Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Been there, quilted that

Because we are all so, so jaded, I have a new t-shirt/mug/tote bag design up in my Cafe Press shop (thanks to the reader who suggested it):

 This should make my husband happy, as he is forever telling me I should design more shirts, as though marginally amusing quilt-related t-shirts are the key to our financial success. That, or he just thinks it's cool. I imagine it would be nice to be the mogul of the first marginally amusing quilt-related t-shirt empire. The Martha of marginally amusing quilt-related t-shirts. Or maybe more like the Donald because I have similarly insane hair and have the same basic body shape. You know, I could tolerate being this fat if I at least had a waistline, but I never did have one even when I was skinny, so it's not going to happen without major surgery. I once interviewed a local plastic surgeon for an article and she was so nuts, I just fell in love with her. She kept going on about how she knew when she had a brief job training as a dental assistant that she had "healing hands" and this all worked it's way down in some mystical journey to nose jobs and tummy tucks, and I was all, "If I ever need to have the fat sucked off my gut, I totally want you to do it." I mean, have you ever noticed that general surgeons are all, like, incapable of relating to other human beings and if you try to crack a joke or, I don't know, express your mortal terror, they just either look at you all blank like, "I do not understand your ways, human," or they say something really condescending to let you know that they are going to gut you like a fish so you best remember who here has the medical degree and who is just a freelance writer with a marginally amusing quilt-related t-shirt business on the side? Aaaand we're on-topic again! Sort of.

Anyhoodle, the new shop section is here: http://www.cafepress.com/bitchystitcher/10041844. Tell your friends. Tell your general surgeon. Ask him if he has "healing hands." But wait until after he's done gutting you like a fish.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Originality, Quilting, and Serbian Penis Hats

Some time ago, a reader suggested this as a topic for a post: how do you know if a pattern you create is original? Apparently, she had been working very hard on a pattern and a technique that she had never seen anywhere else, until finally, several Google searches eventually turned up something similar enough that she felt pretty discouraged about the whole thing.

So now here I am, farting around with fabric and wondering: does the stuff I come up with qualify as a "design," something that I could put my name on and submit to a magazine or possibly sell as apattern? My GenQ editors keep telling me I should design something and submit it to our own publication, because they somehow have gotten the idea that I can design things other than magazine layouts and the occasional t-shirt. And I have to say they are probably right, but what keeps me from moving forward is wondering how you know when you've actually designed something?

This answer should be easy. I have next to me a copy of American Patchwork and Quilting and the cover quilt is called Color Me Crochet, and the suggestion is that the pattern makes the quilt look like crocheted granny squares. What it looks like to me is the Scrappy Trip Around the World that everybody and their dead grandmas were doing just a few months ago. That particular craze was started (possibly) by Pink Castle Fabrics  (at least that's where I saw a lot of the inspiration for it being credited), but they got it from Bonnie Hunter, who posted it as a free tutorial back in 1999. Now, the quilt in the magazine uses a slightly different technique to create the blocks that give you this particular effect, but the result is exactly the same.

American Patchwork & Quilting/April 2013
And a Scrappy Trip Around the World made by Julie of Distant Pickles . See the similarities?

Bonnie notes that this pattern uses the Trip Around the World block, which is as old as, well, really old stuff, but is just scrappy. That's it. She took a traditional block and made it scrappy. So did the author of the AP&Q cover quilt. Did she copy Bonnie? No, I don't think so. I don't think it is such a leap of mental prowess to come up with the idea to make a traditional block scrappy that the only possibility is that one is a copy of the other.

Here is a quilt from the book 101 Fabulous Rotary Cut Quilts that dates from 1900. It uses blocks that are larger than the Scrappy Trip Around the World, and it uses the same fabrics in each block to achieve the effect, but I think you can see the similarity:

How often have you opened a quilt magazine and seen a pattern for something that is basically a traditional block? Or a combination of traditional blocks? How many times have you seen a quilt and thought, "Huh. That looks familiar." For another example from the same magazine, as soon as I saw this quilt:

I thought of this book cover:

Are they exactly the same? No, but similar enough to stir something in my grey matter that made me wonder if it was the same designer. (It's not.)

