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Apr 19, 2012

Bootleg Vintage Pattern Repros - YEA or NAY?

Do you like this dress pattern?  I do.  How lovely McCall's 3101 would look on a newly-slim young mother, returning to public life after months of confinement.  

Think you can find the original pattern for sale?  You can -- here.   It's $95.  And if you don't have a 32" bust, you're going to have to do some grading.

Now, to me, $95 seems high for a pattern (I've seen much, much higher), but the pattern is long out-of-print, (though I can almost guarantee not in the public domain).  So the profit from the resale goes to the seller who owns it.  I don't think anyone would have a problem with that, right?  I mean, yes, the price is high, but this is a rare pattern.  It's like buying a book from a rare book dealer.

The same pattern can also be had here.  Not nearly as expensive as the original, but this is a digitally reproduced copy.  Is this OK?  On the one hand, there's a market for this pattern and this seller is filling it.  This person has gone to the trouble of copying the original and making it available.   But they don't hold the copyright.  (I wonder if the fact that they're in the UK makes a difference.)  So now it's like buying a copy of a book from a rare book dealer who has run off twenty-five photocopies.

A confession: while I have never bought a bootleg pattern, I have bought a few bootleg DVD's of obscure old movies that have never been released digitally and are unlikely ever to be.  (Swing Shift Maisie anyone?)  Someone usually copies these off TCM and sells them (pretty cheaply, I might add).   You can find a lot of stuff like this on sites like

Remember, too, that even if these were reissued, none of the artists involved would be compensated (they're all dead anyway), nor, in many cases, even the original studios.  The market for movies like this is so narrow that these bootleggers are providing a service to obsessive Ann Sothern fans like me.  There are not many of us.

But back to old patterns.  Given that the designers of these dresses are likely long gone (and were on salary anyway, so presumably earned the same money regardless of the popularity of the design), and the current owners of the companies have often changed, is it wrong for someone to make available to a handful of sewers some of these rare patterns?  (Again, you can buy original old patterns on eBay and Etsy every day of the week.)  Many pattern companies reissue their vintage patterns, but they do so only a few patterns at a time.  It may never be profitable for them to reproduce a large number due to the cost of printing, marketing, photographing, styling, etc., vs. the size of the market. 

I would argue that while you may or may not find it morally wrong, it's probably illegal.

I'm not a lawyer and I'm not a dress designer.  No one wants to have their property stolen and they should have some legal protection.  I use images I pick off the Internet all the time, and I don't always cite my sources.  And I share a lot of original images too.  That's how the Internet functions and that's OK with me but doesn't mean it's legal. 

I remember when Ginger Rogers was honored by the Kennedy Center in 1992.  Fred Astaire's widow Robyn Smith, refused to allow film clips of Astaire with Rogers to be shown during the CBS broadcast. So here is Rogers, near the end of her life, being honored, but we can't see her dance with Fred Astaire.  How messed up is that?

But back to patterns again.  What do you think, readers?  Are people who make available copies of rare patterns to those who wish to sew them stealing intellectual property or providing a public service?  Or both?  Would the legalities discourage you from purchasing a bootleg repro or do you think it's justifiable?

Post anonymously if you like, but tell us what you think!


  1. I suppose it depends on how old the pattern is. If the copyright is expired, well, then, you can copy them if you want to! But if they're not old enough....

  2. I do believe that since the creators of the designs are most likely long dead (and would probably be impossible to find if they weren't -- same with their estates, if they are...) I would rather see the patterns copied by those who would take care with the reproduction and sold at a reasonable price. I think so many works are lost because someone has a bug in their shorts about intellectual property -- when most likely the people making the most noise had nothing whatsoever to do with the creation of the original work in the first place. Frankly, I'm a little more concerned that someone who might have found a pattern in a bin at the local Salvation Army for $.60 could manage to sell it over again for $95 or more. Something in that equation seems fundamentally wrong to me.

    1. Richard,

      Your comment: "so many works are lost..." is quite insightful and persuasive. On the other hand, "finding a pattern in a bin" probably isn't just finding a pattern in a bin, but more like scouring thousands of bins to find a few that are worthy of resale to a buyer willing to pay someone else for what really comes down to a service.

      Food for thought, in both cases. Thanks for sharing.

    2. I'm inclined to agree, though it does bug me that prices for some old patterns are so high. But if I buy and clean up (I don't really restore) an old Singer sewing machine and sell it for more than I paid for it, my time and labor are worth something too. And if I ask too much $, presumably no one will buy it.

      I think it comes down to whether a seller is taking advantage of an ignorant buyer who doesn't realize an old Singer 99 can be had easily for less than $250, just to give an example. On Etsy, vintage pattern sellers are often selling the same patterns for wildly different prices so it pays to look around. But a rare one may turn up seldom and be worth the high price being asked (at least to the person making the purchase).

