A Hot Topic

The (clean) Sewing Room

So, I’ve been reading a lot today and the past few days about some interesting language floating out there in the quilting world. My interest was piqued because I remember thinking a lot about this after reading a number of blog posts after the last professional quilting conference in Texas in the fall. If you haven’t heard the hubbub, there is a lot of talk about “dumbing down” in quilting. There are claims that the online community especially is dumbing down quilting techniques and proclaiming that “simple” blocks are the end-all and be-all of quilting.

I’ll admit, I have mixed feelings. I get tired of seeing the same concept done incessantly. Or I get frustrated when a quilt is only deemed beautiful because it has a scrap of flea market fancy or another out-of print and ridiculously hard-to-find fabric. HOWEVER! I do not begrudge anyone for their choice to make such things. I find it beyond ridiculous to think that every person who participates in a craft/art/hobby would be an innovator. As a person who mainly makes things of my own design, I find it refreshing to follow patterns at times. I love to participate in a quilt along where I get to see many different versions of the same patterns. Other people are the guinea pigs with fabric and color combinations that I have not tried out yet. lol.

I struggle, as many of us do, to maintain the pace that I do given the constant pressures of life in my home with an almost toddler (I’m not calling her a toddler until she literally toddles!). It is difficult to handle the pressure of making things constantly and do them perfectly AND do them in the most difficult way possible. I know that I am taking this topic too personally, but it is something that I already struggle with. So I find it quite off putting to see that anyone (and there are a lot of them) who would dissuade others from enjoying the quilting that they are doing merely because their techniques are not up to someone else’s standards.

I entered the world of quilting fairly young in comparison to many. I was 17 when I did my first quilt. I am completely self-taught and a complete overachiever. I did not start with a small project but immediately made a bed-sized quilt for my dorm room. I am a rule follower and felt quite the rebel when I made that first quilt because I chose to back the quilt with a print rather than muslin which was the industry standard at the time. (isn’t that too funny!?) I was drawn into the online world because I finally found a place for like-minded quilters who not only enjoyed challenging quilting projects but ALSO beautiful fabrics. I still remember the first time that I saw Anna Maria Horner’s Chocolate Lollipop line. It was mind-boggling and sooo needed! (darn me for missing out on FMF though…aren’t I full of contradictions?)

There are any number of reasons that people have offered as the cause of “dumbing down” quilting including precuts, large floral motifs in fabrics, and then the ever insulting “they just don’t know better”. Don’t get me wrong…I’m a total perfectionist. You know that if you have been around here for even a post or two. I pour that into every aspect of my life. And you know what? THAT is exactly why I need do to improvisational quilting sometimes. Sometimes you just need to put some beautiful fabric together and love it. Trust me, I do the difficult math requiring point matching pieces too. But heck, I still love a quilt with squares of beautiful fabric on a white background. Simple can be just as beautiful as complex. It is really about composition and color choice.

And I’m all for “dumbing down” (aka learning a new craft) if it makes more people interested in quilting. I’ve seen people argue that quilting has always been around and popular…but it is just NOT true. Modern fabrics and approachable design make quilting ACCESSIBLE! No one will develop more difficult skills if they do not have the confidence to tackle a simpler project. I never knew a single person “in real life” who was a quilter my age until I joined the Modern Quilt Guild. It has been amazing to share quilting with other people who love it for the reasons that I do. Literally life changing.

Bottom line: there is room for everyone. So buy that fabric and make whatever your heart desires. Maybe everyone will not love it, but it is important that you do and that we all feel confident to share our strengths and weaknesses. Growth comes from that dialog.

42 thoughts on “A Hot Topic”

  1. I was going to make a post on my blog after reading all the vitriol. I decided, though, that the best thing for me was just to keep out of it.

    All I wanted to say was that critique is fine, but nastiness is unwelcome.

    I'm not part of the "everyone is special" camp. I see a lot of things that I think are boring, overdone, or just plain ugly. But I don't post about it on my blog– that's not the point of any of this. The internet is not a juried show; even if it were, the critiques would be far more polite, though equally strict.

    Eventually, though, I'm going to tire of all the snobbery. I think that will be soon.

  2. Very well said. I think there are projects that appeal to everyone. Quilting should be available to anyone at any skill level. I think there are some who are getting bent out of shape by a "label" someone put on a quilt. LET IT GO. Do what you like!!!! And let everyone else do what they like!

  3. Thanks for posting! I think we need to realize too that the internet like tv channels has many channels people may not like, then all they have to do is change it. I think people forget that quilting at one time was an indulgance many could not afford or felt like they were creative enough to do. We should aplaud anyone who tries something no matter how complex. And you know with all the negatviity on tv and in the world I personally like the suppotive and encouraging atmosphere of blogs and flickr. And guess what if I find I blog I dont find appealing, I change the channel.

