The dumbing down of quilting, part 2

While many comments were supportive of my original “dumbing down” post, there were enough who felt I was overly harsh that I want to clarify it a bit, without the passion and snarkiness. Please do not be critical of those who disagreed – I am grateful that they took the time to share their point of view.

As I said in the original post, I do love the look of simple quilts and I believe the quilts and quiltmakers should be respected. I’m actually working on a coin quilt right now, as well as the Dear Jane, and a Double Wedding Ring is in the planning stages. I expect over the course of those two more complicated quilts I’ll work on a lot of simpler quilts. Less complex quilts were not the target of my post. I took issue with the idea that very simple quilting techniques are being portrayed as much more challenging than they actually are. This discourages new quilters from trying them.

I believe many, if not most, new quilters are from a younger generation and tend to be attracted to “modern” quilts and quilt bloggers. That’s fantastic – I’m thrilled that more young people are being drawn to quilting, and it’s a lovely aesthetic. Those same people are blogging to share their excitement for their craft. Now we have a huge group of young, new quilters blogging about their quilts. They are proud of their accomplishments, and they have every right to be. But because they’re mostly relatively new to quilting and are often self-taught or “blog taught,” they don’t know a lot of different techniques and they tend to make the same things over and over. Remember that old saw, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?” It’s true. When we see something that we find beautiful, we naturally want to create something similar ourselves.

I would like to see some of these bloggers with a leadership role push themselves to try new things and share their efforts with other new quilters. If popular bloggers were to showcase some new techniques, others would follow. People would realize that half square triangles are not hard, and mastering them could help new quilters open up to a world of possibilities. If these new quilters learned how to make half square triangles, quarter square triangles, and flying geese, they would be able to create more than half of the pieced blocks in the quilting world, if they wanted to.

Now, several people made a point that I think it’s only fair to acknowledge. Sometimes people choose to do simple quilts, and don’t want to do anything more complex. Certainly that is their right, and I respect their decision – and their quilts. My frustration lies in the fact that some people are making simple quilts because that’s all they know how to do, and they’re afraid they can’t learn anything else. When they see a pinwheel block referred to as “a challenge for an intermediate to advanced quilter,” how can you blame them?

Here’s an analogy: Say you make chicken breast, peas and brown rice. It’s pretty good for you, and you’ve practiced to master it. It is the best chicken breast, peas and brown rice ever. It’s a little boring when you eat it every evening, so you try sprinkling some paprika on the chicken breast. Wow! What a change! After a week you realize you’re still making chicken breast, peas and brown rice, and even though the paprika perked it up for a day or two, you’re still bored. Unfortunately, you don’t know how to make anything else, so you’re stuck with it – chicken, peas and brown rice. CP&BR, CP&BR… Boy, that lasagna looks good, but it’s way too difficult. You could never make that. CP&BR. Then one day someone tells you how to make lasagna. Well, that doesn’t sound so hard. You give it a try, and – look out! – it’s pretty good! Sure, you didn’t put enough sauce over the top noodles and they’re a little crunchy around the edges, but you can fix that next time. Your success encourages you to try meatloaf, and then one day you chance a souffle. Maybe you succeed, maybe you don’t, but now you know that it’s okay to try it. And you know what? You can still make chicken, peas and brown rice when it sounds good. (Insert any other creative endeavor if you don’t enjoy cooking!)

I hope that I was more clear in this post – I truly do not believe that anyone should be discouraged from quilting and sharing their accomplishments because they choose to make uncomplicated quilts. They may prefer that aesthetic, and that’s their right. I just don’t want them to shut themselves off from other possibilities because of fear of the unknown.

(Also, I know there are many young quilters who have been quilting since childhood, there are many modern quilters with mad skills, and there are many new quilters who seek out new techniques on their own. Go, ladies (and gentlemen)! My comments here are based on a generalization, and I mean no disrespect to those of you who already experiment with new ideas.)

Please read The dumbing down of quilting, part 3 (final!)

Also, I’d love it if you could take the time to complete a brief survey about quilting. This post has an introduction to the survey as well as a giveaway.