  3. McCall’s is certainly still an active and viable company and I can easily see them going after this Ebay seller. I work in IP and this sure looks like infringement to me.

  4. I work in publishing and this is really similar to the issues being raised by the Author's Guild for the google books project. Copyright is law, and the digital reproduction is likely a "victimless crime". The way google is handling it is to create a fund out of which they will pay royalties if anyone claims them.
    I might consider buying a digital reproduction if the material was unavailable elsewhere and I really needed it - but there usually are more than plenty legal alternatives.

  5. I have nothing against it myself. Morally or otherwise. We are talking about seriously vintage patterns. Some over 50 years old already.

    As you found yourself in the case of certain old movies, you can't always find the thing you most dearly want at that moment.

    I'm not sure that I agree 100% with the stance of the copiers either however. While I love sites like VPLL, which reproduces older patterns, those patterns are often graded for me. So that the dress above may be offered, but it's been graded for me already. I think that offering a graded copy, putting work into the pattern and offering a nearly new option isn't quite the same thing.

    I'm not against the copier on Etsy either, who offers copies of Advance or Hollywood, or Spadea. These are patterns you won't find generally. These companies are gone. However, the Big 4 are alive and well. So why not use copies of a pattern from the companies that no longer exist instead of dancing on that line of copyright?

    I have a few patterns myself that I'd love to offer. But they are from defunct companies. I've been hesitating in offering copies of these patterns because I'm not sure what my moral stance should be. On the one hand I want to offer these fantastic patterns to others, but am I causing some long dead designer to spin in their grave? Most of mine are pre 1940, an even longer time ago than your pattern.

    And then what about offering graded custom vintage patterns? I'm a fan of the Lutterloh system. Those patterns go back to the mid 1930's. Can I morally offer a pattern to someone, circa 1954, graded to fit my customer, where all my hard work in drawing the pattern has gone into the work but where the patterns and models are the work of someone else? It's a tough call.

  6. Apparently it's 70 years, so if the pattern is older than that, they may be OK....depends if McCalls decide to fight it.

    Personally, I don't really have a massive problem with it - but I'm morally bankrupt! I've borrowed an OOP pattern from a friend, copied and graded it to fit, so I'm probably guilty of something dreadful, but I've seen some way overpriced patterns on ebay (vintage reissues are a case in point!)

    If I liked the pattern enough, I might be tempted, if I couldn't find anything similar enough to adapt :)

  7. No, I don't think it is justifiable. The sellers are NOT the original owners of the patterns. They either inherited them for free or they bought them for pennies at a thrift store, a flea market, estate sale etc. $95 is ridiculous of a $.65 pattern. I don't care what year it was from. The garments made from the patterns will NOT be vintage, but vintage inspired. But I suppose the real fault lies with people who are willing to buy at such a ridiculous mark up. I see nothing wrong with buying bootleg. But why not rig the pattern yourself? There aren't that many different ways that folks can dress oneself. And there is nothing wrong with mixing and matching until you get the look you were going for.


  8. I've been looking for vintage Skipper doll clothing patterns recently and found a couple of people selling reproductions just as you describe above. It ticks me off. There are actual vintage copies available for about $10, and the repro sellers are offering their copies for about $8. They clearly state the patterns are in the public domain, but I frankly don't believe them. It annoys me that they are making money for nothing, and undercutting those who have good vintage originals to sell. I don't know if I have any moral ground to stand on, this is just my gut talking.

  9. I know that Vogue did not keep copies of their patterns. The Vintage Vogue Pattern reissues are copies from originals sent in by people who volunteer their own patterns to be copied. Sitting on the rights to patterns that they didn't deem important enough to keep seems wrong to me. I also don't see any wrong in people selling originals for what they can get for them. Art and antique shops do this, and vintage patterns fit both catagories.

  10. On the legal side, I guess the way I feel about it is: copyright protection is making sure creators get compensated for their work, not necessarily about creators getting to determine who and what and where their work is used--look at the history of radio and the way royalties for airplay work. The control copyright law gives creators over the disposition of their work is incidental to the goal of their receiving just compensation.

    The way copyright violation stuff works is based on the idea that it'll be resolved in litigation--in fact, if you don't actively "police" your copyright you start losing its protection, if I understand my IP-lawyer mama's dinner table chat correctly. Yeah, if the copyright holder sues, this person should come to an agreement about royalties or desist. But even if they do that, damages in this kind of stuff are determined by the holder's losses, and if the pattern is out of print...what does that say about its producers' estimation of its possible profits?

    On the moral, rather than the legal level: my God, who is this hurting? If the pattern is out of print, it ISN'T available for "conventional" purchase, so you're not depriving anybody of royalties they'd be receiving anyway. Vintage pattern resellers don't count--a lower price on the Skipper patterns may, as Kate points out "[undercut] those who have good vintage originals to sell," they're not the creators, and so the copyright violation has absolutely nothing to do with them. If you want the good vintage original, that's an added value that could be worth paying the extra money. Great, but really not the point here.

