Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The fabric cartel

Designer fabric lines -- good or bad?  Much discussion on the Quiltart list this week on this subject, sparked by reports of a lawsuit.  Seems an Author wrote a book illustrated by various quilts she had made, but the credits failed to mention that a certain quilt was made from fabrics designed by a Designer.  The Designer sued for copyright infringement.

As most lawsuits are, this one was settled, with the Author's Publishing Company agreeing to credit designers in similar situations.  But the discussion raged.  A lot of outrage, and some comments that it makes you want to give up using commercial fabrics entirely if that's the way they're going to be.

I was one of the many people who commented how it would be impossible (at least for me) to credit the designers of the commercial fabrics I use.  Many of the fabrics in my stash were purchased years ago, and many have been long since divested of their selvages.  I often slice off the selvages soon after purchase, or later if I need selvages of a certain color.  And that's not to mention the fabrics that arrived from somebody else's scraps and leftovers, or those that were recycled from an old dress.

But as the discussion proceeded, it got worse.  The defendant in the lawsuit revealed that she customarily receives fabric free from manufacturers, because she makes quilts that appear in books and magazines.  Apparently the quid pro quo is that she lists them prominently in the credits.

Then another would-be author revealed that she had approached a publisher with a book about (among other things) using fabrics from your stash to achieve good color, texture and contrast.  The publisher told her, "you'll have to re-make all of your examples with current fabrics because people only want to see what's available now....not what has been taken from your stash."

Someone else pointed out that fabrics have a shelf life only slightly longer than that of fish, and that many people appear at the fabric store with a magazine article in hand, only to be crushed to learn that the fabrics in the picture are no longer available.

I am deeply discouraged by this situation.  I have encountered a lot of beginning-to-intermediate quilters whose sewing skills are well developed but who have no confidence in any aspect of design, whether it's developing their own compositions or choosing their own fabrics and colors.  It has been my objective as a teacher to liberate quilters from ever having to use other people's patterns, and I have realized that I need to broaden that objective to also liberate them from having to use other people's fabric palettes.

I recognize that it may be good business for everybody -- publishers, fabric manufacturers, authors, designers -- to participate in this daisy chain of mutual promotion.  But the losers are the quilters who are encouraged at every turn to outsource their fabric selection to the design sensibilities of somebody else.

I've mentioned in this blog that I am working on a book that seeks to help beginning-to-intermediate quilters develop confidence to make their own designs.  I've made six new quilts in the last couple of months to illustrate the book, using fabrics from my stash, and have also found at least a half dozen in my pile of old quilts that use the same concepts referenced in the text.  I guess it's a good thing I'm going to self-publish rather than be told that I'd have to remake everything with currently available fabrics.

If the fabric manufacturers, the publishers, the designers and many of the authors are all in collusion to get people to go mindlessly to the store and buy WHAT'S NEW, where will the innovation come from?  How will the artists emerge from the muck?  I guess it's up to us independent voices, the bloggers, the self-published authors, the artists who stay out of bed with the power structure, to cry in the wilderness that you can escape.  You can learn to choose your own fabrics and patterns, you can work from your stash, you don't have to buy WHAT'S NEW (and for that matter, maybe you don't have to buy anything at all!!!!).

Just finished this quilt top earlier this week as an illustration for my book -- everything came from the stash, some of it is decades old.  Shame on me  (but I like it...)


  1. I think it's a very worthwhile task you are embarking on. As a beginning quilter I had a lot trouble envisioning quilt patterns with anything but the fabrics/colors pictured. It's taken a long time to be able to acquire confidence and vision to work out of my eclectic stash, and I would certainly like to foster that skill. I'm looking forward to your book.

  2. I work a couple of times during the year at a quilt shop and there are many quilters that are looking for the exact fabric for a quilt pictured on a pattern or from a book. This drives me crazy, but I hold my tongue and try to help them find if we still have that fabric or find something close. I have come to realize that if that is how they want to make quilts and it makes them happy - knock yourself out. I have always like to put my own spin on things so I am digging what you are doing with the red and yellow piece.

  3. the whole quilting fabric industry seems like its a racket to get consumers to just buy more - they only print a small amount of each designers line, then come out with something "better" a few months later luring people to get the latest greatest collection - I guess this is why some quilters call their stash a "collection"? I told myself I can't buy anymore printed fabric unless it was for a specific project I had planned! (Unless is is PFD since I dye most of what I use now- big grin!!)

  4. Patty -- you're right, that's how they want to make quilts -- the same way little kids want to ride bikes with training wheels. My wish is that people would develop enough self-confidence that they want to make quilts with their own imagination rather than copying others.

  5. I agree with what you are saying but I think you are missing the "process" part of learning. When I try something new I get the best results if I "copy" the idea, then I have learned enough to venture out in different directions. Yes there are many people who never do venture out, but you can still enjoy the quilting process even if you don't venture into design.