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29 thoughts on “The dumbing down of quilting, part 2

  1. I’m a new quilter, and I’ll soon be 58 years old. And I’m easily intimidated by all of these difficult-looking quilts I see out in bloggy land. I appreciate all of you wonderfully talented artists giving me your thoughts as to why you choose the fabrics you choose (so I can be inside your head), problems you encounter as you’re piecing your quilt (and how you think through your resolution of those problems), various options you consider when considering what the quilt will finally look like (and why you rejected some and decided on the one you chose). I can use all the help I can get! And I get it from you a lot!

  2. I love this discussion. The first post I read made me fear, I too hadn’t pushed myself enough. Then I went back and looked at my quilt “resume” and realized just how far I’ve come. I was able to check off enough items on your survey to really feel justified in calling myself an intermediate. But… it’s never enough. As in any aspect of life, you never stop learning. Quilting is the same. Maybe those who just piece squares are perfecting their 1/4″ seam allowance right now? People grow at different paces – and every person surely has a different amount of time in their life they allot to quilting. I personally am SO happy to see so many Gen X and Y quilters taking up the craft. The torch must be passed – and those that know must teach us!

  3. I am 65, and have only been quilting for about 6 years, although I have pretty good sewing skills to start with. I am fortunate enough to have a great machine/fabric store about 20 miniutes away that offers classes. When I strated out, I took a bunch of classes, even going away to a quilt show for several days and taking some. As a result, I jumped into the making of quilts that were far beyond my experience level, but I did so with the guidance of a teacher and the support of the experienced quilters in the class. As a result, there really isn’t much I wouldn’t try. There is nothing like community to spur you on.

  4. I know what you mean by the dumbing down. There must be a dozen patterns for “squares and rectangles sewn together” quilts. I have seen exactly one of that type of quilts that was special. But she used the quilt as a canvas and took the quilt beyond with beading, embellishments, and threads.

    There are quilts that I’ll never make just because everybody and their sister has made half a dozen of them already.

    Oddly enough, the one quilt I make over and over is a pinwheel baby quilt. I made my own pattern years ago and make it over and over again because it is simple and fast to make and I can actually get them done before the baby gets here. I’ve made 10 so far and even though they’re all the same pattern, no two are exactly alike.

  5. I’m just coming into the ‘dumbing down’ debate. I read your first entry and I’d have to say I agree. And I understand that you did NOT mean it to be unkind or disheartening to anyone, but honestly…it’s the truth! I’ve always been drawn to the more difficult projects. My first ‘want to’ was a Grandmother’s Flower Garden handmade from start to finish. Uh yeah, I’m still working on that one. While the pattern is simple it is a lot of hand work. I made a simple quilt out of random squares and finshed it off by tying it. I have started some others, but haven’t finished anything. And I think this is because the stuff I’m seeing out there is stuff EVERYONE is doing. I did realize that I was not being challenged and so I joined a quilt block party to try out some new squares and techniques. When it came to my block I tried a star. I’d never tried one before but I thought, ‘be brave’. I remember a lot of the women sending out their squares for the month and apologizing for their difficulty in advance. Honestly, they weren’t difficult. I could do it and I’ve only made two quilts and haven’t had any training to speak of. I kept thinking what the heck is out there around the corner that’s going to smack me in the face. Thinking, if this simple block is difficult WOW there’s got to be an engineering nightmare waiting for me out there. Luckily, I’m too dumb to know what I don’t know and that’s saved me from being swallowed up by the teaming quilt masses. I thought it was me who was thinking those quilts were super simple and that I was being a ‘quilt snob’. So, I think it was a brave thing to step out in front of the bus full of teaming quilt masses while those of us who applaud your ability to say something so ‘revolutionary’ pick you up from the street. LOL! Love ya and I’m a firm follower!

  6. I have to applaud you for your courage in posting these two pieces…and I agree with you. I absolutely love what I see on all the fresh “modern” quilting blogs. Its what got me totally drawn in and immersed in quilting (or at least reading about it!). But it does get to be, if not totally boring, a bit same old same old. There are times when I’m amazed at someone posting their new “design” and its just a bunch of squares and/or rectangles. Gorgeous fabrics, yes, but a new design? I don’t think so. Well, I hope there isn’t too much nastiness over all this. I do believe that there is a place for all kinds of quilting, and I pretty much love it all and I am grateful for all the blogs I devour on a daily basis.