    And they aren't making "money for nothing"; they're sourcing and copying the patterns and making them available to others. While obviously designing a whole new pattern would be a greater accomplishment in comparison, I don't see how this is less "money for nothing" than reselling something old you didn't create?

    (I'm also a pretty big proponent of the Creative Commons/Exclusive Copyrights Are Silly/More Sharing Is Good For Everybody, Including Business approach, in light of which my reaction is I'm sure predictable.)

  11. I am torn. On one hand, it *is* illegal & (I think)morally wrong to make money off someone else's work. On the other hand, the pattern is out of print, the designers are long gone, and I feel it is important to keep these kinds of things around for the next generation - and God knows McCall's won't reprint everything. I guess it doesn't bother me terribly, in the long run, except when the reprinters charge obscene amounts of money for what is basically a photocopy. $15 is on the highest end; I'd really think less than $10 would be better. I've seen reprinters charge upwards of $50+ for this kind of stuff & it makes me wish we could be closed in the same room so I could cuss them out for being greedy.

    I just don't understand pattern pricing anyway. Why is that pattern $95 in the first place? It's really not that special, "rare" or not.

  12. As rantygobshyte said earlier, because it's an artistic work it's 70 years from the year of the author / painter's death. If they're unknown it's 70 years from the year it's first made available to the public. As a diagram, plan or chart is deemed an Artistic work, I would apply this to a sewing pattern.

    So, a pattern first published in 1950 isn't fair game until 2020. That's according to UK law and the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

    As it was designed by the employee, the copyright is automatically owned by the employer. In this case the pattern company.

    So in a nutshell yes the reproduction is an illegal, copyright infringing article. Prosecution would be done by weights and measures (aka Trading Standards) here in the UK. The copyright owner could also sue if they chose.

    There is also an offence of importing an infinging copy into the UK unless its for his private and domestic use.

    At the end of the day, the seller commits the offence by copying and then making available that copy to the public. There is no offence (in the UK) for purchasing an infringing copy. There is, however, the moral aspect to consider.

    Another consideration is that the seller of the copied pattern may have approached the pattern company and asked if they can. As the company themselves are not selling the pattern they will not be damaged economically so they may well have given the go ahead for it to be reproduced. The answer to this though will only be found out by asking the seller the direct question...

    1. I highly doubt they asked permission to copy and sell this pattern

  13. I have actually thought about reproducing my patterns. Anything after 1964 is still under copyright however you can still use it under "fair use". The copyrights prior to 1964 are either open to reproduction (think Project Guttenberg) or the patterns may have been renewed by the pattern company (there is a list which I of course cannot find). Essentially clothing is considered a "useful item" and therefore cannot be copyrighted. It would be like someone trying to copyright a hammer or a wheel. However, if a pattern has a very unique element it could possibly be copyrighted but it would be under its own copyright and not part of the pattern. The artwork however if still under copyright cannot be reproduced and nor can the instructions as they are not considered a useful item. Copyright law on sewing pattern is vague at best and not clearly defined. No one will come after you for reproducing a pattern that has fallen out of copyright however you take your chances wither their original artwork depicting the final garment.

    1. The clothing itself is considered a useful article, not the actual pattern. :]

    2. Actually that’s not what “fair use” means as a legal term. “Fair use” is a defense used by a defendant when responding to a claim of infringement. Unlike free speech, it’s not a legal right protected by law. Most people think it's a legal right but it's not.

  14. My main moral problem is the fairly high price the ebay seller is charging for it - otherwise I think it's great that somebody is keeping these vintage patterns alive!

    Basically copyright law is creaking at the seams under the weight of the new digital age, in publishing and loads of other sectors. It's going to be messy as we all adapt to it, and inevitably some old assumptions and roles will change, in people's attitudes first before the law catches up. If you've read any Clay Shirky he goes into this in more interesting detail.

  15. This site is very reader friendly with lots of examples and legal text:

  16. I think there should be a time limit on the copy right. I also believe that if they were not reproduced somehow, they would be lost forever, so why not? McCalls isn't going to bring it back, and if they were so concerned about it they should do more about it. I agree with Lenora, who is this hurting anyway.

    I recently watched this:

    From my understanding with patterns is that the actual pattern cover and pattern are copy righted, but the actual items of clothing can't be.

  17. I don't mind at all if people provide this service, because that is what it really amounts to, it isn't like there is an unlimited number of these patterns available. It does bother me when people charge an exorbitant price for the service however, out of all proportion to the amount of time involved in tracing a pattern or even grading that same pattern.

