Why I quilt

In my last post I said I wanted to come talk about the magical experience of making quilts with fabric that could truly be considered art. In mulling this over, I of course got sucked into the “what defines art?” and “is your work being called art even important?” rabbit hole and decided instead to come talk about why I quilt.

WhyIQuilt

My quilts are an expression of personal love rather than of intended Art (capital A). I don’t make them to be hung and examined. Quilts like Jacquie Gering’s evocative “Bang, You’re Dead” are purposeful, and intended to serve as Art with a message. And they do send a message.

…But so do my quilts. Except that my message broadcasts to a smaller audience (the recipient), and is uncomplicated (you’re important to me; I love you). That’s not to say I do not take seriously the importance of the artistic process and aesthetics, and that I am not mindful about my materials–in fact, I obsess over these things. It’s just that my intention for the quilt is different.

In one respect, my quilting is for others–I give quilts as gifts. But in a much larger respect, in my mind, quilting is strictly for me and not for others; that is to say, I don’t need to fancy myself an Artist to feel joy and pride about my quilts. If you want to call me that, fine–I’m charmed! If you want to call me a crafter, fine. I am not demeaned. I simply do what I do and try not to be concerned with which SPHERE my art/craft falls into. I sew because it’s therapy; I sew because it makes me happy; I sew because I love color; I sew because creativity is important.

from Marta with Love | straight-line quiltingDo I enjoy sharing pictures of my projects on this blog? I do. The reasons are three-fold: (1) photography is another of my creative outlets; (2) keeping some sort of archive of projects is important to me–I enjoy looking back and reading what I had to say about past ones; and (3) I love to goggle at and be inspired by the work of others, and I delight in imagining that my fellow quilters could come here, to my humble space, to be inspired–even in the smallest way.

Quilters joke about the annoyance we feel at being asked to hem people’s pants or encouraged to sell our stuff on Etsy. But the reasons above, not pride in the one instance or insecurity in the other, are precisely why I do neither of these. UntitledI don’t quilt because I want to make money.* Nor is sewing–including hemming your pants–my job. It’s what I do to escape my job (I work with lawyers–lord knows I don’t need another job). So the temptation to feel insulted when people imply that your craft isn’t worthy unless you’re profiting from it is great–until you remind yourself that you are grounded solely in your own intention. Cliché? Meh. But it really doesn’t matter what other people think or how they view your chosen outlet for creativity. They can do their thing and you can do yours. I try my best to be kind and honor the creative outlets of others–no matter how “trivial”–rather than place some sort of arbitrary expectation on them and make someone feel bad about what they’re doing. If your creative outlet is Popsicle stick log cabins? GET IT, girl. Do your thing. I won’t suggest you sell them on Etsy.

It’s easy to fall victim to these thoughts of: If my work isn’t as artistically amazing as this or this, then why even share it? How can I possibly compare? How could anyone possibly find my work interesting or inspiring when THIS is out in the world? Well here’s my answer:

CreativeEntitlement

I’ve focused for years–then discovered Brené Brown had articulated it for me much more effectively–on this idea that I will not feel shame about my work, nor allow myself to be shamed by Artists about my work.** I will continue to put it out there, and what I will not do is be preoccupied by the potential judgment of it by others. Again: you do your thing and I do mine. Who am I to tell someone what should or should not fill up their soul? If my kinda quilts make me happy, and your kinda quilts make you happy, then kumba-fuckin-YA. High five. God bless. (Sorry for cussing in public, Dad.)

Now. ALL THAT SAID, do I prefer working with and feel more connected to fabric that I feel was made with thoughtfulness and artistic intention? Yes, I prefer that fabric over chevrons. But I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason I feel that way isn’t because I judge that fabric as being more worthy of the title of art, but because I can feel that the artist whose work this was poured more love and thought into their fabric than is required by the simple reprinting of a polka dot print in a different size and color. And I appreciate that.

 


*I do think acknowledging the value–in time and money–of quilts is a worthy topic, though. Check this post out if you’re interested.

**Edit: It’s important to add to this that I’ve never personally been shamed, nor has anyone ever been mean to me about my work. It’s the fear alone that is enough to paralyze some and prevent them from sharing their work.

Comments

  1. says

    Good for you :-) You’re right, why should we compare ourselves to other people? Your quilts are fantastic too. Finding out what is your thing and doing it unapologetically is the most important thing. I have to say that the quilting world seems quite supportive in my limited experience and I haven’t ever felt any pressure from ‘Artists’ or anyone else to make quilts of a particular sort – or felt any judgement. I would like some of my quilts to have a bit of a message and some of them just to be serviceable and nice to look at and I get inspiration from the same things in other people’s quilts.