  7. And dare I suggest it?? But maybe trying something new could involve not relying on a pattern for measurements…and maybe figuring it out instead. A non-beginner quilter should understand the underlying math for quilt blocks, especially for simple squares & rectangles. And there are a lot of free & simple resources out there to help, if you happen to forget!

  8. I just don’t understand this whole attitude. I’ve been quilting for over 20 years, and tend to make more difficult and challenging quilts because those are the ones that I like, but I’ve never understood why people judge what other people want to make. Who cares? If that person enjoys what they are making, that’s all that matters. And if they share it on a blog and you don’t like it, then don’t read the blog. This attitude is reminiscent of the whole “quilt police” issue. And I seriously doubt that these blogs are stunting the growth of quilters out there. There is a enormous amount of information on how to make challenging quilts in books, magazines, and the internet these days.

    • I agree with you! Make what you want and be happy with it and don’t stifle the opportunities of others. To each their own. Blogs are to help inspire people of all different tastes and skill levels.

  9. I’m with Marci (#8) 100% of the way. I don’t think it is fair or right to judge what other quilters are making. So what if it isn’t “challenging”? We’re supposed to love what we’re doing, period. I’ve been quilting for over 30 years, still haven’t made anything you would consider “challenging” or “artistic”. But my children and grandchildren all the love the quilts I have made them, and I enjoyed making their quilts and putting a bit of my heart into each one. I’m definitely not an artist, nor am I a very technically advanced sewer. But so what. Quilting has gotten me through a divorce and remarriage, teenagers, and deaths in the family. It has been a comfort to me and calmed me when the chips were down. Better than a $150 hour with a psychotherapist any day. I think it’s best to accept every quilter on his/her level and that’s it. And I very much doubt that our great-grandmothers on the prairie judged each other’s quilts based on creativity.I just want to add that I used to belong to a guild that was made up of “art quilters” and I quit that one and now quilt with some “home-y” quilters who I am much more comfortable with.

  10. I agree with you on some points and disagree with you on others. But thank you for bringing up the subject. It’s always tough to put a thought out there and then to sit back and absorb all the flack that results. Been there; done that. As someone who dove into the deep end of the quilting pool head first without knowing how to swim, I enjoy the challenges of learning new techniques. Heck, one of my very first quilts was needleturned applique! But it’s also quite refreshing to just sew a bunch of squares together (or HSTs or pinwheels) to play with a particular color combo that I’ve been interested in trying. I’m in the group that believes any quilt we make is a creative endeavor, and the quilt will be loved by someone. It’s important to keep the industry healthy with our purchases, and to teach the next generation to make something with their hands. I would hate to see quilting fall by the wayside like shorthand and whittling and ….

  11. Interesting discussion on this post and on your previous postings. I love a little firestorm now and again. I’m in concert with #10, Vicky, who likes the idea that we all can make and contribute and create in our own way. I, for one, have loved the addition of the “modern quilters” to the mix as I believe it’s their push which has gotten fabric design on a new and more interesting level (I can remember when the only thing available was Cranston-type prints and all our quilts looked “the same” even then even though we used triangles and smaller shapes). I loved taking your survey and plan to blog about it, as it was good to take stock of my own habits and skills and see where I could grow.

    I’ve done those billion-pieces-in-a-block quilts and I’ve done the quick and easy nine-patch quilts (that block and its variations are still a favorite). I like how the current crop of rectangles/squares show off the fabrics, but I’ll never leave my intricate designs behind (just look at what I’m working on now at http://occasionalpiece.wordpress.com/

    Finally, I just have to say, I loved reading your posts. You made me think this morning. That’s why I keep you in my blog reader. Carry on!