    However, as I was told once by an antique dealer, an item is worth exactly as much as someone is willing to pay for it.

    I would be willing to buy copied patterns, that is, I would be if I had the slightest interest in sewing vintage fashion.

  18. I think technically bootleg vintage patterns are *not* legal in most cases, but generally I wouldn't be bothered by it personally. Not only are the companies no longer producing those patterns, they're not even *able* to produce them---they don't keep an archive of all the patterns they've ever put out. The modern vintage re-issues, as I understand it, are reproduced based on patterns which people who still happen to have them have sent in, not some internal company archive. In my opinion, if you hold the copyright to something, but are not only unwilling to sell it to the people who would want it, but are *unable* to---well, you don't have much of a leg to stand on.

    As for the insane prices some vintage patterns can command---well, I won't be paying them myself, but if someone else wants to I guess I won't complain. Collectors' pieces often go for outrageous amounts (How much for an original Star Wars toy still in the box?)---it has nothing to do with the utility, condition, or function of the piece, and everything to do with "sentimental value." The experience of having that original pattern, complete with envelope, instructions, history, etc, gives the collector pleasure that they may (or may not) decide is worth the money. For those of us more interested in just getting a dress that looks like that, we'd be better off investing in a more modern, similar pattern and learning some basic drafting.

    (And just for the record, I've put up a couple of my own patterns, for free, just for fun and to share. While I'd object to someone selling them---they're available *FREE*---if someone wants to make them up to sell, I don't personally feel I have much room to object---I have no intention of making them to sell, and if I'm not willing to produce the product, copyright shouldn't prevent someone else from doing it.)

    The above are my personal opinions, and have basically nothing to do with actual copyright law, in any given country. I am in favour of intellectual property rights to the extent that they benefit the original creator, but when they're used to stifle free enterprise *without* benefiting the original creator, well, I'm not impressed.

    1. "The above are my personal opinions, and have basically nothing to do with actual copyright law, in any given country"

      Creative Commons! Creative Commons! It's the best concept ever! Among other things, it's basically a framework for people with those/other divergent opinions to hold and maintain copyrights according to their idea of what "fair use" etc mean.

    2. They're in the process of (re)launching the chapter/affiliate/brance/organisation these days. I'm not sure what the current status is there; I moved to the States while it was all still shaking out.

    3. "the Canadian chapter," even. That was the whole point of the followup comment and I somehow lost the key adjective...?

  19. I agree with most commenters -- when you're talking about a work this old, and the corporation holding the rights sees no value in making the work available, then you're really honoring the original creator(s) by sharing that work with others who will use/enjoy it. I do NOT condone bootleg copies of books/music/movies/patterns whatever when legit copies are available and the intention is to deprive the creators of their royalties.

  20. SeamsterEast@aol.comApril 19, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    Copyright (starting back in the 1970's? or 1980's?) was extended automatically to 50 years from origin (in the case of a corporate copyright holder) or 50 years from the death of an individual holder.

    That law was changed (late 1980's?) to 70 and 70 years (75?) a bit back, specifically in the US of A, to ensure the Disney estate kept the copyrights to Mickey Mouse, etc.

    There was much yelling and screaming from the rest of the world over the issue. Perhaps much or all of the rest of the world has gone to 70/70 (75?) years.

    For sure, at this time, if the copyright holder was corporate and the copyright is over 70 (75?) years old, it is in the public domain.

    FWIW, "back in the old days" (prior to law update in 1970's?), copyright had to be registered AND the work published for a copyright to be enforced. (Today, copyright automatically belongs to the originator without additional effort.) I seem to recall that in addition the copyright notice -- which included an identity of the holder and the date -- had to be on EACH publication.

    Almost certainly, sewing patterns that old from a corporate publisher are public domain. However, WHO would want to lock legal horns with McCall's over a few bucks for a pattern or patterns?

  21. I guess I have to say I kind of have a problem with it, at least for the remainder of this decade (where it would, most likely still be under copyright). Once copyright time-frame is up then I wouldn't have a problem with people making copies of vintage patterns and selling them (you are paying for labor of copying and paper, etc.). I just don't think that time has come yet when the copyright is up, so for right now I can't say I approve.

    I had a similar issue with a book I was looking for for school - the library had a copy, but I really wanted my own. The only version I could find was a photocopied edition being sold on Amazon for $119! Amazon shut it down shortly thereafter because the copies weren't legal. Not that I would have bought one anyway. A used copy for that much, yes (I mean, that is what text books go for these days, so I have a skewed perspective), but an illegal photocopy, no. Not at any price. You can't find it though - everyone who has a copy keeps it because it is useful, and it is long out of print. I renewed the library edition for over a year...

    Also, as for the $95 patterns on Ebay - can't say I have a problem with that at all. It is sort of like if you find something for a bargain and luck out, then turn around and sell it at market value why is that a problem? Part of it is knowing what you have, and part of it is knowing what the market will bear. While a lot of us wouldn't pay that price, some people would, and I don't see anything wrong with that.

