April Flower in Aqua to Jade Green with Orange center by Harriete Estel Berman in Honor of Earth Day 2010
April Flower in Baby Blue Flower with Pink and Green Diamond Center

Can I duplicate published patterns as my own work?

Luci Wilder sent an email with numerous questions prompted by the recent article in Lapidary Journal, Jewelry Artist, April 2010 written by  Sharon Elaine Thompson. I have divided her email into two separate posts. Click here to read part one. This is part two.

ci Wilder's Blue Dream necklace.
Blue Dreams ©   Luci Wilder
Sterling Silver, Lapis Lazuli cabochon

Hi Harriete,
If I purchase a pattern book, am I able to make and sell pieces made from the published pattern?
I ask because while I've got a piece of embroidery in the Smithsonian, it wasn't my pattern, only my adaptation of another designer's pattern (and I didn't sell it, I was "invited" by a former First Lady's secretary to stitch a piece for a White House Christmas Tree and I never made any claim that it was my design).  Now I find I've fallen in love with making jewelry... some with original designs by me that I would like to have published.. and others that are made from published patterns... it's the latter that concerns me... what I would like to do is give credit to the original designer, the magazine or book where the pattern is published as well as to the craftsperson whom I contracted to make handmade glass beads, which I may want to use in a published patterned piece...

Basically, I'm asking is it "OK" for me to do all of the above? I do not want in any way to do anything illegal, but do feel that if I publish a pattern I'm giving everyone the right to make a piece of jewelry from that pattern, right?
Luci Wilder


Witness the Weight of Words is a close-up image showing the quilt pattren constructed with recycled tin cans.
Witnessing the Weight of Words © 1996
(close-up view)
Recycled tin cans, aluminum rivets,
electric motor.
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip
Traditional quilt pattern used as a format
for contemporary commentary.
Permanent Collection Racine Art Museum

The examples in this post and in the previous post illustrate many historical precedents for use of patterns and step-by-step instructions.


Witness the Weight of Words by Harriete Estel Berman is based on a traditional Quilt pattern.
Witnessing the Weight of Words © 1996
Recycled tin cans, aluminum rivets,
electric motor,
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen
Traditional quilt pattern used as a format
for contemporary commentary.
Permanent Collection Racine Art Museum

I'd like to first comment on things like an embroidery stitch which may have 100's of years of historical precedent and are elemental components that may be included in an infinite variety of patterns. The personal creativity is in the layout of the stitches. However, If you copied the larger pattern for the layout of the stitches, this is definitely a gray area.

The legality of copying depends on whether the design is in the public domain or not.  Most copyrights expire 75 years after the designer's death. 

Quilt patterns are another example with over 100 years of folk tradition. Copying a traditional quilt pattern does not infringe on copyright. The contemporary use of quilt patterns may be drawing on this long history of "women's work" as a commentary or a traditional quilt pattern may serve as inspiration for another interpretation. There is no copyright right infringement on quilt patterns with a long history. 

Also, there is nothing wrong with using published patterns (assuming that you obtained the pattern in a lawful manner) to make or even copy an object for your own use or for educational purposes.  Step by step instructions and patterns supplied in contemporary books, magazines, or television shows are provided exactly for this purpose.

Stencil 101 Book image I draw the line at using step-by-step instructions or purchased patterns and then claiming the work as your own.   

Martha Stewart Encyclopedia of CraftsIn my opinion, even with proper attribution to the instructions or pattern, the items should not be sold or published as original work. No work based on step-by-step instructions should be produced as a commercial product either as one of a kind or as multiples for sale.  This type of commercial application goes beyond the intent of the step-by-step instructions for the purpose of education, fostering creativity, developing skills, or personal enjoyment.

Recipe Card Design by Harriete Estel Berman Professionally, I see your questions representing a complex set of issues with many everyday parallels.   For example, we use recipes frequently (essentially a set of step-by-step instructions), and you are encouraged to enjoy sharing your cooking with your family.  But it would be unethical to enter a baking contest and claim the recipe as your own.   

IN SUMMARY, it is fine to follow a pattern or step-by-step instructions for your education, skill development, and personal enjoyment, but the resulting work should not be sold or published under your name as your original work even with attribution to the source.

Stay tuned to the next post with comments by individuals or authors of step-by-step books based on their experience producing step-by-step instructions. Let's see what they have to say.


This post was updated on January 15, 2022.