Embroidery Pirates and Fashion Victims


Embroidery Pirates and Fashion Victims: Textiles, Craft and Copyright

Debates over copyright and craft are particularly thorny, jumping as they do from notions of a common shared history of quilting bees and knitting circles that should be open and welcoming to all, passing through the idea that as an apparently gendered pastime crafting is regularly devalued (and that this is something its practitioners should resist) and concluding with more recent arguments that there are lucrative opportunities for professional crafters and designers that need to be protected through the copyrighting, patenting and trademarking of designs and processes. Of late, however, calls for ever more stringent protection and policing have marked the online crafting world, a transformation that I connect (albeit indirectly) to massive
changes in the global textile industry and increasing anti-piracy initiatives resulting from the 2005 end of the Multifibre Arrangement (MFA).

In this article, I analyze the appearance and spread of this intimidating lexicon of copyright protection in the (online) craft world. I argue that the rising interest in copyright and craft needs to be seen not only in light of growing visibility and marketability for crafting practice online, but also in terms of the positioning of intellectual property as an increasingly important economic strategy for Global North nations. So too, a transition from an ethos of community-based practice to one of individual property rights can be read as a part of ongoing debates over copyrighting (or lack thereof ) for fashion designers, regulations concerning craft and textiles as protected national property in indigenous, developing and transitional economies, the changing global textile industry and further debates over open source software and anti-copyright activism. My purpose here is to understand how and why a reiteration of (often incorrect or unsupported) norms is creating a strong atmosphere of policing and protection that contrasts with more traditional understandings of crafting.

Image: Ele Carpenter, Open Source Embroidery Project (detail)

Read a slightly shortened pre-publication version of the paper here.

About Kirsty Robertson

Kirsty Robertson is Associate Professor of contemporary art and Director of museum and curatorial studies at Western University, Canada.
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