Cut. Quilt. Love.

The Dumbing Down of the Quilting and Sewing Industry

Posted at May 21st, 2013
Posted by Ebony
Categories: Behind the Scenes, Crapology, CUTTING, CRAFTING & QUILTING, EDUCATION, Non-Quilt Projects, RUNNING THE BIZ

Ok you guys, I’ve had it up to here, and I just can’t take any more.  Pardon me while I rant about a few things on my mind.

I work hard, every day (ok, except yesterday because I was really tired) to hone my craft, make it better, make it worthy of putting out into the world to represent who I am and what I do.  I also feel like my work represents every artist out there, as an example of what is possible when you apply your talent to something tangible. I am harder and more critical on myself than anyone else, and maybe harder on myself than I should be, but I truly believe that an object should look just as good on the front as it does on the back; just as good on the inside as it does on the outside. I’m always looking for ways to enclose raw edges, make smoother curves, and I’ll even sometimes take the trouble to match patterns if I have enough fabric to do so.

What I am realizing is that a lot of people just don’t seem to give a shit. Yes, I said it. And I’m sorry for the inclusion of this word, but those who know me know how rarely I curse, and I really need you to understand the depth of my feelings on this topic.

I’m not talking about perfection; I’m talking about attention, respect, commitment.  Attention to detail, respect for your own work, and a commitment to putting out the best work that your talent & skill allows.

What is killing me these days is this assertion that being a “modern” whatever means that it’s okay for you to sew seams any which way, that if your piece doesn’t lay flat, it’s ok; that if your topstitching looks like a drunken spider stitched it, that’s all ok too.  And maybe it is, if you’re just stitching for yourself, or you haven’t developed that skill yet and you’re still learning, or you just wanted the darn thing finished because you’re tired of looking at it and you’ve stopped caring.

But if you’re going to teach?  If you’re writing a book?  If you’re cranking out patterns to sell? If you’re selling the item itself?  That’s where I draw the line.  This is what I call the dumbing down of our industry.  And it’s not just the makers of crappy work that I’m directing my ire toward; it’s also the consumers who lap up substandard work just because that person is popular, and the editors of books and magazines who don’t call people on their crappy work and make them do it better or not at all.

Someone told Lisa Sipes the other day something to the effect of, “You could sell poop and people would buy it.” Lisa does not sell poop, she has an incredible work ethic and talent, and I totally get what the person is saying.  It’s supposed to be meant as a compliment, but I would be horrified to be so popular, to have such celebrity that someone would allow me to sell shit as gold and not call me on it.

I’m not including pictures in this post, because I’m not talking about any specific person; I’m not trying to shame anyone or call them out, but I know you’ve seen this stuff out there.  It’s like an epidemic; the close-up shots of tangled starts & ends, because the person couldn’t be bothered to lock their threads or hang onto the tails when they started. The haphazard binding put on any which way that is lumpy in one spot and empty in another. Raw hems on dresses & trims that have masses of threads hanging off of them, because the person can’t or won’t draft their pattern to cut on the bias in order to properly employ a raw edge.  We call this stuff cute, we ooooooh and aaaaaah over it, and drool, and drape praises over them like superhero capes, all the while reinforcing the idea that crap is great and great is overrated.

And this isn’t restricted to novices; I’ve seen this stuff in glossy, well-made books.  I’ve seen it from very talented designers and makers alike.  I’ve even seen it in full page ads taken out by quilting celebrities in magazines.

Here’s how this cycle of ineptitude starts.  Some person starts blogging about their sewing projects. They develop a following because they came up with something clever, and even though that clever something isn’t particularly well-made, because it was clever, people pay attention. We don’t know how to separate the clever part from the construction, and so we heap praises on that person, and no one bothers to tell them, hey if you did this a different way, your piece would look better.  Or hey, next time you should do X, because X will keep your piece from looking like crap.  But no… people will share the clever, not the well-made, and that blogger develops an insane following and someone in the industry takes notice.

The industry person wants a piece of this person’s popularity, because if they can ally themselves to that person, they can reap some of the rewards that popularity brings.

“If I give this person some fabric to work with, their followers will buy my fabric, and I’ll make money.  If I give this person a book deal, their followers will buy the book, and I’ll make money. And to hell with whether or not that person has a talent for sewing or quilting.  I’m not going to help them by mentoring them or suggesting they actually take a class on sewing and quilting techniques, or how they can improve; they are popular now, and that’s what I want.  To hell with them developing their skills. They don’t need to; they are popular without it.”