    While it would be nice if we all had the ability to buy any pattern from any company and any era for a paltry sum, that just isn't reality. Hopefully, as more copyrights lapse, and with the resources provided by the internet, eventually there will be a great resource for public domain vintage patterns, but until then I will be content with re-prints and actual vintage finds.

    1. To to clarify for others, the $95 pattern seller is on Etsy and is selling the original pattern. The digital copy is for sale on eBay for roughly 1/4 of that.

    2. But thats the question what is the market value of these items. And dont anyone pipe up and say "what anyone will pay for it" because there are silly people who get hoodwinked everyday.

  22. The sewing community tends to be a very generous one, when it comes to sharing information, tools, books, etc. I have never understood why the concept of pattern sharing, in regard to vintage patterns, hasn't gotten off the ground. It seems like it is a small group of collectors and sellers that have spoiled the market for a lot of us that would like to reproduce vintage just for our own use. I have a very small group of vintage patterns, that I would be willing to copy and share/trade with other sewers, as long as the intent is only for personal use. But how do you control the end use, and stop someone from reselling? It is a sad commentary on the state of our world, that the highest bidder is still the person who controls how even nitch markets operate. Is there any forum out there where we could share and trade, without fear of being taken advantage of by Etsy/Ebay resellers?

  23. I have mixed feelings about this. If the pattern weren't available at ALL I'd feel differently. Years ago, I sang a recital and wanted to end with a Deanna Durbin encore. The song was out of print AND under copyright. I went to the NYPL and they only had a non-circulating copy available. I could copy it out by hand or photocopy 10% of it (which was sort of impossible as the song was only 5 pages long) and then - technically - come back 9 other times to copy the rest of it - but to copy more than 10% of it (overall) was actually illegal. You could only do the multiple things because they kept no records (conveniently). The librarian confidentially told me that she'd heard (but never seen) that some people in these situations had gone behind a pillar and photographed the pages James Bond style but again, I should know that it was absolutely illegal to do so. I confess I came back with my camera (and this is PRE-digital) and photographed it, printed the shots and then blew them up on a photocopier. Unethical perhaps but it seemed to be the only way to get the song (other than copying it over which I could have) and I thought as a song it would want to be sung. This is pre-internet and other than the library and some local sellers I had no way I could figure out to find the music (but I didn't really try THAT hard - contacting her lawyer, etc.) Since it was a free concert, I justified it that NO one was making any money off this thing but I still felt a little weird about it.

    But back to the topic at hand, the pattern DOES seem to be available. Unless the copyist looked at photos and drafted it by hand, she should be giving it away or just having people reimburse her for copying charges or shipping. Making money off it feels wrong.

    1. For what it's worth, I doubt Deanna would have held the copyright. I used to copy music all the time at the NYPL Library for the Performing Arts (pre-Internet days meant Xerox machines) and nobody ever said a word. Everybody was doing it!

      Re the patterns: while yes, the pattern DOES exist for sale, it's not available in every size. The $95 original is a 32" bust, the repro is a 36". Just to play devil's advocate for a moment, if the seller couldn't make a profit it on it, why would he/she be motivated to reproduce it for sale? In which case it wouldn't be available to anyone, at least not in a 36".

  24. Cheeky seller, as the company is still in existence it will still be in copyright. It doesn't matter if the original was from last week or 60 years ago. Copyright law is pretty confusing but this is definitely illegal. Most infringements like this go un-challenged because unless you're the largest of companies you won't have legal teams to follow it up, I suppose. I personally wouldn't buy it but am sure others will. Morally, I don't have a problem with people sharing older patterns for free online because they are so scarce but I wouldn't pay for a copy, I'd rather buy an original (costs within reason!)

  25. I don't take issue with it specifically because copyright laws are complex and confusing. I also found out resently that you can't even trust the stamped copyright statement on most sewing related items.

    For instance, it seems that regardless of what it says on the selveges of your Joann's fabric, it is legal to sell items made from their fabric. And it's also legal to sell items you made from someone else's pattern. Or at least it can be depending upon how you read the law.

    You would think that being a law makes it cut and dry but it actually doesn't, especially when it comes to selling things sewing related. Part of this confusing stems from people wanting to protect their own interests, I get that. And I understand not wanting someone else to profit from your hard work.

    But I think the reality here is that there isn't a clear hard line here. In fact, I would argue that provided the seller is acknowledging that it's someone else's design and you aren't undercutting the original owner's ability to make a profit, then by all means, go head.

    It would be much more problematic if the repro seller was claiming the design was their own.

    But now I'm curious about this because there are at least three sites I can think of that take original patterns, repro them and make them available to others. I've even purchased a couple, to be specific.

