are my personal observations, from my memories of the events as they happened.These are things I’ve personally observed and witnessed or have been related to me. And in the interests of clarity and full disclosure, I am a professional quilter, I have gone to every Quilt Market for the last four years, I have online classes, a book, magazine articles, a national quilting award (not QuiltCon) and have taught locally and nationally, and will be teaching at one or more national shows (not QuiltCon) this coming year. I am not writing as a newbie, but I do have a dog in this hunt. I’ll get to that in the post. These are my reasons for leaving, and I do not expect them to be reflective of everyone’s experiences.

I started writing out this response as a private message to those people people who asked what my reasons were for leaving the MQG. The original impulse to write this privately was that I was afraid of backlash: The MQG would see it! And my quilts would never be accepted into the show again! They have a reputation for having a shit list. And then I laughed and got over it because I’m not going to be submitting to QuiltCon any more, by personal choice. I had made that decision after the last show, actually, and it’s been a long angsty period the last few years as I’ve watched a movement I loved and supported betray its roots, not to mention its paying members.

I feel like I need to trot out some background info, so that you know my view is based on a long period of observation and not just in response to the question of “is it derivative or not”. I started reading blogs around 2002, the year I made my first quilts, (my fella worked for Bloglines back in the day), and as I was making my own things, I started looking for blogs using the software my fella was developing to help test things for him.

I watched as these new DIY/sewing/quilt/lifestyle-y bloggers were standing up and wandering around on wobbly new legs. “Here’s what I am working on!” “Look, I’m learning to use a rotary cutter! and strip piece!!” It was cute and exciting and real as everyone seemed to wake up to the idea that they could make the things they wanted for a life that was theirs.. They shared their successes and failures, and it was real and true to them, and we shared in it with them. We shared photos on Flickr, talked about things to try and patterns to explore, and where to find the fabric we loved that was new and unique. People were making cloth diapers! And selling them! And knitting! Eventually there was a chicken craze! It was a fun time.

Years passed, and in 2008 Rossie Hutchinson organized and moderated one of the (if not the first) first modern quilt Flickr groups, Fresh Modern Quilts.  It’s quite an archive. Groups of people who were excited about quilting and teaching themselves started forming groups if they lived close together, and in Summer 2009 Latifah Saafir and Alissa Haight-Carlton put out the call in LA for a modern guild to form.

From what I recall, all over the country people thought “huh, we have people who could make a group like that!” and guilds started spring up on their own, from this first seed of an idea. [If you were one of these guilds and existed pre-affiliation-requirements and have firm dates on when you began, please leave a comment below. I know you’re out there. I know of Atlanta, East Bay, ] About a year later, the LA MQG (spearheaded by the leadership of the LAMQG without full knowledge or approval of the group) formalized a national guild and called for the other guilds to join them, with them as the head of the organization. From the first, I believe, the MQG was seeking control of the message, and this was the first movement towards being a brand  as opposed to a true guild. After a planning committee was appointed, the first board was also appointed.

At this early point,the modern quilting groups across the country who had a group that identified with the modern movement and idea of a modern guild, could link up with the MQG’s main website, a clearinghouse for the guilds across the country, so to speak. In 2013, the MQG decided to stop offering this as a “free service” and told those guilds who had linked up that they were to join with the national guild (by paying dues and turning over a list of members to the mothership) or they had to change their name to not include “modern quilt guild” and to have their website removed from the MQG’s site. This, to me, is the second major step in the branding push. Guilds such as Atlanta, East Bay, NYC and others did not incorporate [if you know others  of ’em, list ’em in the comments!] although these non-conforming guilds encouraged members to join individually if they were so moved.

At the time, I got all those emails because I had tried to start up a local chapter with a friend before they moved to assimilate everyone. I really had hoped for a local group of like-minded sewists to be with once a month, to share things with. I was really concerned at the reach the MQG was extending, and the dues were not cheap. Due to this and lack of interest, we decided to fold (I should say I decided to fold. It’s hard to have a guild when you’re the only one who shows up for meetings lol)

As the MQG became more prominent, the arguments over definitions of what was “modern” or not were also starting to pick up. Their Facebook page by 2012 or 2013 had around 8 or 9,000 members. My main reason for leaving the facebook page (2013?2014? No idea, sometime around there) was watching person after person get eviscerated for the quilts they posted. Pronouncements came from Very Famous Quilters that batiks aren’t modern.  Black backgrounds were never going to be allowed on modern quilts. Riffs on traditional were no longer modern. Shadowy authority figures of the “founding members” were being quoted as the reason behind these rules, and people were kicked out and banned at increasing rates. Around this time, three members of the original board left en masse. I would like to know why, when the official transition and vote was still not in place.

About a year before the first QuiltCon, the MQG started their own website, and their own forums, and announced they would not be moderating the facebook page any more. And then, eventually, QuiltCon happened. Most of us remember the issues around that, so I won’t rehash, but I do want to point out that leaders of daughter guilds were told directly by the MQG that all quilts shown in their local guilds had to be accompanied with an explanation as to why it was modern. Craftsy, which has all of the keynote speakers on video, does not have the lecture given by Heather Grant where she laid out definitive rules as to what makes a modern quilt. That’s a shame, because it is important to this conversation. I, and others, were excited to find a place for us, and yet oddly discomfited about the messages we were receiving. This push to control the brand, control the message of a movement was entirely at odds with what made us excited to be a part of the movement.

