Thanks and a redesign…

Hi all…

Thank you so much for the generous offers of help so far; I have enough people for the income inequality dresdens and will be sending out individual info this coming week. So excited to see this one come together with prints from all over the place. Yay you!!!

And this afternoon I decided the Smart Is Beautiful quilt needed a bit of a redesign; it just wasn’t all that smart. So, I went back to the code well and messed about a bit and eventually tried it in binary and ended up much happier; it is both a better quilt and far geekier, which is almost always a good thing…


So, I’m still hoping for 16 volunteers, but now the applique is gone; simple rectangles and squares; each block is a binary translation of the letters in the quilt (SMART IS BEAUTIFUL) with the binary represented by the white squares (either up/down or left/right). And as I always say, if an idea can’t be done with simple shapes it probably needs to be rethought. I love it when I am right, and when I remember to take my own advice. Still hoping to do this one with solids, though. Sixteen takers out there??? Comment below if you are in and I will get info out once we hit critical mass. Please drop a comment here even if you have already done so on the previous post so I can keep things straight between the two quilts.

As always, thanks…


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A little help, perhaps…

Note: The Smart Is Beautiful quilt has been redesigned and there is a new call for volunteers for that quilt here.

So, with my lovely new HandiQuilter on its way in boxes on trucks and the deadline for my solo exhibit at AQS QuiltWeek in Syracuse already beginning to loom (July seems crazy close right about now), it is time for me to move from thinking and designing into actually making. I have a few tops underway, but there are two that I think are best suited to collective effort.

I’ve coordinated several over the past few years and the results both conceptually and aesthetically have invariably been fabulous. It just seems like certain messages are best suited for coming to fruition with the aid of many hands and voices. The domestic violence quilt (Excess) and the community quilt (Sum of Interrelations) from my book were both collective quilts and I cannot imagine them truly working otherwise.


So, as I start the push to get ready for AQS (and beyond) I have two designs that I think cry out for the community again…

The first is about income inequality; the design transforms pie charts of income distribution in the sixteen largest economies in the G20 into 32-blade dresden plates. I’ve been thinking about this quilt for quite a while and now finally feels like the time. Each plate will be made of of five color groups (blue, purple, red, orange, and green) with yellow for the background; the resulting block will be 21″ square. I will supply the yellow for the background and will send along a couple of paper templates for the blades along with the specific info for the country your dresden will represent. From there you get to play with your stash, though I would like all of the blades to be made with prints and for no print to be used more than once. I love the idea of this one feeling truly scrappy, coming together with fabric from so many different people…


The second one is rather straight forward; it is a quilt for Bee, but also for everyone else. Too often we are caught up with beauty, especially here in the quilting world. Too often aesthetics and style trump substance and thought. Well, this quilt is a reminder and an insistence: Smart is Beautiful. While it is for Bee, a message I hope she always holds close, it is also a bit of a jab at the quilting world, where I and many others have been told that they are too “thinky.” Smart is beautiful and we should never forget it.

So, for this one I will again need sixteen volunteers to make a block. Each block is 20″ x 20″ with 10 2″ strips for the background. The letter is then appliqued on in one of the colors from the strips. I would like this one to be all solids, letting the natural chaoticness of the design do the work rather than adding the excess complications of prints. While there will be some basic color rules to guarantee a good distribution of colors, the specific colors will not be dictated, so if you have a bit of solid in your stash you should be fine…


So, two quilts that I think really call for a collective voice. If you would be interested in lending a hand and a block I would be deeply grateful, and will of course share the love…

Comment below or drop me an email (my addy is on the contact page of my site). Neither of these blocks are too hard; shouldn’t be a problem for a confident beginner, but a bit of experience would certainly help in doing these. I am not a perfectionist, so no need to drive yourself nuts, but consistency is always a plus…

Oh, and one last thing: I’ll need blocks by the end of March so I can assemble and quilt and all that stuff before the AQS exhibit. Ack!!!

