A thought experiment…

Edit: I meant to mention that as with Ebony’s post I don’t mean this with regard to making simply to make or for fun or personal reasons. These questions apply to the industry, though I do hope we all strive for our best work at every level.

I read a blog post that struck a real nerve inside of me this morning. Not in a bad way; in fact it really has led me to do some thinking. The post was by the wonderful Ebony Love, and is titled “The Dumbing Down of the Quilting and Sewing Industry.” At the basic level I agree with just about everything Ebony wrote: craft does indeed matter, the industry encourages trendspotting and getting things out fast, popularity and fads trump just about everything else. I think there are all kinds of endemic problems, but that is a whole other post.

The thing is that Ebony’s post prompted me to consider a thought experiment: what if you were to reread that post but replace every reference to crappy craft with the notion of crappy ideas? Have things been dumbed down conceptually as well as technically.

Along with asking whether we need more and more poorly made stuff because it hits a trend should we be considering whether we need most of this stuff at all. Does it all truly warrant manufacturing? Publishing? Repeating? And I am not excluding myself from these questions; I wonder about it almost every day.

It may well be implicit in what Ebony wrote, but I think there is generally value in making things explicit, but how would you feel about that post?

When it comes right down to it though I will always take the quilt of mediocre construction that is just freakin’ brilliant over the technically flawless variation of a block I have seen a thousand times. I’m not saying craft, form, and idea are mutually exclusive; I just think that they all need to be valued. Right now I think we put a whole lot of weight on form. I agree with Ebony that we need perpetually remember that craft matters, that how we do something is an integral part of what we do. Ultimately, though I think the whole industry needs to spend a little more time considering what ought to be made rather than racing off in search of the next marketable trend.

-t

PS: Hey Ebony. I really did like your post! Yay you!!!

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12 Responses to A thought experiment…

  1. 1

    agreed. plus, this: frankly, popularity in this industry buys you a bit of “it doesn’t matter” … if the right people say your pattern is good, it doesn’t matter that the sizing is off a full two sizes. (for example) … and that “it doesn’t matter” translates to poor craftsmanship or bad ideas (or other things, i’m sure) and maybe we should look at the overall. i mean, i’ll forgive a bit of any of those in exchange for an amazing the rest of it.

  2. 2
    Ivy says:

    I loved that post, read it earlier today. I see where she is going with it. I see her point. As for need? My psyche does kinda need to make, to create. I guess I could get over it if it was all taken away from me–fabric and tools, ability, then desire. I don’t need anything marketed to me, though. I’m good. I have enough inspirational Flickr photos and tutorials to last me several lifetimes. I’ll never *need* to stop creating. Oh and going back to Ebony’s post: it would kill me if they started producing only crappy fabric. I know what good fabric feels like: it feels silky and wonderful 🙂 I wouldn’t want to create crap with crap 😐

  3. 3
    Kaye says:

    I read both this post and Ebony Love’s blog post, and I agree with both of them. I’m sick of every other line of fabric being just like everybody else’s because it’s trendy. I’m tired of being pushed to buy more and more fabric, magazines, or books that appeals to me less and less simply because the quilting industry is marketing the current fad. I do not like seeing the same ten people over and over again in magazines, blogs linking endlessly to the same people in their clique, urging us to go and visit so-and-so and like them on Facebook and stand on your head and recite the alphabet backwards to get an entry into a contest to win whatever the bloggers are currently flogging for each other.
    I love quilting. I want to be a quilter. I want to be inspired by other quilters, encouraged by other quilters, even pushed by other quilters to be my best, but if popular is going to trump exquisite workmanship and ideas, then there’s not much point to any of it.

  4. 4
    Ebony Love says:

    Hi Thomas! *wave*

    Crappy craft, crappy ideas, just crap in general – it’s pervasive, not just in our industry but across many others.

    Thank you so much for clarifying and re-iterating that the point of my post is not to chastise the learners and the trying-hard-doers who are doing this mostly for fun and not for profit and fame. It’s an industry rant, not an invitation to start up the quilt police on every blog whenever we see a wayward stitch. 🙂

    Everyone needs space and freedom to play, to experiment, to try, try again, without being self-conscious about the learning process. We can do that without pawning off everything we produce as though it were mastery and not the little trials we have to do to uncover the stuff that’s really worth someone’s dollar and notice and accolades.

    It’s like the doodles you showed the other day… you put something out there, you tweaked it; you added details and took them away. At the end it may or may not result in something you actually produce in fabric – but you were showing the process, how little changes make huge impacts, what goes into making good design. That’s very different from posting up your first sketch and immediately printing at Spoonflower and calling it finished and great. (Not that your first sketches were “crap” per se, but that they were nowhere near as good as the later ones, and not as good as the ones that will eventually get produced if you choose to do so.)

  5. 5
    ginevra says:

    “but how would you feel about that post?” I would feel you need to be following @umairh on Twitter, he writes a lot about the dumbing down of ideas, and the economic reasons/incentives for it. He’s not a quilter afaik 😉

  6. 6

    “Ultimately, though I think the whole industry needs to spend a little more time considering what ought to be made rather than racing off in search of the next marketable trend.” I couldn’t agree with you more. I was asked to review a book a year or so ago. I read it and made a project from it. I was not impressed. I told the publisher and they asked that I not post my review. It all seems so fast, so trendy, and so much of a popularity contest. I’ve retreated to quietly do my own thing — not terribly marketable or conducive to making a career, but I feel authentic in my art.

