Category Archives: copyright

Ownership | Cultural Appropriation and Copyright

In my last post, I listed ten things I learned or had reinforced in 2018 about making. One of the items listed was this:
“5. Inspiration comes from all over, if you let it. Okay, really, I knew this already, but it was confirmed time and again. Couldn’t you make an amazing quilt inspired by the mask above?”

This is the mask:

Bat mask from Burkina Faso, on display (and for sale) at Beadology in Iowa City. Maybe about 4′ wide.

This evocative piece is from Burkina Faso, a country with an estimated 70 languages. Even so, with its geometric designs, it speaks the same language as patchwork quilts. It’s easy for me to imagine making a quilt inspired by it. But is it fair for a white woman from midwestern US to mimic symbolism from across the world? I don’t know.

In fact, that’s what this post is about: things I didn’t learn in 2018. Two of the most important things about making that I didn’t learn in 2018 have to do with ownership. Who owns the right to create certain objects, symbols, or designs? Answers to this question have to do with both law and ethics.

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Just Wanna Quilt

Have you heard about Just Wanna Quilt? It is a research project on quilting, with the ultimate focus on copyright and intellectual property issues of the quilting industryElizabeth Townsend Gard, the lead researcher, law professor, and a quilter herself, is going full-immersion into quilting to understand the subject better.

The long-term goal for the project, as summarized by Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps,

is to create two bodies of work about intellectual property as it relates to quilting … The first will be intended for the hobby quilter. It will include “everything you need to know about copyright and intellectual property when it comes to quilting. Just simple. So that we can get everyone on the same page on things they don’t understand.” The other will be a more in-depth work for people in the quilting industry. “Every single person in this field is using materials and you should feel confident in what you do with them so that you don’t get in trouble, or if you get in trouble you do it deliberately,” she says.

In a lot of academic research, the initial stage is a review of the existing literature. In quilting, there is very little formal (academic) research existing, outside of quilting history. Elizabeth’s project includes surveying the whole landscape to create a basis for the research product. To do so, she’s initiated a series of podcasts, interviewing dozens of participants in the quilting industry, from corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, fabric and pattern designers, and hobby quilters.

You can find those interviews here. I’ve barely scratched the surface listening to them — there are dozens, and more being added all the time. Most of them run between about 30 and 60 minutes. They’re the perfect thing to listen to while you’re working on a project. Elizabeth’s interview style is very conversational. She comes across as charming and funny, and the focus is always on the interview subject and their part of the quilting world. It’s so interesting and I’ve already learned so much.

And here is a fun thing — she’s just posted a podcast interviewing ME! Click on this link to find the recording. It’s 52 minutes, on the long side. We talk about how and why I started quilting, what medallion quilts are, how I see green quilting and our responsibility as quilters to make the Earth a better place, and more.

In truth I’m not sure how this helps the research, but I had so much fun sharing my quilting world. 🙂 Thanks in advance if you choose to listen. Either way, check out the long list of podcasts available. If you love quilting, you’re sure to find this fascinating, as I do.