Come on Pattern Designers – be more ‘friendly’

Latest in a series of articles discussing sewing to sell, copyright on patterns and the law.  Very interesting reading.  What do you think?

We’ve looked at sewing to sell just recently, and last week I published an article about sewing pattern copyright law, and the mis-information that is spread around to try and  restrict your freedom to use those patterns for your own enjoyment or profit. I feared it might be rather controversial and attract a lot of attention!

Do you know the law about the copyright on sewing patterns and the things you make from those patterns. Don't believe everything you read! Here are the facts.

So now this week, I thought I should write more about why I think that pattern companies and designers seek to put these restrictions on their work and what they are afraid of. I’ll try to look at it from their point of view, which I suppose is in a way my point of view too as a blogger who creates sewing patterns myself.

So why do designers try to protect their patterns?

The answer is simple.  We all have bills to pay. We all work hard and deserve to be rewarded for that work.  You included, whatever product you are making. If you’ve read my earlier article about ‘How a Sewing Pattern is Born‘ you’ll see what a So Sew Easy pattern can be between 1 and 2 weeks of solid work from start to finish.  More for a paid pattern, probably less for a free pattern, but not always.

The process of designing and publishing a sewing pattern from concept to release.

Therefore pattern companies seek to sell as many patterns as they can – obviously, they are a business and in it to make a profit.  When I spend a lot of time creating a pattern and then it only sells a handful of copies, naturally I’m disappointed, but for a big business that could be devastating!  So they want to do everything they can to make us all buy more patterns.

Therefore they will tell you:

  1. You have to buy a pattern for each person you are making a dress for.  Making a bridesmaid dress for 3 girls, then you need to buy each girl their own personal copy of the pattern, not reuse the same one 3 times.  What a load of nonsense!
  2. Patterns are for your own personal use only therefore can’t be used to make something for someone else.  What!  Don’t be silly.
  3. You can’t sell things (or give them to charity etc) that you make using the pattern – this is a biggie, and again it’s pretty much nonsense and to me this doesn’t even make any sense.
3767168505_0260b2dd47_n photo credit: Sewing Prep via photopin (license)

Imagine the situation…..

Let’s imagine a scenario to help clarify their thinking.  You go to a work event with your spouse and take with you a bag you sewed yourself from a pattern that you bought.  Another colleagues wife loves that bag and asks if you would sew her one and she could buy it from you.  She doesn’t sew herself.

The pattern company tells you that you aren’t allowed to do that because of ‘copyright laws’ so the pattern can only be used for yourself personally and no, you can’t sell what you make from the pattern.  I can only assume that their thinking is – this lady loves that bag, therefore she is a potential customer for this pattern.  If you make a bag from the pattern you already own and sell the bag to her, they have lost out on the potential sale of another copy of that pattern.

Sew creative bag from Loralie Designs fabrics

Sew creative bag from Loralie Designs fabrics

Hello!  Pattern company – that lady doesn’t know how to sew, and probably has no interest in learning.  She just likes the bag.  If you said “No, sorry I’m not allowed to because the pattern company says so”, there is no way that lady is going to go out and buy that pattern, buy a sewing machine and all the sewing tools and equipment she needs, and learn to sew for who knows how long, just so she can have that bag she likes.  Of course not.  She’ll just buy another bag.  Duh.

It’s a totally different market

If you watched the TED talk video in the earlier article (and I recommend that you do, it’s really interesting), you will see how Tom Ford, lead designer at Gucci, quickly realised that knock-off copies of their fashions were not really a problem for them.  The people buying the knock-offs could never afford to buy the real thing anyway, (or didn’t want to) so they were not loosing out on any sales.   In fact, the knock-offs were helping to promote and create a trend, and bringing awareness to their styles.

Image courtesy of NY Times

Versace original and Bebe knock off. Image courtesy of NY Times

The same applies above.  The lady who loves the bag and wants you to make her one, is NOT in the market to buy that sewing pattern. So if you make a bag and sell it to her, there is no way the pattern company has lost out in any way on the sale of that pattern.  What is more likely is that she will wear the bag around, someone else who DOES sew will see it and then go to buy the pattern and make her own.  So by having more of the bags in circulation, there may be a ‘trend’ or popularity for the bag that actually results in more pattern sales.

Well, that’s what I think anyway.  Do you see my logic, or entirely disagree with me?

Pattern designers and companies are a bit ‘unfriendly’

In all of my research in this subject, I came across one lady who was all in a tizzy.  She has a sewing blog and she used a pattern from a small indie designer, who she loved, to sew five small wallets.  She took a picture of these beautiful bags and posted about it on her site, linking back to the original pattern she used, and explained how she was going to donate the bags to charity.

