Thursday, July 19, 2018

Absentia

Surprise! Also this month I'm going back through my archives and finding a few lost pieces that never made it on the blog. This was inspired by an actual person I stood behind in line at Joann's, and how I went home and thought a lot about what I should have done. (I didn't actually text anyone; I just didn't help.) I never put it up here because it felt preachy, but I've been thinking a lot about compassion lately, and I figure we could all use a bit of it right now, even from a quilt blogger who is usually just being a smartass. 




HEY THERE.

What the—?!

DID I SCARE YOU?

Who is— What is— What the hell is going on?

DON'T BE AFRAID. I DON'T BITE.

(putting hands over ears) What is happening?

OH, HEY, SORRY. IS THIS TOO LOUD?

Yes!

OK. IS THIS BETTER?

What? No!

HOW ABOUT NOW?

No!

NOW?

Why are you doing this? It's exactly the same each ti—

HA HA JK I'M ALWAYS ON ELEVEN

Please tell me what's going on.

WE NEED TO TALK.

About what? And I don't even know who I'm talking to.

ABOUT YOU. AND YOU CAN CALL ME BERTRAM.

Bertram???

YOU DON'T LIKE THAT? WOULD YOU PREFER A MORE FEMALE NAME? HOW ABOUT ABSENTIA?

That's not even a real name.

WELL IT SHOULD BE.

But...that doesn't even answer my—

I MEAN, I THINK IT KINDA SUITS ME.

That's it. I've gone nuts. This is how people go nuts, right? They start hearing voices, and then they start listening to the voices, and then they get carted away.

I PROMISE YOU'LL LIKE IT IF YOU STOP FIGHTING IT

What the—

THAT CAME OUT WRONG.

Who the ever-loving hell are you????

LET'S JUST SAY: AN INTERESTED PARTY.

An interested party? Interested in what?

YOU.

What about me?

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THAT TRIP YOU TOOK TO JOANN'S YESTERDAY.

Joann's? The hell? Yep, I've lost it.

YES, JOANN'S. DO YOU REMEMBER?

Well, yeah.

REMEMBER THE WOMAN IN FRONT OF YOU IN LINE AT THE CUTTING COUNTER?

Her? Uh, yeah. So?

WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT HER?

Oh, okay, well—get this: she has like 6 bolts up on the counter, right? And the guy doing the cutting is all, "How much do you want?" And she's like, "Well, how much do I need?" And he goes, "For what?" And she goes, "A quilt." And he's like, "Well it depends on the pattern," and she's like, "I don't have a pattern; it's all squares." And he goes, "What size are the squares?" And she just starts gesturing in the air with both hands like, I don't know—this big? OMG, we were there forever waiting for her to figure this shit out.

UH HUH. AND WHAT DID YOU DO WHILE THIS WAS GOING ON?

Stood there. Waited.

WHAT ELSE?

I don't know, looked at my phone probably.

PRETTY SURE YOU TEXTED YOUR BFF CELEXA

Her name is Debbie. How do you know that I texted someone at JoAnn's but you don't know their name?

SHALL WE LOOK AT THE TEXT?

I remember the text. I just told her what was going on with that completely clueless woman holding up the line.

THIS TEXT:



 Ok, it was a little mean, I guess, but geez. I had things to do!

YOU SPENT THE REST OF THE DAY BINGE-WATCHING POLDARK.

Well, yeah, but Aidan Turner—

AIDAN TURNER'S BARE CHEST IS NOT REALLY AN EXCUSE. WELL, NOT FOR THIS ANYWAY.

Okay, but so what? My time is important to me and she shouldn't have held up the line like that. End of story.

WELL, NO.

What do you mean?

IT'S NOT THE END OF THE STORY. WHICH IS BASICALLY MY POINT HERE. GET COMFORTABLE, ZIMA—I HAVE A TALE TO TELL.

