I ordinarily find rebuttal posts annoying and unnecessary, and yet I find myself compelled to write my own. Don’t expect an apology though.
There has been such a great debate over what I posted yesterday (was it just yesterday? Gosh!) and for the most part, people have kept it civilized and on-topic. Some people got what I was saying right away, others felt compelled to go down a rabbit hole (rabbits are cool but sometimes their holes are not, know what I mean?), and yet others decided to use it as an excuse to unleash vitriol and attack me personally. That’s cool. (Check your FB privacy settings, folks, if you don’t want friends of friends of fans finding your shtuff.)
That said, I really liked reading all the differing opinions and interpretations around the internet block. Some follow up posts that others have written that I think you should check out are:
A thought experiment… by Thomas Knauer (I didn’t even think he knew who I was! Hi Thomas!)
The Post Where Ebony Lost Her Shit and Maddie Gave It a Think by Maddie Kertay of Badass Quilters Society (doesn’t the title just crack you up?)
Technique Does Matter by Amanda Leins of mandalei (very thoughtful post on the topic)
Reflections on the Industry by Thomas Knauer
Is the Art of Sewing Being Dumbed Down? by bimyou love (if people can sell their crap, is it really crap?)
The Last Person I’d Want to Learn Anything From by Kim Werker (yes, that “last person” is yours truly)
Reflections on the Industry (part two) by Thomas Knauer
The Dumbing Down of the Quilting and Sewing Industry by Ebony Love (the original post in case you missed it)
Crapology 101 by Ebony Love (a weekly series on the art of making crap)
Have you seen any others?
Thomas chose to focus on whether it’s not just the stuff we make but the very ideas that get generated shouldn’t hit the cutting room floor much sooner; Maddie mused on how the drive to produce for the industry has led her to compromise her own work ethic at times; and Amanda posited that learning great technique should be something that everyone strives to do, even when they are just starting out.
I don’t agree with everything everyone has said in their posts and comments, and not everyone agrees with me (that’s why it’s called opinion), but I think what we can all agree on is that this topic hit a nerve and has shed some light on a subject that many people think about but don’t dare say for fear of alienating friends, industry folks, idols, customers, and random people we don’t even know and won’t ever meet.
There was a huge misunderstanding right off the bat though, so I thought it would be helpful to see a list of constituents to whom my post was directed, in case you missed the part of my post that said “industry” people.
People I Was NOT Talking To
- New sewers (sewists? seamers? That’s a debate all its own) and quilters
- People making stuff for fun, friends, and family
- People trying out a new technique
- People learning something for the first time
- People trying to master a skill
- People who have not declared their intention to be an industry professional by word or deed
- People who are professionals in other industries but not considered a professional in this one
- People who stopped caring about how it looks, because the stupid thing has been sitting around and they just want it DONE already
- People who are deliberately and intentionally making “art” for whom certain standards may or may not apply
- People sharing techniques with their friends, guild members, bees, swaps, etc. (See “fun” above)
People I WAS Talking To
- People asking for money for products they sell, be it patterns, quilts, teaching gigs, or supplies
- People who have declared their intent to be an industry professional by word or deed
- People showing wares at Quilt Market or vending at shows
- People teaching sewing and quilting out in the world
- People submitting work for inclusion in publications like books and magazines
- People serving as a stunt quilter or piecer for an industry professional, whether you get paid or not (because your craptastic work is reflecting on the professional when we see them at shows!)
- People taking in advertising dollars from businesses in this industry to support your endeavors as a professional
- People in the industry tasked with marketing or selling things to quilting and sewing consumers
- Editors and publishers of industry publications
- People buying and consuming things that the industry and its professionals put out (so you stop buying crap from people who should know better)
Why This Distinction is Important
Quite a few people said that I was acting like the Quilt Police, and chastised my attitude and words for being totalitarian, exclusionary and something else that was really funny but I choose not to acknowledge because 36 is not old. 🙂 To you, I say you kind of missed the point, but let’s review why having Quilt Police in some areas of our industry are important.
I’m using Quilt Police deliberately, because they get such a bad rep. But think about it… we have Quilt Police in every industry. We have Food Inspector Police, because we expect our restaurants and food manufacturers to keep the bug:real food ratio to a minimum. We have Air Traffic Police, because planes running into each other in the sky is kind of bad.
We have Real Police too, but if the term “Quilt Police” just really gets your goat, just call it “Quality Control” or “Quality Inspection” or “BS Monitor”. The reason the Quilt Police get such bad press is that people tend to use the Quilt Police for the wrong thing. (Like, calling 911 to come open your bottle of beer. While you’re driving.)
I’m going to illustrate by example the kind of thing that I am talking about, using one of my very own quilts.
This is a quilt which I love, am proud of, and would have cried copious tears over at the time if anyone had told me it was crap.
Here’s the front:
Here’s the back:
And here’s a closeup of the binding:
This is my very first quilt. That’s why I am proud of it, because I made it all by myself without reference to any books or guidance on the topic. Although I’ve been sewing since I was a small child, quilting is an entirely different animal, as anyone in the garment industry can attest. It’s not always an easy transition. In garment sewing, you get 5/8″ seam allowances and if it’s a little wonky, on a side seam, whatevs! There’s all kinds of ease going on in garment sewing that quilting does not forgive you for.
