thomas-knauer-sews-meAuthenticity is a fraught word for me, one I have long been reluctant to write about. I have struggled with the concept philosophically and artistically for decades, yet this is the word that has been drumming insistently in my head for the last forty-eight hours.

In my practice here in the fabric/quilting industry I have intentionally blurred the lines between my personal and professional spaces. Part of the reason is because I felt welcomed by the community, and as such I wanted to share not just my work but my life with that community, my joys and my sorrows, the excitement and the anger. I felt comfortable, and let myself be a participant, just another practitioner in quilting tradition. After losing my previous career (and in many ways my previous life) due to catastrophic illness I needed a new home, and the quilting world in so many ways has offered me that.

At the same time I had an intellectual reason for blurring the line between my public and private spheres. My investment in modern quilting is not a matter of style, but of substance; it is predicated on the notion that modern quilting comes not from aesthetic markers but from an active and thoughtful engagement in the complexities of life at this moment. It is my belief that modern work comes from genuine reflection upon one’s place in the world, from the realities on one’s life, not through the mimicry of stylistic tropes. As such I felt it was important that my public practice reflect that idea; to put it in terms of elementary education I wanted to “show my work.” My presence online and in speaking engagements reflects the complexities and seeming dichotomies of my life, which fundamentally reveals where my work comes from. My outrage over social injustices is not incompatible with the silent wonder I feel holding my children in my arms or when simply holding my wife’s hand. Instead this range of experience and expression is exactly where my work comes from.

In opening up the many sides of my being I sought to illustrate what I saw as a model for addressing what modern quilting could be by translating the personal into meaningful work, work that necessarily includes happiness, anger, despair, elation, fear, and revelation. In short I wanted to have a public practice that mattered deeply to me, and in doing so I hoped that practice would touch the lives of others, that it might inspire some to see the depth in their practice and the profound meaning that comes from and through the act of making a quilt.

Unfortunately some events over the past months have left me questioning the value and efficacy of this practice. Between my experiences at the last Quilt Market and the recent kerfuffle surrounding the Give a Fuck bee quilt at QuiltCon I have been struggling to negotiate the intersections of my personal and professional lives, whether I need, for my own sanity, to erect more distinct boundaries between my life and my work. In short, I have become increasingly uncomfortable with my role as both product and producer, as my brilliant friend Zubair puts it.

While a large part of me enjoys the discussions and debates, and I have thought that my approach to the public sphere has actually been a major factor in attracting an audience to my work, I am not sure if I can or want to sustain that blending of public and private—putting my private self out into the public sphere—any longer. While I think my specific audience largely appreciates what I am trying to do, that approach unfortunately upset others.

Thus I am left with a dilemma of how to proceed, where I should go with this accumulation of experiences. To be honest I am profoundly uncertain. I am in no way planning to leave the industry, but over the coming weeks and months I need to re-examine my practice and make sense of my personal and professional relationships to this community and this industry.


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18 Responses to Product/Producer

  1. 1

    I have to say I so appreciate your clarity and insight. I read many blogs… Well skim them. When I see yours I truly read it. I was fortunate to meet you at Sewimg Summit and I did not even know who you were. I owned some of your fabric because I loved the design… And then I realized it was yours. I feel your words and insight give me the feeling of my professors from college… My favorites that invited me into their lives. The type of relationships that still exist. I would hate to see your style change. I think although the controversy causes stress, it is real. Life pisses some people off. I hope it makes you stronger. I will support you either way.

  2. 2
    Robyn says:

    More important than Product or Producer is you, the person. Protect that above all else for you and for your family.

  3. 3

    i’ve struggled with this on some scale as well… i don’t really see a line between me and the things i make, which makes it hard sometimes to decide what is relevant to share or reference. one of the things i adore about your work is that it is so much a part of you, that it means something. hell, even if don’t agree with it i can at least respect work that is thoughtful. i hope you can find a balance that works for you. i’m incredibly grateful that you’re a part of this community; in many ways, you have helped me find my own voice here. xo

  4. 4
    Leanne says:

    Having just really started to “get to know you” here at your blog after loving your quilt at QuiltCon and enjoying your comments about the kerfluffle, Today I read your market post and I can say that I enjoyed the insights you set out there. I believe that you will find the balance that works best for you at this or any other time, and I will enjoy whatever part of that journey and yourself that you decided to share.

  5. 5
    Wendy says:

    Well, I for one hope you continue to allow your voice to be elevated above the crowd because what you have to say is important. That said, I understand the need to keep your personal life out of the public eye. As a blogger myself, I have often struggled with what to reveal and what to hide and it is a personal choice and only one which you can make. Whatever you decide, I hope that you will continue to be a part of the quilting community on line because we need clear voices like yours. We need the thoughtful posts. You are unique, Thomas, and we need that uniqueness. I am sure that some people get upset with what you have to say, but I have a feeling far more people appreciate your thoughts than disparage them. Hang in there.

  6. 6
    Ramona says:

    I went to Yale. I got offered several full merit scholarships to great law schools. I was SO SMART… and then I decided to stay home with my first kid instead of “doing something.” Now I have 3 kids. Sewing and quilting are my creative outlets, and I love to see my kids wearing clothes I made, or snuggled under their quilts, but I have long felt almost embarrassed that I am “just” a mom and a seamstress after all that higher education. Your lecture at Sewing Summit inspired me SO much. I came home feeling validated, feeling that there WAS a way to infuse the things I’m making, humble though they are, with thought and with my beliefs, not just with love. PLEASE find a way to stay involved in the quilting/sewing community. We need your voice SO much.