Hope to hear from you all and can’t wait to see these quilts happen…


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News, News, News…

I know I have been relatively quiet as of late, but that is because I’ve mostly been writing and designing and thinking and working on things behind the scenes. I’ve wanted to share all the inside skinny, but so often one just can’t do that until all the pieces fall into place, at least all the relevant ones for a particular thing.

Well, this week a couple of pieces fell into place…


First off, I am officially joining the ranks of HandiQuilter Ambassadors. After doing a Residency out at their headquarters in Salt Lake City this past November (and dropping about 1.5 million stitches in various quilts) we have decided that we are a good fit for each other. So, I’ll be rocking some crazy Pro-Stitcher action, starting with my next big project: a series of quilts to auction in support of the YWCA for this year’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month (I may be calling in some piecing favors).


And that rapidly (and unexpectedly) lead to a second bit of awesome. I’ll be doing a Special Exhibit at AQS Quilt Week in Syracuse this summer. The exhibit will be called “The Medium and the Message: The Quilts of Thomas Knauer.” Yep, I auditioned that title this past week for the pop-up show Luke and I did down at Olde City Quilts, and I’ve decided I like it so it stuck…

So, there are a few more big things in the works, but I am happy to be able to announce these right now. I told you this was the year of kicking the proverbial arse…


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The Future of Quilts: A Manifesto of sorts…

Perhaps this is just a by-product of my current state of mind, my current emotional turmoil, but I don’t think so. Or maybe I am just a self-indulgent child searching for excuses, but I’d rather believe otherwise. The truth is I am feeling sadly pessimistic about the quilting world these days. The energy, the excitement that seemed to pervade quilting just a few years ago seems to be waning, dissipating into an over-marketed aether.

If I had five dollars for each time someone in the quilting world told me that I think too much or that a project was too “thinky” to find an audience among quilters I could likely afford to take this next year off, and that is a truth that profoundly saddens me.

A quick glance at the shelves of quilting books reveals an over-abundance of the words “quick,” “easy,” and “simple.” The fabric shelves too often seem to offer collections engineered to free quilters from the apparently dreadful task of actually having to think about what fabrics to put together. The stacks of patterns pile up with detailed instructions for all of those wonderful variations that the quilting populace used to stumble upon in their sewing spaces with minute changes regarded as the stuff of copyright protection.

Quilting today seems far removed from the practice that was for so long based on figuring things out, making do. On one hand it is wonderful that quilting now reaching millions, but I wonder about the hidden costs of it being a multi-billion dollar industry. What do all the gadgets and patterns, collections and instructions really add? In commodifying every aspect of our practices, marketing endless objects to perfect our quilts I worry that the quilts themselves are being turned into commodities rather than the resonant objects they ought to be.

The growth of an industry inevitably gives rise to marketing and sales departments, which take on more and more authority; the psychology of the focus group invariably takes hold. Sales figures take precedence over innovation, leading to a self-replicating cycle, a process that values the mean rather than the outlier. While we perpetually glorify the idea of creative inspiration, we work within an industry that reinforces similarity (every publisher wants to know what books your idea is similar to in evaluating potential salability). Malcolm Gladwell once said of focus groups, “ We are putting people through a process that alienates them from their true needs and that biases them in favor of the unsophisticated.” That sentence weighs heavily upon me when I think about the quilting world.

A creative practice ought to encourage individuality, exploration, and transformation, but I fear we have found ourselves with an industry that offers far too much of the opposite. Rather than an expanse of experimentation it appears more like a sea of homogeneity. Of course there are individuals out there stretching and pushing, moments and instances, sparks of the new, but those moments are rare and are too often reduced down and folded into the machinery of the focus group, translated into the language of the average.