  26. It makes me a little bit happy that patterns can be worth so much. I love the Antiques Roadshow and am always dismayed at how little textile items are worth given the amount of work and time put into them, compared with furniture and paintings. I feel it is a part of the whole "woman's things aren't worth as much" attitude of society. So when patterns get expensive, I think it is a bit cool.
    I don't think some of the commenters appreciate how much time and effort would go into reproducing a pattern. Even just photocopying it. It could take 10-20 hours to do all of this set up and there may only be a market for 20 or so copies. That's not much of a return. Moral/legal issues aside, of course.
    The 70 years for Disney thing just irritates me so much. Inflicting this on the whole world (when the US stubs its toe, the whole world winces) to protect them when a special case could have been made given the unprecedented ongoing popularity of the characters. Mind you, their zero tolerance stance on use of their characters in children's wards, playgrounds and other place where pleasure is the purpose not profit is sickmaking also.
    Sorry, getting off topic! Oldladyrant over!

    1. "I don't think some of the commenters appreciate how much time and effort would go into reproducing a pattern."

      So true. So very very true. Hunting down a pattern is the start. And it's not as cheap as everyone seems to think to copy a pattern (one out of copyright or whatever) it can run as low as $6 and as high as $30. Depending on the pattern. Plus, you get to decide the correct layout to get the most onto the large format printer when you copy patterns that are pre-cut patterns from the 1920's. And if your brain ain't working that great that day...

  27. I sell vintage patterns on etsy and am sometimes surprised at how strongly some sewers feel about the sale (and prices) of vintage patterns.

    It really is not true that we sail into a thrift store and pick up a patterns for pennies then turn around and sell them for huge profits. I can tell you from experience that I spend a lot of time haunting flea markets and estate sales looking for desirable patterns. It is truly a needle in a haystack.Believe me, the flea market venders know what prices some of these patterns fetch and in turn, are raising their prices constantly.

    I also spend a great deal of time at my ironing board counting pattern pieces and verifying condition.Then of course I pay for listings, paypal fees and when lucky, I pack and ship.

    I do agree that some dealers charge astronomical prices. I prefer to keep my patterns moving so I would characterize my own prices on the mid to lower end.When I have a great find I prefer to put it on ebay and let the market decide the price. Sometimes I am disappointed sometimes I am thrilled. It is a job, so I don't know why I shouldn't expect to make some money at it...

    Personally, I don't copy and I feel that there is an ethical issue there that I don't want to touch.

    1. You don't mention this, but also there are MANY people out there selling vintage patterns and they're competing with each other -- It's one thing to post a pattern for sale for $95, it's another thing to SELL it at the price. Like any other dealer, if you want the merchandise to move you have to price it competitively.

      Plus many sellers are competing over pattern lots on eBay, which drives up the sellers' costs. This, in turn means sellers may charge more for patterns when they sell them individually.

    2. You are right about the ebay lots being very expensive -But a more important reason I stay away from them altogether is because they often are the reject patterns of unscrupulous dealers.
      I have been disappointed to find lots full of patterns missing a piece or two and so learned my lesson.

  28. Copyright laws are different country to country. Copyright law is also not always going to be in line with moral reasoning, and I see no reason why every hitch and jiggle in exactly how long Walt Disney thinks it should keep profiting off the same movie should cause everyday people to sincerely reassess their understanding of right and wrong.

    The legal status of "orphaned works" - that is, materials that were made by creators who no longer exist, like Spadea - is not 100% clear. These things *do* get ironed out in litigation.

    The fact is that the market for vintage patterns, and reproduction vintage patterns, creates a strong incentive for preservation (even if it's the kind of tape-and-scissors preservation that would make the average archivist cry into her coffee). It has the side benefit of sustaining the very culture of sewists to whom Vintage Vogue markets. I want to point out that the University of Rhode Island maintains one of the only professional archives of these materials that I have ever heard of. They sell a cd, which is very interesting.

  29. Anonymous highlighted the considerable "cost of goods sold" for her vintage pattern business on etsy. While I usually hit the Big 4 pattern sales for my stash at the usual retailers, I recently downloaded a Burda Pattern from Burdastyle for $4.00. Since I was making a trip to Fedex Office for other reasons, I decided to send it to one of their printers and bypass the inkjet 8.5 x 11 taped together version. Ouch! I received a neat rolled pattern on nice paper for close to $20.
    The seller of photocopied vintage patterns in the UK is not making money- he/she is providing a public service!

  30. When I hear about these patterns fetching crazy prices, I wonder: why doesn't McCalls issue a reproduction? There is obviously a demand for it.