  7. 7
    Jamie says:

    Hmm, I might be the only person who thought her post sounds a little bit like the quilt police. It’s exclusionary attitudes that have kept me from attending any kind of sewing group…people who make fun of your non-designer brand sewing machine, unfriendly old biddies who laugh when you don’t know how to insert a zipper. I’ve met them all the first few years I was learning to sew and they are mean people.

    There is room for everyone in the modern quilting movement. That’s why I love, love, love it so much. I realize there is a difference between “different” and crappy, but what makes a hand sewn binding so superior? Why would that commenter scoff at someone who “doesn’t have time to hand sew a binding?” Who cares? If you don’t like a person’s workmanship, don’t buy their stuff.

    That said, I DON’T have time for fiddly complicated quilts, and personally I fin thei aesthetic stuffy and matronly. Almost makes me want to vomit. I like simple clean lines and sparse stippling. That’s what I like and what I’m going to make AND admire.

    I’m no artist or quilt personality, but the beauty of blogs and designers and infinitely multiplying fabric companies is there is room for everyone. Everyone’s opinion of what is superior is just that, opinion. If it wasn’t, art would have a clear delineation of what is art and not have it heatedly debated even in quilt forums.

    All that being said, I do like to think about all of this while I’m quilting. Recently, Thomas, you expressed distaste for all the licensed character fabric coming out. It makes my stomach turn, too. I just saw the “Pigeon” fabric on a website. I thought Nancy Drew was pushing it. And then you know what I did? I made a hungry caterpillar quilt. Yes I did. And all the time a voice in my head said, you shouldn’t be using this fabric. And I justified it to myself that it was the first quilt kit I bought nearly 6 years ago when I learned to sew so I didn’t even know about designer fabric back then. And I told myself, I read Eric Carle’s biography and if you know anything about the hungry caterpillar you’d know how much revision went into the making of that book and that his art is real art. So I told myself it was okay. And it is. My daughter loves it and that’s enough.

    Finally I’d like to say that I think many many quilters who are part if the modern quilting movement learned how to sew as an adult. I’m sorry if our skills aren’t up to par with someone who made her own Barbie clothes and whose mom taught them everything they know. A lot if quilters are entirely self taught from books and the web because there are so many haters out there who only see one way of making something. I realize that Ebony was writing about shoddy workmanship but it seemed to me from all the comments that some style choices are also looked down upon as shoddy workmanship. Some people might like a box in a box block.

    I don’t know much about economics, but the sheer volume of books, conventions, and fabric lines coming out are overwhelming, and just like everything else in life someone’s trying to eek out every penny they can get. I think we’ll see a pendulum shift to more conscious consumption. I do feel like through reading blogs I get to know a designer and genuinely like them. But do they like me or my money I sometimes wonder. Because in reality the blog is just an extension of marketing, one way or another.

    Ps I probably shouldn’t have said old biddies but thsts what they are. I looked up the definition just to make sure it wasn’t super offensive. My husband calls it a “hen party” when my friends and I get together to sew, so I guess I’m a chicken too!

  8. 8
    Jenny Bonynge says:

    Simply put; Different strokes for different folks.

  9. 9
    Joanna says:

    I make crappy quilts. The reason I make crappy quilts is because I’ve only been working on my quilting skills for the past year. Every one of the quilts I’ve made is appreciated and used for what I intended. I love them both for their beauty and the practice they have given me. They are perfectly wonderful crappy quilts, and I’ve given several of them to friends. Ebony was not talking about my quilts in her post.

    Making crappy quilts for your friends and family is fine, where I draw the line is when someone starts to put out crappy products for sale. And there are definitely crappy products out there. I was shocked by the poor quality of several of the quilts in one of the quilting books I bought. The quilts were designed and made by different quilters, and having several high quality quilts right next to the horrendous sewing of the other quilts only highlighted the problem. I was turned off to the designs because I assumed they are too difficult to piece if even the professional quilter cannot make it smooth. If someone wants me to spend my hard earned money on their product, they need to make it a quality product. I’m not going to buy something that I can make better than the person selling it.

    I wonder if some of the reason people are getting away with this is because so many of the quilters in the modern quilting movement are fairly inexperienced. You really only need to be a little bit better than average to be able to sell products, so if the consumers are novices, it doesn’t take much to be better. The problem with this is that all the novices are going to start to improve with time and practice, and will start to demand a higher level of skill and quality as they improve. I think this is where we will see pressure on the industry and some of the trend setters will disappear, and over time, the artists who continue to hone their skill and put out quality products will remain.

    Of course, that assumes that the artists who continue to hone their skill and put out quality products can afford to stay in the industry. If the economics of the industry reward the crap makers at the expense of the quality producers, then all we’ll get is crap. I hope that’s not the case. I would really love the industry to keep advancing and to push my skills even further to keep up.

  10. 10

    […] A thought experiment… by Thomas Knauer (I didn’t even think he knew who I was! Hi Thomas!) […]

  11. 11
    Emily says:

    This is EXACTLY what I drew from Ebony’s post. It’s also I think why I haven’t really been published much – I don’t think it’s necessary to publish a pattern for something so mindlessly easy – it seems like that’s what all the magazines are looking for. That sounds terrible. It is. I am glad that the beginners have access to such things, but I don’t want to write boring patterns.

  12. 12

    It is so refreshing that I am not the only one who thinks the Emperor has no clothes. I thought, at first, it was an age thing, as I am in my fifties. However, there ARE talented young people out there doing great work who care about the details. But in these days of lightning-fast marketing, flash trends and greed, the ones who stand out aren’t always those most deserving.

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