Perhaps this is simply the reality of a creative practice in a consumer world: everything must be fitted into expected and approved structures as understood by the expanding apparatus of commodities. For designers to make a living they must yield to the market’s understanding of the average consumer, a notion that has less of a basis in reality than stereotypes of an audience; the idea of the widest possible appeal trumps the value of the unique. The structures of production, sales, distribution, management, and marketing need to support themselves leaving designers and makers at the edges of the industry that they work within.

To be blunt I am worried about the future of the industry; I doubt that the current structure can continue to support itself, or more immediately continue to attract designers and makers to participate in it. I can only do what I do because my wife is a tenured professor; I have never made enough money doing this to even rent a studio let alone contribute to the family’s finances. But without a continuing influx of quilters and designers willing to work for so very little the entire structure of the industry risks collapse.

As the meta-structures of the industry take on greater roles – sales teams and marketing departments making more of the decisions traditionally made by editors and art directors – I fear for more than the place of the creative professionals. The focus group approach rarely predicts what an audience might or will want; instead it tends to reiterate what it has wanted in the past. It steers an industry to repeat what it has done before even in the face of a radically changing audience and marketplace. Rather than serving new and emerging audiences, this approach tends to alienate just those people that need to be brought into the fold.

Ultimately, I am concerned about how the growth of the quilting industry affects the fabric of the quilting community. When likes and follows are transformed into monetizable necessities (they are frequent considerations in book and fabric deals), when designs become a part of the cycle of intentional obsolescence it fosters a fundamental distrust within the community itself.

Here’s the thing: an industry that encourages experimentation, fosters deep relationships between makers and the things they make, will develop an engaged audience, one that keeps coming back for new ideas and possibilities, an audience that will ultimately be more profitable. Basic math would indicate that makers willing to just try stuff out and make mistakes will inevitably buy more stuff in order to try again.

Of course there are some notable exceptions: Victoria Findlay Wolfe, Jacquie Gerring, and Denyse Schmidt always jump to mind. Their practices seem based upon a wonder notion, “Here’s how I do it, but what are you interested in?” Within an industry that seems driving by the next project, the next finish, and the next must-have product, that simple question somehow seems quilt revolutionary, even as it is so essentially traditional. Can you imagine what it would be like if the entire quilting industry, from the top to the bottom, truly articulated that concern? It brings an enormous smile to my face.

A boy can dream, can’t he?


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The Naked (Awkward) Truth…


So, I really haven’t been posting much, have I?

I keep meaning to, but never can seem to find the time, or more accurately the impetus. To be entirely honest I’ve been really struggling, on all fronts. My body has been as unpredictable as ever, rarely giving me ay real stretches of time without my HKPP showing itself and disrupting our reality. Certainly there are wonderful times, but the threat of physical collapse perpetually looms and without notice. Six years after the first real hints of something being seriously wrong, and four years after we found what we hoped would be an effective management protocol we are still looking for a better solution, better answers and a way to really move forward. But alas, we feel perpetually stymied, with the periods of progress all too short-lived.

As far as the quilt world goes, I still find myself struggling with the same things; it is, as always, a world of hurry up and wait. Opportunities arise, but then sit on the back burner for indefinite periods. Answers are promised, but rarely seem to come; plans are made but then languish, or simply evaporate at the last minute. Perhaps that is the life of a creative practitioner, but at the moment my entire professional practice feels provisional, kind of on hold. And that just leaves gaping holes, unable to really search out new possibilities because time must be held in anticipation of those answers.

At a certain level I think I am still missing the certainty of that academic job. To be honest I still wake up every morning missing it, and somewhat jealous of my wife who is still in that world. I don’t resent it, but it just serves as a reminder of what I no longer have and the provisionality of my current professional life. It feels like most of what I do is wait. There are so many projects in the works, waiting for that final go-ahead: fabric, TV, quilting, and more, but the holding pattern has been going on for so long I have somewhat lost hope.