I love this quilt and am fiercely attached to it because it is what first launched me on the path that I am on today, and I am very proud to say that I am now a professional quilter. This first quilt hooked me. I knew at the time that it was terrible (no I didn’t, that’s revisionist), but I considered myself super-clever for figuring out the binding all on my own. We’ll get to that in a second.
I chose to tie the quilt using yarn, because a) that’s what I had on hand and b) I thought quilting over the shirts themselves would somehow ruin them. (A) is being resourceful; (B) is just plain lack of knowledge & skill.
If the Quilt Police were involved at this stage, we would have a huge problem:
Quilt Police: You totally did that wrong, your seams are all wonky, you’re not supposed to tie quilts with yarn, and they are too far apart. That’s not the way to do binding. What were you thinking?
What just happened? Well, I’m completely deflated, embarrassed, upset, maybe even angry and defensive. It’s the type of thing that is a HUGE no-no for anyone teaching anything to anybody. It reflects more on you as a person than it does the new quilter. Attacking people is bad. Please do not go pouncing on some unsuspecting blogger because you thought I just deputized you to start being all judgy and superior. Shame on you.
What I’d like to see instead, if the Quilt Police are screaming in your head, is to offer something encouraging and supportive if you’re going to say something at all. If you think the person might be receptive to it, you could offer to teach them a new technique. I would also recommend doing this in a more private setting, and not announce it to the world via a public comment or in a guild meeting during Show and Tell. In other words, if you know someone is new, offer to take them under your wing and serve as a Quilting Mentor instead:
Quilting Mentor: I am so impressed that you put that quilt together by yourself! I don’t think I’ve ever seen yarn used to tie a quilt, but I think it looks cool. I might have to try that one day. Do you think you will tie your next quilt, or will you try some straight line stitching instead?
Do you know what the question at the end does? It opens up a space for dialogue. Of course the first time quilter might not have any idea what you are talking about, but what that does is invite you into their world. If the quilter says they’re going to tie the next one, you can suggest using some perle cotton and tips on spacing for their next attempt. If they ask what straight line stitching is, you can give a short explanation and offer to help them learn.
If someone had said this to me, I might have confessed to my fear of ruining the t-shirts if I tied them directly, or I might tell them how my hands hurt using that giant tapestry needle to pull the yarn through and I’d be thrilled to learn something different.
Calling the Quilt Police on new quilters is like calling the real police on your next door neighbors, just because you didn’t like their tattooed son’s skeevy looks. It never ends well.
Mentor or Police, Choose Wisely
I think we should mentor the folks who are learning, and hold our professionals accountable to and for the standards. And, be your own private Quilt Police for your own work – establish your own standard, and continue moving the bar upward as your skills and ambitions increase. Constantly ask yourself if you are doing your best work, if you are proud to send it out into the world, if you honored your integrity in the producing of it. If it’s crap, you’ll probably know it’s crap without anyone having to tell you so.
My inner quilt policeman is very different from yours (he walks around in quilted boxers and knitted socks, by the way) and he’s going to do and say lots of stuff that I would never dream of saying to or imposing on anyone else. Not while they are learning anyway. 🙂 But once they start selling stuff? I’m going to turn to my inspector guy and ask if this is really something of quality that’s worth my dollar.
That quilt of mine that I showed you? Well today, I would be absolutely mortified if someone asked me to write about that quilt, in any context other than this one, to illustrate first quilt attempts or what not to do, or how beginners start, etc. Context is important. But I wouldn’t send this saggy, sad, craptastic quilt out into the world to represent my craft today. It’s a wonderful quilt because it’s mine, I can call it craptastic if I want to, but I know that my own standards today prevent me from wanting anyone to use this as an example of my skills now. Sometimes I think I’ll redo the quilting and binding (and I’ll probably have to anyway because this thing desperately needs a bath) but it’s so endearing to me now because I can see how much I have grown from it.
So, keep making crappy quilts. I make crappy quilts & projects all the time. It’s how we get better. Make LOTS of crap. Give the crap to your family and friends – most of them won’t call it crap or see it as crap and will love whatever you do. Love your own little crappy projects to death, because they are yours; but try to use them as teaching tools, as jumping-off points, as a marker of where you were when you made them, not where you have to stay.
Just don’t sell crap or submit crap for publication, please. Always do the best work that you are capable of, because integrity matters in life far more than the accolades that the work brings. Make the next thing better than the last. Have enough respect for your own talent and the people buying your work to know what’s worthy of representing you out in the world. What I call my own crap might be different from what someone else calls their crap. If you know you can do better, then DO BETTER. We all judge the work of others whether we mean to or not, but just remember that context matters, where they are in their own process matters, and when it comes to spending your own dollars, you have to decide what crap is worth paying for and which is not.
Now go make some crap, I’ll make some crap too, and maybe we’ll learn something new or finally get good enough that it’s worth someone else’s time and money.