  4. If there was a "like" button on here, I would click it! Quilting, at least for me, is a hobby, and hobbies should be fun and not stressful. Goodness knows we have bigger fish to fry :).

  5. I agree with Jennifer, nobody needs nasty but having said that there are some things that are VERY over done. For some the pressure of blogging and having something to show could be contruibuting. I, like you, have mixed feelings on this one as it is something that we should be free to enjoy. Maybe a better question is when you are up there in blog world do you have a responsibility to quilting?

  6. I think it is a very interesting debate. I have read the original post a few days ago and have been mulling it over.
    I love to do 'difficult' and 'challenging' techniques but as a mum of 2 young boys I don't have the time, so simpler and smaller projects are usually what I go for. I think we all are so busy, and there are more younger women with children getting into quilting that it is not possible to get into the time consuming challenging areas of quilting. Maybe we need to be realistic about what we can really achieve and what we expect others to achieve.

  7. I have seen this floating around too and I think it's silly, but it doesn't surprise me. While I think constantly learning new techniques is important, you will (probably) never catch me making super elaborate quilts, or wonky quilts for that matter, they're just not my style (you should see my simple, plain house!). This will not stop me from admiring all kinds of work…but you'll still find plenty of charm pack baby quilts on my blog because I'd rather give my friends "dumb" gifts that are made with love than none at all! However, I will admit, I do also get tired of seeing the same "designs" all over, especially from the fabric/pattern designers. But, I also love that quilting can be for everyone (and that you can buy precuts and get a tiny bit of each fabric on a budget, as not everyone can afford multiple yards at $9+!). I hope I can keep learning and growing, and I'd love to just mix and match fabric, but I'm not there yet. I think there are elitists and snobs in every area of life, and if they don't like my simple stuff, that's okay with me.

    P.S. I have a 14-month-old who runs all over…but I also refuse to call him a toddler, time is passing too fast.

  8. Come One, Come All and all are welcome!!!
    If you don't like it don't look, read, listen to it!!!
    The "Bottom Line" is what it's all about so thank you for putting it so well.

  9. I just don't get the dumming down theory…..quilting is to be fun….and it is only fun if you do what strikes your fancy…so whether hard or easy,big or small designs…quilting is quilting and there is beauty in it all….

  10. So would you say Denyse Schmidt is dumbing down quilting too? because most of her design has a very simplistic beauty to it. I am not sure about those who sit and criticize what others do. The fact is that the online groups provide a new breath into a pastime that is dying. I too have only met quilters who are twice my age and have very set ideas on how things are to be done. I have enjoyed my time learning and growing as a quilter. To call myself a quilter confuses me as well. Partly because of this previous generation who have stereotyped that name to an older cranky woman.. makes me want to call myself something else. I agree with everything you have said and I try to keep it positive…

  11. "No one will develop more difficult skills if they do not have the confidence to tackle a simpler project." AMEN sister! As a newbie quilter, I was completely turned off by the traditional rules and fabrics. If it wasn't for the online community breaking everything down for me, introducing me to awesome designers, and, in general, being supportive, I would have trashed my machine in the first month!

  12. I've read this conversation on a few blogs, and personally, I think it's Damn Foolishness. It reminds me of a friend's tale of taking a class from a "famous" quilter who made her re-make "inperfect" blocks in the class. It left her feeling like she wasn't a great quilter. I'm a traditional piecer/appliquer who follows Modern quilt blogs…looking for those inspirations that make me go "wow…cool!". On the other hand, I spend all of 2010 doing hand-work b/c I attended a local quilt show where every quilt appeared to be the same basic Jelly-roll/charm square pattern with machine stippling. Make what you love and love what you make. Challenge yourself, and learn from your mistakes.

  13. Thank you for a well written post! I am constantly telling the ladies learning quilting from me that it's supposed to be fun – rules aren't important – enjoy themselves!! If they like what they are doing, then it's ok! If all their creative juices are squelched in the beginning, they'll never enjoy quilting and will eventually move on to something else. Is a bunch of stupid rules worth the death of the art? There will always be people who want to take the art to its highest levels – but there will also always be people who quilt for enjoyment, and to share their love with others. I salute both!!

  14. Wow! I must have missed some really NASTY blog posts out there in the blogosphere. It's funny, because I believe the absolute OPPOSITE of the negativity. I believe that all the "new" quilters, modern quilt guilds, bloggers and people joining our craft are a good thing. It's made our "community" more vibrant! There's definitely room for everyone 🙂

  15. I wasn't aware of talk like this; at first I was going to ask for a link to an example, but then I though, I probably don't want anything negative to worry about, lol!

