Reproduction Fabrics—Nothing New Under the Sun
Mary Koval with one of her Baltimore Album quilts.
Photo by Ken Sepeda
Mary stands in front of some of her antique fabric, holding a piece of one of her reproduction lines.
Photo by Ken Sepeda.
Mary Koval knows more about antique fabric than most of us will ever hope to learn. A lifelong seamstress, self-taught quilter, and fabric designer who deals in antique quilts and vintage fabrics, Mary has had an enduring relationship with textiles. The self-avowed “fabriholic” has been especially interested in antique fabric for nearly 40 years.
Mary is a California native who moved to Pennsylvania with her husband, Joe, in the early 1970s. She learned to quilt by reading a book borrowed from her children’s babysitter. As she accompanied Joe—an antique furniture dealer—on a buying trip, her newfound interest in quilts was piqued when she saw a beautiful old quilt for sale for “next to nothing.”
Mary purchased that quilt and when it later sold for a good profit, she began buying more. It wasn’t long before the antique quilts were bringing in more money than the antique furniture. Mary’s business, Mary Koval’s Antique Quilts, was up and running.
She began buying vintage fabric in order to make necessary repairs to her antique quilts, using fabrics from the same eras as the quilts. As her collection of old fabric threatened to take over, Joe—in self-defense—told her that she needed to get rid of some of it. When Mary started taking the fabric with her to quilt shows, she discovered that the stock would sell out, as many fabric designers sought out the old cloth for inspiration in making reproduction lines.
One year, at the Quilt Festival in Houston, while helping a designer sort through the stock for sale, and she quickly selected a group of related fabrics for the designer to consider.
“Do you realize that you’ve just put together a reproduction fabric collection?” the designer asked her. “You know all about antique fabrics, Mary. Why don’t you start designing a line of your own?” And so she did. Since that time, Mary has designed reproduction collections for Windham, Timeless Treasures, FreeSpirit, and Blank Quilting fabric manufacturers, among others.
Asked when the first reproduction fabrics were made, Mary laughingly responds, “Oh, back around 1400 or so!” She goes on to explain that virtually all fabrics could be called “reproduction” because the designs all came from something earlier. To illustrate her point, Mary describes a toile design fabric that was first printed in 1783, then again in 1820, in 1860, in 1900, in 1940, and in 1960. Although different manufacturers produced the fabric through the centuries, the design was exactly the same each time.
It is legal to reproduce a copyrighted fabric design as long as the original is used for inspiration rather than directly copied. If the design is changed by 35%, it is considered to be a new work. How that 35% is determined is a bit of a grey area, but examples might include changing the background color, adding a swirl, removing a flower, and so on.
If no copyright exists, it is legal to copy the design entirely. Of course, many old fabric designs, including most calicoes, were never copyrighted to begin with. Others have had their copyright expire and therefore considered to be in the public domain, free to copy.
“Interest in old fabric designs seems to come in 20-year cycles,” says Mary. “A lot of people are fascinated by history these days, and I think that helps drive the current popularity of reproduction lines. But I can go into any quilt shop today and show you fabric that is, technically, a reproduction, even though it isn’t labeled as such. There’s really nothing new!”
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Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
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Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
Column 91: Grandmother's Flower Garden Comes Alive at Texas Quilt Museum
Column 90: Leitmotif for a Lifelong Love Affair
Column 89: Quilting in The Bahamas
Column 88: Joan of Arc: A Quilter's Inspiration
Column 87: Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
Column 84: Desert Trader
Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
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Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
Column 79: 54 Tons of Quilt
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Column 72: Author: Terri Thayer
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Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
Column 69: Scrub Quilts
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Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
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Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo Fly Pattern
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor
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