  31. A very interesting topic indeed. I have also heard that Vogue does not even have copies of the patterns that it has produced over the years. To me, if the company wasn't concerned enough to even keep a copy, then it doesn't seem that they were serious about their copyright. On the other hand, in 1950, no one at the company would have known the internet phenomenon which was to come, and the new issues that it would raise. Personally, I don't have a problem with someone copying the pattern and selling it, especially since I know a ton of work goes into grading.

    Personally, I dream of there being a site where vintage pattern lovers can make a list of patterns they are willing to lend to others and for how long. The person who wants to borrow the pattern could send the owner a few dollars for shipping and maybe a dollar or so for the envelope via Paypal. You could then "rate" the borrower on when the pattern was returned in regards to condition and if all the pieces were returned. You wouldn't have to lend to anyone you didn't feel comfortable with. Yes, some trust is required, but I truly believe most people are good. :]

  32. How do we feel about the vintage pattern lending library? They have been doing what they do for at least 10 years. If the original owners pf those copyrights were concerned surely the vpll site wouldnt still be up and fully functioning. Or are the copyright lawyers to busy with torrent websites to be bothered with little sites and sellers?

  33. On a really basic level I don't have a problem with someone copying a dress pattern from 1950 and selling it online. It's obviously illegal and I'm sure if McCall's chose to go after them they'd have very little trouble winning the case, but morally no I don't have an issue. However, what if you had said the pattern was produced in 1970 or 1985? That doesn't seem so ok - but how do you decide where that proverbial line in the sand is? I agree with many commenters above that there is a market for these patterns, and while it's probably not economic for the companies to bother, why not others? Personally I like the idea of a lending library rather than simply copying and charging rather high prices. Or providing graded patterns? That would suck me in because I'm not really up to doing that myself.

  34. Very interesting discussion and a few issues involved here:-
    1. How much is a vintage pattern worth? As someone said earlier, usually a much as the market will pay. However consideration has to be given for the age, condition, design and desirability of the pattern. I'd like to think pieces of history have some value. Plus there is the time and effort involved in finding, checking and placing items for sale. And yes, it getting more competitive to source good patterns.

    2. Is it legal to sell copies? Hmmm very complex - I'm not a copyright lawyer so I'll stay out of that one.

    3. Is it moral or ethical to sell a reproduction? Personally I would always prefer to have the original because of the historical aspect of owning a genuine vintage article. I don't think I would judge those that do because I can appreciate the time and $$ involved in making a copy. If you really want a pattern, this may the the only option for some.

    4. What about grading? Many vintage patterns are teeny, tiny sizes and the larger sizes just aren't available. Grading is time consuming and not always for the faint heart so I think this is a valuable service.

    Thanks for raising the topic Peter.

  35. If you have to ask if it's wrong, then deep down inside you know it's wrong. We all try to "justify" doing wrong. If you want something badly enough, you can "justify" it. But in doing that, you are still admitting that deep down you know it's wrong. Unfortunately we live in a society that thinks, "I want it, so I am going to get it, no matter what I need to do to get it".

  36. Great topic, great responses. So glad I know how to drape and draft my own patterns if I can't find or afford the commercial version. I have absolutely no problem with buying or selling a bootleg version of a pattern. It all depends what one is willing to pay. Let the market decide.

  37. It's definitely illegal. But it falls kind of in the category of victimless crime - the probably dead original designer almost certainly got cheated out of their rights by the now-defunct pattern company. Whoever may have inherited these rights may not even know about them. So in short prosecution is highly unlikely, which allows people to take advantage. I don't think it's worth getting very worked up about :-).

  38. VPLL has already been mentioned, there's also Decades of Style and I'm sure others that are businesses that do reproduction patterns. I'm guessing if they've made that their proper business that they've checked all the legal issues and permissions, but it's likely different for just an ebay seller doing it themselves. At the same time, though, there are so few copies of some of these great patterns, and it would be a tragedy for them to be lost when people want them. And anyway, I'm sure I'm not the only person who draws inspiration from existing patterns, making my own versions from images I've seen. Sure, that doesn't involve me making money from it, but I'm still not giving money to the pattern company who inspired me.
    As for how much originals cost, the most expensive I've seen is over $300 for this Louise Boulanger McCall original: It's actually my favourite pattern (how can you not love those shoulders and that back?) but I've never seen it anywhere else and I couldn't ever afford it anyway. Now if someone could only reproduce it for me, I'd be a very happy little camper!

  39. I'm glad you brought up this topic! I have often thought about this very issue, but I've learned in my time on the internet that any discussion of copyright law quickly degenerates (except here - bravo sewists!)

    I don't have a problem with reproducing patterns. I think copyright law is too restrictive, and the copyrights last too long (with our current laws - thanks Disney!) I think there is a real problem with works disappearing due to missing copyright holders/restrictive laws, and in the coming decades that should become more apparent. I do think the price is a bit high in the site you linked, but I suppose the market bears out her rates.

