Vintage Sewing

Copyright issues with vintage patterns?

May 1, 2009

Has anyone ever attempted to sell clothes made from a vintage pattern? Do you happen to know what kind of copyright issues are involved?

The pattern in question is from 1969 and truly consists of just three rectangles. When buying the fabric for a sample (with the pattern in hand) three of the women working at Jo-Ann remembered wearing this particular style of garment “back in the day” so it was definitely popular at the time.

What are your thoughts? Thanks.

  1. Nikki-Shell did a good post about this over on BurdaStyle –

    I see a lot of items sewn from commercial patterns (even people on etsy who advertise custom work by listing the pattern and saying, “I’ll make you this” – but this is not legal unless the maker buys the pattern each time.

    I think it’s important for anyone planning to use commercial patterns for profit to understand the risk they are taking. It’s unlikely that you’ll get caught… but do remember the furore a year or so back when a fashion design student made up the Butterick walkaway dress and, whether or not she intended to, did not make it clear that it wasn’t her own design…

  2. I'm not too sure. Top Runway do it (Ebay store), they just put up a pic of the pattern & then give you the choice of fabrics/tweaks etc.

    I knit & sell items from vintage knitting patterns. I tell people that they are made by me, by hand from vintage patterns in modern yarns.

    The copyright on certain old books makes them valid for sharing on the internet and such, I presume it is the same for other things such as patterns, but that is earlier, we're talking 40s.

    Another option, to be totally sure, is to modify the pattern slightly – change the shape of the sleeve or the collar or something like that, that way you have modified it & as such it is no longer the original pattern.

    My friend runs the Pinup Parade shop & she was going to sell the Butterick wrap dress that someone was making for her, unfortunately, she didn't realise what it was at the time, and changed her mind about selling it, but I think that is more to do with the fact that this woman passed them off as being her own creations than any copyright law.

    Many items are made from patterns you can buy – a lot of the Bettie Page, Mode Merr & Stop Staring clothes are very similar to patterns I have or have seen.

    I'm sure there are people who know much more about it than me though, so my word is not gospel, but it's just what I have experienced.

  3. This is what I learned in media law class. Any copyright by a corporate entity that was in force in 1978 (and patterns copyrighted in the 1960s most certainly fall into that category)is under copyright until 2045. All restrictions printed on the pattern envelope apply.

  4. Based on what Aurelia posted, I wonder how it is legal for someone like Eva dress to sell copies of vintage patterns.

  5. As long as you make changes be they minor or big then you can use the pattern as your own. Good luck and happy sewing! Also its good to mention that you adapted your pattern from a vintage one, also one thing I like to do is take two patterns and put them together to make my own dress.

  6. Copyright is violated when you substantially copy something (in part or whole). Registered Copyrights last 70 years (I think).

    I would just contact the pattern maker, an email is sufficient, and ask for permission or for their policies. I’ve contacted them before and they are responsive and helpful.

  7. I always wonder, whats with a simple circle skirt or a raglan sweater. Or a simple T-Tunic. The patterns are thousands (or at least for the sweater hundreds) of years old. How do you want to get copyright claims on that ?

  8. this is from the comments on NikkiShell’s Burda post:

    “At one point I actually e-mailed Simplicity patterns to get their take on it and here’s a little of what they had to say “If you are sewing as a seamstress, the legal interpretation is that the customer requesting the garment owns the pattern and you are only selling your work or skills as a seamstress.

    If you are sewing clothes in mass production, for the retail or wholesale market, no matter how small the volume, you are selling the design-which in this case belongs to Simplicity. You would therefore be in violation of the copyright laws.””

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