Some of you may follow my “technique of the week” and may find that it’s awfully simple. How to get a perfect 1/4″ seam? Really? But the building blocks of great work, even improv and modern quilting, are knowledge of how to make with good technique. I turned professional because, gosh darn it, I have high standards for my work and am always looking to make my things as good as I can make them, from patterns to piecing to quilting. I want to make things that will last for decades, not just a few years, because if I only wanted it to be around for a year or two, I’d save myself the time and the money and just go buy something at Ikea or WalMart.
As someone who considers herself a “modern” quilter, I’m going to say this right now, even though I may lose my eleven readers: striving for and making your best work matters. You’re leaving a legacy in your fabric. What do you want it to say about you? Furthermore, I have no wish to be dismissed out of hand because of guilt by association with others. This is not to say a quick project or simple quilt isn’t “worthy” (I mean, seriously, look at my previous post about my daughter’s quilt!) but I am always working to make it the best I can. Period. I have been wondering for a few years,now, what will modern quilting be when it grows up? Will it be one of those things that matures and gets better with age, or will it be one of those things forever stuck in the teenage years, trying desperately to hold on to the good ole days?
Ebony Love posted on this topic industry-wide over at her blog, and I highly recommend you read it. She writes much more clearly about this than I have.
On the other hand, I will say that one of the things that appeals to so many of the new sewists and quilters (and which perhaps is what encourages them to even *try*), though, is that they feel like they are allowed the freedom to make mistakes, which is important if you’re learning on your own. So many of us, me included, are self-taught and had no family to teach us. Would many of these people be brave enough to try things out if the quilt police told them there was no hope if they didn’t do it right? Not sure that’s the right way to put it. What I’m getting at is if there is so much pressure put on new and self-taught sewists to get it right, would they be likely to try it out? How many of them have you known who didn’t even want to start because they feel intimidated? I wonder where it works out.
Ebony Love says
I agree with you Mandy, about not putting too much pressure on people to get it right the first time, but to encourage people to try, practice, and get better. But if our teachers & professionals can’t rise to a higher level, then how will all the people coming behind the current crop of quilters increase their skills? Like having an 8th grade education does not qualify you to teach 7th grade. We expect more of our professionals in every industry. We can bring more quilters in, and quilting will still be a dying art, if we lose the skills and techniques that make it special.
Anytime I am teaching a class, I’m all about encouragement, cheering people for trying, and letting people know what’s okay to fudge and what should probably be picked out. There’s a learning curve for everything, and people should be given the space they need to experiment, learn, and grow. It’s drawing a distinction between professionals who want to do this as a career and/or expect to earn money; non-professionals who want to grow their skills & care about the end result; and other non-professionals who just want to make quilts and have fun and not worry so much about whether they did it “right”. There’s room for everyone, all are welcome, but if I’m paying good money for something, I expect it to look professional & give me professional results if I have the skill level to achieve it.
Once again, you hit the nail exactly on the head. I am going to be teaching a class on how to take traditional blocks and make them modern, and one of the key takeaways that they get–I hope– is that in order to make *any* quilt well, you have to have strong foundations and know wherefore what you do. It’s like any art form: to be able to know where you can fudge and where you need to rip, where you can improvise and where you should really know your stuff, you have to have the basics down first before you can really start going your own way. I disagree with Thomas’s post that he’d rather have something awesome but poorly done in the end–as makers of things of use, not just “pure” artists, we must think about how our objects last (the age-old question of is it art? or craft?) And yes, teacher’s MUST have a higher standard, and one they can actually accomplish themselves. So much to think about and chew on!
I’m a new quilter, and I’ve been following this “conversation” with so much interest… This is only the second comment I’ve left on a blog, and the first was on Ebony’s post! I just had to say, Yes, Yes, Yes! That is what I need from the people I’m learning from! I need to know why and what is important structurally versus artistically and… Well, and what you said!! So, just thank you for looking out for the new quilter. I’ve been burned too many times already trying to learn from someone who maybe wasn’t ready to teach…
Hi NellyKelly, thanks for leaving a comment and adding to the discussion! I’m glad that there are some things here that can help you out, and I’m happy to help you if you have specifics you’d like to ask; just drop me a line. I think just as you said above, that there’s a time and place for cares-in-the-air sewing, but to be able to appreciate when those times are, it’s important to know what you’re about first! Then you can make educated decisions on what you can reasonably overlook (or sew over) while still enjoying the freedom of doing more controlled work. I think the most foundational techniques are proper rotary cutting, the 1/4″ seam and pressing. If you have those down, then everything else will follow, in time. Welcome to quilting!
Exactly!! There is a time and a place for “get ‘er done” as well as for “striving for perfection”! And I would NEVER tell a beginner that they made crap, because it’s NOT crap when you’re learning! But if you’re going to teach a class, you best be a damn expert on the topic! 😉
enjoyed this post, I don’t ever think any of my quilts will be perfect but I do strive to improve my skills with each quilt. I got comments last year from a local quilt show that I should work on my binding even the quilt that got a blue ribbon. I never considered myself a good hand sewer so always did it by machine. This year I concentrated on slowing down and actually hand sewed some binding and find it relaxing and worth the effort (and I have a welt on my finger to prove it!).
I remember my first quilt, i did heart applique when I didn’t know how to applique and to cover up the “mistakes” I got some iron on flowers and butterflies which were put on randomly. The quilt police would have had a field day with it. I considered not sending it to my niece who was 3 at the time but I did. One day on the phone my Mum told me that my nieces sent the whole morning, counting all the flowers and butterflies on the quilt and just loved them. So what I used to cover up mistakes was what she loved.
I recently saw an Amish quilt exhibit and loved the quilts some 100’s of year old and as I looked on them saw a number of places where seams didn’t match – did I think oh gosh shoddy unprofessional work – no I smiled and said “Ok if at times my seams don’t match it is OK as these quilts are worth $1000’s and are amazing works of art with mismatching seams” We have to stop being so hard on ourselves and aim to do the best we can but always look at a way to improve.
I do agree that a teacher must have a high standard and not just be able to do the technique they teach well but also have teaching skills. I have taken some classes from people who are award wining quilters but with no teaching skills and all I felt afterwards was let down!
I am going to show a picture of my first quilt, soon! I first made it in 2003, I think? I haven’t even quilted it, yet, but perhaps I will get on that and finish it off. I think an interesting thing to think about is where we draw lines for ourselves, and in doing so, where we draw the lines as a community. My fella is a handtool woodworker, and I have been slinging all these links on this topic over his way, and he has just laughed because it’s the exact same thing in the woodworking world. From all of the things I have seen, this topic is true for all the “DIY trend”, of which I consider quilting a part. At the same time, I think that just like our forebears, they made stuff that worked but which was utilitarian and functional (and still sold), and they made stuff which was utilitarian and functional and perfectly made, too (which sold for much more).