I don't really have an answer here. Is the magazine owl quilt a copy of the second? Is the magazine "crochet" quilt an "original design"?

Right now, laid out on my ironing board, are 8 blocks that I just "made up" a couple days ago and I LOVE them. I think they look sooooo cool and when they are all done, the resulting quilt might be worthy of being called Joe (for my beloved Joe Manganiello, of course). And believe me, I have Googled the ever-loving shit out of it, and though I have seen some things that come dancing close, I have seen nothing yet that is exactly the same. And yet I still hesitate to call this a "design," to think that it's worthy of attaching my name to and putting out into the world in any other fashion than a hey-look-what-I-made-now post on this here blog. Why is that? Why, when I am so ready to smack down others for being too copyright-happy, am I unwilling to claim a design as my own?

I think part of the reason is the fear that if I take the leap to put my work out there, someone will try to call shenanigans on me. They won't have a leg to stand on, and I know it, but I have seen so many "waaaa - you copied me" hissy fits out there—some of which have resulted in actual threats from actual lawyers—that I hesitate to run the risk of the stress and bother (and possible lawyer fees) that such a hissy fit would cause. Also, I'd have to smack a bitch, and no one wants that.

And part of it is that I am kind of freaky about wanting to produce original work, and this may come from being a writer and editor by trade. When I was an editor, I could spot a plagiarized article a mile away (and since the idiots always plagiarized from the internet, I could prove it while hardly lifting a finger) and got into some pretty heated arguments with my bosses about why we weren't firing the writers' asses and telling them why. (They didn't like to "burn bridges." I figure you should dynamite any damn bridge that leads to a plagiarist.)  I work very hard to make sure the words I put on a page are mine, and I get deeply offended by those who think they can get away with copying and pasting and then take money for it. So, when I sit down to think about a quilt, I tend to think about it like a writer, and try to come at it so that the result is a reflection of my style, my brain, my thoughts alone.

Design, like writing, takes practice. When I first started doing the design for GenQ, I looked through a lot of magazines for inspiration and ideas, because I was new and unsure of what I was doing. Now, five issues in, I don't pay much attention to other publications at all. I now have a way of approaching a layout and creating what I need without having to see how others have done something similar, and this is simply because I've now had enough practice at it.

So, I can only assume that designing quilts would be much the same: that with enough practice, I would begin to produce more original work. But I also think that, in quilting—and particularly when we are talking about straight piecing and not applique—it is just inevitable that certain configurations will show up again and again in independently created designs. It is not inconceivable that two people would think, "How can I make an owl out of just squares and rectangles?" And that they would think of that without having seen it somewhere else. Instead of assuming a design has been somehow copied or misappropriated, I almost think we have to assume it wasn't. (Now if the written instructions are copied — that's easier to tell and be concerned about, and that's where copyright law is actually clearer.) And we have to trust ourselves to enjoy and appreciate the work that comes out of our own heads, even if it turns out that somebody else, somewhere, thought of it first.

Remember that design isn't necessarily creating something that no one has ever seen. When I work on magazine design, it's not like no one has ever seen an article on hidden penis motifs in late-twentieth century Serbian quilts before. But it has never been that article with that title and that particular artwork (a banner of flying penises in traditional Serbian hats) placed in exactly that configuration before. Even if someone, somewhere used the same art (because, let's face it, those little penis hats are everywhere), it's still not the same design. Furniture, houses, clothes—nearly everything that has a visual design element has a basis in something that came before it. Just look at all the flower prints in quilt fabric out there. And dots! How do you design dots? By putting down some circles and coloring them in and having the confidence to say, "Here are my dots, made just the way I wanted them." You could do the same with penis hats, too. For my quilt, I should have the confidence to say, "This is my design," knowing that the work did indeed come from my own little noggin, even if someone else eventually says, "Been there; quilted that."

So, how do you know when your design is original? You might not know. It might not be original by your (or someone else's) standard. But the way you put it out into the world—your fabric choices, your block configuration, your method, and your way of writing about that method (i.e., your instructions)—can be very original and very much your own.

Especially if it includes Serbian penis hats.

