Design Studio with Thomas Knauer…

I know I haven’t posted here in a while again, but the dual time-tunnels of parenting and piecing have been keeping me extra occupied. The extended arctic winter here in upstate New York has begun to make the wee ones a bit stir-crazy, so more time has been spent catching them as they bounce off the walls and less time sitting down to post to the blog.

Of course there has also been a lot going on behind the scenes. I am finalizing the details of my special exhibit at AQS Quilt Week in Syracuse this summer, and I have at last set up my beautiful new HandiQuilter. I’ll finally get it stitching away next week. Oh, and it has a name: Andre the Giant!!!

andre the giant

But, there is one more bit of news, the really big thing I’ve been working on this year…

I am going to have my own TV show on QNNTV. Not a class or a workshop, but a monthly half-hour show. It will be called Design Studio with Thomas Knauer, and will focus on teaching quilt design rather than particular projects of techniques. Hey, here is the official description being circulated…

Design Studio will offer expert and novice quilters a mix of broad ideas and specific projects to build their design vocabularies and foster confidence in designing and making their own quilts. In a casual setting, Artist will provide ideas and lessons, stories and techniques drawn from years as a professor of art and design.

Exciting, eh? I am really, really happy about this. I’ve been wanting to do video, to talk about ideas rather than condense them into short bits of writing, to have more time and space to be expansive and explore possibilities, and this is going to let me do just that. I am especially glad that it isn’t a class or workshop; it won’t try to wrap things up neatly into a discreet package, but will have room to grow, hopefully year after year, adding more pieces to the puzzle and expanding people’s vocabulary for exploring their own ideas, designing and making their own quilts instead of someone else’s design.

So, there is the news. I’ll be filming in August and we expect to launch at Fall Quilt Market. Now I just need to get back into shape…

-t

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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…

smart-binary

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…

Best,
-t

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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.

community

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…

income2

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…

smart2

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…

Best,
-t

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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…

hq

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).

GRR-wk15

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…

-t

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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?

Best,
t

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