Friday, April 29, 2011

A very chill take on the whole dumbing down thing.

I have yet to see a quilt design done in straight lines that I wouldn't be able to figure out how to do on my lonesome. Come up with it; maybe not, but reproduce?

It's all just math. It's measurements, and angles, and thinking about how all the little bits will fit inside the big bit. To me, it is as easy as breathing (by which I mean 80% of the year I'm fine, and the rest of the time I need some drugs to help me do it) but I get that this isn't the case for everyone. Some people feel the same way about something like cooking or gardening instead and those are two things I really, really can not do.

The thing is, I'm very good at seeing the angles. There was a line in Ocean's 12 where George Clooney is talking about how he went to the bank to discuss normal person things, but couldn't help seeing the angles, where the cameras were pointing, where the entrances and exits were. I'm like that. I like knowing where I can scratch my butt at work without security recording it. I like knowing what one little bit of wire I'd have to bend to open up the security cage at work. And, for the most part, I like being able to see, and work out for myself, the angles in other people's quilts. Usually just as a theoretical exercise, to prove to myself I can do it. And afterwards, sometimes I wonder to myself why people pay money for quilt patterns. In the same way I guess that George Clooney wonders why people have real jobs when they can spend their time hanging with Brad Pitt and Matt Damon and breaking into casinos.

But here's the thing. I think modern quilting is much less about the design. And much more about what you do with it.

Yes, there are now a million bajillion quilts out there that are technically just squares of fabric sewn together. And conceptually, the instructions "get some fabric, cut it into squares, mix'em all up and sew it back together" could result in some hideous, or at the very least, quite dull, quilts. But, usually, it doesn't. There's plenty of really really beautiful quilts out there made just on these instructions. My first quilt was, and like it or not, a lot of you probably first came to this blog after seeing it in the Blogger's Quilt Festival, which, when you have a look back through it, features lots and lots of really really beautiful quilts made with the instructions "get lots of little squares of fabric, and sew them together"

The difference then, is one of personalisation. Modern quilts don't have to be about the precision of the points or the intricacy of the design. They can be more about the quilter, what fabrics they like, what they want to put with what, what they want to point focus to and what they want to use to hold it all together.

All of the strict precision and skill comparison has been relegated to second place behind the expression within the choices of the design. These days, the beauty in a quilt is easier to find. We look at it. We can look at it in itty bitty thumbnail form, a hundred times too small to see that it has points, let alone whether or not they match up, and we can say to ourselves, "That is beautiful. That is a work of art. That makes my eyes happy, and it makes my heart happy" Then we can click on that little thumbnail. We can look at it close up, and appreciate the accuracy of the points, the way the quilting enhances the piecing. But we don't need to - if the point's don't match, or the quilting's a wee bit shoddy, that's no biggie.

We are looking at quilts half a world away, far too far to see the points, even if there's a high definition photo there to click on. It doesn't matter. I'm not going to dislike a quilt once I see some skew-whif points, or a little puckering in the quilting, not if I thought it was gorgeous before I noticed it's faults. My eyes have liked what they have seen, the blogger has told the story to warm my heart (if the story of someone creating something beautiful doesn't warm your metaphorical heart, I don't think you really "get" creating) and I have made up my mind. A quilt, no matter how simple the structure, says something about it's maker. It shows a vision. It is a window into it's creator's mind.

The most truly beautiful thing about modern quilting is that we are saying to ourselves "That is beautiful." We are not saying to ourselves something emotionless like "that is technically very impressive" - we care more about the beauty of creativity, about expressing ourselves in a way that is different, that is unique to us, in spite of any underlying similarities.

The lack of rules behind it means the world will never run out of interesting, evocative versions of the simple squares quilt. What the world needs though, is to stop seeing this as a bad thing. The same blank, commonplace A4 page that could potentially have been used to print boring documents could also have been used by a small child, awakening their creativity with a stick-person drawing of them and their dog. Would you tell them that it is not beautiful? That it indicative or their inexperience, that until they get the hang of something like perspective, they shouldn't be expecting any praise for their work.

A quilt of squares could be a starting point. An easy entrance to the world of quilting. Or, it could be a way to express yourself through your love of colours and fabrics, where the design is less important than how it all comes together. It can be a lot more fun than a carefully thought out piece, it can be a spontaneous celebration of your fabric stash,* that's carefree and influenced by nothing more than what you have and where your mood is taking you. It doesn't need much thought, and it can happen a lot more naturally, change more readily to impulses, than a design where every piece has it's place.

Yes, there is a place for intricately pieced, traditional quilting, and in much the same way that the trends of haute couture show up eventually in the local Kmart or Target (albeit in a much more practical fashion), so too in their way do clever little design bits and bobs from traditional, more complicated quilts find their way into the modern quilter's lexicon.

But I like my jeans and my checked shirts, okay? I like being different while being exactly the same**. It may be safe. It may at times be a wee bit boring. But it's very very me.

*That phrase best sums up how I feel about my first quilt.

** I find it amazing the number of middle class women now who are covered in tattoos and have odd piercings. Sometimes if feels like all I have to do is wait, and eventually they will all be covered in so much indistinguishable ink, that I will be the unique, interesting one because I'm completely bare. It's unrelated, but it's something I think about a fair bit. Similarly, sometimes I think I'm the only normal one and the rest of the world's gone crazy, but I may be wrong about this too. It's probably quite a common misconception.


  1. I agree with you. I look at a modern quilt with my eyes and think "Yep I like that " and I dont see all the points and what not.(assuming it has any of that stuff ) It's always more about the fabric choices for me. I look at traditional quilts and see the technical brilliance but the colour choices are often not all that appealing to me so I feel differently about them.

    I dont have any tattoos or odd piercings either.Wanted to get my nose done years ago before it was all the rage but I was told by the nursing director that I couldn't wear a nose ring to work ....

  2. You and I think a lot alike. I don't buy patterns either, I download a pic, and get out my pencils and graph paper, then start cutting and sewing. I end up with the same quilt or better than the picture it started out with. There are some people like you said though, even with a very very very simple pattern, still need to be helped because they just don't get it. Keep rambling on I enjoy what is inside your brain that you spill into your blog, me I am going into the kitchen to start on dinner for tomorrow, I am not as much as a genius in the kitchen as I am in my quilting studio, but I can follow a recipe and then jazz it up so everyone wants the recipe too. Too bad you didn't live closer I would bring you and Shay some chocolate frosted brownies to die for, or some melt in your mouth carrot cake that is out of this world. Maybe if I ever come to Australia, I can whip some up for the both of you. :D

  3. Since I don't know what a modern quilt is vs a traditional quilt I'm at a disadvantage. However, I agree. when I see a quilt, I either like it or I don't. That's all. My liking is not based on skill, it's on whether it appeals to me.

    My grandmother made me a quilt and it has sat in my closet for 30+ years. She didn't believe quilts were made to be used, they were made to be treasured, I guess. Okay, to be fair, she didn't want her hard work to be taken for granted. I know she's been dead for almost 20 years and I should get it out and use it, but I'm still trying to find that perfect spot. In the meantime it's sitting in a closet not being used or seen or anything; kind of sad. (In my defense, it is twin sized and I don't have a twin bed.)

    That kind of quilt it not what I want to make. I want to make quilts that will be used until they are worn out. Ones that will be enjoyed or even abused.