Read More: Here are some things about originality in design that I have found interesting:

An Essay on Hedi Slimane and the Saint Laurent Paris Fall 2013 Collection: "If you think about it, we’ve seen it all. Fashion is fickle, yes, but is any of it ever actually new? What’s new to me is a designer choosing—in this digital age where we can work from anywhere—to make his work where and when he’s inspired, regardless if it’s a known fashion hub or not. What’s new to me is a designer brazenly choosing to reference not only his own house’s original designer but another designer, too (whether intentional or not). What’s new to me is a designer choosing to celebrate up and coming artists and musicians that aren’t household names."

Originality in Logo Design: "The less intricacies involved in creating your masterpiece, the more likely it is that someone has already created it."

Petrarch's Apes: Originality, Plagiarism and Copyright Principles within Visual Culture: "The artist or designer judges originality on the basis of aesthetic merit -- that is, the particular quality of the idea expressed in a particular way, so that idea and aesthetic are generally approached as though they are inextricably linked, or symbiotically related."

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Just a Photoshoppin' fool

The bane of my existence as creative director of GenQ is photography, my own as well as everybody else's. And this is mainly due to the fact that I have absolutely no freaking idea what I am doing. I do have a simpleton's understanding of aperture and shutter speed, but I can never seem to make that "knowledge" work together to produce a decent photograph. And in the magazine business, we often have to use photos taken by even less knowledgeable people, and the assumption is that I, in my infinite  wisdom as a graphic artist whose degree came from the University of Looking It Up In A Book One Time When I Had A Free Minute At Lunch, will be able to "fix" it.

So last night, on a lark, I started looking up Photoshop tutorials on Pinterest. Apparently, I had a free minute, even though it wasn't lunch. I take all tutorials, tips, and instructions found on Pinterest with a grain of salt, because basically you are just looking at someone else's Post-It notes: "Remember to maybe look at this sometime! If I have a free minute during lunch!" But, miraculously, I found a couple things that seemed to actually work. And, boy, is improving photographs addicting:

Not that any of these are perfect, mind you. (Except I really love that birdhouse one.) These go quite a bit beyond my usual boost-the-exposure-and-maybe-the-contrast-or-the-vibrance-or-both-depending-on-my-mood-and-how-bad-I-need-to-pee method.

But so far, none of these experiments has worked on photographs of quilts! Embroidery? Oh, hells, yes:

But the quilt shots I've tried to improve so far have been a big bust. So, this is now my Holy Grail: gorgeous, popping quilt shots.

I'm gonna need a bigger lunch.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Prime Directive of Quilting

Last year, I showed you some pictures of the first quilt my mom ever made:

I knew my parents were in the process of cleaning out the closets where I found this, and I asked mom if I could take it. The quilt has never been out of a closet for its entire existence, and I was desperately afraid that it would end up in a storage facility somewhere and then lost. Considering how important quilting has become to me and my sister, and that this comes to us directly from our mother, this quilt is an important piece of family history and I knew my sister would feel the same as me: we want to see it preserved and kept in the family. Mom was reluctant to let it go, being concerned that my sister might want it, since mom had never made a quilt for her and had for me. So I waited until she could talk to Kelly about it. She never did, so when Kelly came by for an afternoon during our visit, I dragged her downstairs and showed her the four quilts that were stored there and asked her what she wanted to do with them. She said she had no room, but wanted, like me, to make sure they were not lost, so she asked me to keep them.

As Kelly and I were looking at Mom's quilt, I noticed this on the back:

D.R.S. are my mother's initials. the "m.l." are the initials of the quilt teacher whose classes started mom on her quilt journey. I have one quilt my mom made me that has a label, but none of the others do. All my sister's quilts that she has made for me and my girls (except one) have labels. I have only labeled the quilts that I have made for others, never my own. But looking at this quilt, I get it now. I get why we should label our quilts.

It is so easy to dismiss our own work as unimportant. I think perhaps my mom did this. To her, this wasn't a masterpiece, but just a sampler produced from a class she took when she was first learning. But for me, this is history. This is memory and legacy and when my mother is gone, things like this will keep her alive for me because it wasn't just a thing she owned but a creation that flowed from her hands. Every single thing we make, we put ourselves into, from the first halting and meandering stitches to the sure-fingered masterpieces. Those who love us, and who will live on after we've gone, will hold these things we've made because they can no longer hold us. And later, someone else who will come along long after and who will never have known us, will know something of who we were. And we have the chance to tell them even more.