What I most certainly believe is a pivotal moment, though, was when Angela Pingel of Cut to Pieces noticed that the original definition of a modern quilt had been changed without notice, without a vote of the members, and without any public discussion. I’ve included the first and original definition below:

“Modern quilting is a new twist on the traditional art of quilting. This may mean something as simple as using a traditional quilt block and updating it in a fresh, fun new way. That includes using modern fabrics, modifying the block arrangement or even the scale of the block. The piecing could be improvisational and wonky, or it could be very exact and measured, following a pattern or creating your won. The quilting could be traditional stippling, clean straight lines, or a very “free” have fun and quilt-as-you-go style. Fabrics could be upcycled vintage sheets, custom digital printed fabric, a yummy selection from one of the new modern fabric designers, or an old fabric from an ever growing stash.

Modern quilting is sometimes difficult to define because in many ways the definition is as individual as the quilter – changing from quilter to quilter. In addition to reflecting the individual personality and personal style of the quilter, it also reflects the current aesthetic of the day. 

Modern quilting is also about the attitude and the approach that modern quilters take. It respects the amazing artistry and talent of the tradition of quilting, while allowing the quilter to challenge the “rules”. In fact, if there were one rule in modern quilting, it would be that there are no rules.

The concept of modern quilting is not meant to divide or segregate. It is meant to welcome new quilters, of all ages, to the world of quilting in a style that they can relate to. In many ways, modern quilting takes us back to the basics of the early quilters, when women of the day used the colors and styles of their time to express themselves creatively”

And this was the new definition that she had noticed, silently slipped in without a public comment period or vote:

“We define modern quilts as quilts that are functional, include bold colors, and are inspired by modern design. Minimalism, asymmetry expansive negative space, and alternate grid work are often a part of modern quilt compositions, as are improvisational piecing and solid fabrics.”

What’s this “we” stuff? It did not reflect me or most of the quilts in the show or the work of most of my friends. It did reflect the work of a very small subset. I also came to believe that it was a dangerous proposition to speak publicly about these types of things. I think many of us learned this lesson and became very cautious about saying anything that could be held against us.



Why is this?

At the time MQGNational was formed, those of us making these types of quilt and hunting for these types of fabrics were revitalizing an industry that was on the decline. The companies who were seeking to profit from this new influx of quilters were sometimes late to the party and didn’t understand the movement. The appointed leaders of the MQG became a convenient touchstone for these companies seeking to get a line on what was happening, and what people wanted. From the get-go, I believe this established what I think of as the gate-keeping culture: It’s not modern unless is has the MQG stamp of approval. I believe that this is a critical point to understand in how and why things are the way they are today.

As gate-keepers, they have a very real impact on who is allowed to have a voice and who is not. Don’t stay on message? You’ll never teach at QuiltCon. Point out something that goes against the openness of the community you love and work within? Forget about any recognition or links to you or your quilts. Death by silent treatment.

In that original post, which is no longer available (and which I sadly did not think to screenshot, though I should know better by now) the definition of what is “derivative” was exceptionally broad, faulty, and flat out incorrect in places. Most of that has been changed to be less extreme and egregiously wrong. I am glad for that, I guess, but they’ve been “working on this post for months” and that was what they put out?  And current Board members didn’t know about it until it was published? This authoritarian and elitist culture was established from the beginning. It is why I believe the MQG fulfills the function of a brand with an agenda rather than a guild supporting its members as seen through the numerous ,continuous and persistent actions of pronouncements such as what is a derivative work or not.

And it is the real crux of the matter. The most recent post about derivative work (the current iteration of the post has been altered from the original, so keep that in mind) was presented by fiat, much as the first board was presented, much as the definitions of modern quilting were presented. Because the MQG has established itself as some sort of authority, people like me who have skin in the game are consistently afraid of speaking out because of what the damage and fallout might be. Those of us in the industry not of the Favored Few all have stories of the people we know who have been affected and the strongarm tactics that have been used. These stories are not mine to tell and I hope the people affected share them. I am only speaking out now because I want nothing more to do with the national organization. I won’t be submitting proposals, I won’t be submitting quilts. I believe I have nothing to lose except the fences and strictures that have bound me creatively and  I realize this will be the end for me by speaking out, and I’m ok with that. I cannot support a national organization that says one thing, then does another. Repeatedly. To the detriment of the paying members and the modern movement as a whole.

There is much more, but I feel I have written enough to explain my reasons for leaving, which are measured and as factual as I can make them. I am not nor have I ever been “on the inside” and I know some of these actions were meant well in the beginning. I’ve observed this organization for a long time as an outsider, I have supported the idea of a place for modern quilters, actively work to encourage everyone who makes stuff, and have no confidence that the agenda of the mothership is congruent with supporting their paying membership, representing me as an individual member or the amazing daughter guilds I have had the pleasure to meet and see in action. The modern quilting community i know encompasses a truly amazing group of people, supportive and caring, excited, of all ages, genders, races, political leanings and more. I am sad that leaving an organization I had hoped to find a home in is a choice I now feel is inevitable.

A final word: My experiences may not be yours, and I appreciate that. I cannot be true to the things that I value about myself–honesty, integrity, my sense of fairness, and my desire to support and encourage people making whatever the hell they want with delight and passion–and yet stay silent. Thanks for taking the time to read this.