What happened next I find entirely perplexing.  The pattern designer noticed that someone had linked to her pattern and went over to read the article.  She saw the bags and that they were being given to charity and she commented on the article and told her it was not permitted under the terms of the pattern for her to give things to charity that she had made with the pattern.

 The pattern maker posted in comments that I was infringing on her copyright by donating the items I’d made to charity.

Then the poor sewing blogger posted a public apology on her blog saying she didn’t know she was doing anything wrong, but of course would respect the law and the wishes of this pattern designer and not use her patterns again.

That whole situation just makes me cringe.  The poor lady who was sewing for charity had a big heart and was then torn down by a pattern designer who in some strange way thought that giving the wallets made to charity would deprive her of sales of that pattern.  What nonsense to think that way and to leave a public comment on the bloggers article too.

In conclusion

And so we come back full circle.  Sewing pattern designers (and others who design embroidery patterns etc) naturally want to sell as many as possible, but you have to recognise your market.  Who is your likely customer for that pattern and who is not going to buy it?  A person who wants to buy a handmade item probably does so because they cannot make that item themselves, therefore they are not a likely customer for buying the pattern.  They don’t sew!

So I’m asking pattern designers in all disciplines to be more understanding of the market and be more friendly and co-operative with their actual target market – people who sew and love to buy patterns.  Don’t confuse them, lie to them about it being illegal, tell them they have to buy a ‘licence’ from you, or challenge them because they sold a bag made with your pattern.  Feel happy and proud that someone loved your pattern enough to invest in it and then share what they made with someone else.

Please, don’t see it as a possible lost pattern sale, see it as an endorsement of your pattern and encourage that sewer to buy more patterns from you and expand her business.  Then everyone benefits.

What about So Sew Easy patterns and tutorials?

You go for it!  You can use any of my patterns or designs if you want to sew up something to sell.  If you can earn some money from it, I’ll be delighted, no credit or mention (or share of the profits) required!


 photo credit: Copyright books @ EFF via photopin (license)


That doesn’t mean however that there is no copyright restriction applying to my own patterns.  There are still some restrictions on how they can be used.  What I am not so delighted about would be these sort of scenarios:

1 – you want to teach a class using my sewing pattern.  You buy the pattern and then you email it to all of your students or copy/print it and give it to all of them, including the cost of the pattern in the cost of the sewing class, but then keep all the money for the pattern sales yourself.  (Yes, this has happened more than once.)  Reselling copies or in any other way freely distributing copies of someone else’s sewing pattern is illegal.  Each student must have their own copy which they have bought from the original source – i.e. So Sew Easy, unless some other terms have been agreed in advance.

2 – you buy a pattern, share something you made from it in a facebook group, and when people ask what pattern you used, you offer to send it to anyone who wants it, or you add it to the group files so anyone and everyone can just download it for free.  (Yes this has happened more than once too.) If you see this happening, please to let me know – this isn’t allowed.

3 – you buy or download one of my patterns and then you add it to your own sewing site as a free download to anyone who wants it, pretending that it is yours to give away to anyone, rather than do any work to create your own tutorials or patterns. (Yes this happens as well.)

4 – you buy the pattern and then you sell it over and over again on Ebay.  Yes, this is illegal too.  You should know better.  Again, please let me know if you see this sort of thing happening.

All of these scenarios involve selling or distributing the pattern itself, which is very different to selling items you MAKE from the pattern.  Use your common sense – you know what’s right and what’s wrong.

So – sew, sell and enjoy.  It’s So Sew Easy!

Want to read other articles in this series?  Check out:

1.  Sewing to sell, how to price your work (includes a handy calculator)

2.  Sewing for profit. Projects that are good to sew to sell.

3. Copyright laws, myths debunked

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38 Responses to Come on Pattern Designers – be more ‘friendly’

  1. liz n says:

    I no longer sell patterns for many of the reasons you wrote about here.

    Years ago, a shop that sold my patterns told its customers that they could not sell or donate items made using those patterns.

    This was not stated anywhere on my patterns, nor was it ever my intent.

    (Switching to present-tense for ease)…..Depending on the item, a pattern takes anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months to perfect, and that’s only the initial design process. Testing, printing, and everything else is the “other side” of the design process. So, yes, I expect payment for each pattern purchased, and no, you may not buy one pattern, make twenty copies for your students, and have them pay YOU for copies of my pattern.