My name's Elizab—

THAT "LOSER" WAS TRYING TO MAKE A QUILT FOR HER SISTER. HER SISTER'S BABY HAD PASSED AWAY, AND SHE WAS BESIDE HERSELF WITH GRIEF. SHE REMEMBERED A FRIEND AT CHURCH WHO HAD LOST A CHILD AND THAT SOMEONE MADE HER A QUILT TO HELP COMFORT HER. AND SO SHE WANTED TO DO THAT FOR HER SISTER BECAUSE SHE COULDN'T THINK OF ANYTHING ELSE TO DO. SHE BECAME FIXATED ON DOING THIS EVEN THOUGH SHE DIDN'T REALLY KNOW HOW TO SEW BECAUSE SHE WAS SO DESPERATE TO HELP. SHE HAD NO IDEA WHERE TO START BECAUSE SHE DIDN'T KNOW WHO TO ASK AND SHE DOESN'T HAVE AN INTERNET CONNECTION BECAUSE SHE AND HER HUSBAND CAN'T AFFORD IT RIGHT NOW. SHE SCRAPED TOGETHER MONEY AND COUPONS AND FIGURED MAYBE SHE COULD JUST GO AHEAD AND GET SOME OF THE FABRIC WHILE SHE COULD AND MAYBE SOMEONE WOULD BE KIND ENOUGH TO HELP HER FIGURE IT OUT. SHE HAD NO WAY OF KNOWING THAT THE JOANN'S WORKERS AREN'T REALLY SUPPOSED TO GIVE THAT MUCH HELP BECAUSE OF THE TIME IT TAKES, AND SHE KNEW, EVEN AS SHE WAS ASKING, THAT SHE WAS PROBABLY IN OVER HER HEAD, BUT SHE HAD PRAYED FOR A MIRACLE AND GAVE IT A SHOT ANYWAY. SHE DIDN'T GET HER MIRACLE. NO ONE STEPPED UP TO HELP HER. SHE PUT THE FABRICS BACK AND LEFT AND ISN'T GOING TO BE MAKING HER SISTER A QUILT NOW.

Oh. Well, how was I supposed to know that?

COUNTERPOINT: HOW WERE YOU NOT SUPPOSED TO KNOW THAT?

I...Wait, what?

EVERY QUILTER—EVERY QUILT—HAS A STORY. SOME ARE LONG, COMPLEX, DRAMATIC TALES AND SOME ARE BORING AF. BUT YOU HAVE NO WAY OF KNOWING WHAT THAT STORY IS, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT'S A COMPLETE STRANGER. SO WHY DO YOU CHOOSE TO BELIEVE THE STORY THAT SAYS SHE'S A DUMB BITCH WHO IS WASTING EVERYONE'S TIME?

Well, I—

THE WORLD IS FULL OF PEOPLE. AND YEAH, SOME ARE SMART AND SOME ARE DUMB AND THERE ARE INDEED SOME SPECTACULAR ASSHOLES AMONG THEM. BUT EVEN THE SPECTACULAR ASSHOLES HAVE A STORY ABOUT WHAT MADE THEM SPECTACULAR ASSHOLES.

So, okay, I should have helped her. I get that now.

PERHAPS. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, YOU SHOULD HAVE ASSUMED SHE WAS WORTHY OF BEING HELPED.

What if she was, like, a serial killer or something?

HONEY, PLEASE. THE FBI ESTIMATES THAT THERE ARE PROBABLY NO MORE THAN 50 SERIAL KILLERS OPERATING IN THE US AT ANY ONE TIME. PROBABLY LESS. THERE ARE 318.9 MILLION PEOPLE IN THE US. TRUST ME, YOU ARE NOT RUNNING INTO A SERIAL KILLER IN LINE AT JOANN'S. QUITE POSSIBLY AT TARGET THOUGH.

Ok, but you know what I mean. Maybe you go out of your way to help someone, and it turns out they're just not a good person. They're mean to dogs or they park in handicapped spots or they steal money out of tip jars.

OR THEY CALL PEOPLE THEY DON'T EVEN KNOW "BITCH" AND "LOSER".

Exactly! Wait...

GOTCHA!

All right, so I'll do better. I'll help everyone and be super nice. Is that what you want?

