Thursday, January 22, 2009


As some of you know, my degree (I have a masters, touch me!) is in Costume and Set Design. This meant spending a LOT of time researching chitons, bliods and drum farthingales (oh my!)

When I look at paintings, I see the things others miss - the hats, the way a garment falls, the wrinkles denoting non-knitted hosen worn by dozens of peasants in all those Breugel fÉtes.

So when I leapt into reasearch for History on Two Needles (HoTN) I already had a certain number of favorite paintings and sculptures I wanted to use. But how to go about getting permission to use them?

I'm trying a few different routes; First, I wrote or faxed to the museums which house some of my most desired paintings. I've heard back from several, all very positive (my coup was permission from the National Portrait Gallery in London to use a painting of Anne Boelyn - love that neckline!) but I haven't heard back from the mother-lode of historic costuming artwork, the Metropolitan in NYC.

Then, as I was Googling a few paintings, I ran across the Wikimedia Commons,

Welcome to Wikimedia Commons
A database of 3,820,606 freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute.

Oh, baby! If I'm understanding this correctly, just about any image that's listed as Public Domain on Wikimedia is fair game - am I correct in my assumption?

Obviously, I'm still researching this, but if that's the case it makes my research that much easier - I have a larger pool of artwork to choose from and don't have to satisfy myself with something that isn't quite right. Any image copyright experts out there have an opinion on using a snapshot of The Black Prince's tomb in my book?

Back to my research! I have some ideas of items I'd like to knit, so I'm looking for historic garments that lend themselves to these pre-concieved ideas. But for the most part the ideas for the knitted garments are pretty much coming right from the artwork. I'm hoping for a nice variety of silhouettes and tailoring styles.


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posted by Annie at


Blogger Kim in Oregon said...

Annie, Id check carefully with the owner of the content. An image might be 'freely usable' under 'fair use' but if you are using a image for a 'for profit' enterprise it might not be as 'freely usable' as suggested here.

I've been burned by this in the past (academic textbook wise) so forewarned is forearmed.


love that Anne B. pic too. It is used in the opening titles for 'The Tudors' in Season 2. Which you must get from Netflix if you don't get Showtime, regardless of the number of chopped off ehads.

January 22, 2009 11:15 AM  
Blogger Jena the yarn harpy said...

I am so excited about this project. I'm such a history wonk. :)

January 22, 2009 11:43 AM  
Blogger Annika said...

I don't want to give advice on copyright and risk misleading you, but I had to comment because that neckline is SO DELICIOUS and I can't wait to see what you come up with.

January 22, 2009 11:48 AM  
Blogger wenknitting said...

Dear Annie,

This is such a great idea for a book and for inspiration. I have a masters in painting conservation and like you I see in paintings what other may miss. I also love textiles and costume construction. I am really looking forward to following your progress.

January 22, 2009 12:53 PM  
Blogger Clumsy Knitter said...

This is a fascinating project. Thanks for sharing the details with us as you go along!

January 22, 2009 1:24 PM  
Blogger Deborah Robson said...

How do you get permissions? Annie, I used to do permissions at one of the presses I worked for. It was such a nuisance. I suggest getting in touch with Natalie and Melissa at Freelance Permissions, . They are amazingly efficient and reasonable. Nice, too. No, I don't get a commission.

January 22, 2009 8:27 PM  
Blogger Tsarina of Tsocks said...

Heh. This may be the first time you've raised the green-eyed monster in me, because oh, baby, this project is SO up all of my alleys...! As regards your question about the Black Prince's tomb - I'd say everything depends on who took the snapshot. The tomb itself wouldn't be at issue, but copyright in the image is owned by the photographer. If you know who that is, you can probably arrange for permission to use it with attribution; if not, and if you can't find out, you may be all right with a Good Faith Attempt disclaimer.

January 22, 2009 11:10 PM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

[Apologies for the length of this comment] My job includes working to clear permissions for museum exhibits. You use is slightly different, but some of the general guidelines are the same.

There is a difference between "public domain" and "fair use". "Public domain" means that something has fallen out of copyright protection due either to age or non-renewal by the copyright owner. According to U.S. copyright law, works created prior to December 31, 1922 are now automatically in the public domain. Between 1923 and 1978, things are much more complicated. Works created after December 31, 1978 are protected for the life of the author plus 50 years.

"Fair Use" is a term that is much more ambiguous. Generally, it is the idea that there are some uses of copyrighted material that should be allowed, essentially for their generally altruistic nature. There is no firm legal definition of what fair use means. Rather, you can use a set of factors to determine whether or not something is "likely" to be viewed by a court as "fair use" if someone decides to sue you.

There are also complicated ways in which owners of physical works can restrict your access to their materials, even when they were created prior to 1923. Things can get very tangled in this area.

I have some materials that I would be happy to pass along to you that I use when determining an item's Public Domain status, and when I am deciding whether or not to recommend a claim of fair use. Please let me know if you are interested.

You are also well-advised to have someone come on board your project as an official consultant to these issues. It sounds like the two individuals mentioned in the previous post would be good resources.

I'm excited to hear about your project as you work through the process. As an unashamed history nut and knitter, I can't wait to see the finished project as well.

January 23, 2009 8:01 AM  
Blogger Alyson said...

History on Two Needles?.......OK, ya got me......put me on the "must buy" list.

I already know there is going to be amazing stuff in there!

January 23, 2009 10:07 AM  
Blogger Annie said...

Deb - THANK YOU for the referral - they sound like exactly who I've been looking for!

Suzanne - I'd LOVE to get that info, thanks so much for your thorough comment. You can email it to me at annie at modeknit dot com - thanks!

January 23, 2009 10:22 AM  
Blogger Shannon said...

Your readers are so smart and awesome, Annie.

I have always been in love with that Boleyn neckline myself!

January 23, 2009 12:01 PM  
Blogger All 9 Muses said...


That research sounds really interesting. I love the idea of knitting garments that are based on historical design. And Medieval times and the Rennaissance are my favourites. I look forward to seeing the results!
Take care,

January 23, 2009 2:18 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

I have nothing to add on the copywrite info, but HoTN sounds AWESOME.

January 23, 2009 2:47 PM  
Blogger Darcys Knotty Knitter said...

Is that Ann Bolyn? she is my ancestor.Hugs Darcy

January 24, 2009 4:22 AM  
Blogger Pixiepurls said...

I have a book on copyright I was reading, and yes most old paintings ARE in the public domain, the issue is WHO took the photo, the photographer can COPYRIGHT his/her version of the photo so you can't use "that" persons photo.

Try this book it will help you loads:

January 24, 2009 12:34 PM  
Blogger Nicola said...

Hey wow! As an art history major and obsessed knitter, HoTN will be top of my list. Can't wait to see the progress.

(Good luck with the copyright stuff. I don't know anything about it, but fingers crossed it will be sorted out easily, and let you get on with being creative.)

January 25, 2009 12:04 PM  
Blogger Archiknist said...


I just lived through a workshop on copyright at work, and discovered that straightforward photographs of works of art may not have sufficient originality to be copyright-able (according to Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., 36 F. Supp. 2d 191 (S.D.N.Y. 1999)), so as long as the art itself is in the public domain, it may be less cumbersome that you'd think.

Also, I love this chart: ... although it only covers the US.

February 09, 2009 10:29 AM  

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