Tuesday, September 06, 2011

When Easy Isn't

While I was out of touch this summer, I missed the big blogosphere discussion of "modern quilting" and the Dumbing Down of Quilting.  If you missed it too, just google that phrase and you'll find all you need to know.  The two terms aren't really synonymous,  but they became joined in the on-line discussions.

This topic is relevant to my experience with Athena's Puzzle.  Athena's Puzzle is a Blue Underground pattern designed by Janine Burke.  These patterns would seem to fit under the umbrella of Modern Quilting: large pieces, straight lines, emphasis on fabric choice and color rather than intricate piecing.  I like them, and I also like Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr's designs which have similar characteristics.

This being said, are these patterns "dumbed down" and overly simple?  If people think that, they're being deceived.  The question is who is doing the deceiving.  Is it the designers and the marketers who want to sell a "simple" pattern to beginners, or is it the beginners, who are kidding themselves.  Some patterns undoubtedly are simple, but some are not.

 For example, Athena's puzzle is a "simple" courthouse steps design with the colors arranged differently from the original; the sewing is simple, the fabric layout is tricky at first.  (The directions are good at this point.)

But after the piecing, we get to the finishing, with those chopped off blocks producing bias edges.  Chopping off is supposed to be the simple way to give that clean modern look, I guess, but it isn't.  Trimming those edges is not child's play, as I found out.  There are no guidelines in the directions at all about how to line up the ruler to make sure the edge stays straight, and judging from the tools that are sold, I bet some of those modern quilters don't "get" 45 degree and 90 degree angles.  Secondly, if the quilt is finished like the sample with those bias edges bound, isn't it going to be very wavy?  How about a warning to handle those edges carefully.  A border might be a better option, but measuring and sewing the border so it doesn't wave is tricky too.  No guidance is given.

A truly simple version of this design would have traditional setting triangles, with or without a border.  But that wouldn't look as "modern", and probably would scare off some beginners.  So I guess my point is that Modern Quilting isn't necessarily dumbed down quilting, and quilters who want something simple need to be very careful in the pattern they choose.


Libby Fife said...

Well, I just love these sorts of discussions. I missed the conversation too obviously. It is my opinion that things that appear to be simple at first are often actually difficult-especially if you don't have some basic skills and some expereince already.

I would guess marketing is behind the concept of simplicity-too bad for the unsuspecting. I remember too that when I first started I bought a beginner's book with courthouse steps as one of the patterns. The book was so complex-I didn't have any knowledge yet or experience to follow those directions. I did better with a far simpler book and set of patterns but I had no idea even how hard that was until I got started. There was a lot to learn before I could even get going.

Quilting of any sort is such a wonderful tradition-I hate to see all of that tradition and experience ignored in an attempt to label a new movement or to "dumb" something down or to appeal to the masses. I hope this isn't happening. And the term "modern quilting" doesn't carry much weight with me I guess. In my opinion, sewing and quilting of any kind require a lot of brainpower and experience. (Just witness the number of dogs that I have put together over the years!)

Hope I didn't get too far off of your topic:)

Rian said...

It is my opinion that, in today's busy-busy world of microwave ovens and bagged salads, of Swiffers and Scrubbing Bubbles, we appreciate that there is value in ease of construction and a fast route to the finished product.

However, without knowing what you are doing, it doesn't mean it's any easier. Should there be a warning label on the book that you should have basic cutting and construction skills? Or should every pattern contain a tutorial? My firt quilt was one of those very simple ones and yet I messed it up because I didn't understand the importance of 1/4" seams and had no idea how to bind it. The so-called "beginner" pattern didn't tell me these things. Or maybe I skipped over them.

I wasted a lot of time and fabric. Not a big deal to me, but it could be a very big deal to someone else.

Great topic, Kay. I am sure to chew it while I'm golfing today.

Debra Spincic said...

Thankfully, I missed that discussion too. Sort of been there, done that on more than one topic related to quilting and tired of the whole lot.

When I bought my longarm, I automatically received a subscription to Love of Quilting by Fons & Porter. Because it arrives every month, I look at it. Even after 30 years of quilting (and the horrible directions when I first started to quilt), I am surprised how poorly the directions are written for the magazine's patterns.

On a similiar note, I see alot of patterns that are based on "quick & easy" that waste tremendous amounts of fabric. With just a little more thought & a tad bit more effort, a more frugal approach could be worked out. I know alot of the designers are writing patterns to sell fabric lines, but not everyone appreciates that.

Barbara C said...

A very thoughtful post Kay. In a way the modern quilt patterns seem marketed at new (and younger) quilters who are just acquiring basic skills. However, what's easy for one quilter will be a challenge for another. Plus some of us (like me) have occasional memory lapses and forget for a moment how to do something we learned in the past (like cut those pesky side triangles). Good directions are always handy, and user error is a fact of life, unfortunately.

The Calico Cat said...

Just a clarification:
Weeks Ringle & Bill Kerr (not Weeks & Ringle)

& I saw an athena's puzzle at my LQS & though of you...

I love those discussions (I really like a good controversy - I'm an old nosey parker.)

Secondly, if the quilt is finished like the sample with those bias edges bound, isn't it going to be very wavy? YES - even if you are careful. Years ago, there was a blue quilt (in a book & on Simply Quilts) that gradiated from light in the middle to dark on the edges. The maker/author told Alex that if she were making it again, she would do it differently because it waves a lot.

The Dumbing Down started when someone on (Sew Mama Sew) made a comment about triangles being hard...

One of my first quilts (my first BIG quilt) has bias edges in each & every block - If I knew then... (As it is you can tell that I thought a quarter inch was optional.) I am self taught, I saw the pattern in a magazine & ran for it! & I just folded over the backing to bind it. I luckily found the superwide muslin & Joanns for the backing - or I would have compounded my errors I am sure.

To this day, I avoid triangles. (I am satisfied with what I create without adding agrivation - with that said an old fashioned card tricks quilt using my taupe collection is on my to do list...)

McIrish Annie said...

There also seems to be less emphasis on accuracy. Hence, none of your hand wringing over biasor straight borders, etc. I don't know maybe the waviness is supposed to add charm?

And Rian brings up a good point. In the "old fashioned" books, there was almost always a section with some basic instructions about the importance of a 1/4 inch seam and how to square up blocks, which way to press your seams, etc. That seems to be missing, especially if you are just purchasing a pattern.

I think initially the modern movement was more about the look, not necessarily about how it was to be constructed.

jenclair said...

Well, I missed the discussion, too, but the comments on your interesting post provided a great discussion for me!

*karendianne. said...

Took me a while to get to this post but only because I knew it wasn't going anywhere and I'm glad it worked out this way because I've been studying some of those modern quilts. I would in no way think of modern quilting as Dumbing Down. I just think of it as a form of quilting that requires a set of skills and it ain't all that easy. Just like any other area in quilting. I'll stick with the piecing thank you very much. …and can I hire out for my borders as well? *karendianne. who finds she's missing your voice.

The Calico Cat said...

follow up on my previous comment:
Strips & Strings by evelyn sloppy