HERE'S WHAT I WANT: JUST ONE THING. YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE TO DO IT ALL DAY, EVERY DAY. JUST ONCE A DAY. ONCE EACH DAY, WHEN YOU COME ACROSS SOMEONE BEING ANNOYING OR CLUELESS OR EVEN DOWNRIGHT RUDE, ASSUME THE VERY BEST THING YOU CAN ABOUT THEM. ASSUME THEY ARE DOING THE BEST THEY CAN WITH WHAT THEY'VE BEEN GIVEN, EVEN IF IT INCONVENIENCES OR BUGS THE LIVING CRAP OUT OF YOU. I'M NOT EVEN SAYING YOU HAVE TO ACT ON THAT ASSUMPTION. JUST ONCE A DAY MAKE THAT THE DEFAULT INSTEAD OF GOING STRAIGHT FOR THE EYE-ROLL. AND THEN... JUST SEE WHAT HAPPENS.

I guess I can do that...

AND IF IT DOES TURN OUT THAT YOUR NEW-FOUND PERSPECTIVE INSPIRES YOU TO GIVE QUILTING ADVICE TO A SERIAL KILLER, WHO KNOWS? MAYBE THAT ONE MOMENT OF KINDNESS PREVENTS A MURDER THAT DAY.

Wow, you think that could happen?

THE POINT IS, YOU WON'T KNOW. KNOWING DOESN'T MATTER. GETTING CREDIT DOESN'T MATTER. COMPASSION DOES.

Well, I guess I could try it. Since a mysterious and insanely loud disembodied voice is telling me to. Wait...are you...Ellen?

NO. I MEAN, CLOSE, BUT NO.

Close? Gasp! Stephen Colbert????

GOTTA GO, DAYTONA. THERE'S A CRANKY QUILTER IN DUBUQUE GETTING READY TO WRITE A NASTY FACEBOOK COMMENT ABOUT SOMEONE'S GRAMMAR. PEACE OUT.




Tuesday, July 17, 2018

10 Years of The Bitchy Stitcher: Magazines

In the years before, and at the beginning of, my foray into quilting I worked as an assistant editor and writer for two local publications, both now defunct: Inside Annapolis and Taste of the Bay. For the first magazine, I managed to sneak in a wee bit of humor now and then, but never in the second as the publisher/editor-in-chief actually had no sense of humor at all. Also, it was a publication that existed solely to serve advertisers, as our articles were actually purchased ads, and no one wants jokes in an article that they paid an exorbitant amount of money for about their tree trimming business. Never mind that I could brainstorm tree trimming puns ALL DAY. After too many jokes got pruned, I had to branch out and leave.

I had been blogging here for roughly a year when one of my 2 or 3 readers alerted me to an article in an issue of Quilter's Home magazine, wherein the founder/editor Mark Lipinski talked about submitting writing to magazines, including his own. So, thinking what the hell, I submitted my "How to Bind a Quilt" blog post, and it was accepted. For all I know now, it probably wasn't actually Mark who read and accepted it, but more likely one of the women who eventually became editors-in-chief there (Jake Finch and Melissa Thompson Maher), because there was a major blow-up at the publication shortly thereafter and Lipinski left.

That piece never went in because it had been "previously published" on the blog, which I still say does not even remotely count because literally no one was reading me back then, but rules are rules. As it turned out, this forced me to write something new, since they still wanted to publish something of mine, and I ended up writing three. I said, here—pick one. They picked all three. And so my first published piece as a quilt humorist appeared in the October/November 2009 issue of Quilter's Home: "Zen and the Art of Crappy Quilting."



The upheaval at the magazine at this time can be seen several places. My name is wrong in the intro (Smith is my legal name, Dougherty my pen name), I've never been a member of anything called a Pickle Posse because good grief, and the article description in the table of contents is for something from a previous issue. But I didn't care. I was in print. I was funny in print. Somebody somewhere read something I wrote, and wanted to publish it. Except for, you know, marriage and birth of children and all that, this was—hands down—the best thing that has ever happened to me.

Jake and Melissa asked me to be a regular columnist, and eventually my column was called "In the Ditch." I had a humor piece in 12 consecutive issues, the last in August/September 2011. By that time, I was also writing an uncredited column on sewing related collectibles (my piece on antique spool cabinets is notable for it's repeated use of the phrase "sausage tongs") as well as other feature articles, such as one about thread sketching and one about quilters who live off the grid.

I was pretty sure I would not be able to come up with enough topics to fill a continuous humor column. I was also pretty sure that I could not write them at 1000+ words as they eventually asked me to do. No quilting humor premise can survive that many words, I said. They said, Oh, we think you can. They were right.