    I'm newer to quilting (since October), but I've never felt someone looked down on me because I used certain fabrics or designs. I guess I just made things that I liked and that I wanted to make. I've actually only felt really supported in the blogging community, so I guess that's a really good thing. 🙂

    Whoever these people are, if they don't like something or aren't fans of blogs/quilts/fabrics, I figure they should just get over it and move on. 😛

  16. Thanks for the lovely post on the topic. I'm just sorry to see that there is even anyone being so critical of another quilter to begin with. Live and let live. Do what you love.

  17. So true! If I had to start out trying to do a 'Lone Star' quilt, I would have given up before the first piece of material was cut. Unfortunately, where I live I've been unable to find a local modern quilt group as most of the quilt groups are populated by older women who I feel are judging me because I don't know the 'lingo' or use fuddy duddy fabric (and yes I know this is a judgement of them but you should see the difference between my quilts and my mum's :D)

  18. This was very well written. I have been following this over the course of the last couple of days and all I have to say is: Can't we all just get along?? There are times when I want to do the math and challenge myself out of the box. There are other times, with personal things going on, that I simply MUST sew but do NOT have the energy to go anything more than sewing two squares of fabric together. And both of them have their place. When someone posts a picture of a quilt that someone else thinks is too "simple," I would say, "Maybe that is all they have the energy to go and yay for them for doing it." My best friend died a year ago and I can tell you I spent MONTHS sitting on the couch wishing I even had the energy to walk into my sewing room, which I didn't.

    *stepping off my soapbox now….*

  19. I think if you can wrap up it in and feel the love it took to make it, it doesn't matter what it looks like!

  20. Agreed. Why does quilting in general have to be some kind of competition? I really don't understand why certain people don't approve of a quilt unless it's perfect, show-worthy, and extremely complicated. I'm a mom of three little kids. I don't have the time or energy for that kind of quilting, but I love this hobby. Sure, modern quilting is more simple in general, but that doesn't mean we and our quilts are all dumb.

  21. Ok! I'm supposed to be somewhere like right now and still have to clean the bathroom, and take a shower. I have no idea about this online conversation that is going on. What I gathered from your post and what comments I have read is that there are people out there that re belittling blogland AND certain designers of fabrics? 'dumbing down' is a very negative term. I, for one, was around quilts occasionally growing up in St. Louis. I did not like them. They did nothing for me. My family does not quilt. However, both my grandma's were seamstresses. When I called a High School friend and told her I met my man and was moving to the Middle East and marrying him; she flew in from Florida. I spent the night at her mom's house with 25 quilts rolled all around me. What I realized then and there was that what I did not like in what I had seen growing up was NOT the quilting or blocks but the COLORS! My friend's mom set me up and I made my husband a small wallhanging as a wedding gift. I was hooked. It was horrible! The gift! Anyway, I struggled to learn in Oman, in Abu Dhabi, in Qatar and Saudi. Not until I got back to Oman I took a class with this EXTREMELY tough teacher. She taught us skills to be able to make anything and submit it to a quilt show. I struggle with two small babies. My point is, I welcome the easier patterns and the designs and the fresh new fabrics! Now I have a teen and a pre-teen and I also have the responsibilities that we all have. The internet and blogland has kept me sane and feeds my passion of quilting. Who are these people that are dissing us? hmmm…LOL!???

  22. Clap, clap, clap!!!! Not sure if you saw Malka Dubrawsky's post – who is a FANTASTIC outside-the-box quilter and was disrespected totally! check her out, please, Angela, if you don't know her stuff!

  23. Wow. I just went and googled it all. I'm a little surprised that all this has sprun up from something that sew mama sew posted. I didn't read that much into that post of theirs I guess.

    I agree with both sides. I don't think we're dumbing down I think we're accepting. Although truthfully I am relatively new to this (2 years of quilting w/ about 10 yrs of regular sewing before that)…I think I have less issue with any of this since in my normal way of doing things tend to push the limits and break out of what I know. I have just made my first "in real life" quilting friends recently, and I'm glad the general "modern quilting" blogs/flickr have been there to support me and encourage me so far. I've seen much less dumbing down than I have seen building up and encouraging to try. Heck, I even learned how to sew a zipper (several different ways)! 🙂 I agree though that some people like simpler blocks and they shouldn't be put down for that. My favorite quilt ever is just 9" squares of AMH's Little Folks… amazing! But color has something to do with that.

    I'll stop rambling here now! Thanks for sharing your part!

  24. I must have missed it too! Good for me! hehe… I have seen this talk before though, and I agree with you 100%. There is nothing wrong with simple.

