Monday, November 11, 2013

Line dancing: a rant

I don't think I ever showed you my latest fabric purchases. And when I say, "latest" I mean "the ones I bought way back in August because there was a sale and it was the last time I had any extra money."

Upper left you've got your Just My Type by Patty Young. Upper right is Technicolor by Emily Herrick. Bottom right is the Fields of Iris Kona collection. And bottom left is Ashbury Heights by Riley Blake. I may or may not have actually snuggled with one or more of these stacks in my bed; I refuse to say.

I love buying fat quarter bundles, and it is now the way I usually buy fabric. I do love seeing the pretty little stacks, all tied up in a nice ribbon, sitting on my shelf. Who doesn't? Criminals, probably. And sociopaths. But what I no longer love is the idea of making an entire quilt out of each of them. Yeah, that's right. I don't want to make quilts using only one line of fabric. Insanity, you say? Burn the heretic, you cry? Hear me out.

It's all Amy Butler's fault I ever got into quilting in the first place. When I fell in love with Etsy, it was because I had discovered you could buy handmade bags there, bags made from beautiful and interesting fabrics. And this was back when Amy's Midwest Modern was all the rage. It was the first time I had ever really seen that kind of artistry in fabric, and, like many people, it made me want to gather up a bunch of yardage, bury my face in it, and just motorboat the hell out of it. I didn't even have a sewing machine yet.

So when I did get the sewing machine (a thirty dollar Kenmore from Sears) and it was time to start buying fabric, I kind of choked. I wasn't experienced enough to know how people picked fabrics and since I was barely able to sew squares together at that point, much less cut them, I relied on charm packs. I didn't have to do anything! And all the pieces coordinated! And, if I was really lucky, all the little sawtooth marks from the pinking on the edges would line up just right.

As a result of this reliance on precuts, I also began to rely on the fabric lines themselves to do half of my design work for me. I didn't really have a stash, so I couldn't exactly pull coordinating fabrics from it, and the ease of just using one line where you have all the prints and blenders already put together was really seductive for someone just learning how to sew. And someone who tends to be very, very lazy. Not that I know anyone like that. Shut up.

And so seduced was I by the ease of that coordination, that whenever I saw a truly scrappy quilt, I didn't like it. I liked the neat and tidy look of the perfectly coordinated, pre-selected quilt. Because that's what I had been sort of conditioned to like.

But the thing about my laziness is that eventually my—let's not call it arrogance; let's call it pride—takes over. Maybe it's not even pride I'm talking about. It's that thing I've talked about before that I call my Overgrown Toddler Syndrome, the thing that makes me constantly go, "NO! Do it MYSELF!" And also the thing that makes me go, "NO! Don't wanna do it that way. Wanna do it MY way." See, because I'm all smart and shit, I quickly realized everyone was making quilts out of one fabric line. Everyone. And this meant everyone was as lazy as me, so yay, but it also meant something else I didn't recognize at the time because I wasn't as involved in the broader quilt world as I am now (which is still not much). Something I feel a deep-seated need to rebel against.

If you see a quilt in a magazine that uses only one line of fabric, it is quite possible—likely, even— that the fabric company provided the fabric to the designer. In fact, if you're not paying attention, you may not realize the designer of that pattern works for or is contracted by the fabric company in order to make a quilt using the line. The fabric company, based upon their advertising relationship with the magazine, will print the pattern in order to give the line the best exposure based upon when it is released into stores. (Let me say for the record here: one of the things I love about working with GenQ is they prefer quilts that do not use all one line.) This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something that everyone should be aware of.

Along the same track, many independent pattern designers develop relationships with fabric companies. This gives them the fabric they need to make the quilts (and again, this is a good thing, because fabric is fucking pricey) and sometimes the patterns can be easily worked up into kits, which helps sell patterns. Again, there is nothing wrong with any of this. But there are also many small pattern designers who just seem to do it because they like it and know that their audience does too. It's what we've grown used to. Creating fabrics in collections has been a great boon to the quilting fabric industry, and designing quilts around those collections helps it all along.

What bothers me about all of this is I see so many people who now seem to think they have to make quilts that way, like there's some kind of law about it. My sister, who works in a quilt shop, also says there are many people out there who not only feel they have to use one line in a quilt, they have to use the exact line used in the picture on the quilt pattern. There are many, many people who will not make a quilt if they can't get that line anymore.

I do understand the way fabrics are made and marketed today makes it easier to just grab a pack of some sort of pre-cut and go with that. I also understand it is my own particular psychosis that makes me not want to do it myself anymore. I also no longer want to use other people's patterns to a large degree. I'm a lunatic. And I certainly don't expect everyone to take on my particular insanity. BUT. I do think that many of us are letting ourselves be hindered by fear and by the expectation of what a quilt is supposed to be.

I have plenty of quilts I consider, not failures, but just not total successes. Not everything can be a George or an Alcide. But all of those quilts? They still keep my babies warm at night. I can still cuddle with my man under them. Or, you know, other stuff. Shut up. I still look at them and remember who I was when I made them, and who I have become since then. They are still a part of the history of me as a quilter, and that may have value to no one else in the world but me, but it's enough.

If I am going to be a quilter for many years, I don't want to look at those quilts and see someone who was afraid—afraid to branch out, afraid to try new things, afraid of making independent decisions and taking chances. I have held myself back from so much in my life because of fear, and while I certainly stayed safe, I didn't get anywhere either.

If using all of one fabric collection in a quilt is what makes you happy, I am not suggesting it shouldn't. But if thinking you have to do it that way, or that you aren't good enough to do it another way, is keeping you from making quilts you want to make, then that is where I'd like to challenge you.  I'd also like to challenge you to a round of beer pong, but we can talk about that later.

I know people tend to get their backs up when someone suggests maybe they want to think about doing things other than the way they are comfortable doing them. And so, I'll just say here what all the kids say these days: you do you. Do what makes you happy, and if making quilts from one line of fabric makes you happy, I am not saying it shouldn't. What I am saying is that I hope you won't let the way fabric companies have chosen to market their wares be the sole arbiter of the way you make quilts, especially if you want to branch out from that. And don't think that no one will be interested in seeing your quilts or even making a quilt from a pattern you designed if the quilt isn't made from some recent, best-selling collection. A beautiful quilt is a beautiful quilt, but a quilt that doesn't rely on one fabric collection has, to my mind, just a little something more. Daring, perhaps.

It wasn't always this way. There weren't fabric collections as we know them until fairly recently (in geologic time).  My mom didn't have fat quarter bundles, but she also didn't have a rotary cutter. Or the internet. Or Oprah. Progress is good and it has given us all kinds of cool stuff, including fully coordinated lines of fabric. And, hell, I'll probably be making another all-one-line quilt someday because people keep making babies and who doesn't like an easy, quick baby quilt that you don't have to think too hard about? (See the aforementioned criminals and sociopaths.) Whatever you choose to do that makes you happy is a good thing, but if you think you want to break free of the one-line dance, and are worried you can't, I want you to know you can. And I really hope you will. Because trusting in your own creative instincts—and giving them an opportunity to grow—is pretty fucking cool.

So today, I'm going to take all my fat quarter bundles and I'm going to untie the ribbons around them and I'm going to split them up. I'm going to put all the blues in one box and the oranges in another and the greens in another and I'm going to have lots of boxes of color-coordinated fabrics from many different collections.

And then I'm going to stick my face in one of the boxes and motorboat the hell out of it.

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