  7. 7
    Mary ann says:

    I have learned so much about many things from you Thomas. I had often felt that most people didn’t understand why I need to create and how I am searching for my voice in the act of creating. And your very thoughtful posts on the Modern movement and the outspoken political views are just a few of the reasons I am in your class and will enroll every semester regardless of the topic.

  8. 8
    Jemellia H. says:

    I feel that you should continue doing what you do, which is educating us. This is completely selfish. When you write about your experiences (bad and good), we have another perspective to consider, and I find myself thinking “Oh, I never thought about that!” I feel like we agree on so much already, can you imagine what you are teaching to those who are much different? Even if they don’t agree (I know that isn’t your point), you still incite thoughts worth reading. Hopefully you are just working this out aloud, I would like to think that there are more people supporting/wanting more of you than there are making you frustrated, I am putting words in your mouth. Love you, big dummy.

  9. 9
    Penny says:

    I agree strongly with all the above:
    1) Your voice/writing is special, and I very much appreciate your more reflective/analytical/critical presence in the blogosphere.
    2) Protect yourself as you must to maintain sanity and peace.

  10. 10
    Andres says:

    Dude, do what makes you happy. If sharing is not working don’t do it, or take a break. During the stressful work part of the year I unplug because the internet’s negativity isn’t helpful.

  11. 11
    jill says:

    I’m sorry the haters are getting to you. I appreciate how you take things on and push people to wrestle with their own opinions and ideas. That is brave, and it causes controversy – some of which needs to be caused.

    I have really appreciate your posts about your thoughts about art and Modern Quilting and I think I’m going to make “Just make sh*t” my new motto. I hope you can continue writing in this vein at least.

    If you need to go less personal, do it. People disagreeing with your ideas is one thing. People deriding you and your life choices is completely different. I would be sad not to hear all the fun stuff about your life and kids, but I support your need to feel safe.

  12. 12

    You do what you need to personally. You are allowed to – it’s your life! But I do hope that you keep up your essays… I haven’t felt them as being too personal. For lack of a much better word, I love the “smarts” you bring to quilting; the philosophies and theories are so fascinating. You are unique in this, and a much-needed voice in the quilting world!

  13. 13

    No matter what we do
    No matter what we say
    No matter how we say it
    we will be judged in some manner for good or ill.
    Grieve well. I know this may sound odd. This is a loss that needs to be experienced. It’s my belief that as quilters, quilt makers, fabric designers, teachers we must go through this journey. You may be newish to this industry but your experience brings you here sooner than it would most of us.
    I also think that while your life experience may inform and direct who you are as a quilt maker, fabric designer and artist being careful in what you choose to share publicly is essential. I talk about my husband often it is a rare exception that I will speak his name publicly out of respect for his desire for privacy. I CHOOSE to be a quilter/competitor/teacher, he didn’t and doesn’t want that. I can respect that.

    I also think engaging the quilting community is important. How to do it without this kind of backlash? I do not know.

    Thomas you will get through this. You are an amazing designer and another fabric company will pick you up. The quilting community needs your voice. It’s okay to spend some time grieving, reflecting and regrouping.


  14. 14
    Teresa says:

    I echo the sentiments of those before me. Your voice is important to the fabric industry, but not more important than your health and happiness. I’m grateful to have stumbled upon you and your designs with your first collection.

    Your voice and your decisions are very much your own. You stand out in this industry and I, for one, am so glad. Whatever you choose to do, I will support you, Thomas. You have added much to many of our lives.

    Thank you for speaking up and speaking out.

  15. 15
    Tracy says:

    To quote one of my favorite things from the Interwebs “It’s okay to not like thing, but don’t be a dick about it!” I wish more people took that to heart. Unfortunately, I think many people who cannot take that advice are ruining it for the rest of us and causing you way more stress than you need in your life. My advice would normally be “pray about it”, but for you, I will just say meditate on it… think on it… Take some time and enjoy your family. You will figure it out and I hope that you don’t let the detractors snuff out your voice in the quilting community. Fuck ’em if they can’t take it!

  16. 16
    Laurie says:

    Be yourself. Don’t worry about what others say. You are a good person. You bring a freshness to quilting. I like what you write.

  17. 17

    […] art movement. Yeah…blew my mind…another quiltgasm. Recently he wrote a post titled “Product/Producer” that included this wonderful […]

  18. 18
    Cher says:

    I was so impressed at the comment you left at C’s blog about her quilt, I came to check out yours. I had not heard about you but your voice was so compelling, I have spent the last week or more going back to the beginning of your blog and reading every post..each morning I enjoy reading what you have to share. Your point of view is so refreshing and reassuring to me…I have so enjoyed reading what you have so generously shared from the start of your quilting life…so happy to read about an engaged father and husband-a “regular” person becoming a quilter as an adult-the ups and the downs..the complete honesty and authenticity that shine from your words.
    I so regret I had taken a leave of absence from the quilting world at the time you emerged as a designer-as the “modern” quilting movement gained strength..but, I can so relate to having the pressure of nay sayers make you want to take a break from the public world. I support you doing whatever you feel you need to for your own sake and your family-I can not help but feel our world needs more outspoken and thought provoking folks like certainly renewed my spirit with your engaging posts – the joy -the reality of sooo much work being overwhelming-the utter realness of living your life-I will go back to reading from 12/25/2012…and be grateful for what you did share, did post, and stay tuned to see what happens in the present. I hope you hear from many, many people like me who respect you being so honest and real..who love you as you are..and want your life to continue being a productive, joyful, and filled with what you love doing. thank you so much for what you have already given to me.

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