Saturday, April 23, 2011

Disrespect, man.

Warning: I'm dissing some fellow bloggers quite hard here. I know we're supposed to be respectful and nice, and coexist Kumbaya style, but you've caught me at a bad time of the month. Nonetheless, you have been warned.

I know this is quite a late entrance to the debate. I know the discussion has been going on for almost a month now, but what the hey. I only read about it today, and I suspect I got more offended than a lot of people. I'm gunna target most of what she said, and be obnoxious and offensive along the way, and I'm doing it for one simple reason. According to this post, I will never be anything more than a beginner because I cant sew a consistent quarter inch seam. Of course I bloody can't - I quilt in metric. In some parts of the world, measurements have moved on. Your way is not the only way. My way is the future*.

I'm talking about the (so called) Dumbing Down of Quilting. Google it. Have a read. There's lots of comments by now, so skim through them too.

Now that you've done that, I'm gunna get mean.

According to some bloggers (one in particular), the existence of modern quilts is creating a generation of quilters with their heads in the sand regarding traditional techniques, leaving them to live a miserable existence bereft of half square triangles, which, because they spend too much time on blogs which are all style and no substance, they think are far too complicated for anyone who can't do anything better than a wonky square in a square (or something like that). Simple modern quilts are the death of skilled craftsmanship, yada yada, we and our precise points and old fashioned quarter inch* seams are up here on our moral high ground while the proletariat are chilling down the hill with their slavish addiction to designer fabrics.

Okay, so maybe that's a bit meaner than I originally planned. I get that that's not what the lady meant, but it's very very easy to hear it that way. And while my love of the centimetre* may cement my place as an eternal beginner, I consider myself to be an expert at unnecessarily rude rebuttals.

The first part of rebutting is to concede a small point, and I'm going to say that I do feel that the obsessions with a particular fabric or designer (Denise Schmidt, Kaffe Fassett, cough cough) that sweep through the modern-quilting blogosphere from time to time can do a lot to curtail originality. That making a quilt using only the fabrics from one range is an easy alternative to having to pick and choose a selection from all the fabrics in all the world. But the thing about a fabric range is, it does go together. It's meant to - all those fabrics compliment one another nicely because they were designed and printed for that very purpose.

But to take it to the extent that she has, decrying modern quilting as a lesser alternative to the traditional variety, and saying that modern quilters are somehow inferior artists because of these foibles, is ridiculous. It's like a meat eater decrying a vegetarian's inability to cook a sausage, like a footballer saying that netball is an inferior game because it's players can't kick the ball... Actually no, what it is, is a soccer player decrying Aussie Rules as easy because the players can use their hands. Because the thing is, it doesn't matter. You are almost comparing oranges and apples. Despite the fact that they are both called football, it's a completely different thing.

Perhaps that's what it is. It's traditional quilters worried that, god forbid, after all that time spent learning how to make two bits of fabric join together in some special way, they're being lumped in with the modern "easy" stuff because the two different styles share a name. Well I'm sorry, but that's ridiculous too, since quilting is actually the process of layering fabric, batting and fabric, and then sewing through all three. Quilting has nothing to do with half square triangles, or blocks, wonky or straight. And it may just be that I'm going to the wrong kinds of blogs (you know, the ones with the pretty photos) but most of the modern quilts I've seen have been quilted by the piecer, while the more traditional quilts seem much more likely to get the professional treatment.

But the thing that made me laugh the most was the suggestion that modern quilting is about making "the same 7 quilts over and over" Well, yes, I've made quite a few of my quilts a second or third time, mainly so I could play with new colours or fabrics, but y'know, I've not yet copied a quilt off of any other blog, or book, or from history. I've never used a pattern I didn't do the maths* for myself. And if anything, aren't traditional quilts just copies of quilts from the last 200 years, made over and over again?

Here's another thing - simplicity is not the same as stupidity. For me, the best part of quilting is finding the most efficient way to get all my pieces from the fabric available. Yes, I posted a pattern for a square in a square quilt. Yes, there's already hundreds of them out there. But the goal of mine when I was coming up with it was to work out the simplest way to fit all the bits I needed into the uncut fabric. A way that uses just 2 yards of fabric to make the top, that can use directional fabrics without issue and has pretty much no waste whatsoever. By considering quilting to be purely a technical exercise, a "how accurate can I get this point" competition, you are missing out on half the fun - the fun of coming up with new and innovative ways to use fabrics that have been bought by thousands of other quilters in a way this is unique to you, the fun of turning a simple design into something that is aesthetically both pleasing and striking.

Modern quilting is more about design than technique, and while more advanced techniques can lead to more complex and potentially interesting designs, complexity does not impart superiority. Nor does simplicity though, it is context which imparts superiority. In the context of your point of view, modern, simpler quilts are getting an undeserved share of adulation. In the context of my point of view, you're acting like a jealous poo head, because the masses have spoken, with their fondness for pretty colours and more efficient methods. Yay for context!

