The dumbing down of quilting

1. I am not calling “you” dumb. I don’t know you.
2. Nor am I calling your quilts dumb.
3. Please read the second and third posts as well, linked at the bottom. There’s a bit less snark.

Anyone who is easily offended, please stop reading.
Anyone who believes that Sew, Mama, Sew! is the be-all and end-all of fabric crafts, please stop reading.
Anyone who thinks bloggers should always write nice, happy posts, please stop reading.

If you’re tired of seeing the same seven quilts on every blog you visit, keep reading.
If you’re frustrated by lopsided log cabin blocks being called “adventurous,” keep reading.
If you’re able to disagree constructively, hey, welcome! I don’t mind healthy discussion.

So what set me off today? Sew, Mama, Sew’s blog post about sewing trends: What’s New?! I agree with the trends listed, I think they’re spot on. Pinwheels, ruffles, embroidery and cross stitch, gray and yellow, painterly fabrics – yeah, sounds about right. But listen to this:

Quilting Trend: Pinwheels
I’m seeing pinwheels everywhere! I think they’re a nice challenge for the intermediate to advanced quilter.

Seriously? Pinwheels are four half square triangles sewn into a four patch. Any intermediate quilter worth her salt could whip out a dozen pinwheel blocks in a couple of hours. They might be a challenge for a beginner, but – SERIOUSLY?!?!!!

Please, please understand that I love simple quilts. I make a lot of them. There’s nothing wrong with quick, basic quilts. There’s a real satisfaction in knocking out a whole quilt in a few days or a week. They’re beautiful in their simplicity, and easy quilts should be respected (along with their makers). I encourage beginning quilters to try their hand at larger quilts using some of these simple construction techniques. But I also encourage them to then try making something a little more complicated. Something that requires focus, concentration, accuracy.

Quilting has the potential to be a wonderful outlet, a way to engage both sides of our brains. With one side we get to create things with colorful, beautiful fabrics. With the other side we use our mathematical, logical skills to work accurately and accomplish something useful. But we need to exercise these skills, stretch them and push them. We also need to stop stroking the egos of some quilters simply because they make things with pretty fabrics and bright colors (and take awesome photos). If a quilter can’t work with triangles, she’s a beginner, I don’t care how many quilts she’s made. If she can’t sew a consistent quarter inch seam, she’s a beginner. Makes the same quilt seventeen times in a row? Beginner. Makes only wonky blocks because they’re don’t require accuracy? Beginner. (NOTE: If her work is primarily improvisational because she love the freedom and enjoys adapting the technique, that’s a different matter entirely!) I’m not naming names because, well, that’s just mean. But I believe there are some very popular blogging quilters that are doing their readers (and themselves) a disservice by focusing so heavily on the simple stuff. Like everything else in this world, quilting experience isn’t about quantity, it’s about quality. I sew with a number of quilters who soak up new techniques, then think and twist and push them in a different direction. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been quilting – every one is at least an intermediate quilter.

Try something new! If pinwheels and HSTs are new for you, then great! Try them. Master them, then try something else. Learn flying geese. Make a block with more than 20 pieces in it. Try 60 degree angles. Then learn curved piecing. Learn applique (I’m trying!). Try working with smaller blocks. Don’t worry about making a whole quilt. Make a block. Make a sampler. Make something, hate it, stuff it away. That’s fine. Try it! Try one of the hundreds of free patterns available on the web. Check out Karrie from Freckled Whimsy’s patterns – she does a great job of taking a new technique and breaking it down into manageable components. Join a quilt along (Jeanne at Grey Cat Quilts is going to be starting a Double Wedding Ring quilt along in April – try that!). Look around you for patterns, shapes, colors, and make up your own design. Simple or complex, creating a quilt entirely out of your head is a fantastic accomplishment.

Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, because we don’t grow without challenge. And doing the same thing over and over is pretty damn boring.

Please take a moment to read The Dumbing Down of Quilting, Part 2 for a little clarification and a somewhat gentler attitude.

Also, take the time to read Sew, Mama, Sew’s response: Weighing in on the Great Quilting Debate: Three Guiding Principles. I am grateful for their moderate and understanding take on this issue, and their invitation to contribute a guest post on their blog.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I do appreciate those of you who have respectfully disagreed with part or all of what I wrote. To those who have taken the opportunity to use MY blog as a forum for name calling and vitriol, I wonder if you recognize the contradiction in your behavior?