Category Archives: Quilting as a Business

Design Theft or Outright Scam

Some of you are aware of the quilting-and-copyright research project called Just Wanna Quilt. I wrote a little about it here.

Besides the website with interview podcasts (including mine!), there is also a Facebook group linked to the research. The lead researcher, Elizabeth Townsend Gard, is using the group as a way to learn more about the culture of quilting. You can join, too!

Because the research focuses on intellectual property, Facebook group members post interesting items on the topic. Recently there was a post about a company that, apparently, steals quilt designs and prints them on low-quality blanket material. Or perhaps, what they’re doing is using the designs to collect orders, with credit card information, and then not delivering on the order. Whether it is phishing or scamming or stealing designs, it’s kind of horrifying that they are making money on the backs of talented designers and quilters.

Here are three of the companies that are involved with this. I’m not going to add active links, but you can check for yourself if you’re interested. Company names include
ustrendygear.com
greatbuyaz.com
usgearviral.com

A friend tagged me with a link to a picture of a great “quilt blanket” offered by one of these companies. The price of the supposed blanket was $49.95. It was NOT a quilt. And again, without trying to make a purchase, who knows if there really is a product, or if it is a phishing scam?

I looked up the quilt design the friend showed me. It was an elaborately appliquéd quilt, pattern by McKenna Ryan. You can find the pattern, as listed for sale by Ryan’s own site, here. The image below is a linked image from Pine Needles, Ryan’s store. As you can see, this is NOT a cheap blanket. It’s not a $50 item. The actual value would be in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, based on all the time required to replicate it in appliqué.

McKenna Ryan’s pattern And On That Farm, https://www.pineneedles.com/And-On-That-Farm-s/1920.htm

Here is the product description from the scammer company page (NOT McKenna Ryan’s company.)

And here is a screen shot of the “returns policy” for the scammer company.

I clicked through the link my friend gave me, and on that original post, I said it was McKenna Ryan’s design, and the company appeared to have stolen the design to print it on cheap blanket fabric. Soon after, whoever originally posted it removed the link.

Have you seen this type of Facebook post? You’re welcome to share my post with friends or your online quilting groups, if you’d like to warn them of the scams.

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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.

The Tutorial

This is the story of how a bad thing happened, and a good thing happened because of it. But a big part of the story is how you can keep that bad thing from happening in the first place. It takes two of us to tell the story, so we agreed to write it together and post it on both of our blogs.

Melanie: I’m Melanie McNeil and I write the blog Catbird Quilt Studio. I design my own quilts, mostly medallion quilts. And I help teach other people to design, too. Part of that is showing and describing my process as I work, and part is figuring out how to do things, and then creating tutorials. I enjoy the geometry of quilts, including the math. If someone knows how to do the math, they don’t need other people’s patterns, and they are more powerful because of it.

Lorna: I’m Lorna McMahon and I blog at Sew Fresh Quilts. I design and make quilts and, after testing, offer the patterns for sale. I offer basic quilt making information as well as a variety of free quilt alongs. And host the Let’s Bee Social Wednesday linky party as a way for other quilt bloggers to meet up each week, to connect and to share what they are working on.

Melanie: So the bad thing that happened — the story starts well before that. It starts in early 2014. I wanted to use a square-in-a-square block in a quilt, the kind of block that is called an “economy block.” I didn’t know how to do the math of creating them, and I wondered if someone else had a tutorial out there that would show me. I looked at lots of quilters’ blogs. Several had tutorials on how to make a specific size of block. Some were by paper piecing and some were by cutting patches for their own size of block. None of them were generic with the math included. So I wrote one.

It explains the math (which is actually very cool) and also gave a cheat sheet for people who want to make one of several sizes of blocks without doing the math. Almost since I posted the tutorial, it’s been my most-viewed piece.

Lorna: I took on a project where a quilt fabric company sent me fabric to make a quilt. I really should know by now that this is not what I want to do. Yet, it is hard to resist the idea of being sent fabric to use. It’s just that you must then use only the fabric they have sent. I have long struggled with using prints. And this project was all prints with no solids or “reads like a solid” in the mix to break things up.

I had committed to making something and knew these prints would not be suitable for my usual style. They would not work for me to design my typically pieced block. So I started looking for an easy way to just get something made and chose a traditional block.

I looked up a tutorial to make those blocks. Made those blocks. Put it together. And my quilt was finished. But I was not proud of the quilt and dreaded posting about it. I wanted to offer something more and decided to add a tutorial to the post. But I was lazy and feeling low about the whole experience.

