Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lots of Work?

Does it annoy you when someone looks at something you've made and says, "That's a lot of work!"? Another kind of startling comment is the type of thing a friend said recently: "That's a lot of thread." (She's a woodworker and should know better; I wouldn't look at something she made and say, "That's a lot of varnish.")

Comments like this are intended as praise, at least I think so. I find them hurtful though, because they miss the point so completely. Cleaning the bathroom is hard work. Making a quilt may be time consuming and have tedious stretches, but it satisfies the creative spirit before, during, and after the process. There are constant challenges to overcome, new fabrics and colors and stitches to try. That's not "hard work."

However, quilters can sometimes contribute to the quantitative approach to quilt appreciation. Not too long ago I read the "Artist's Statement" of a big prize winner who proudly reported how many yards of thread she used in her masterpiece. Sometimes too, we value handwork more than machine work, even if the handwork is poor, apparently because handwork is "harder."

It is true that difficulty and quality often go hand in hand. Detail and intricacy add to the enjoyment of viewing a quilt and help make the difference between an ordinary quilt and an outstanding one. I know when I look at the work of Japanese quilters I'm stunned by the beauty and intricacy of the design and the unexpected color harmonies, but part of me is thinking, "How long did that take?"

Still, I don't want "That's a lot of work" to be the reaction to one of my quilts.

I'd really like to hear opinions about this. Have you had this reaction to your work? How do you feel about it?


Vicki W said...

I totally see your point and I do sometimes get irritated by such comments. But I figure that I make similar comments to people about things they do so I just respond with something like "It's not work to me."

Anonymous said...

I think people who say things like 'thats a lot of work' mean to be complimentary, but i hear a subtext of 'time waster!' when they say it to me. i think a lot has to do with tone of voice - and also who is saying it.

As a fellow quilter i look at, say, your red stars and while i am impressed with everything about them, i am also thinking (admiringly!) what a lot of hard work, because i know for a fact that matching points and perfect stars are a lot more difficult than a nonquilter would imagine, and beyond my skill level. However i think (hope) i would focus my compliments on other aspects. I dont think I have ever thought/said "thats a lot of thread" and intended it as a compliment.

My favourite 'compliment' is my mum asks to see what ive been stitching, and when i show her there is silence, or 'arent the points supposed to meet? No,Im not critising, just asking, because my friends who is a fabulous quilter...well *her* points always meet'.

So short answer - if i hear that 'hardwork' comment from another quilter or embroiderer I feel better about it then if don't know what they are talking about. But even so, i would prefer it to be: 'lovely quilt, great colours, I love these purposely naive quilts that have mismatched points - what a lot of hard work that must have been - well done!' (no-one has ever said that to me....but i like the sound of it).

Libby Fife said...

I think it must depend on the perspective of the person making the comment. I don't ever intentionally say something to be hurtful to someone and try to gauge their reaction as I go so I can adjust my words accordingly.

I will say that when I use that phrase, "That looks like it was hard work" I mean it in an entirely complimentary fashion. I really do mean that it is hard work, that the work should be acknowledged for a level of difficulty or time spent or effort on the part of the maker. Plus, I also mean that the maker must be pleased with their results to have spent so much time-sort of an assumption on my part I guess. I have spent lots of time on stuff that was rather mediocre or was just ho-hum when I was done. I wish someone would ask me about that part!

I think the follow up question would be how do you praise someone appropriately to reflect what you really feel which is sheer admiration for something that you couldn't do or know is difficult? Sounds like another post!:)

*karendianne. said...

Thinking about this allows me to realize it has different emotional triggers depending upon who it's from.

Reflecting let me see something. It's a consider the source thing.

~When bestowed upon me from a mentor or someone I respect it carries creative juice.

~When it's given to me as a gift of support from someone that cheers me on in my entire journey, it's major powerful.

~When it arrives as you've just described, which I feel is hurtful (for me) I've "just done a reading" on the person. Literally. I've just done a reading on where they might be coming from, what's important to them, what their artistic weaponry might be like, what's really under their skin and I learn.

I learn that to give, bestow and provide support and compliment to the Artist (including support to yourself) is a gift and an "art" in and of itself. It's one that should be taken seriously and with kindess & compassion.

Excellent, thought provoking topic.

GARI said...

I guess "that looks like a lot of work" sounds like a compliment to me. It states that the person looking at my work is acknowledging that I have put some effort into what I have done. And it usually is a lot of work, anyway, at least at my house. LOL

Barbara C said...

Sometimes I think non-quilters don't know what to say. They have no idea about the process, and all they can think is that it would be a lot of work for them. Quilters assume it's a lot of work, but we also know that there's a lot of creative fun involved too. I agree with Karen Diane. You've got to consider the source. I think someone who says this is trying to be complimentary.