Okay, so calling the opposition a poo head is generally regarded as the end to civilised argument. I think for a minute there I thought I was in a GNW Great Debate - Paul McDermott will probably pop out at any moment and sing a song, and there will be a confetti explosion. Nonetheless, I get that I've taken a post that wasn't meant to cause offence and got really really offended by it.

But when you knock my love of the centimetre, I take it personally.

*The USA is the only major country still using imperial measurements. And while I agree that it can make the math easier, this is only because a .5cm seam (as opposed to the .64cm that is easily stated in imperial as a quarter inch) is cutting it a little too fine to guarantee a secure seam, a problem that could be fixed with better quality fabrics which fray less. As it is, I can calculate fine by adding .75cm to my straight seams and 1cm to anything at a 45° angle, and my points are consistently correct to under 2mm, despite the fact that I press all my seams open. Pretty clever for a dumbed down beginner, no?


  1. I've seen some discussions about this issue, but I didn't spend time to understand what's the problem (I can't speak English well...). Today I've finally spend a 10 minutes to read something about it and I've got a feeling that this doesn't concerns me:)
    I'm a beginner, I'm not patient and I hate being perfect (I don't have time for being perfect) - looks like I'm lucky person:)))
    But for sure I don't understand why people care so much about other's people work - is there a contest for being the best quilter? (or best blogging quilter?)
    I've always thought that we sew, quilt etc. because we love doing this...

  2. I read some of that stuff yesterday, too. We must read some of the same blogs. :) I wasn't inclined to comment or write about it -- it was the same thing that hit me a couple of weeks ago. It made me feel that my work is of less value and how dare I call what I do quilting. I wonder if that was the author's intent -- to show those of us who don't quilt according to her standards that we are not worthy? But my resolve, solution, whatever, was to ignore those people, read the blogs, bloggers I enjoy. Work at my quilting to make it what I want it to be.

    I think it's more like comparing music. Rock and Roll to Classical. Rockabilly to Country .. are the Beatles less musicians than Mozart. or maybe is John Lennon less of an artist than Bob Dylan -- or Elvis Presley.

    The name calling started with the phrase "dumbing down". If it's dumbed down then obviously those doing it are inherently less intelligent.

    I have seen some very intricately pieced quilts, intricately quilted quilts that I am sure are of the highest quality that i think are ugly -- so it's all a matter of taste.

    thanks for posting so eloquently what I wanted to say but never could.

  3. Don't think I will even bother looking up that other site. I find some of the modern stuff a bit simplistic but that is the trend these days, and guess what most of us don't have the time to devote to the complicated stuff.. me included though I like the challenge. Personally when I learnt quilting at a quilt shop they only taught in inches because that is what they did in the US and everything came from the US in those days and I can't go back to cm when it comes to quilting, but I only know the inches up to a certain size say 18" anything bigger than that and I have to work it out in cm again.

    My first quilt class was all done by hand through tafe, then the teacher changed and this women was from the "Guild" and she wouldn't let me use 2 pattern fabrics in a trip around the world quilt because you just don't do that.... I think I finished the quilt and left and decided that I would learn the rules and then break them if I felt like it. Some people just like rules and don't like people that don't follow them. Unless you want to win first prize in the a Guild show, most people do this thing that we do for pleasure not to please the QUILT POLICE and who gave them the badge anyway. For me I follow rules if they make sense otherwise I'll do it my way. As long as your seams are consistent whether they are metric or in inches what does it matter, as long as you can work out the maths (which doesn't seem a problem for you) it shouldn't matter.

  4. I read the dumbing down of quilting post a few weeks ago.

    I think one of her points was that some very "famous" quilting blogs who have legions of followers do the same simple quilts over and over. In fact her OP was a swipe at someone who had just released a book that she considered to not be very innovative. Realistically there is very little innovation left in quilting just interpretation and tinkering with existing ideas.

    While I agree with some of her comments, I took offence at others. Really what does it matter to her if people are happy doing the same quilts in different variations? Many of us have no desire to learn "complex" traditional methods or to do complex quilting. I think there is room for all kinds of quilting and it's about what the maker finds visually and aesthetically pleasing. Isnt quilting about creating? Who is to say what's dumbing down quilting and what isnt? The assertion that HST's or pinwheels aren't advanced techniques surely depends on the skill level of the quilter? If you're a beginner pinwheels ARE advanced.

    I must say I got peeved with the superior attitude of the posts. I'll keep doing what I've been doing regardelss of the idea that I'm contributing to the dumbing down of quilting mainly because what I do makes me happy and I wont feel bad about it because of someone else's opinion!

    Great post Sara.