  25. I try and follow the old saying, 'If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all!'
    I tend to comment a lot on flickr and my tastes are very varied. As you say just because something isn't to your taste it does not mean that it's 'dumded down' or wrong, and I don't see any need to be bitchy about it.
    I have to say this kind of thing is why I don't join forums anymore.

  26. I am also blissfully unaware of all the commotion, but I agree with you whole heartedly. And so true that simple can be beautful. Many of the Gees Bend quilts are extrememly simple with points that don't match and lines that are not straight. I have been quilting for about 22 yrs and I must say, for the most part,the fabric, energy, and innovation in quilting now has re-awakened the quilting community. It is wonderful to see young women interested in quilting and it only makes sense that the fresh ideas floating out there hit the right note with them. That is a good thing.

  27. I really wish design had more of a place in this "dumbing down" conversation. If you're talking strictly from a technical/execution standpoint, then I see their point. But quilting as a whole is so much more than that. I think that's what a lot of people are missing. Simple designs can be incredibly beautiful, and as difficult—maybe even MORE difficult—to pull off. It's not just about sewing together squares, it's about combining colors and prints and the size of the squares and the quilting pattern that's used and the binding that frames it all and so on and so on. Making all of those design decisions requires skill too.

  28. hear hear! I've not yet made a quilt but I do intend to. I'll be making it from precuts, probably squares with white sashing! If I thought I had to make some incredible quilt with needleturn applique, I'd never even try. Since when were there rules and can I see a copy of the rule book??

  29. While I agree that quilting has become more and more accessible in recent years and that simpler more beginner projects serve a purpose to that end, I don't believe that every beginner needs to start with a beginner project. When I started quilting almost 20 years ago these beginner resources were not as readily availible. I bought a quilt publication, basic tools and fabric and got started on my first quilt. That quilt and the ones that followed soon after included techniques and methods that many beginning quilters seem nervous to try. My first efforts were far from perfect but love for this hobby (or expensive habit as my husband calls it)and practice and repetition helped build my confidence and improve my skills. Today when I help a friend who wants to learn to quilt I tell them that while it's important to be careful and precise, it's okay when everything isn't perfect all of the time. After all don't we all quilt because it brings us joy? Simple, difficult, precuts or stash, quilt because you love it but don't be afraid to try something new. By the way I love reading your blog, thanks for all the fun inspiration.

  30. I completely agree with what you've said! I have come back to quilting over the past year with the intention of improving and learning. But above all else it's for my personal enjoyment. I don't think I'm dumbing down if I follow a tutorial sometimes or buy some pre-cuts to make a very simple quilt. How I see it is I am practicing the skills I already have and perfecting them. The kind of projects probably deemed as dumbing down are the kinds of project I can finish from start to finish and feel I've achieved something – I've been guilty in the past of starting projects – not happy with something about them and they lie around unfinished. There are few things to match the level of satisfaction you can get from starting, working on and finishing a project. I think it's not for other people to judge whether someone should make something a certain way or not.

  31. I have been a bit MIA, and haven't seen these posts (care to link me to any?), but seriously — who cares if someone does it in a way that's less than you!?! Must be pure and simple jealousy that that person is getting praise for something "less than worthy" (as deemed so by whoever).
    pfft. I don't have time to get upset by that kind of stuff.

    Don't put that person on your quilting TV show if you think it's "dumbed down!"

  32. What a great post – since when did quilting become the be and end all of life, and when did it become okay to judge someone else? I think we left all that back in highschool didn't we ladies?!?!

    Who cares what anyone else thinks i say! I don't quilt so i can be in a mag or get any fame. I quilt because i do and that's the bottom line. It's who i am, and noone should be allowed to judge that.

  33. I seem to do more complicated designs – they intrigue me and give me a sense of accomplishment. I have noticed that simplier patterns seem to be the going thing – I'll stick to what I like

  34. I loved this post and the comments left by people.

    I like making my own patterns based from what I see online. Im not so good a following patterns otherwise.

    My first quilt I learned two years ago (from a pretty traditional quilter) was a sting quilt on a fabric foundation with a white back. Actually both quilts I learned from her were backed in white. When I stopped taking lessons from her and started looking online more I noticed that there is a lot of fun things you can do on a back of a quilt. (I have made a lot that can be used both ways)

    This teacher still tries to lead me to backs that are plain when I go in to get material for backings (if I bring the quilt in)
    For example I brought in a quilt that was 47" and she told me that it would have been better if I had kept it to 44" so I wouldnt have to go to the 60" fabric for backing.
    She looked at me funny when I said- "or I could just piece the back"

    Im also glad I was in a bubble and dont know the difference between the two schools of thought.
    Maybe I will go google it.

    keep up the good work!