    I once posted a 1940s knitting pattern from a defunct company on my blog, and got such nasty hate mail that I gave up and took it down. So now I own that pattern, but it is lost to the knitting world in general unless I decide to sell it (unlikely.) But the issue itself just seems so fraught with drama that it makes me weary just thinking about it!

    Eh... if McCall's cares about such things they can complain to Ebay, who would no doubt promptly remove the listing. I'm not convinced they do, as they remain the only line without any vintage reproductions at all. Unfortunate - I have so many lovely McCall's patterns from the past!

  40. The patter seems like it would be fairly easy to re-create for somewhat experienced pattern makers such as myself. I believe that if you are able to buy the more expensive pattern for whatever reasons rather than to re-create the pattern on your own, than why not buy the pattern? Drafting patterns does take time, time that cannot be given back. However, if someone is looking for the challenge of re-creating the pattern draft for the experience and learning process, than I think this would be a more valuable experience.

  41. I don't think it should be illegal even if the law says otherwise. Though I do think there are some point to consider about selling reproductions or copies of old patterns. As a casual sewer, I do love vintage patterns, but I buy them with the intention of one day using them for their original purpose of being a pattern for sewing a garment. But the very high price of vintage patterns is from the collectors market. This is where the pattern is purchased to add to a specific collection, with little or no intention of ever being used for it's primary function. This is where I do see the need for copies or reproductions, leave the originals to the collectors and let us sewers have access to the copies or reproductions as actual sewing patterns.

  42. I think this seller has some great patterns and most actually are from the 40's which fall outside the 70 year thing.
    Sometimes prices for patterns are obscene - like the $95 original - which is all well and good for collectors, but for the seamstress who actually wants to make that dress, the cost is prohibitive.
    I welcome repro patterns like these because they haven't changed anything like the vintage reissues the Big 3 (not 4!) do. I bought a Vogue reissue and wasn't impressed at all and prefer my proper vintage patterns. This seller in particular I've been meaning to buy from because some of those 40's patterns look great!
    The price isn't too bad considering new patterns are around the $20+ mark in Australia (unless you find something on sale), so I'd be happy to pay what these ones are worth.

    So maybe I'm being unethical but I just want to get my hands on some cool patterns without having to shell out $100s for a 'collectors item'.

  43. I am an avid vintage sewer (I get most of my patterns from Etsy). I have been after a particular pattern for ages and didn't even blink when considering asking a sewing blogger if they minded copying the pattern for me (for which I would compenstae them of course).
    In my mind a one-off is different from someone who consistently profits from copies of another person's work BUT then I thought... wouldn't re-selling original patterns technically be illegal anyway - I mean I often see items with a 'Not for re-sale' statement on them but I never considered it for sewing patterns. Hmmm

  44. This is my understanding of it all-fact is many, if not most of these order sewing patterns are indeed in the public domain-either because they automatically fell into pd due to age or because manufacturers/owners failed to follow proper rules to protect copyright. But, there's alot of misconception out there about how long copyrights last ect...that serve to add to the confusion. Some information is blatantly wrong simply because of assumptions without research. In any case, if in PD they're free to use in any way chosen. It's not illegal to resale public domain material. People buy and sell public domain material all the time. The bible is in public domain, Dracula, Tom Sawyer ect...all of which are bought and sold on a regular basis-perfectly illegal. And no one is unjustly benefiting from the work of others. Copyrights aren't meant to last for all of eternity. As for patents (applying to the pattern design itself)-they don't generally last longer than 20 years. Vintage patterns are older than 20 years. Copyrights and patents are two separate considerations. No one has the right to use trademarks (a third consideration) on repros because trademarks can last "forever" as long as they're in use, but otherwise sewing patterns are under the same copyright/patent laws as any other works. As for prices-some are out of whack-but on the other hand actual printed copies are costly mostly because of the time and labor that goes into making the copy and actually printing the pattern-which is also why regular modern day pattern prices are high. Not a lawyer, but vintage lover. Enjoyed your post. :)

  45. I'm not sure if this has been covered already since I'm months late to the party, but copyright and sewing patterns are something I like to talk about.

    Pattern *pieces* can not be copyrighted. That would be like copyrighting bricks or wood planks. They are the building blocks of what will eventually become something but they aren't something, yet.

    Pattern *designs* can not be copyrighted. There are finite number of ways that pattern pieces can be put together, re-arranged or otherwise used to make up a design.

    HOWEVER. Pattern *illustrations* ABSOLUTELY can be copyrighted as can the *instructions*.

    So here we have a sticky wicket. The law would support someone copying or re-drafting the pattern pieces to a particular design. But the minute you copy the illustration or instructions, you've broken the copyright law.

    As far as I know, no one has ever been sued by any pattern-maker for copying their patterns. It wouldn't be worth their time or money.

    This site has some really good insights on the whys/wherefores:


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