    However, once a person has purchased one of my patterns, I don’t care if they stitch up three dozen versions and sell or give away what they’ve made. I’ve sold a pattern, I expect it to be used. I didn’t sell you a pattern in exchange for your time and materials, the items made from them, or a share in your earnings. Additionally, if you like that pattern, you’ll likely come back for more. That’s where my sales increases are: designing and producing good patterns that people want more of. So, no, I am not going require someone to buy four copies of the same pattern so that she can make four identical handbags. With that kind of restriction, she’ll buy a pattern elsewhere and not return to mine.

    There are several designers whose patterns I love, but I don’t buy, precisely because of the ridiculous restrictions imposed upon the buyer and maker. The point of having a pattern in the first place is to use it to make a thing. What one does with that thing after sewing that last stitch is up to the maker of the thing, not the designer of the pattern.

  2. I, like many other commenters, do not purchase a pattern if the designer explicitly states that their patterns are for personal use only. It may not be legally binding, but I don’t want my money going into the pockets of people who fail to see the big picture.

    There are so many great pattern makers that are more than happy to see their items being made and sold. Heck, there are many who will even promote your handcrafted goodies made using their patterns!

    I’m not sure some designers decide to put such tough restrictions on their patterns. It makes absolutely no sense to me, and whomever the person was that commented on that sewists blog – well – wow! That’s pretty freakin’ cold!

  3. Linda says:

    1-2 weeks is a phenomenally fast rate at which to put out a pattern! Mine usually take 3-4 months worth of work. Granted I’m working full time at another job, too. Testing alone can take 2-3 weeks. For the record, I have been on both sides of the coin and I do allow handmade goods to be sold from my patterns. Interesting read. 🙂

    • Just to clarify, 1-2 weeks is how long it takes me to design and sew the pattern, make the tutorial and video etc prior to testing. Then it goes through a 4 week testing process before being revised again, articles written, photos taken etc ready for release. The whole process in calendar time start to finish is usually at least 2 months.

  4. Mentxu says:

    A great post, Deby. I was thinking about this subject two days ago. Did you read my mind? Thank you, Deby, thanks a lot!

  5. Sara says:

    For anyone who wants to buy multiple copies of my Craftsy patterns (for shop owners, teachers, retreats, guilds, etc.), I offer a “bulk rate discount”. The instructor (or other contact person) gets permission to print a certain number of copies of the pattern for a lower per-pattern price. Has worked well, so far. Of course, it still depends on the honesty of the person making the copies.

  6. Krista says:

    I’m on your side of the fence, Deby. I’ve always responded better to people who are more collaborative and generous–when they are, I feel more of a responsibility to credit them–“treat others as you would want to be treated” (even though I’m not always required to). Folks who are more restrictive though, and have so many “hoops” to jump through, seem to kill the creative joy for me before I even start (and I usually pass by those patterns and look for something else).

    I do understand the fear of having someone copy you and steal your work; no one wants that to happen–but to keep things in perspective, if it happens with several patterns over and over, there’s definitely some cause to investigate, I would think; but going mama bearish over just one pattern and one incident doesn’t seem proportionate to the situation. It reflects poorly on the designer.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Deby! It’s been a great series.

  7. Angela Kane says:

    I researched this some time ago for my own copyright protection.

    I think this is helpful and pretty conclusive. Especially look at the paragraph – Can I sell an article that I have made from a pattern?

    The problem is the growth of selling online – when does it become truly a commercial operation? Giving a credit for the source of the design, if you haven’t designed it yourself, is the safest bet I would have thought.

    Copyright Notice: knitting and sewing patterns –

    A good topic.

    Angela Kane

  8. Daryl says:

    Deby you are spot on with everything you said here. If pattern designers are so worried about others profiting from making something from their patterns, they shouldn’t be writing patterns and should only be selling the made items themselves. That of course is a lot more work. Once the work of the pattern is written, you can sell the pattern for years and years.

    Plus another thing I have noticed is there are so many similar patterns out there from a variety of designers anyhow, so how would one designer even know if that item being sold was from their pattern or another designer, especially if the person sewing the item made some changes to the pattern?

  9. Barbara says:

    I thoroughly agree with you on this. Very informative articles.
    Happy sewing, Deby.

  10. vicki says:

    As a fellow sewer, if a pattern states I can’t sell products made from their pattern, I simply move on so they’ve lost a sale. I’m sure I’m not alone here. Also if someone asks me for a specific item and run into this issue, I don’t buy the pattern and develop my own for the customer.

