Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Hand vs. Machine: The Saga Continues

I warned you....the crankiness continues!

I attended a local quilt show in May.  I will admit that I haven't been to one in a few years, the last was one of those shows where it was all about selling stuff and not so much about quilts on display.

Now, I like to buy fabric as much as the next person, maybe more, do you remember my stash?

And this was taken in September of 2015, and doesn't include several large tubs, and three more smaller bookcases.....I definitely have fabric stash cred!

The show I went to a few years ago was full of fabric vendors who thought it was so marvelous to offer their fabrics in only one or two yard pieces.  Whatever happened to fat quarters?  Not to mention that so many of the fabrics were ones I'd seen online for sale on fabric websites.  I ended up buying nothing, and the quilts on display looked like the same ones I'd seen the last time I went to that particular show, (and shame on me for going again!).

The show I went to in May was actually a lot better.  It was held by the Umpqua Valley Quilters' Guild at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Roseburg, Oregon.  We live about 15 miles from the fairgrounds so I thought I'd take a gander and was impressed with what I saw.  For one thing, the facility was modern and bright, so you could actually see everthing.  The ladies manning the front table were friendly and helpful, (pretty much the norm around here), and the vendors were great.  They actually had fat quarters at reasonable prices and I even got into a conversation with a vendor about Kaffe Fassett and Philip Jacobs.  One of  my favorite booths was the one from the local yarn store.  So much wonderful color!  Too bad I don't have the patience to knit...

The quilts display were very good, and I loved that they showed quilts from less accomplished quilters as well.  I love to see the best professional and amateur quilting, but I also enjoy seeing the joy in the quilts of those who are just starting out. They also had a collection of quilts dedicated to veterans, and were having a ceremony honoring them.  It was so great to see so many of the show guests stopping to show respect for the soldiers.

So, it sounds like I had a good time, and I did...so where does the crankiness come in...

Very little handwork!

It's been a peeve of mine for a while that so many of the quilters of today do all of their work by machine.  I know it's not easy to do, I'm not dissing their ability, but I love to see something that has been hand-stitched, and therefore less than perfect.  Some of the quilts were absolutely gorgeous, but I kept thinking, how would they look with some hand-stitching?  Is there no room for us hand-stitchers anymore?

I no longer compete in the quilting world because I feel that little ol' me with my needle and thread can't compete with a $10,000 machine run by a highly skilled operator.  I just can't, and the fact is that I really don't want to.

In September of 2013, I wrote the following:

What's most frustrating from my point of view is that for many years I was the renegade quilter.  The one that thought it was OK to mix cottons and other fabrics, who didn't freak out if something was off grain, and who wasn't overly concerned that my stitches weren't 10 to an inch.  In the early days there were a lot of hardliners and I encountered them at quilt shows.  I think they were afraid that their comfort zone was being threatened and us "darned art quilters" were going to take over and then they were going to be on the outside looking in.

I don't remember ever mocking traditional quilters, even while I was purposely stretching the limits.  I always appreciated their skill and their commitment.  Let's face it, if those dear ladies hadn't stuck it out as long as they did to teach a new generation, who knows what would have happened to quilting.  It could have ended up like macrame.

I remember being very frustrated that my skills weren't up to par.  My mother was often critical of my technique and told me that I needed to improve my skill set.  She was right and I was very fortunate that she didn't reflexively praise me, but instead encouraged and inspired me.  I was also fortunate in having a wonderful sewing instructor, LaVina Scott at San Joaquin Delta College.  She had worked in the fashion business in San Francisco for years and knew how to make everything from shoes to hats.  She taught me technique and I leaned how to do things the "right" way.   It was a wonderful gift to be expected to be the best, but the most important thing she did is that she gave me the wings....and then let me fly.  I'll never forget what she said on the last day of our class, she said, "OK Ladies, now you know the rules, go out and break them!"

And so I did!  As often as possible and not always with the best results.  However, through it all I always maintained my admiration for those fine hand quilters out there and their beautiful work.  In the beginning of my quilting journey I was all for machine quilting.  I was young and in a hurry.  Today I've come full circle to the point where I do very few things by machine, and always quilt by hand. 

Now I'm one of those who question the validity of machine quilted quilts.  It's not that I don't like them or that I don't think they're "quilts" I just question judging them side by side with hand quilted work.  I know that quilting by machine is difficult, especially if you are hand guiding the machine, but does it rise to the same level of  hand quilting?  I'm not sure yet, but I do know that it bugs me when an entirely machine made quilt wins first prize at a big show.  I just think the machine quilters have an advantage, and a lot of that is financial.

Those who can't afford the expensive quilting machines are left out of the mix, and I think that's a crime.  I look back to my early days when if I had 10 bucks to spend on fabric that was a lot.  I wonder how many young quilters are discouraged when they find out how much a decent machine costs?  Are we helping or hurting the next generation of quilters by emphasizing a style of work not affordable to everyone?

Isn't it interesting that some of the same struggles that existed within the quilting community in the 1970s are still with us?  Will there always be this pull between traditional and non-traditional quilters?  I think it's eased a bit on the traditional end.  Different fabrics and color combinations are more widely accepted, and the ease with which machine quilting is accepted is a new thing too.  I wonder what things will look like 20, even 10 years from now?

It's sad for me to see that after 5 years, hand-quilting seems to have taken even more of a backseat.  I guess I'm just the old lady in the corner, pricking my finger and saying a ladylike swear word, while I'm still happily stitching away with my #10 needle and bright colored thread.

Sometimes it's kind of fun to slow down and enjoy the moment, and the imperfections of life.  Maybe that's because I'm slow and imperfect.  So be it!

Happy Hand-stitching!


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