When QH was shut down by parent company F&W Media (they're good at that), Jake and Melissa were ready with a plan to start a new magazine, with the same sensibility as QH but aimed more squarely at a modern market. They planned to call it Generation Q and asked if I would help. I said, oh, hell yes.

Jake got someone to do the initial build of the website, but after that I was basically the webmistress as I had the most experience dealing with such things (next to none, but that's technically more than none, so...). We had an absolutely grueling goal to publish new content every single day. On top of that, the eventual goal was to go into print, and almost everyone had day jobs, so there were a lot of late nights. But with a few minor exceptions, we did manage daily content for several months until the print side was up and running.

As we were setting up the website, we needed a logo. I casually mentioned my limited and self-taught experience with such things, and from that point on, I became the art director. I designed the logo, and the banner for the website, and web buttons for people to share on their sites. I still assumed that Jake had someone up her sleeve who would do design and layout for the actual print publication, because I had never done an entire magazine before. A book, yes, a single book, but a magazine? Different ballgame altogether and there was no possible way I could do that. It would require so much more knowledge and skill than I could ever possibly hope to acquire in the timeframe we were looking at.

And Jake and Melissa said, yes, you can. You can absolutely do this.

Now, they needed me to do this. I was willing to work for nothing, and as a stay-at-home mom, I had the time (technically). They could not afford a professional. It was in the magazine's best interest to convince me to do it. But what if I failed? This haunted me all day every day. I cried on my husband's shoulder about it endlessly. I was going to fail these people who had given me a start as a humor writer—my dream—and we would end up with an embarrassment of a publication and get laughed out of the quilting industry. And I honestly even now don't necessarily think I was being over-dramatic. Had I been in charge, I would never have given that task over to someone with as little actual experience and training as I had.

So, while getting published as a humor columnist for the first time was the best thing that ever happened to me (besides kids and husband, blah, blah, blah), being handed an entire magazine to design and layout was probably the most valuable thing that ever happened to me.

It's one thing to hear, "you can do anything you set your mind to." It's another to actually do it. I acquired the Adobe Creative Suite, got some books on how to use them, and set to work. If you pick up any magazine and flip through it, you see that it has a "look and feel" that runs throughout the publication, which, if done right, is uniquely its own. There are elements that need to be consistent, and others that can display more creativity and flights of fancy. You need a readable font, consistent and readable leading. Are you going to do one column, or two, or three? Where do the page numbers go? The choices you have to make are not just aesthetic, they're also logistical. You're creating a template that will be reused but that template needs to be flexible, because you never know what will throw things off in the next issue: more ads, fewer ads, a sudden change in the subject or scope of planned content. In many pieces, such as poll results or the Test Drives, or other list-type articles, you have to figure out how to present data as well as prose. It's a million tiny pieces that have to all add up to a coherent publication with its own personality.

There was no "how to design and layout a magazine" book or website out there that I could find. I had to wing it from what I had observed at my time at Inside Annapolis and from laying out a book years before with different software, and just from looking at tons and tons of magazines. We were aiming towards (and I say towards because our aim wasn't real good there) modern quilters, and so I initially wanted a very spare, clean look with artful use of negative space. But Jake and Melissa had chosen to do a smaller format than most magazines. Instead of something along the lines of 8x11 (publications vary), they went for 7x9, the thinking being that in a smaller size, a newsstand would have to put our publication out front so it wouldn't get swallowed up and overlooked. This didn't always happen, but it was strategic thinking. Unfortunately, it meant I had less real estate to work with and I couldn't just make everything proportionally smaller. Sometimes I really felt like I was cramming too much in, but it turned out the challenge was food to my soul.

It was never easy. Sometimes there were compromises which threw a wrench into the design I envisioned. I was the person at the end of the assembly line, and if people got backed up on their end (read: didn't get their shit done on time) it made my timeline even tighter. I had to proof final pages in a mad rush for one issue because my brother died and I had to leave town to go to his funeral. And I still wrote my humor column, plus two other pieces.

Even when it made me want to rip my hair out and throw things, it was still the best thing I've ever accomplished. And I thought I couldn't do it.