    What I’ve run into is the couple of patterns I’ve created, were stolen (early days and not copyrighted). So, I hesitate to create patterns for sale.

    I’ve “never” had an issue of asking a designer to use their pattern for charity.

    Like you said, designer need to understand their market.

  11. Jammie says:

    I look at it like this: The pattern companies are selling the patterns only not the finished products from that pattern. the products are mine to do what i wish with them. If the pattern companies want to sell the product then they should sell the product not the patterns.

  12. Marthese says:

    Normally I don’t buy any patterns or pattern books from such designers because I don’t have money to buy things just to look at their cover. Last time I saw a book for sale that stated even that the person who buys that book isn’t allowed to do a project from it even for herself. Fine and pretty good and nice isn’t it? Pay my money to look at the cover

  13. Lee in KS says:

    Some years ago I heard the tale of two friends at a craft show. One of the vendors offered videos (on tape, it has been a while!). The friends were interested; one said, I’ll get this one, you get that one, we can share. The vendor said sharing was not permitted. The vendor lost two sales that day! “Not to be used for manufacturing” implies factory, not making a couple of bags to give the cousins for Christmas. On the other hand a different pattern vendor asked anyone using her patterns for a class they taught to have one pattern purchased for each student. That makes sense to me; in Home Economics we went to the fabric store and bought our own patterns.

  14. Laura says:

    such a fabulous article! Thankyou for your level headed viewpoint…..well said 🙂

  15. Karadin Art says:

    as you say, designing a pattern takes time, effort and skill, and I don’t think it’s at all wrong for a person selling something on Etsy to say ‘for personal use only’ after all, they state when you buy what the conditions on the sale of the pattern are, that is a contract.

    What happens when people break the contract and turn around and compete with the designer? The designer no longer makes patterns for sale! This has been the case with countless designers and artists on Etsy, and why most of my friends no longer sell patterns (and have to put up with complaints from people who say ‘oh but you need to tell me how you make that/sell me the pattern!)

    Saying that no one can ‘police copyright’ is wrong, encouraging breaking of verbal contracts and simple etiquette is wrong. It shows no value for the artist who made the pattern.

  16. Becky M says:

    Love your thoughts!! Bravo! It just makes sense.

  17. Angela Kane says:

    Hi Deby

    Thank you for bringing this topic to everyone’s attention. As you know, I also design PDF sewing patterns for sale.

    Firstly, the Ted lecture was really worth watching and raised some interesting ideas. I loved the concept that the copyright free businesses were more successful.

    I’m with you Deby. There is a big difference between copying/distributing patterns and making up a few garments for sale. I’m perfectly happy for my customers to make up my designs themselves for sale. I hope my patterns and tutorials appeal to budding professional seamstresses as well as home sewers. It’s very nice when I’m asked if it’s ok and beyond that, I look on it as a great compliment. I do though state on my patterns ‘Strictly not for commercial use’ which is aimed at ‘manufacturers’ who should of course be paying for their own pattern design/drafting services.

    Conversely, someone making up my designs, offering sizes and claiming them to be their own design/draft, would upset me. I trained in fashion and pattern cutting and have many years of experience, not to mention the research that goes into, say the perfect fit jeans and then graded into 9 sizes. Although I don’t expect a credit, I’m not happy for someone else to claim it. As Deby says, these patterns take many hours of hard work and testing.

    As Gill Hancox comments above, it is about honesty. Redistributing PDFs is so easy but it is dishonest. So too is making multiple printouts for distribution to say a sewing circle.

    My best tip for you all, if you are in the business of pattern design, is to encourage affiliates otherwise know as revenue sharing – your fans can promote your patterns, spread the word and earn a little. That’s especially a great way forward for sewing circles.

    Thanks again Deby for a great topic.

    Angela Kane

  18. Gina B. says:

    Thank you for this very timely series. I just opened my Etsy shop this week!

    I’ve had two interesting experiences regarding pattern copyright. The first one was when I first started making bags, I wrote a pattern designer and asked her if it was all right for me to make several bags to sell at a charity bazaar. I did this because I had read on another designer’s website that it was illegal to do that. The designer wrote back saying I could do what I wanted with items made with her pattern, and that if any designer said otherwise to tell them to go to you-know-where!

    The second occurrence happened just this week as I was “window shopping” on a big pattern site. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw a Burda pattern that could not be anything but the mother of a certain pattern that a certain indie designer is claiming as her own – she’s even somewhat famous for that design! (At least she doesn’t have the nerve to tell you you can’t use it for sales.)