  12. I am a self-taught quilter and live in the boonies so getting one on one help on a challenging pattern is not available to me, nor do I have the finances to take classes in a city two to three hours away from me, and some classes which are offered, are usually on a pattern in one of the latest magazines or of on a latest trend. I have over the years tried recycling a traditional block to make it different and not managing to make it look very much different, but that isn’t working a new design or pattern and with limited knowledge of copyright and design pattens a person could spend untold hours coming up with something they think they designed and discover you saw it somewhere, in a magazine, on the internet, in a text. These hindrances in todays world are quite off putting and can become a very expensive mistake if one is not skilled and qualified and have the financial resources to check it all out before opening it up to the public. I know of a quilter who designed a better, smarter way to cut and piece a specific block which 30 years ago was considered difficult. She never really received anything from that, yet people use it all of the time and the person who designed a ruler got the royalties as well as the accolades. I understand where your heading and agree, but for many, many wonky reasons, the pattern publishers, you know those entities that make money from people’s obsessive hobbies, as well as the fabric designers, the book publishers, the magazine companies and those talented individuals who achieve to make something different are playing the “fame” game. Just you continue ranting, keep nudging, and come up with newer ideas and patterns and I am positive we will follow, but, not everyone is talented, you know what I mean, some of us are followers and some just are not as skilled as many others are. I hope my explanation of what it is I believe I understand from your rant and my explanation of what I see it to be isn’t confusing, cause to me it is as clear as mud. Keep at it girl, your doing just fine!

  13. I’ve been a quilter for 25 yrs and also sewed and created mucho clothing for myself, my girls and home decor goods. I’ve taught beginning and technique quilting classes and it’s been a blast. I have 1 daughter who is loving quilting and making cute things for her apt., while the other couldn’t care less and is more than happy to shop for her decor.
    I think it’s great to see young women excited about quilting and I love the new fabrics and quick patterns. I do find it amusing when so many quilt newbies/bloggers post about their newest “design” when it is nothing more than strips or squares. How many ways can you put squares and strips together. Quite a few, but that doesn’t make a “new design”. Some of these young bloggers are really quite FULL of themselves, but that’s ok … they are helping to fuel the quilting industry today and that’s good for ALL of US.

  14. I didn’t read all the comments on this posting after the first one. I agree with her, the “advanced” quilters should do more tutorials and actually show the failures and how they worked it out. Color selection is always so hard (for me too) and it’s nice to hear how those decisions are made.

    Those that do, should take the time to teach too :0)

    Crispy

  15. Wow. After reading the first post (on March 18th) I have to say that as a beginning quilter, I felt completely intimidated and very, very unwelcome. As a beginning sewer (seamstress?), I struggle with getting even seams and points to line up, but I’m loving the process. I’m hungry for information and I’m enthusiastic about learning new skills and finding ways to express my artistic vision in fabric.

    I love the “modern” quilts I see on the internet – it was was drew me to quilting. I like the use of solids and lots of white space. As I learn more about sewing, I can appreciate the craftsmanship and skill that goes into some “traditional” quilts, and intricate, intricate free motion quilting, but that said, they are not something that I would want in my home, on my bed. They just aren’t to my taste. And that is ok. Art, no matter what the medium, is subjective. As an old friend once said to me, “We can’t all like peppermint. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be enough to go around!”

    And I completely agree with Marci (#8) and Susan (#9).

  16. People quilt for different reasons. Everyone is entitled to a style as well as an opinion (as in your case).

    I for one quilt to have a beautiful serviceable item. I feel inclined to think that most blogging quilters I follow are family people who do the same.

    Moms don’t have the time nor use for masterpieces.

  17. I have been quilting for ten years. I have made blocks with 40 pieces, learned needle-turn applique, and paper piecing. I now find “modern quilting” a more creative outlet for what I want to do at this point in my quilting. I like the way the quilts look in my home. I enjoy designing a quilt that does not have a pattern. The quilt group I belong to has members from 30 to 70 years old. The younger quilters have inspired me to try things I hadn’t thought of before. Someday I may return to “traditional” quilts. In the meantime, I am enjoying trying new colors, fabric and designs. Hooray for variey and new quilting adventures.

  18. Everyone has his/her own reasons for quilting, and if simple (unambitious, you say) quilts make people happy, that’s great.

    If you want new quilters and “modern” quilters to try new, challenging patterns, why not take a different approach, as an experienced quilter, and teach new quilters the skills you value. Befriend the new generation that loves the same craft as you, rather than alienating them.

