Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What makes a bad quilt?

I was chatting with someone on twitter this morning and she had made a structural mistake on a quilt; one that was fairly easily fixable, but would be noticeable to her and the fix will probably be the only thing she sees when she looks at the quilt from here on out. I so know that feeling.

The absolute first thing I had to let go of in quilting was a sense of perfection. There are far too many variables involved in a quilt and it's never going to go exactly right. When I make a quilt, I have anywhere from fifteen to eighty hours (depending on the design and size) in which to screw something up... and invariably, I will. Some mistakes are fixable without leaving evidence (sewing a block upside down, etc) and others aren't (ranging from a few mm hand slip during free motion quilting to having to get really "creative" with the piecing). And still, when I finish the quilt, I can't look at it without seeing the mistakes first.

What I've found out is that other people (non-quilters, anyway) rarely notice the flaws. Granted, I do look for flaws in other people's quilts (eventually), just so I can remind myself that I'm not the only flawed human in the world. First, I take a quilt in as a whole and appreciate the design, colors, pattern, and all of the man/woman power that went into it. I'm going to ooh and aah over the points that match, the invisibility of the stitch in the ditch, and all the other myriad things we ooh and aah over - and silently, I'm going to breath a sigh of relief at that one point that doesn't match or the quilting that wanders from the ditch. I would never in a million years point it out or even let my eyes rest on it for more than a split second; but its presence makes me feel better.

HOWEVER, and I've been meaning to bring this up for a while, if you see a mistake that a new quilter is making and seems unaware of and you decide to give them advice... be specific!! Though I'm still learning something new about quilting every day, it is safe to say that eleven years ago, I had far less quilt learnin' than I do now, and one day, someone gave me the most useless advice ever.

I was living in Auburn, CA at the time and I'd made a quilt that I was very proud of. I was working for a small restaurant and my boss bought a quilt stand to put in the dining room to show off my quilt (she was incredibly nice and I really hope she's doing well). One lady looked at it and said, "You really should get a quilting foot." Now, I would know enough to ask for specifics, but at the time, I thought there was some magical foot for my machine called a quilting foot. This elusive quilting foot also stumped the guy who ran the sewing  machine shop in Sacramento. He had no idea and just sold me another 1/4" foot. So, with that little thing in my pocket, I went home thinking my quilting was going to be transformed. It took years for me to realize she meant that I needed a walking foot... and that little bad boy did transform my quilting. So, because of very vague advice, my quilts suffered for years.

I learned how to quilt from a couple of books and trial and error, so I was ready for any advice I could get. Now, even in the age of Craftsy, youtube, etc., there are still little tricks that a new quilter might not know. If they are open to advice, make it good advice. Now I have four completely different feet that I think of as my quilting feet.

Anyway, back to messed up quilts.Quilting, like any other art, is subjective.  I just Googled "ugly quilts" and was presented with some great images. And there are some ugly quilts out there - I've made a few that I should tag as such and present to world... under a pseudonym. I don't really like chaos, and I noticed that many of the ones considered ugly had a lot of that, mostly scrappy quilts. But, I have one of my great grandmother's scrappy quilts that really isn't all that much to look at, until you look at the impeccably spaced quilting stitches of which I am completely jealous. But, in our family, quilts were utilitarian things. They weren't meant for the top of the bed, they were dragged out of the closet every Autumn and layered on the bed between the blanket and the bedspread. And, when I look at that quilt and I see scraps of my great-grandmother's, grandmother's, and great aunt's clothing, it is the most wonderful quilt I own. Some of the patches are wearing thin and the batting is starting to show, but I don't want to cut even one inch of cloth out of it to repair it. And whenever I look at it, I always hope that my stitches will also outlast the fabric on all my quilts. I love my ugly quilt.

I've seen (and made quilts with) god-awful color combinations, quilts with no contrast, and tons of other things that I don't find attractive, but they are loved by someone, and that's what matters. There is only one unforgivable sin in quilting, as far as I'm concerned... and that's making a quilt out of Crown Royal bags. Maybe it's because my dad was an alcoholic and my whole childhood I always had a new Crown Royal bag to keep my marbles and Hot Wheels in, but I don't care how matched one's points are or how perfect the stitches - this is the only horror show of a quilt I would unapologetically put my nose up at.

So, while I've heard the phrase, "It'll never be seen from a galloping horse" as a way to dismiss quilting mistakes; the first time I heard it, the person said, "If you can't see it from a galloping goose, don't worry about it." I think the image of a galloping goose is more appropriate to the turn my quilting has taken, so I stick with that one. Have fun, screw up, fix what you can, and then move on. Flaws don't make your quilt ugly, they make you human.

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