I stepped back from my role after 5 issues. At that point, they wanted to go from quarterly to bimonthly, and with two elementary school-age kids, one who was having some problems and needing therapy, I didn't feel I was up to the ramped-up schedule. I needed to be realistic for myself and my family, and knowing how hectic the last few weeks of each issue would get, I knew trying to compress that into double-time would probably break me. I stayed on with my humor columns and the other pieces I was writing and kept an associate editor title for a while.

I helped out as co-art director on one issue in 2014, and after that I left altogether. It was time to move on, though to what I wasn't certain. I wrote half a novel and made a bunch of bags and art quilts and managed to patch together one last book. But I also had three surgeries and my husband had two sets of stents in his heart and other life things took over my field of view. Some are still there.

Quilter's Home and Generation Q represent some of the best years of my life and some of the best work I've ever done. I grew an audience for my humor writing; I developed my design sense which translated over into quilting and into my books. I helped create an independent publication from the ground up.

But most of all, every time I said, "I can't," Jake Finch and Melissa Thompson Maher said, "Oh, we think you can."

And then I did.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

10 Years of The Bitchy Stitcher: The QSMASBC

It started out, as nearly everything in my life does, as a joke. On my professional web site (now defunct), I said on my bio page that I had been lucky enough to combine two of my great loves—quilting and writing—into one career, but that someday I wanted to gather all of my passions into one publication: Quilter's Shirtless Man and Spicy Burrito Monthly. Being the thrifty humorist that I am, I recycled the joke on the blog, made a pinboard on Pinterest devoted to the concept, and soon readers began suggesting that if I didn't mind potbellies and fur, they'd take a photo of their own personal man-companions bare-chested, be-quilted, and, well, holding a burrito. And I counter-offered: if I get 12 such photos, I'll make us a calendar. I got 14. I made us a calendar.


For three glorious years, the QSMASBC was, if not the most popular quilt-adjacent calendar in the realm—or even anything close to it, certainly the most original. Other dudes-n-quilts calendars tended to focus on the traditionally hunky types, like muscly firefighters, and sure, that's fine. I like a nice pec as much as the next person. But I think calendars like that give a distorted view of just what kind of man likes to laze around shirtless on a handmade quilt. I mention often that quilt magazines are aspirational, and in some ways so are traditional quilt calendars. I wanted to upend that a bit and with my calendar celebrate guys we love because of who they are to us, and celebrate quilts we made ourselves even if we aren't prize winning professionals, and celebrate burritos. Because they are awesome.

Thus the slogan: Real Men. Real Quilts. Real Burritos.

 The first year we had 14 submissions, the next year 17. And in its last year, the calendar had 20 submissions to choose from. There were a number of people who swore they were going to get me epic pictures of a son or a husband, but never did, ususally because the aforementioned son or husband wouldn't cooperate. (AHEM, BARRY.) Then there were those, particularly Mark, seen above on the cover of the inaugural edition, who conducted photo shoots in multiple locations every year. In fact, Mark was so amazing as our first cover model, and so enthusiastic about his secondary career as a shirtless model, he was featured in every calendar. Though I ultimately went for a different cover in years two and three, I did mock up two Mark covers for our final year:



In its first two years, the calendar was picked up by eQuilter.com and they even had one of their staff dress as a QSMASBC calendar model for Halloween one year. The way it was priced made wholesaling it unprofitable, but I just appreciated their enthusiasm for the project.

It was short lived, but we had some amazing models, didn't we?






Yes. Yes, we did.

The reason I stopped is complicated. The calendar was only profitable in its first year, and as I had initially conceived it as a fundraiser for my brother, it became less of a labor of love after he passed away. The print-on-demand service I used made a great calendar, but I was unhappy with other aspects of the service. I never found a way to print them myself that produced a similar quality product for I price I could work with. So, I decided to let it end.

But I can still look back on these awesome guys who were such good sports and made the world a little sweeter and spicier for three glorious years. You can see all the pictures from all the editions here, here, and here.

Next Tuesday, I'll take a look back at my career in magazines.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

10 Years of The Bitchy Stitcher: My Books

This July marks the tenth year I have been blogging about my misadventures in quilting as The Bitchy Stitcher. Each Tuesday this month I will be looking back on all the cool/possibly misguided things I’ve managed to do in those 10 years. My new collection of humor pieces, Short, Sharp and Snippy, is now available on amazon.com and I’ll be shipping out all the signed pre-order copies just as soon as they arrive in my hot little hands.

