April Flower Brooch in Vintage Soft Yellow with Red Cherries
April Flower Brooch in Vibrant Colors with Blue and Purple Center in Honor of Earth Day 2010.

Protecting my Step-by-Step Jewelry Designs?

Luci Wilder sent an email with numerous questions prompted by the recent post and article in Lapidary Journal, Jewelry Artist, April 2010 written by  Sharon Elaine Thompson titled, Intellectual Property. Her questions were divided into two separate posts. This is part one.

WilderDenmark in Silver
Denmark in Silver by Luci Wilder
Sterling Silver,
unakite, found object
rt Nouveaux broach possibly Goerge Jensen.

Hi Harriete,
If I design a piece of jewelry and release the design for public use through publication in something like Step by Step Wire Jewelry, is it protected from commercial reproduction?
Luci Wilder

If you write step-by-step instructions for making artwork, it is a reasonable assumption that people will sit down and follow your instructions. That is why you wrote the instructions,  right? 

Now you want to control what people do with the finished product. Perhaps only beginners or hobbyists need step-by-step instructions and they will not claim that this is their design for commercial purposes.  But a published design probably increases the risk of being copied.

Have you considered a proviso at the bottom of the instructions? Something like this:

These step-by-step instructions are provided by (your name) and (name of magazine) for educational purposes only. Duplication of this design for commercial purposes including, but not limited to, selling, reproduction as a published image in a book, magazine, or internet or reproduced as a production item in multiples, is prohibited.

New Yankee Workshop BACKGROUND: There is a long history of selling patterns to the public. This dates back to 19th century women's magazines such as Ladies Home Companion that included patterns for clothing, embroidery, and quilting in the magazines. As another example, going back to the 18th century there were many books published with decorative motifs, pattern books, and templates for furniture and household decorative arts.  Current television programs such as the New Yankee Workshop and The Woodright's Shop all offer patterns for woodworkers. Some of these shows offer patterns for purchase, others offer step-by-step instructions for free online with the presumption that the television show makes its revenue from another source.

As another example, Alabama Chanin produces one of a kind line of clothing but also wrote a series of "how-to" books such as Alabama Stitch Book: Projects and Stories Celebrating Hand-Sewing, Quilting and Embroidery for Contemporary Sustainable Style with her methods spelled out in detailed instruction for the D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) makers. (Look in the right-hand column of this blog to see her books.) She also teaches workshops when she visits a city for her more exclusive trunk shows at the stores that sell her clothing line. She generates a following and revenue stream from each venue. These are just a few examples of patterns and step-by-step instructions. I could keep going for pages and pages.

In all the above examples, including Luci's, it is unethical to claim such patterns as your own for commercial reproduction.

While step-by-step instructions have value as a tutorial for education or creative inspiration, the final product should be for personal enjoyment and never be exhibited outside your home or claimed as your own creation.  It is unacceptable to take anyone else's pattern, kit, or product and sell or publish it as your own design.

Project-runway To avoid entirely the "pattern/step-by-step" issue, the garment design contestants on the television show Project Runway are not allowed to use any patterns from outside sources. All the work needs to be an original design from start to finish. Clearly, the television producers realize how important it is for the contestants to produce entirely original work from start to finish.

My recommendation for anyone in Luci Wilder's shoes would be to select from the following options:

  • include a disclaimer  as suggested above;
  • create special projects that are very different from your own art or craft so that you do not think people are copying your personal style or identity;
  • discontinue creating step-by-step instructions (if this issue bothers you);
  • let go of this issue and make sure you feel that you were properly compensated for creating the step by step by patterns in the first place.

Stay tuned for Part Two of Luci Wilder's questions and additional posts....this issue is quite complex.

If you have any ideas or suggestions regarding this issue please leave them as a comment. I would like to hear what the readers of ASK Harriete have to say. Do you use step-by-step instructions? Fine. Do you sell or promote work created following a step-by-step project as your work? What do you think are the consequences of this action?

This post was updated on January, 14, 2022.

April Flower Nutrition Brooch as a special commission from recycled tin cans by Harriete Estel Berman in honor of Earth Day.Harriete Estel Berman's April Flower Nutrition Brooch back view shows the nutrition label.
April Flower Nutrition Brooch was constructed entirely from nutrition labels from post-consumer recycled tin cans in honor of Earth Day 2010 by Harriete Estel Berman.  This image shows the front and back.
Photo Credit: emiko oye. This April Flower pin is sold.
Stay tuned for more April Flower pins on ASK Harriete.