I found Melanie’s Economy Block tutorial online and then – I stole that tutorial. Now an explanation – not that I am attempting to excuse what I did, but rather to attempt to describe the reasons behind the why I did what I did. No, I did not simply copy and paste the tutorial. I took my own photos. Made my own charts. Omitted the math formula because I wanted the tutorial to be simpler. And did not really change much concerning the written instructions. There really isn’t much you can do to change how you say, “Place fabric A on fabric B and sew a seam”. But even if I had found a completely unique way of writing it…. It was still wrong. It was still stealing. If nothing else, at the very least, I would have stolen the style of how that tutorial was written. At the time, I must have felt that these changes would make it “less wrong”.

And I published it without another thought. That is until I received an email requesting that I remove that tutorial.

Melanie: Um. It wasn’t really a request. Recently I wanted to post about a new cool thing I found out about economy blocks, a math thing. And I googled the term just to see if there was anything new out there. The third item on the list was Lorna’s tutorial. My tutorial. I knew it was mine because I knew there was nothing else out there like it at the time I wrote it.

I was mad. And I sent her an email and commented on the post and put up a blog post of my own, asking my readers to demand she remove it. I didn’t mince words. ugh. Embarrassing. I do not always react well when I am mad, and this was a prime example of it.

Lorna: I emailed back a reply right away. I apologized and complied immediately. I did not go to the links provided in the email which would have enabled me to compare the tutorials. Even if they would not have been considered by some to be without question the same, I knew what I had done was wrong. And I was able to freely admit that. But that was not enough.

Melanie had written a post about it on her blog prior to me reading her email. But I did not get a chance to read her blog post. When I sent my apology, she edited her post. But there were comments on her blog, naming me and the tutorial I had posted. And that bothered me. Why? Why did that bother me? Selfishness again. I wanted the whole thing to simply go away.

I had apologized and deleted the tutorial. Shouldn’t this have been handled just between the two of us? No. She had every right to post about it on her blog. She did nothing wrong. And I deserved to be “named and shamed”.

Melanie: I’m gonna break in here and say “yes,” I should have first just emailed Lorna. Even if that in particular had been ugly because of my ugly mad, it would have been better to do that in private. And I’m incredibly sorry that I made it public before first contacting her. It really wasn’t fair in any way.

Lorna again: At the time, did I not know what I was doing was wrong? I had never done this in school. I knew that it was wrong to take someone else’s work, change it around a little, use a few different words. Why did I do it? That is something that I have been questioning of myself ever since.

I thought about my children. How would I feel if they did something like this in school now? How would I react? What would I do to make it clear they understood that this was wrong? Well, I would talk to them and hope that they learned their lesson of course, but I wouldn’t punish them severely. Lesson learned. And I felt I deserved that understanding too.

Then I read a piece in our newspaper about a police officer that told an inappropriate joke. He offended those in his presence and was reported. Now he is being put through a “process”. In his interview, initially I felt for him. You do one thing wrong and you are judged for that one thing, no matter how many good or positive things you did before. This is the one you are now known for. You have lost people’s trust and respect. And you cannot take it back. You cannot undo it. You cannot make it right. Then he said something about how if he was disciplining his children, if they were in his situation, he would “leave the sledge hammer in the garage”.

And it dawned on me….

I am not a child. I am a grown woman. I know better. I deserve the punishment. Because what I did was wrong. I was not afraid to admit it to the one person that I had hurt directly. I wholeheartedly apologized. I did not try to diminish what I had done. I did not try to deny it. But what I was now afraid to do was to admit it to everyone else. Afraid to lose followers. Afraid to lose sales. Afraid to lose face.

I would never have taken a person’s pattern and copied it in this way. I would not like, and have not liked, the experience of having someone copy one of my patterns in this way. It’s happened to me with blog posts. It’s happened to me when my Elephant Parade had been printed by someone else in a quilt magazine. Why did I not think of this when I took the tutorial? Why did I not simply state “This is where I found a great tutorial for making this block” and provide a link? Selfishness. And a big ego.

It took me a while to go through a range of emotions that started with selfishness, shame and fear of this coming out to everyone else. “Everyone else” includes you, if you are reading this. I wronged you too. I took someone’s work and told you it was mine. I lied to you. And I am apologizing to you now, too.

I am over the fear of losing friends. Losing followers. Losing sales. Losing respect. If all those things happen, they happen. I will go on from here as a better person. I have learned a great lesson. And I could not go on without writing this post.

