So, after taking some time away from fabric design (hopefully temporary) and just about everything else, I am starting to re-emerge from my hermitage re-engage with the quilting world. And with that I am encountering some of the same things that drove me batty, but this time with a lot more time to think under by proverbial belt.
As I start making plans for Spring Market and the publicity work for my book I keep running into the same questions, almost all of which stem from the basic concern of demonstrating how it serves the hobby of quilting. I keep running into that word: hobby. It seems to be everywhere as the base assumption about what quilting is.
Of course it is a hobby, right? What else would it be??? That is certainly how the quilting industry seems to frame things, perpetually asking what more can we sell to hobbyists, how can we make it easier for them, what new gadgets, cuts, and kits will they need (or can we tell them that they need)??? But here’s the thing; I don’t think of quilting as a hobby; it seems more like a practice in a way similar to how I understand the term practice to be used in Buddhism.
I am interested in the history of quilting, as a social, personal, political, and cultural practice, one that for so many years was tied into the fabric of communities and lives. I am interested in how what we do now relates to that tradition, not just the modern notion of things. And I think there is a vast number of quilters out there that is put off by the hobbyization of the practice of quilting, put off by the cycle of props and gimmicks, the next marketing ploy and push. Furthermore, I don’t think the coming generations of quiltings (if there will be any) are going to engage the tradition as a hobby. They will be looking for something more, a practice that is resonant and profound, not an occasional escape from the world, but a meaningful relationship with the world.
How then do I get this view to fit in with Quilt Market and the industry at large? I am expected to show how my book, and everything else I can do, can sell more stuff, but so much of what I write about, and so much of what I do, is about showing that the stuff just doesn’t matter. And it is not just a matter of idealism; I truly believe that if (yes, IF) quilting is to have a future it will not come as a hobby, through wave after wave of fads, but through showing future quilters what quilts mean and how they can be used to making meaning.
I am teaching a few people to sew over here, part of a Cambridge group. They are just starting to sew and had not planned to start quilting, but then I showed them a few quilts and talked a bit about what quilts mean to me, and have meant historically. The next thing I knew I had a group of new quilters. The transformation didn’t come because of a kit or a collection or anything of the like. It came because they wanted to engage in that tradition, to make something meaningful, something profound, not just another thing to use, or end up in a closet somewhere, but something that will be part of their lives for years to come.
It is in sharing what quilting is and means, in going deep, that quilting will continue, not by capturing the latest trend. Yes, there may be a healthy market out there for kits, gadgets, and things, but with each passing year I think that market shrinks; it is quilting as it has been done since the end of the era of need. But looking forward I see a new profound need, not a need for things or for doing, but a need for a practice, for resonance, to depth and substance.
All of this is what I am trying to teach Bee, taking time to help her find a connectedness not just to the making and the having, but to the larger practice, to find her place within both her actions and a wider world of meaning. Already she is eager to make her first quilt, a gift for Babbit to remind him that his big sister will always love him.
So, I am not sure if there is a place for me in the hobby of quilting; nor am I sure that I want to have a place there. But I have found my home in the practice, in the extraordinary tradition of quilting and the future that I hope it can have.
(Not putting too much pressure on myself, am I???)