Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Raising the Bar - or following fads

November Issue of Quilter's Newsletter Magazine arrive some days ago and I delved into while I was eating dinner. I don't usually read editorial comments which usually just preview articles. But Jan Magee, the editor, says, "A swing toward intricate quilting and elaborate embellishment is raising the bar for those quilt makers who wish to enter contests and win." I totally agree. I have no ambitions to enter contests and win, though I like praise as much as the next person.

I am both bothered and perplexed about this trend in the quilt world which I have been a part of and watching since the 1970s. Even with long arm quilting -- which is mostly done as a paying service by the owners of the machines and usually is not done by the maker of the quilt top -- the making of an especially notable quilt has become a very, very labor intensive creative endeavor. And if one does the quilting, on home machine or by hand plus the embellishment a quilt can account for vsst numbers of hours. It can also be quite expensive. Who are the women with the time and money for this craft? I know quite a few of the well known names are indeed professional quilters who create and teach, sometimes design fabric lines, write books - it is their life. Okay, I understand that and I enjoy watching their work change and develop for many of them are truly artists or certainly highly admirable craftspeople.

But what of the aspiring ones? Where do they find the time? Are most stay-at-home women/wifes/mothers who have the time and the expensive machines and use the expensive fabrics - or dye their own -- and buy the expensive notions? This is a kind of "monied leisure class" [although I understand they're working hard] that is unknown to the majority of American women who must live in two-income families or if not married must work at full time jobs. Can those working women hope to accomplish the kind of quilt Magee means? Maybe if that's all they do in their spare time for a couple of years.

But what about all that quilting and embellishment? I also read Quilting Arts Magazine and I am often aghast at all the stuff it takes to embellish even small "art" quilts. Also I'm also aware of the popularity of many other kinds of crafts, most especially scrap-booking and the renewal of interest in knitting and various kinds of beading. All this creativity is a necessary outlet for women with imagination who otherwise feel trapped in a world of things -- all the junk at malls, all the gadgets, all the prepared foods so that even cooking is not a creative outlet unless one makes a conscious effort to make it so. Isn't all that embellishment and even all the fussy quilting essentially a fad? A make-work way for commerce to sell more stuff? More beads, more special threads, more special fabrics, more notions, more expensive machines? There was a fad of sergers a while ago, now it's felting machines and there are other things at the periphery of my attention. And the expensive long arm quilting machines!!

Aren't we women, as always, treated like by commercial like dupes? "They" think we'll buy every kind of cream to make our skins look young, every kind of diet pill, every new fashion fad, every new kitchen gadget, every new sewing/quilting gadget. Are our quilts more beautiful, truly more creative, more expressive of ourselves because we've added a bunch of beads, because we stipple quilted the thing until it stands alone instead of lying nice and soft and fluffy on our beds to keep us or our children and grandchildren warm?

Frankly, I'm tired of going to quilt shows and looking at unnessarily heavy quilting, looking a beads in the center of every flower, and all sort of stuff bonded on. Let's hear it for self-expression but let's look at who's telling us what's "in", who's influencing our choices. And let's think about what we really LIKE to make and have in our homes.


Helen Conway said...

I agree that certainly in the US shows the criteria for a winning quilt is miles out of my reach. Not in fact because of the cost of the embellishments ( although I agree that we have spawned an industry but am not sure that is a bad thing as it employs so many of us) but because the time it takes is just ridiculous. I have no desire to spend 400 hours plus on one quilt. How would I stifle all my other creative urges whilst I was doing that? The results may well be amazing and yes, the competitive streak in me wants to prove I can do just as well, but the reality is I do not have the concentration. And no prize will replace the satisfaction of say the joyous reception of an African Quilt I made over a few days to give to someone in hospital who has now redesigned her lounge to go with it!

Harvest Moon by Hand said...

As much I admire the beautiful quilts at county and state fairs, I know that is totally out of my reach in terms of skill and financial means. I would LOVE to be able to quilt like that, but I don't. I have two young daughters who I'm teaching how to sew and make very simple quilts. Nothing fancy. All the fabric is material we have on hand or that is given to us. We use what we have to create functional, warm quilts both for our beds as well as for the girls' dolls. They are very proud of what they make. Again, it's nothing fancy...but they did it themselves, they learned to be resourceful, and they are quilts they hope to pass on to their own children someday.

Evelyn said...

The thing I like best about sewing is the idea of "making something from nothing". Sure, sometimes I'll have a plan from the start, and buy all the fabric to match, etc. But the projects I like best are the ones where I can use bits of fabric that I've picked up here or there, or where I can re-purpose fabric (like making grocery bags from old sheets). I come from a long line of frugal crafty women, and I think the force is strong within me! Or maybe it's just the challenge of it that I enjoy...

Kimberly Wulfert, PhD said...

Perhaps when a bar is raised it raises women's consciousness as well and therefore serves a higher purpose. The downside is the girl or woman who sees this as a level or end result that she too must reach and therefore she declines to try quilt making at all, or enter a show at all. We each have to find our level of enjoyment in this craft and with a personal challenge in it when we want it. At quilt shows and in magazines, I like looking at what I will never do more than I like looking at what I have done many times over. Pressure is the antithesis of creativity, so it depends on your point of view. One woman's pressure is another woman's carrot as I see it.