When my children talk about me in school, to their friends, they talk about me in terms of my quilts. To them, I am the things I make, and they are me. Quilting and sewing are my essential identity to them, and though I know they will eventually see and appreciate more of me (though not until after college, most likely), for now, this is who I am to them. When I am gone, and they are missing me, holding a quilt that I made just for them when they were little girls will give them a way to touch me once again, and to transport themselves back to a time when love was simple and mama cuddled them in pretty blankets. But their children won't have as close a connection and may not see why they should hang on to this ratty old quilt with all the mistakes. Maybe, if the quilt told them why, they would.

When I was at my parents' house, they wanted me to meet a friend of theirs who had recently lost his wife. She was a quilter, among other things, and they thought she had some unusual things I might like to see. As it turned out, what she had made wasn't anything spectacular or unusual, though it was indeed lovely. But what struck me about my visit was how this man so proudly displayed every single thing his wife had ever made. He had found things tucked away and had them finished and framed. He had a quilt top quilted and hung on the wall, and cross-stitch samplers framed and placed in a tableau with some other items she loved. One cross stitch piece was to be Santa and his reindeer, but she never got to the reindeer. Didn't matter to him - he still had it mounted and framed and put on display. Her stained glass work was all over the house as well, and he was so proud to show it all off and obviously took a great deal of comfort from having it all around him. But I wonder if any of those pieces had her name on them. How many generations will it take before no one knows what they are or where they came from? And how many pieces will be tossed aside when that knowledge is lost for good?

I realize this post has gotten rather serious, and I had other stuff to show you, but this has been on my mind a lot since my trip.

I have a lot of things to do this week, and in the weeks to come, but one thing I need to get started on is making labels for everything I have made. If you are not labeling your quilts, if you think they aren't worth it, I hope you'll reconsider.

I'll go ahead and show you the other things I brought home that were in that closet. This was another quilt my mom made:

I believe this is all hand pieced and quilted as well. When I asked mom about it she said, as though she was telling me a naughty secret, that she "copied" it from the front of a book she saw. Meaning, she didn't actually have a log cabin pattern in front of her—she just figured it out. The hand quilting is all in the ditch on this one, so you have to turn it over to really see it. The binding is just the backing pulled around the front and stitched down, which is not a technique anyone ever seems to admit to using anymore. Why is that? Let's blame Ricky Tims. Just because I like saying "Ricky Tims". RickyTimsRickyTimsRickyTims.

This lovely thing I had never seen before I discovered it in that closet. I have no idea where it was the whole time I was growing up:

In the upper right hand corner, a name is embroidered on the border:

All my mom knows about this is that it was given to her own mother when she was in a nursing home near the end of her life. She believes that Ms. Katt was another resident there who liked to make quilts and happened to give one to her mother. It's hand appliqued and quilted:

It doesn't have a binding, though. On the long sides, the edges are folded under and machine sewed together:

But on the short edges, the backing is brought around the front, in direct defiance of the Ricky Tims Directive:

I love this quilt.

Last is a baby quilt that I can remember seeing around the house when I was little:

The appliqued pieces are all embroidered, using a stem stitch for the details and a blanket stitch around the edges. In many cases, the thread blends in with the material so much you can barely see it, but others show up well:

This was made by a lady in Denver who babysat my brother and sister. They started coming to her shortly after my sister was born, so it is most likely she made this quilt for her. Again, this isn't something to keep because it's a masterpiece, but because it's a personal history piece, a connection to someone my family loved and who loved them.

Okay last one, I promise. I had asked my mom to look out for this as they were cleaning out closets.

My mom wasn't just a quilter, but was into all kinds of needlework, especially needlepoint. This was a sampler she made, and I remember her making it as well as seeing it hanging in our kitchen and other places through the years, until it finally ended up in a closet. It's in my kitchen now. The shop on the far left originally said "Shoes" on the pattern, but Mom changed it to "Smith." Whenever she wasn't looking, I would sneak over and touch all the different textures.

I love all these things so much, I can't even tell you.

Labels, people. Consider it the Megan Dougherty Directive.