A few weeks ago, Molli Sparkles wrote a very thought provoking post about Truth Tea. I’m not sure who spiked my vodka starch with Truth Tea this weekend but I’m about to dish it out in abundance.
A thread on one of the online quilting groups I belong to has sparked some heated discussion about different styles of quilts and whether technically excellent quilts have ‘soul’ and/or are boring due to their perfection. The majority view appears to be that the more technically good a quilt is, the less ‘soul’ it has and the more boring it is. The comment that provoked this post basically stated that at the end of the day a quilt is just something to keep you warm at night; you don’t see it in the dark so they’re all equal.
I beg to differ.
First up – I do not make my quilts simply to keep me or the recipient warm at night. Quilt-making is the way I choose to express myself, as it is for many others. Every quilt I give is infused with love for the recipient; I have chosen the pattern and fabrics and made the quilt specifically with them in mind. If all I wanted was something to keep me warm at night I would buy a brown blanket from KMart.
Second – all quilts are not equal. I know this because the first two quilts I made are still in existence. They were made for my twin nieces when they were born. They are now in Year 11. They are made from poly-cotton with hideous polyester high-loft batting and they break every quilting rule in the book. I decided one day to make a quilt, so I sat down and designed one (or two actually) and out they came. They are well-loved and have survived everything life has thrown at them for 17 years. They are not technically excellent.
At this point I need to tell you something about me. I am a perfectionist, and I am a detail-oriented person. I LOVE dotting the Is and crossing the Ts. I studied stage management at university and loved it for that reason. It makes me a very good Executive Assistant and Administrator. About 18 months ago, I realised I could be a good quilter. Because I am a details person, I LOVE making sure my points match. It frustrates me when they don’t and so I will re-do a seam until they do match. At the beginning of this year, I decided that quilting is ‘what I want to do for the rest of my life’ and that I want to turn it into a profession rather than just a hobby, so I now put the same effort into my quilts as I did as an administrator to write the perfect report or have a filing system that made complete sense, into creating a quilt that is technically excellent.
It is for these reasons that I LOVE that the third Swoon block in my current quilt is an improvement on the first and that these blocks are better than the last quilt I made. This is my goal, that each quilt is better than the last.
HOWEVER, this DOES NOT mean that there is any less love, or soul in the quilt I am making now than that first quilt, or one I made when I had been quilting for five year or ten years. It is the accumulation of nearly 20 years of work to get to the point that it is a technically very good quilt.
To give you a music analogy (I also have a music degree) – would you say that a technically perfect/very good performance given by a pianist who has worked on their instrument for 25 years has any less soul than one given by someone who has only been playing for two, five or ten years? Or that a classical performance has less soul than a brass band performance? It’s a nonsense.
Technically excellent does not mean boring. If I go back to the music analogies again, I could point out any number of classical music, musical theatre or opera performances I have been to which were technically close to perfect but which had the audiences on the edge of their seats.
One last comment: my Swoon quilt will be different from GnomeAngel’s Swoon quilt, which is different from Ms Midge’s, all of whose are different from Camille Roskelley’s because we all bring something different to our interpretation of the pattern. Different fabrics, different tastes, different skills and different life experiences. Just because a quilter uses a commercially available pattern does not make them boring quilts. Not every musician performs their own composition – no one would say a performer isn’t valid because they have performed a Beethoven concerto rather than their own. I certainly plan to design my own patterns in the future but it doesn’t make me any less of a quilter that I don’t currently.
If you see my quilt at the Canberra Quilters exhibition in August, please by all means say that it’s not to your taste; please engage in a thoughtful discussion with me about what you might have done differently; please even give me pointers about how I might improve the quilting.
However, there is nearly 20 years of quilting experience and 37½ years of me wrapped up in that quilt so whatever you do, DON’T YOU DARE tell me it has no soul.