    • says

      I agree! The quilting community is the best and so supportive of each other. I’ve never personally been shamed or had my work harshly criticized so I’m glad you brought it up. What I should’ve also written (which I’ve now added) is that the fear of that shame or judgment from others is enough to paralyze many and prevent them from sharing at all (even if nobody’s actually been mean to them).

      And by the way: your long-ago slow stitching pledge still resonates with me to this day. Feeling badly when you’ve only sewn one quilt in a year while others are busting out 1-2 a week is another shame spiral I avoid (listen to me—my first self help book and I’m already talking the talk. A couple more of these and I’m going to start taking clients…!).

      XO, Catherine. Hope you’re doing great.

  2. says

    I enjoyed reading this. I find I only quilt to give as well. I love thinking about the person while I’m sewing. It is therapy and very satisfying : )
    Bless you

  3. Sylvia says

    It’s one of the hardest things for me to hear when I give a quilt as a gift… “This is — !! You should sell these! Have you ever thought of selling these!?”

    Quilting is my 6th love language. I put my heart and soul into each and every one. It is actually hard to part with them when I gift it! My reason for quilting is just love. I couldn’t sell them– my purpose would change. Plus– the emotion, time, thought, purpose, love etc– how could you ever put a price on that? Exactly. You can’t. (In my mind at least–) quilts are priceless. You can’t bottle love up and sell it!

    Loved this post to the 9s and you may have inspired me to open a toothpick Ferris wheel shop on etsy. Fuckin get it guhl.

    • says

      We have always been on the same page about this—thank you for being you, and for getting it.

      And AHAHAHAHAHA!!! Only you would top my popsicle stick log cabins. God love ya.

  4. says

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and words. When you share things from your spirit, it helps others tune to theirs in order to clarify their values. I find your work inspiring, mostly because of the spirit you lead your creativity with.

    Julia Child writes that one shall never apologize for their cooking. Even if it doesn’t turn out quite right. I find asking how people enjoy it is also a sure way of petrifying my own creativity in its tracks.

    It’s a hard thing to trust in one’s own spirit! Thanks for a peek into how you try to.

    • says

      Becky—wow. Thank you so much for this. My heart just swelled in a huge way! Thanks for your incredible kindness and affirmation, and for simply making my day.

      And I am EXACTLY THE SAME about my food!! Even if my fiancé, brother, dad, mom, in-laws, and anyone else at the table is literally raving over a meal I’ve just made, I still follow it up with: Anything you’d want me to do different next time? More spicy? or I didn’t get it on the table fast enough and it wasn’t as hot as it should be, I’m sorry. They just look at me like are you shitting us right now? Ha!!!

  5. says

    THOROUGHLY enjoyed this post! I was nodding right along with you. The whole “I don’t quilt because I want to make money.* Nor is sewing–including hemming your pants–my job. It’s what I do to escape my job.” YES. You hit the nail on the head. Honestly I still haven’t yet been able to wrap my head around how to mentally process those mending requests- the guilt lingers. If it’s family or close friend I usually give in and do it. I’m so conflicted…I love helping people…I want to be a generous kind person…but sewing is my escape from my real job too, which for the most part is making scrambled eggs, cleaning toilets, folding unfathomable mountains of laundry, and chauffeuring kids to theater rehearsal. If I start making t-shirt quilts for my neighbors (for which I received 4 requests in the month of December) and sewing on everyone’s buttons, it would feel like my sewing has crossed over into a job…and I don’t need another job. But then I start to feel selfish and like I shouldn’t have a problem sharing my abilities with others. I tell myself, seriously, how hard is it to sew on a button, and doing it is easier than saying no. But then Denyse Schmidt says “Asking a quilter to mend is like asking Picasso to paint your garage.” I get it, but then again I’m no Picasso. But I think she’s right. Ultimately, these requests make us feel like that person doesn’t consider what we do, art, but rather that our sewing is the equivalent to aerating a lawn or fix a leaky pipe. A functional skill instead of a creative expression. Thanks for a super thoughtful, well written post. I know I’m going to be simmering on this all day!

  6. says

    Thanks so much for the post. I’ve written about these topics — why I quilt, why I don’t sell my quilts, the real value of a quilt — so many times, and you nailed it, IMHO!! I also loved the comments left, including the one about t-shirt quilts. Hey, some people enjoy making them. Some people are GREAT at making them. I might kill myself if I had to make one — please please don’t ask me to!

    My sister pointed me to your blog and I’m glad she did. I’d be honored if you stop by mine, as well. https://catbirdquilts.wordpress.com/

    Thanks again.

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