Melanie: It was a bad thing that happened. She did the wrong thing, and I reacted both wrongly and out of proportion. Bad happened.

But then something amazing and good happened. Lorna and I started to email, and we found that we actually like each other. And we both love to write and analyze what we do and why and how we do it. And I think we both understand how such a thing can happen, even as an exception to our normal behavior.

We both wanted to write this post together, because the main subject of using someone else’s work as your own is important to both of us. As we emailed, we discussed — how many? — lots of situations of our own or that we’d seen where whether and how to give credit isn’t always clear. I know I fail at it on the edges, even though I try to do the right thing. So I know for people who aren’t thinking about it, it’s easy to do someone wrong.

Lorna: It was a bad thing that happened. Bottom line is – I did do the wrong thing. It was helpful for me to do more than simply apologize for what I had done. Through our email thread it became apparent to me that I also owed Melanie an explanation. Not excuses, but a real analyzation of what had caused me to do what I had done and to override what I knew was wrong.

And that is where the healing began. I was introduced to the kind and generous person that Melanie is. Through our shared emails, and as I explored her blog, I could see that she deserved the respect I had not provided her with. And I am so grateful that she was willing to make this turn into something good. At the very least, we have become friends. But we also have a desire to help others avoid the pain and hurt that was caused.

Melanie and Lorna: In a way, the first part of this post is selfish on both of our parts, confessing our sins, so to speak. If you’ve gotten this far, we’d like to  wrap up this post with a positive ending and give you some helpful information.

What are some ways to respect ownership of other people’s work? They include both giving credit appropriately and not using someone else’s work without permission.

  • Instead of writing a new post to explain something, if you have already found a well written tutorial, simply provide a link to that tutorial. And you may even want to go the extra mile – contact the author and let them know how much you enjoyed their post and tell them you would like to provide a link to it.
  • Have you seen a quilt that you liked while searching online? Don’t share that photo on your blog without first asking the person who has posted it online. If they are willing to allow you to share the photo on your blog, always provide a link to the maker.
  • Even if a quilt is antique and the maker is long gone, photos of the quilt may be copyright-protected and not in the public domain. Someone owns the quilt, and someone owns the photo. Museums often provide photos freely, but some do not. Check their policy before sharing photos.
  • Some quilt shows and exhibitions invite you to photograph. Others request you don’t. Please honor that request. For those that allow it, take a picture of both the quilt and the maker’s name card so you can give credit correctly. If you want to share the photos, get permission from the maker first.
  • Sometimes our inspirations are diffused — we like a set of colors or the idea of something, or several things. But sometimes our inspirations are specific and unique. Again, check with the source if possible, and regardless, give credit for it.
  • Copying a pattern someone else bought is stealing from the pattern designer. If you like the pattern enough to make it, and to pay for the fabrics that go into it, do the right thing and pay for the pattern, too.
  • Just as copying a pattern someone else bought is stealing from the pattern designer, if you see an example of a quilt that you like, and you don’t need the pattern to reproduce it because you can figure out the math on your own, you should still credit the pattern designer when you share about your quilt on your blog or enter it in a show.
  • And if something is free to you, it doesn’t mean it is free for you to share. Online sources, in particular, provide freebies to draw you to their site. If your friend or your blog reader wants to use the free pattern you used, give them a link to the site where you got it.
  • Don’t pass off someone else’s work as your own. Taking credit for something someone else did, even by omission, is wrong.
  • If someone else quilts for you, and you label your quilts, include the quilter’s name on the label, too. It shows respect for the quilter’s expertise.

Laws are different in different countries, so we can’t give you specific laws to go by. (Always consult legal experts in your own country if you have concerns about this!) Instead, we’d like you to consider what is fair to the originator of creative work, whether it is words, photos or drawings, quilts, patterns, or tutorials. They have put time and effort and expertise into their creation. Regardless of their intention to make money off of it or not, they deserve acknowledgement and respect for their work.

Here are a few links if you want more information and perspectives on this difficult issue.

How Copyright Affects the Quilter by Kathleen Bissett. Discusses Canadian law but also general principles.

Can You Copyright A Sewing Pattern? by Abby Glassenberg at While She Naps. Primarily discusses US law.

A Word About Ethics: Photographing Quilt Shows and Judging by Anna Hergert at Anna Hergert, Art & Design. On taking photos at quilt shows.

Why Stealing Patterns is Like Killing the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg by Sam Hunter at Hunter’s Design Studio. In particular about using patterns you haven’t paid for, but also the broader topic.