Debra said...

I don't have a problem with someone commenting to me that my piece was a lot of work because, quite frankly, most of the pieces I do are a lot of work--I work at them daily and for a long time. I like the fact that someone acknowledges that. When people say, "That must have been a lot of work", I usually say, "Yes, it was!"

The comment/attitude that unnerves me is when I am showing someone my "work" and they begin telling me about their mother or grandmother and that she is/was a quilter and how great she is/was and now the focus is not on you anymore but is now on the person's relative. At that point, it's best to fold up your quilt and move along. I've never been able to return the conversation back to my piece.

Kay said...

Interesting comments. Thanks everyone. I'm with Paula. "That's pretty" is a compliment; "that's a lot of work" isn't, although I'd agree it's well meant. As Karen says, there's a difference whether it comes from a quilter or a non-quilter. A quilter is acknowledging effort and skill, the other--I'm not sure. Depends I guess.

The Calico Cat said...

My take... (I agree with the commetors who stated that coming from a quilter it carried a different meaning.) But for me it feels like a backhanded compliment & I definately hear the "but i hear a subtext of 'time waster!'" in the background.

Helen Conway said...

I think it depends whether the quilt actually did take me a long time or a lot of effort to make. If it was a big job in which put a lot of effort I would see that comment as recognition of what I put into it. I despair though if I have knocked up something simple and quick and people say its a lot of work and then follow up with 'I could never do that'. I hate when people see things they like but don't have the confidence to envisage themselves learning how to do those things ( assuming we are not talking a physical disabilty problem here).

Allison Ann Aller said...

I think "That's a lot of work" could also mean "I could never do that..."

(And I know I could never piece as lovely a quilt as your red stars, either.)

My favorite exchange along these lines was when someone asked my cousin Tracy how she had the patience to make her baskets.
She answered, "I get impatient if I CAN'T make baskets!"

dee said...

Here's my story. I took a quilt to the nursing home when my FIL Jim was in his last days. He often didn't have much to talk about and slept on and off. I just felt like being there with him anyway. I was working on an Amish square in a square with lots of handwork. A nurse came by and stopped in to "chat". She said "Wow, how can you do all that work?" "It would bore me to tears" "I can't imagine having that much time to waste" I kid you not!! It was hard to reconcile that one. Your work is wonderful-sometimes people just don't think before they speak. She should have known better so I'm thinking it was a thoghtless comment.

Anonymous said...

The one I seem to get the most is, "I wouldn't have the patience." That astonishes me, as there is no patience involved at all. It's a process. Sometimes people haven't a clue about what they are looking at. I don't let it bother me.

Shasta said...

I think it would depend on what kinds of values that the speaker feels is important. If someone is a person with a productive personality or works someplace where productivity is important, then that is high praise indeed to say that you worked hard on your project. If I said something like that - and I'm pretty sure I say it pretty frequently - good job, great work, etc., it is always meant as a compliment. It isn't meant to say that your project was "work" but more like a metaphor to compliment your amount of effort - i.e. not a shoddy job.

On the other hand, if someone values efficiency, they might say "a lot of work" as in you are wasting your time. I've heard the same words mean two different things. When I answer them, I answer as if I misunderstood their words to be a compliment.

Kim said...

"Somebody has too much time on her hands". That response to a quilt that I made and gave as a gift hurt my feelings. The remark came from a person does not value quilting, who has no comprehension of the quilters emotions that are tied into a quilt (especially those quilts that we present as a gift).

Yes, I hear the remarks about quilting being so much work and it is true, even the simplest quilts involve some part that feels more like work than fun - some are such buggers, even I wonder why I thought I wanted to make that particular quilt! As quilters we all know there is a certain amount of "work/creative challenge" in making a quilt. Points that don't meet, machines that don't cooperate, colors that don't quite look right...

"Why would anybody want to do that"? Another common comment about quilting, lol, well, I can't begin to explain that to a non-quilter so I just shrug and say it's a form of art. Quilting is a way of life for's my passion. Plenty of folks have a passion for something. Take flower gardening as an example. Flowers are beautiful, but they die off quickly and there is nothing left but a memory until the next flowering season comes along - so why flower garden? You can't even eat most of them! Well, like quilting, gardening is an artform that usually has a beautiful outcome and the fruit that is born of gardening is totally a beautiful thing. It's also time and hard work, a lot of dirt, seeds and time spent weeding, but worth it. Right? Flowers help us celebrate, express sympathy, show love and provide comfort. I think gardening is all good.

A quilt is something that serves a purpose too! And, one single quilt provides warmth and comfort for years to come. And yes, I have heard those remarks about how lovely those "BLANKETS" are, but a blanket is a blanket, lol...some folks just don't know what they do not know!