This second book has been a long time coming. My first book, Quilting Isn’t Funny, came out in November of 2013, shortly before my mom passed away from liver cancer and 11 months after we lost my brother to brain cancer. Whenever I try to remember when that book came out, all I have to do is recall The Bad Year. It was a very strange thing to be promoting a book of my weird-ass quilting humor while also grieving, but the wheels had been set in motion already. A huge number of people signed on to participate in a blog tour, and so we had four weeks of a different quilt blogger each day talking about the book and giving away PDF copies. I had a giant stack of pre-order copies to sign and mail, a few shops started inquiring about wholesale orders. On one hand I was doing cartwheels over how well it was all going, and on the other I was trying to hold my broken heart together while also helping other people through their own grief.



I am still so proud of that first book. It was self-published, which may seem like less of an accomplishment, but I not only wrote the whole thing, I also designed it. I had layout and design experience from a literary magazine I was asked to help create back in 2002, BrickStreet. That project was spearheaded by me and a friend and we solicited writing and artwork from local and international writers and artists. I taught myself QuarkXpress in order to do the layout—because we had NO budget for anybody but the two of us, and we didn’t get paid.

Cover artwork detail from Anatomy of a Struggle by Moe Hanson


From that experience I was able to leave my job as an optician and become the assistant editor of a very small local publication called Inside Annapolis. Though I wasn’t hired to do layout, I had enough knowledge from BrickStreet to prepare the layout file for the actual graphic designer, and as time progressed I was allowed to do some design work on my own, especially ads. I also wrote for the magazine, and would sometimes be allowed to do the design on my own articles. There I learned Adobe InDesign, which is what I still use for layout today.



One of the only covers I was allowed to do myself. I was so proud of figuring out how to get the guy's head over the logo.

I used all that experience as art director for Generation Q magazine some years later, and so once I had managed to design and layout and entire magazine on my own, I figured a book of my weirdo quilting humor pieces should be no biggie.

The original cover of Quilting Isn't Funny was conceived as a quilt label on a quilted background, but I was never satisfied with the quality of the photography (which I had to do myself because of the zero budget). I still own two proof copies of that version though, so undoubtedly future collectors will pay millions for one of them.



Ultimately, I scrapped the entire cover concept and created artwork in Illustrator so I wouldn't have to sweat over the quality of my crappy photography. I created a design with a rotary cutter, a seam ripper, and a fountain pen that also ended up on my business cards, and I used my favorite color combination of green and purple. I spent hours deciding things like where to put page numbers and how to format the table of contents, and it was so satisfying to be the only decision maker in that process. By the time I was done, I had a book that was entirely mine.



 I went back over sales of Quilting Isn’t Funny and with my own hard copy and PDF sales, plus Amazon and Kindle, and wholesale and distributor orders, I sold nearly 2000 copies. TWO THOUSAND. I suppose an actual book publisher would weep into her whiskey sour over such piddly numbers, but for a self-published first-time author who writes in a niche as tiny as quilting humor? I think that’s damn good.

I know Short, Sharp and Snippy won’t sell anywhere close to that number and I’m okay with that. I’m not employed by a magazine anymore, and life circumstances over the last few years have eroded my online presence. But I had a goal to get one more book done, and though the self-imposed deadlines I had put on it came and went more than once, I somehow had a surge of energy to finish it once I had the title, which frankly I adore. For the devil scissors, I took my original artwork for my tattoo and re-drew it to add the horns and the inner heart shape. Once I was done, I thought the image was strong enough to stand on it's own on the cover, and I kept the rest of the design simple to show it off.



My husband said to me recently that I do not revel in my own accomplishments enough. To be honest, he does quite a lot of that for me so I don’t really have to. But he’s probably right. We’re conditioned not to brag, especially women, and if you can’t brag at least a little after ten years of accomplishing stuff, well when can you? I self-published two books. With lots of quilt-adjacent fart jokes in them. And I’m damn proud of that.

 Next week we’ll look back at the greatest quilt calendar ever created.