Giving Credit and Avoiding Copyright Violations by Melanie McNeil at Catbird Quilt Studio. A general discussion on playing fair, with links to other sources.

Did you Plagiarize that Quilt? by Joanne Cleaver at Chicago Tribune. A story of taking a quilt design you have found on Pinterest and making your own instructions. Is this wrong?

 

Spinning Star

Some projects turn out roughly the way one expects, and others? Not so much. My Spinning Star is one of those.

Earlier this year I was invited to facilitate a three-day workshop at an art center. I was honored! And excited! And I started planning a quilt project that could convey many lessons of medallion quilts, while allowing the students to create designs unique to their own tastes.

When I teach my Medallion Improv! class, I offer a common blueprint so the students can focus on some design principles and elements, but not all of them. With given sizes for the center block and border widths, for example, they don’t need to worry much about proportion.

For the three-day workshop, I planned to use a 16″ center block. Each student would bring their own to the first class day, to set the foundation for their own design. The first order of business in class would be to demonstrate setting that block on point. The on-point setting expands the center block both physically and visually. The 16″ space, with exactly sized setting corners, suddenly becomes 22 5/8″. It’s an efficient and dramatic way to increase the size of the project. (To see how to set a block on point, check this out.)

In order to provide an example for promotional materials, I got to work and made a 16″ block of my own. The setting triangles are slightly oversized to take the new center to 23″. Using oversized corners helps with two aspects. One, it doesn’t require perfection in placing those corners, making it an easier task. Two, it allows the quilter to trim the center to a size that is simpler to use. Using 23″ finished means I can add 2.5″ (finished) borders on each side, taking the top to 28″. That is an easy size to use.

You can see more information about how I started this in my post Medallion Process — A New Center Block for Class.

And then … the invitation was rescinded because the art center decided they needed a bigger name. (Yes, I am a bit disappointed by how that all went, but you don’t need to worry or comment on that. There are challenges and opportunities in how we deal with disappointments, too.) Immediately it was apparent that this project would not go roughly as I imagined.

At about the same time, I was working on the slide show for my guild’s quilt festival. You can find the video of A Quilt Is More Than A Blanket in this post. Though I was deep in the midst of making my red and white quilts, I realized that to show the process of making a quilt, I needed to take pix of a quilt in process! For various reasons, I didn’t think the red and white ones were good candidates for that. So onward and upward! The spinning star became a priority again.

Spinning Star. 50″ x 50″. Finished June 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The center block is made with paper piecing. The first framing border (not setting triangles) is unpieced strips. The fabric of the border repeats the dark blue, red, and black that came earlier. It also adds some lighter chalky blue for value contrast and relief. The print is supposedly an Australian Aboriginal design. The border takes the center (everything in the center so far, including the border once added,) to 28″.

This really is an easy size to use, if one is making a pieced border of square blocks. You can divide 28″ a lot of different ways, including into 7 blocks at 4″, 8 blocks at 3.5″, 14 blocks at 2″, and so on.

My original plan for the workshop blueprint was to use 3.5″ half-square triangles. There are a lot of lessons to learn with HST, and there are fun ways to demonstrate them. (Here are a few ways to look at HST.) But once plans changed, and I wanted to increase the size more quickly in order to finish more quickly, I decided to use a wider border.

I looked for inspiration in a number of places and ultimately saw a round robin quilt in Instagram I liked. It had a middle border of light bars and darker bars, arranged in a staggered way. I think the proportions of the bars were different from mine, but the idea is the same. One advantage to this design is I could make it as wide as I wanted. (“Wide” means the dimension perpendicular to the edge of the center. The two lines in this symbol ⊥ are perpendicular to each other. “Length” is the dimension along the edge.) The width is 6″, taking the top to 40″.

Running the blue bars through the middle creates a stable line, and makes the V-pattern of the staggered darks a little more subtle.

I also knew I wanted the corner blocks to echo the center shapes. Using the same blue and red fabrics from the very center, as well as one of the orange fabrics, gives a direct repeat. And using the economy block gives a less direct repeat of the center with setting triangles. (For directions on making the economy block, see my most-viewed post ever.)

With the center then at 40″, I had another easy length to divide into square blocks. I chose a 5″ wide border, this time of the HST I didn’t use before. Well, sort of. My plan was to use HST, simply made from a solid orange and the same blue Aboriginal print from before. I made 8 of the 36 required blocks (8 on each side and 4 in the corners,) and they were awful. The orange was much too much, too orange, too much orange. (NOT articulate, huh? I wish I’d taken pictures to let you see exactly what I mean.)