And all of that just goes to fuel my essential difficulty: at long last we seem to be settling into some degree of normalcy. We have been juggling so many things for so many years: diagnosis and treatment, Bee’s infancy, the decision to have a second child and the struggle to do so using a donor to eliminate the risk of passing on my defective gene, K’s tenure process, and then the move to England. Now what lies ahead, at least for a while, is life, the wonderful banality of it and I am struggling with looking forward.

I have so much to be grateful for, most of all the extraordinary family I have been blessed with, but each day I wake up and wonder just when my body will give out, when it will throw me for that loop and reintroduce its turmoil. When everything was in some degree of flux it was easy to hope, to hold on to the idea that when things finally settle down my HKPP will get better, that things will be easier, but the last six months have shown us that that simply may not be true.

HKPP doesn’t go away. It can’t really be treated; it can only be managed, and imperfectly at best. So now I find myself facing the rest of my life, the decades of that truth, and the knowledge that I will miss so much, will be unable to do so much. More than that I fear that I simply do not have the strength to make it through those days. Of course I have no real choice; there is no way around it, but that simply leaves me feeling so very fragile, a shell of myself. Everything is reduced to a form of calculus, a risk analysis for every choice and a weighing of probabilities, one that ultimately only I can do.

I have an enormous amount of support (that extraordinary family of mine), but I cannot help but feel guilty about the burden it places upon them. And then there is the financial reality of the holding pattern I find myself in; the realities of working in the quilting world is grim, and I can only do this because of my wife’s career. Yes, there has been some recent talk about the way the designers and makers in the quilting world are compensated, but I don’t think we talk enough about the very real impact that has.

Designers here are perpetually doing a similar calculus to that which I perform regarding my body. Is a particular project worth the small compensation relative to the time it will take away from the family: how many missed dinners, playdates, an homework sessions is it worth? Waiting for the next go-ahead leave often large gaps in income, but ending up over-committed results in extraordinary burdens on the family, a family that is often already stretching to support that designers aspirations.

Trust me, this is part of my daily consideration. I worry everyday about things from the current credit card bills to the kids’ college funds; it is all in a holding pattern as I wait for answers. And all of that just fuels my sense of uncertainty, the fundamental provisionality I live in thanks to an invisible but debilitating neuromuscular disorder.

So, I suppose this is my update. I should probably mention the cool stuff, the continued writing and the shows, the classes and the quilts, but so much of that seems minor right now because I feel like I am falling apart, so terribly adrift. I am surrounded by so much love, but feel so very alone in my body.

I’m not sure why I am sharing all of this; I tend to be pretty private, but I feel like what I am feeling somehow resonates with tremors that are vibrating through the quilting world. It is a landscape that offers so much hypothetical opportunity, but rarely offers more than “exposure.” That seems the cornerstone of the industry itself, but exposure never actually pays the bills; exposure leads to more exposure but little more. And this so often leaves designers feeling isolated; they see others seeming to make it, to make it work, so they assume they are somehow failing, or are not good enough, alone in their struggles. Ultimately, that is what I find so troubling about the quilting industry; its rhetoric of empowerment and encouragement is so often just that while the practical realities rarely move beyond sweat-shop wages, and even that is often for the “lucky few.”

Perhaps I am reading too much into things; perhaps my inner turmoil is leading me to misread the tea-leaves of the quilting world, but I don’t think so. There seems to be a lot of discontent among the very community that felt so vibrant just four years ago. I wonder if the industry has just expanded too much, gotten to big to actually be something real. I don’t know, but it just feels too much like, well, me sometimes.

Here’s what I know. I need help and I am finally getting it; the struggle is more than I can manage alone and is more than I can simply place on my family. I’m not sure if my physical illness is leading me into depression, or if this is just an understandable by-product of my physical reality. Regardless, I am at last taking the time (that precious commodity) to try to find a way. Now I just need to find a way forward in the quilting world, if one in fact exists for me…


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Posted in general | 18 Comments