Modern Quilt Perspectives (words, words, words)…

thomas-knauer-sews-book-coverWith four days to go before the book is officially for sale I’ve started to notice a trend; there seem to be two kinds of emails I get about the book from people who have seen early copies (yep a few bookstores out there are already selling it). I get one email from the quilters, the consumers, and a different one from industry folks: the quilters tell me how much they have enjoyed reading the book; the industry people tell me it looks beautiful…

I am writing this not to brag that people like the book, but because it illustrates something I see as a disconnect between the emerging quilting market and the existing quilting industry. This new generation of quilters is indeed looking for content; they can see a million pictures on Pinterest and they can get almost any pattern in the world as a free tutorial. What they are looking for the industry is something more than what they can get for free. They want substance; they want everything that happens before, between, and after the stitches. Heck, I am not even sure this emerging audience even wants patterns; they like the challenge of figuring it out. Actually, I think challenge is the word that best sums up the growing quilting audience: they want to be challenge, and I don’t just mean technically.

I have written this a million times before, but I see the rise of quilting today as a response to the homogeneity of mass-produced things. This response is about more than just hand-made things; it is about having things that matter, that speak of one’s life, that reflect and provide meaning. This is a conversation I see growing every day out here in the quilting world, but one that still feels like it is left at the fringes of the industry.

I find those emails telling me my book is beautiful (which it is) very telling. It speaks of looking rather than listening, glancing rather than engaging. It speaks to getting the gist of something rather than plumbing its depths. It assumes a certain sameness of things, necessitating only a brief engagement to find the few possible points of divergence.

What matters in selling a book in this field, or so it is thought, is that it looks good on the shelf, that it must catch the eye, and there may be a certain wisdom to that. Or at least there was. In the days when the crowded shelf was were books were bought, that made sense; the few seconds a possible consumer considered a book had to matter. But in the days of month-long blog tours, which extend word-of-mouth advertising way offline as well, there are so many new paradigms. Yes, marketing may be fast now, but it also allows for incredible depth, actual engagement, which I still believe is what consumers are looking for.

I am heartened that the few consumers who have seen the book appreciate the words, and I am not surprised that the industry in which I operate sees books in a very different way than I do. Heck, several years ago, when I was first thinking about doing a book, I met with an editor who truly opened my eyes. When I said that I wanted to write about 500 words describing each quilt this editor responded, “That’s a lot of words; our audience doesn’t really like to read.”

It still makes me cry that a book person could utter that sentence. Furthermore I think it really illustrates how much of the industry views quilt books; there is very little room for substance. Personally I think this is an outdated view, and I sincerely hope that it is wrong. I am heartened that thus far you all seem to be reading my words; now to see if my wager that that editor was wrong pays off…


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7 Responses to Modern Quilt Perspectives (words, words, words)…

  1. 1
    Pip says:

    I like the pretty pictures but what I really like is reading about the quilt and the maker, what moved them to make the quilt, why certain fabrics were selected and others were not, challenges encountered in making the quilt, the things that my friends and I talk about when we meet up to quilt.

  2. 2
    Heather says:

    Your first comment by Pip totally sums up what I want to read about quilts. Your suggestion that maybe emerging quilters arent’ looking for patterns is spot on for me. Nothing bores me more than a quilt book which is merely a collection of patterns.

  3. 3
    Alyce says:

    The minute I heard you had a book coming out, I wanted it for the words!

    PS – Awesome blog background!

  4. 4
    Sarah says:

    Pretty pictures are wonderful…but like you said, I can get those on Pinterest and Instagram. The lack of substance is exactly why I choose not to purchase most quilting books. However, I think I’ll pre-order this one right now!

  5. 5
    mjb says:

    This echoes my feelings about quilt books. If I just want to see the pictures, I’ll get it from the library. I can get more patterns than I’ll ever sew in a magazine. But what I want to read about is how a designer arrived at their design and how I can incorporate more of those ideas into my own artistic practice.

  6. 6
    wendy says:

    Hi Thomas. I made your blocks. Where do you want them sending?

  7. 7
    Denise in PA says:

    I have a very large library of quilt books (heck, I have a very large library of books period). The reason I buy a quilt book now? It has to have WORDS! I want stories, I want background, I want to hear the author’s thoughts. So, Editor, don’t generalize! Can’t wait to get my hands on your book, Thomas! I believe you are coming to visit my guild (Philly Modern), I’d love to buy it from you in person! o:)

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