I still liked the idea of using the HST to make Vs around the edge, but the orange wouldn’t work. I tried other ideas and other fabrics. I flipped the orange underneath to reveal less of it, and put that against another blue. Ah. Much better. However, the solid orange still didn’t work for me. Instead I cut strips of the squiggly orange stripe from the center setting triangles, and added pieces of the blue that looks like it has finger-painting smears on it. One benefit of this is I could still use all the blue Aboriginal print I’d already cut!

The completed top is 50″ square. I quilted it very simply with a large double meander in a marigold-colored thread. (The double meander is done with one very large stipple or meander across the surface of the quilt, followed by another pass back, winding and ribboning through the first pass. It’s simple and fast and looks great on a lot of quilts.)

The binding is made from the African fabric used for the red and black stripes of the setting triangles. Though the red and black were fussy cut from it, the design also includes dark blue, so it was suitable across its pattern.

This quilt did not go roughly how I expected. It didn’t go much as planned at all. But I was pleased to use it for the video, and I like how it turned out. I think it will have a special owner some day, but right now I don’t know who that will be.

 

Needles

I ordered longarm needles the other day. It was so easy to do that I could take for granted the availability of sewing needles. But needles have not always been so common.

***

Last summer a needle was found in a cave in Siberia. It was a little more than 7 centimeters long (about 3″,) made of bird bone. It is the oldest complete needle found and was made some 50,000 years ago. The maker was not homo sapiens, or even Neanderthal. It was Denisovan, a contemporary species of hominid! Other ancient needles have been found in places ranging from southern Africa to China to eastern Europe.

***

Elias Howe, an inventor of the sewing machine, developed the needle with the thread hole at the pointed tip. According to legend, “He had the idea of a machine with a needle which would go through a piece of cloth but he couldn’t figure out exactly how it would work. In his dream, cannibals were preparing to cook him and they were dancing around the fire waving their spears. Howe noticed at the head of each spear there was a small hole through the shaft and the up-and-down motion of the spears and the hole remained with him when he woke.” This dream led to his contributions to the modern sewing machine, circa 1845.

***

By 1847 with the introduction of specialty machinery, more than 50 million needles were made each week in the Redditch district of England. These needles were for hand-sewing tasks, and Redditch still specializes in them. (I’ve been looking for information about needle production in the US during the 1800s, but so far haven’t found any.) During the US Civil War, sewing needles became hard to acquire by Southern civilians. The North’s blockade kept most imported supplies from reaching southern ports. Soldiers’ uniforms and bedding took priority for the supplies that could be purchased or made. The lack of needles for civilians meant that repairing old clothing and bedding was difficult, if not impossible.

***

On the American frontier, settlers faced deprivations of many kinds. In 1855 the community of Pass Creek Canyon in Wyoming was visited by a peddler named Aaron Meier. He brought his wares to the remote settlers, including fabrics, tools, and candies. But the item they needed most was darning needles, as it had been months since the last one broke. With Christmas coming, the Jewish peddler made a gift of all the needles he had to the women of the community. Aaron Meier later founded Meier and Frank department stores in Portland, OR.

***

While England still dominates the production of hand-sewing needles, Germany makes the majority of machine sewing needles. Groz-Beckert and Schmetz are two brands you may know. Here is a fascinating video by Schmetz showing how needles are made.

***

Needles are not scarce anymore in the US. There is no reason not to replace them when they’re due. When a needle is dull, it needs to punch its way through fabric layers, making a popping sound. When it is sharp, it doesn’t make that noise. In addition, your machine motor needs to work a little harder with a dull needle, and you may hear the machine laboring.

Experts recommend changing the needle every 8-10 hours of sewing (machine time, not cutting, pressing, and pondering time). That may not sound like a lot, but if your machine stitches 1,000 stitches per minute, that’s actually about a HALF MILLION stitches! While you’re stitching, you may sew through several layers of fabric and batting, and occasionally hit pins. (I do!) Your needle takes a lot of abuse.

Take a look at some great photos by Schmetz Needles USA of a needle that looks sharp. Once magnified with increasing power, you can see the burr on the tip. A dull needle doesn’t do your machine or your project any good.

And please dispose of your needles carefully. I use an empty yogurt cup with a hole poked through the lid. When I get rid of needles, bent pins, and dead rotary cutter blades, they go in there. And the cup is always safely out of reach of children!