  19. Sandi, I am really impressed with the debate you have opened up. I have been quilting for some time now and have found the online community to be a great complement to meeting up with quilters in real life. While on line it seems to be a matter of “if you can’t say something nice..don’t say anything” but in real life you get a bit more of the “I don’t like the way the colours are working in that corner but that is some amazing piecing in those blocks”. we also end up in discussion about what we’ve tried but didn;t work rather than just pretending that it didn’t happen at all.

    As far a half square triangles go … they are a fantastically quick design tool and perhaps a good way to start experimenting more with tone and colour values. Roberta Houghton did some amazing stuff with HST and homespun in her 1980’s amish books. Just because it is a little older, doesn’t mean we should be ignoring it. There is often a lot to be gained by using simple piecing tools in a way that pushes our skills in other areas. The merits of looking back cannot be underestimated either.

  20. I am a “non-traditional” quilter and I find this blog post very interesting. Since when did quilting become a craft that has to be done “inside the box” and so stuffy? Why the hostility as well? Geesh…
    There is room for both traditional and non-traditional quilters in the quilting world but I find it so funny how old traditional quilters have to some how defend their turf.
    Try being more artistic and fun with your quilts instead of having to obey the RULES set forth by jaded and old school quilters…
    Try breaking the rules…you may like it! 🙂

  21. I loved reading these posts. I’m a new quilter (by that I mean I’ve got the top pieced on my very first quilt and am getting ready to do the quilting and binding.) For my first quilt I chose a disappearing nine patch pattern and while not all of my points are perfect, I’m still rather proud of it. I’ve been looking at blogs trying to decide which quilt to attempt next and have been a bit discouraged to see beautiful quilts using half-square triangles described as challenging. This has given me the confidence to try some of the “challenging” triangle squares.

  22. Reading your articles was like seeing myself in a mirror. I am a 77 year old gramma who quilts for charities, I knit, sew and quilt for anyone from newborn to extended care patients. Because I have such a supply of fabric to sew up I tend to do the quick and easy ones you speak of. After reading your article, I have decided that I will now try my had at incorporating one or two more complicated blocks with the more easy ones, that way I can expand my horizons and still get a lot of quilts to those in need. Thank you so much, Sue.

  23. I completely agree with Marci – live and let live, people. These young bloggers you seem critical of are welcoming people young and old, and inviting them to try something that might not have been a tradition in their family – hoorah! Let’s encourage hand crafts of all types in this technology-based culture.
    I can only think of the reaction of the established school of art to the impressionists. Monet and Renoir were considered simplistic and amateurish as well. And I am so glad Monet painted water lilies over and over again. : )

  24. I’ve been quilting for about 10 years now and I think I can say I’ve pretty much mastered the ‘easy’ patterns. It took me a while to get to where I am today and I have loved the journey. The first time all the blocks were the same size, yay. First time the binding looked exactly like I wanted, excellent! But still, I have never felt the need to try anything complicated. I just love simple quilts. I love the things I can do with colors using simple shapes. I am still inspired every time and for me, that’s what it’s all about.

    I’m not afraid to try, I just don’t like Dear Jane quilts. Maybe it’s because I’m only 30 and that will change over time, maybe not… My quilts are usually gifts and made to be on a bed and simple shapes are perfect for that. I’m pretty sure I will never make a wall hanging out of fabric, that’s just not something I like.

    I do admire people who do make their quilts into pieces of art, it’s amazing how much time and love goes into it. But when I see it, I am 100% convinced that’s not for me. People are different and for me, being creative is about following your feeling and not about ‘having’ to follow rules.

  25. I like your 2 part series. I’m a new quilter, but I am into the old school quilting, depression and pioneer etc. I’ve read just about every major quilt book pre 1999. I think the focus on simple blocks is mainly because newer quilters are the most likely to buy magazines and quilt books statistically speaking, it is all about money! I personally think the “modern quilt movement” is overrated, and most quilters get into it due to the historical images of quilts engraved in their minds, and the junk that is available in stores at excessive prices drives people to want to “make their own”.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I try to reply to every comment, but sometimes it takes a few days. And sometimes, well... it has been known to drop off the radar. I'm easily distracted by shiny things.

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