  6. My friend's daughter is a freelance designer who has done some designs for a certain company but whose work is never acknowledged. When the fabric is included in a design for a quilt in a quilting magazine, the designer of the quilt pattern is credited but not the designer of the fabric. Very unfair I think.

    Personally I am almost inately unable to follow a written pattern but have worked small samples and 'copied' techniques which I have adapted in my own work. It makes my life difficult as I make up measurements as I go but I love to work freely and adapt as I go. Maybe as I come from a painting background I do have more confidence with design and colour than some might have. I too have a large stash and have no idea what make or design it came from but I do dye my own fabric too.

    PS I like it too!

  7. PS I should have said that while I think my friend's situation is unfair I equally don't agree with having to worry about who designed what when using the fabrics, especially as, as has been said, there is so much commercialism involved. I am trying to learn enough about dyeing and printing to use my own fabrics rather than commercials. But sometimes you have to succumb! Good luck with the publication of your book.

  8. Hi, I'm Cheryl, Until recently when I became ill and started reading more 'modern' quilt blogs to make up for the quilting I'm too ill to do myself I had no idea about the obsession with 'new' fabric designs. It's easy to see that fabric companies have picked up on the potential for advertising by sending bloggers free fabric packs etc. And to the reader it doesn't seem like advertising in the same way as a straightforward advertisement even though the blogger acknowledges that they were sent these goods free by the quilt company. The same thing happens with reading blogs that I follow, I know they get sent books to read and it raises all sorts of complex ethical issues. The internet is a wonderful place for self-expression but the blurring of the lines between amateur ( someone who does something purely for the love of it) and professional have become blurred. I've been dying my own fabric for years but the power of advertising is such that I find myself thinking, maybe I should just buy a little of that...I wonder if many bloggers are so flattered by the attention they are receiving and also want to find 'something new' to put on their blog that they are becoming part of things they really haven't thought through. As I may be too lacking in energy to dye fabric for a while if ever your blog gives me hope that one can make original work using just commercial fabrics. I look forward to your book and feel that self-publishing may be the only way to go without compromise.

  9. I love the quilt! I find that sometimes I although I want to buy a new fabric I can't find the fabric I want and it has to come out of my (or someone else's) stash. It may be old but doesn't matter to me when the design I want is achieved.

  10. Several years ago, I had a puzzle company inquire about using one of my collages. The collage included a variety of fabrics, but the only manufacturer whose fabrics I specifically could remember was Hoffman(their lines do tend to be very distinctive). So I got in touch and asked about their permissions policy and learned that expected a 10% commission on sales.

    There were at least 30 fabrics in the collage. After getting off the phone, I indulged myself in a healthy session of the screaming jim-jams, imagining having to track down the various manfacturers and then having to divide the modest pie of the fee from the puzzle company among 30 or so manufacturers -- is anyone else humming "Springtime for Hitler" at this point? I let the opportunity pass.

    I had thought that fabric was an art supply, not a business contract. I was wrong.


  11. It's a situation that's only in the interests of those who aim to make money.
    Where will the innovation come from, you ask -- from outside that commercial arena....
    Meanwhile, it's great to have a timeless stash to draw from!

  12. I'm with Melanie. Fabric is an art supply. If I overdye the fabric, do I then have to credit RIT (Or the coffee company? Put down that it was all sewn on a viking except for the Janome stitches? With metrosene thread except for that one corner that has coats and clark because my bobbin ran out? And who "designed" the thread color? Crazy. People design garments for "Chanel" or "Versaci" and do not get any credit. Nor does the fabric designer or manufacturer or the sample sewer.

    Your quilt makes me happy. :) I think I shall try something like it. I like the way the colors change and haven't tried doing that before. I like the mix of prints. I need to experiment more.

  13. Having grown up with a quilt where my mother could point to about half the fabrics and say "That was a dress of Granny's; that was Bunny's apron; that was the dining room curtains" and on and on, the idea of wanting to make a quilt with the fabric pictured in the pattern leaves me picking my jaw up off the floor.
    But I'd spent years making clothes before I ever started doing patchwork and what I now call "fabric art" (I still haven't ever quilted anything) and the idea of what fabric I liked with this other fabric was deep in my mind by that time.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  14. great post. I'm yet another in the fabric-as-art-supply camp. Fabrics are to be USED to create something, not a final thing in and of themselves. didn't express that well. the whole situation makes me crazy. I'm thinking I'd be better off not adding certain Designers and companies fabrics to my stash if this is the result. I have waaaay too many fabrics collected over 25 years and use an abundance in each quilt - never going to list who made each one. I knew quilt magazines were into Latest Fabric but now book publishers too? Blurgh. your book sounds great, and I love this sample. good luck with it.