Sewing has been around for centuries, but this question still has cloudy answers up to now. Many sewists are still confused about what the real score is in selling items made from sewing patterns. Questions about this issue are plentiful, but answers are very few and confusing.
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Can you sell items made from sewing patterns?
You can indeed sell items made from sewing patterns. Selling sewn items from patterns has been a practice for a long time now and is one reason why the sewing business thrives.
But when you look at a sewing pattern, does anywhere in the printed matter say that you can do it? What does the law say about what the pattern maker can do and what the customer can do with the things they create from these patterns?
Some patterns contain wordings such as “pattern is for personal use only” and “you may not sell an item made from this pattern.” But some sewists and sewing enthusiasts have different takes on these statements. Because as of the present, it is still unclear how the pattern of the designer is protected. Sewists are also questioning what is allowed for the customer to make or sell.
So, to make things a little easier to understand, let us look at some existing laws and restrictive clauses on these topics.
You cannot copyright patterns and instructions for clothing, knitting, crochet, recipes, and toys. They are considered ‘useful items,’ so they are not protected with copyrighting. Processes are also not copyrighted. Patterns, instructions, and recipes are descriptions of processes, so you cannot copyright them all the more.
But there are always exceptions to the rule. You can have a clothing design or pattern copyrighted if it has original writing or artwork. Clothing is considered a useful article, so no law states that you cannot copyright a piece of clothing.
That is why, to this day, pattern designers cannot hold on to a law that protects clothing designs and produce it exclusively. The only thing they can hold on to is that the pattern that they make should not be copied and reproduced in any way possible. It is the only way that the copyright law can protect the design or ideas of a pattern maker.
As for you, the customer; there is still no law that is binding that says you cannot sell the items that you make from a pattern.
Are sewing patterns copyrighted?
Not all sewing patterns are copyrighted. Having a sewing pattern you designed to be copyrighted can be complicated. First of all, you cannot copyright the idea behind a clothing pattern. What you can copyright only are the instructions and the images on the pattern.
You cannot copyright anything, especially when that specific item is considered a useful object. That is why copywriting clothing design can get difficult. Clothing is a useful item, and copywriting a specific design can be tricky. That is because everybody knows that the main purpose of clothing is to cover certain body parts. And designing can change the external look of clothing but serves the same purpose.
If you are a pattern designer, the only parts you can copyright on the pattern are the directions and phrases you originally made. You can also copyright the original drawings that you included in your pattern.
When you want to pursue copyright for your sewing pattern, you need to check the database at the US Copyright Office website. Search for similar instructions or graphics to those that you want to copyright. If you find that your idea is original, you can apply for your copyright by filling out an application online. If your copyright consists mostly of images, you can apply for visual arts copyrights. But if it is mostly instructions, you should apply for literary copyright. Pay a small fee, then send two copies of the specific parts of the sewing pattern you want to copyright to the Copyright Office.
You might have protected your work through copyrighting specific instructions and images. But it nowhere indicates that the person who purchases your pattern cannot make multiple numbers of items from your pattern. You also have no control over whether the purchaser gives, donates, or sells the items made from your sewing pattern.
Can you sell items made from a copyrighted pattern?
A sewing pattern may be subjected to copyright law, but you can sell the things you make from sewing patterns. The only things with copyright are the pattern, illustrations, written instructions, and diagrams. Having copyright means that you cannot copy (scan, photocopy, etc.) of the things mentioned and sell copies of them.
You are free to do what you want with what you make from your pattern. But some pattern designers say otherwise. Here are some statements you might find printed on patterns that may confuse you and get in the way of building a successful sewing business.
- When you buy a pattern, you can find statements at the end telling you that it is for personal use only or it is not for commercial use. Is it true that you cannot sell anything that you make using that pattern?
It is untrue that you cannot sell any item that you make from the pattern even if there is a clause in the pattern that states otherwise. The statement telling you that making something out of the pattern for commercial use is not allowed is not legally binding. It will only count as a legal contract when you and the pattern designer agree upon sale.
Limiting the purchaser in how many items to make and sell from the pattern has no legal source. So, you can repeatedly use the pattern to make several pieces for personal use or selling.
- Can a pattern designer charge for a ‘license’ to sell what you made using the pattern?
Some pattern designers charge an amount when a purchaser indicates a desire to sell the item made from the pattern. It is usually called a cottage license or angel license. But both parties must agree before the sale for this to work out.
There is no law supporting a license to sell. These may be actions made by designers to somehow go around the copyright law but have no legal basis. So, do not pay for anything that is not necessary. Find other patterns instead which are not too restricting.
- Is it legal to sell something you made from a commercially available pattern?
A pattern may be under copyright law. But the copyright only refers to the diagrams, pattern drawings, diagrams, and the envelope art. The copyright law prevents people from reproducing any of the printed matter that comes with the pattern. But it does not say that you cannot make several pieces of items based on the pattern and sell them, too.
- Is there legality with pattern designers insisting the purchaser tag an item made from the pattern to give credit to the designer?
The US Copyright Law does not require giving credit to the pattern maker. But it is a different case in most of Europe, Japan, and other countries. So, it depends where you live if you need to give credit to the pattern designer.
A piece of advice, even if it is not legally required to credit the pattern maker, it would still be nice to acknowledge their work. You can cite the designer’s website when you post a picture of your finished project, especially if you made several items to sell from the pattern. It is just one way of appreciating their work aside from buying their pattern.
- Do you need to buy a different pattern for every item you sew?
You do not need to buy a pattern for every item that you make. When you buy a pattern, it is reusable as many times as you need to use it. No law allows pattern designers to limit the number of items you can produce from a specific pattern.
It would be absurd to buy the same pattern if you need to sew the same clothing design for two different people or decide to sew it in a different color. You also do not need to buy a pattern every time you are sewing for items to sell.
Can you reuse sewing patterns?
You can reuse your sewing patterns so you can make multiple items from them. You have purchased the pattern, so you are free to make the most out of it. Suppose you find a favorite pattern for baby clothing that you love to sew for the newborn of friends or family. You can reuse that same pattern you bought to make more gifts that you can give away.
But patterns, when used repeatedly, can suffer wear and tear. You can reuse your sewing pattern for more projects by a simple method using carbon paper and a blunt tracing wheel.
Layer your materials from bottom to top: fabric, carbon paper (face down) and pattern. Trace over the pattern with your blunt tracing wheel. Now you have your pattern on your fabric ready for cutting. Keep your sewing pattern because it may come in handy again in the future.