Thursday, May 5, 2011

Hospice quilts and the great quilt debate

I had occasion to spend time in Houston Hospice lately.  I may write more on that again.  It's a lovely place, and the walls are all hung with the most beautiful handmade quilts.  This one was my favorite:

I took pictures in case I want to copy this quilt pattern, or at least the blocks.  It's all hand-pieced and hand-quilted.  The work on this one was very good; the piecing and quilting on several of the others was, I was excited to see, worse than my relatively novice skills.  Then again, their piecing was done by hand as well, not just the quilting.  But even rough and uneven hand quilting is good enough to put on display, it seems!

I also got a picture of the name of the quilt; when they knew it, the signs also listed the person who made it.

I was thinking about this again with the great quilt debate (I'm a bit late to the game, as I run about a month behind in my Google Reader).  My one gripe with "quilters" is that so many are actually "piecers," and do no quilting at all - they have someone else do the quilting for them.  That's fine, but if you don't quilt, you're not a quilter - seems pretty straightforward.  You may be exceptionally skilled at patchwork, and I'll admire your productions greatly, but if quilting books would give credit separately to the piecer and the quilter in the photo credits, it's not all the work of the piecer!  (Not getting silly here - I know you likely didn't grow and pluck and spin and weave and dye the cotton.  That's simple.  But if you'd say - as my sloppy self has had to - "I made you this birthday cake, and my mother frosted it," then it's dishonest to take all the credit when someone else did half the work!)  I'm a sucker for kits of any kind (cooking, painting, luggage (well it's sets there), etc.), and the quilt I made for my grandparents, a few posts down, I'll happily acknowledge is from a kit.  If I make you a cake from a mix, I understand that that's different from making it from scratch (and probably better, in my case), and also different from store bought.  I don't think something counts as "handmade" when you just programmed a computer (even your own) to quilt it either, although I am absolutely fine with machine quilting, so I suppose it's a gradient there.

My other point - as I've been a bit bemused to find people saying they want to join the debate while they are proud not to have read the original post (a bit like the Amazon "reviews" that start "I'm not going to read this book, and here's what I think of it):

The original "dumbing down of quilting" post - pretty clearly in the post itself and then very explicitly in the follow-ups for the people who missed the point - didn't say people shouldn't make simple quilts.  (It did seem to say that the writer is tired of seeing everyone make absolutely the same quilt, but that the writer understands the impulse, etc.)  It did say that it's dishonest to try to effectively trick novice quilters into paying money for traditional patterns long available for free, and it did say that it's wrong to scare off novice quilters by labeling basic concepts like half square triangles as "advanced," to basically tell novice quilters that it's useless for them to aspire to make anything more complicated than a very simple sew-two-charm-packs-together-and-hope-your-corners-line-up (and if not then call it wonky and act like you meant to do that) quilt.  (And to combine the both: sell a pattern for sewing two charm packs together into a baby quilt!)

I disagree a bit with some of the points.  (I wholeheartedly agree that sewing sites, even those trying to be accessible to novice sewers, shouldn't use words like "advanced" and "challenging" to scare people off of quilts like the one pictured above, which really is entirely squares and half-square triangles and totally manageable for me, even if I'm sloppy about seams and my points will be off a bit.) 

On sales of simple and traditional quilt patterns: some people don't have an easy set-up where they can use the computer next to the sewing machine, and would rather have something on paper; some people aren't reliable with numbers and find it worth a few dollars to have someone do the math for them.  (There's a deceptive copyright issue there, in that pattern sellers often claim they own copyright not just over the words of the pattern but also over the finished product, but they don't - instructions aren't copyrightable (except as literature), and useful goods (functional bags, clothes, quilts) aren't copyrightable.  That's why it's absolutely fine and legal to have knock-offs of clothing designs from the Oscars.  Just don't copy the logo, pretend to be that designer, or copy a literal fabric design (2-D fabric is copyrightable; what you do with it is not).  So claimed copyrights aren't a reason to be wary of buying simple quilt patterns.  They claim it either out of ignorance - they think it's copyrightable - or (in the case of the big pattern companies like Simplicity) with full knowledge, but just in the hopes you don't know better.  OK, taking off copyright law hat now.) 

If you are worried not that people would actually prefer to pay when they know they can do it themselves, but that people who don't know there's free patterns are being suckered: When it's somewhere you can put a review, there's absolutely nothing at all keeping you from posting a review saying, "nice design, also available for free at...."  Just sayin', is all.  But people will still do it, even when they're next to each other - people buy patterns off Ravelry when there's an identical pattern for free.  Sometimes (I've done it) it's simply to support someone whose pattern presentation you like.  I don't know about everyone's motivation; who knows, it might be for tax purposes, if they want to buy a pattern to write off as necessary expenses for their sewing business. 

And it doesn't bother me that people make the same simple quilts - the original poster disliked it mainly because it seemed to her like they did them because they had been made to feel they couldn't do anything more involved.  I think they may just like them, as many of the commenters have pointed out.  I love the quilt I posted above, and it's not overly challenging (must watch seams!), but it would be something that would take me ages to do.  I have one quilt that's still in my head that's bed sized, for me, and that will take me ages to do.  I get short notice that someone's having a baby, and I can't take a year to make the quilt.  Or it's someone, like the perfect sister-in-law, who's very modern and wouldn't like the fancier type.  (I've made an "awesome baby quilt" from Jamie Mueller from Moda Bake Shop for her - photos in the next post, if I get my act together.  See? same quilt everyone else has made, but it fits what's needed.  And even there I measured one square wrong and it won't line up with the rest.)  Or it's someone who's asked that I include certain fabrics, which need to be in very large pieces, so a large-piece quilt is what's desired (same for fabric designers, who want to show off their new lines, and tiny pieces won't do it!).  Or it's a passing acquaintance, and I have no idea what they like, and no need to spend hours on something for them, so I give them a self-binding flannel receiving blanket, technically a quilt (as it's quilted), and those are always a hit.  So there's a time and place for all kinds. For me, even paying attention enough to realize when I've sewn a five-foot seam with no bobbin thread is a challenge, so it's all a challenge to me, for what it's worth!

But really there's no cause either to say, as many have, "oh, she's evil, she's saying it's bad to make simple quilts, and everything must be a very involved and intricate pattern with pieced curves and all that," when that's not at all what was said, or to say, as others have, "oh, traditional quilters need to get over themselves and realize they're done, nobody wants that, and that my way is actually the only right way, because the future lies in showing off fabric and not bothering about technique, and only a stick-in-the-mud would look down on wonky style or big squares."  The whole point is: don't be deceptive, don't seek to profit off of others' lack of knowledge, and don't be afraid to challenge yourself. 

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