    The funny thing with me is that as soon as I see a design, I start to imagine how I’m going to alter it, to make it my own as it were.

    • neucarol says:

      You could be correct in that the Indie is a knock off–or visa versa.
      Or, could be just similar ideas from multiple locations at the same time???

  19. neucarol says:

    And just how are pattern ‘copyright’ enforced? Does Joann’s have customers sign a release for each pattern purchased? Are there Pattern Police?

  20. LadyD says:

    Unfortunately, the independent designers are taking a page from Simplicity and other commercial pattern manufacturers. For example, copy on the envelope of Simplicity pattern # 3684 copyright 2007 reads thusly: “To be used for individual private home use only and not for commercial or manufacturing purposes.”

    Don’t you think they’d know that if I make a blouse for my aunt who doesn’t sew, that they are not losing a pattern sale? She won’t go out and buy a pattern that she would not be able to use. Heck the pattern company might even gain a sale because my aunt and I are not the same size, and her size might not be included in the same envelope with mine… but if the correct two sizes were in the same envelope, I would not see the sense in buying a second copy of the pattern, and flat out would not do so.

  21. Kelley says:

    Hi! I’m not sure how I came across your site, but I do love it! I’m not an active sewer. I’m just someone who appreciates the skill and wishes I’d been more patient with my mother when she tried to teach me. Thanks for all that you post and share!

  22. Darlene MacDonald says:

    Even in crochet (I design) the designer only owns the rights to his her pattern not what a person creates from that pattern.

  23. Dara says:

    Deby, thanks so much for this article! How many times have I see commercial pattern copied exactly from a designer’s original ! That’s the reason I buy it in the first place! Thanks SEW much for this post ! Keep up the good work!

  24. modflowers says:

    I understand that pattern designers want to maximise their financial return and make a living from the patterns that they have put a lot of work into designing, and that’s absolutely fine. But to put restrictions such as the ones you describe on the use of the patterns is not fine. They could use the same sort of system as is commonly found in font design – i.e. that you can use the pattern for personal use without restriction, but that if you plan to sell things made from it you pay a little extra for a commercial license. I wouldn’t have a problem with that, as the additional cost should be recouped by the profit gained by the person selling items made from the pattern.

    • That’s very generous of you. I don’t feel that you should have to pay someone extra because you want to sell something you have sewn. Once you’ve made it, its yours to do with as you like and you shouldn’t have to share your profits with the pattern designer I feel. Fonts are perhaps a little different because you are using their original product in your own product, but for a sewing pattern, what you make is entirely your own, and you should do with it as you like after that.

      • LadyD says:

        I agree. If you sew something from a pattern you bought and want to sell it, you should be able to sell that item. After all, the pattern designer didn’t pay for your material, notions or time spent sewing, You might even have altered the pattern so that the item design isn’t exactly what the pattern designer envisioned to begin with.

  25. Gill Hancox says:

    Personally, I won’t buy patterns from designers that are so restrictive. If I make something, I will certainly give credit to the original designer, but to say you can only make one item from each pattern is nonsense.
    Not so much of an issue for dress patterns, as you won’t make many versions, but definitely for bags, which you’ll make in different fabrics and alter ever so slightly each time.
    I’m attending a class in a few weeks on bag making, and we were all given a link to download the pattern from the Etsy shop (of the original designer) and a link to a tutorial from the lady giving the course. Obviously when we all turn up with pieces of paper, there’s no way of knowing whether they were purchases, or just photocopied from someone else, but I hope people are honest.

  26. stephanie says:

    I’ve seen a few blogs lately that say To use tutorials for personal use only, which is even funnier to me. All we can do is support those who encourage it I guess!

  27. carriepenny says:

    Thank you so much for this series! I know a lot of people who have been sent cease and desist letters from pattern designers for selling their work. I myself have come across issues with selling, donating or gifting things that I have made that a designer found out about.

    I was aware of a lot of this just from my own problems, but I didn’t know in detail how to respond before.

    Thank you!

  28. Debbie says:

    I totally agree with you on this. I don’t create patterns only because I don’t have time, but I agree about the being less strict on sharing your finished product. I have run into many people who love what I’ve made and I’ve shared with them on where, how, etc… and they are not interested in seeing it themselves, unfortunately.

    I’m so sorry to see that there are people who will go so far as to claim your work as their own. How shameful that is. Especially considering how generous you are with your patterns.

    Thanks for the enlightening article. It’s a very interesting read.

    Hopefully other designers will start to agree with you on this subject.

    Have a wonderful day,

    Debbie A.

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