Because this now-popular person is being courted by the industry, and now has followers, and industry people chasing them, they think to themselves, “Well, this isn’t a big deal after all.  I was worried at first about my crooked seams and crappy construction, but no one seems to care, so it must not matter.”  They continue putting out crap, the crap is selling, and the attitude is reinforced.

Other folks producing crap feel encouraged by this blogger’s success, and so they start putting out crap.  Some of this crap gets through, and another crappy book comes out.

Meanwhile, there’s a sector of folks who have been doing this a while, the folks who have talent, and have honed their skills over time, and who ordinarily do not put out crap. They start noticing this trend of crap flooding the internet, flooding the bookshelves, the popularity of crap, and they think to themselves, “Why the hell am I working so hard?” And they throw some crap at a wall to see if it sticks. “What do you think of my crap?” They ask.  And you know what happens?  Because that person already has a measure of success that they BUILT ON  WELL-MADE THINGS, and are already popular, no one will dare say to them, “Did you just throw some crap at a wall hoping we wouldn’t notice?” NO.  Nobody says BOO.  They heap praises on that person, call the crap golden, and it reinforces to that person that they can sell shit as gold and no one will object. Now that person can start producing crap on a regular basis.

And I’m not making this stuff up.  I watched this very scenario unfold on Facebook last week. It happens every minute on Etsy. I’ve got examples of this very thing on my own bookshelf.

And so the cycle goes; someone makes crap, the crap sells. More people make crap, and that sells. Then someone makes something even crappier, and THAT sells too, and pretty soon the whole industry is putting out substandard work; fabric quality degrades, everything is made of plastic and breaks easily, and we buy the books and patterns and magazines filled with glossy photos of crappy projects.  This gives everyone the impression that crap is great, and the standards take a hit.  The bar is lowered, and all of a sudden the crap drowns out the well-made so that people don’t even know what well-made is anymore.

Then there are the rest of us, watching in horror as all of this happens.  And by “the rest of us”, I mean the people who refuse to put out crap, even if it means doing it over, or who put out crap because they honestly want feedback and to learn and improve but who wouldn’t dream of hoisting it on others as if it were not crap.   Those of us who wear out seam rippers by the dozen because it’s worth doing right if it’s worth doing at all.  Those of us who will still take the time to do a French seam even though it takes longer and we’re going to miss our deadline. The rest of us who point out the crappy parts in our own work so that you know we’re not perfect.  We don’t do this so you will tell us how fabulous we are anyway; we do this because we think you should know what crap looks like so you can make an informed decision if you ever decide to buy or make crap of your own. It’s the rest of us who want to hold the standard high so that even if we miss, it’s still better than the crap that most people will put out there.

Everybody makes crap – it’s how we get better.  In all things artistic, you have to make a lot of crap before you ever start to make anything good, and sometimes you have to make crap because only by doing it wrong can you find the way to do it right.  I’m not objecting to the idea of making crap, what I’m railing against is the part where crap sells and everybody thinks that’s OK.

It’s like the person who is told all of their lives that they can sing, and then they go audition for American Idol and the judges have to tell them they have no talent.  Simon Cowell was my favorite judge. He didn’t mince words; people called him mean, but Simon is someone who refuses to call crap golden. If you can do better, he’ll tell you to go take some lessons and come back next year, but if you have no talent, he will tell you to pursue another career.

I am not suggesting that we all start going around trolling people’s blogs and criticizing their work; but I do think that as consumers, we need to push back on the industry and refuse to buy stuff that we know is crap in the false name of supporting the “artist”. I don’t know what the solution is to get people to stop selling crap, or to stop believing their own BS. As makers, we need to have enough respect for our own work to know that we can do better, and enough care for the folks who come after us to show them what good looks like.

I do not want to set myself up as the Simon Cowell of the quilting industry. I know crap when I see it, and I refuse to lower my own standards in my work.  But I can only sweep my own house; it’s not for me to become the sweeper for the whole town.  It just really makes me sad to see how the quality of work has degraded so much that people no longer even respect the skills that it takes to do things well.  I get frustrated every time I open a book and see a closeup of terrible topstitching, and I get really upset when I see yet another artist I respect throw crap at a wall and get praised for it.

And it’s not sour grapes either, because I’m not sitting here whining about poor me, everyone else is popular and I’m not, or everyone else is getting a book deal or fabric or sponsorships or whatever.  I get the book deals, and the fabric, and the industry attention so you know I’m not begrudging what someone else has.

I don’t have a great solution to this pervasive dumbing down, other than to ask my fellow makers to examine your work to see if there is room for improvement & make a commitment to yourself to develop your talent for your own sake; and to ask the consumers to vote with your dollars, to recognize crap when you see it and to hold us to a higher standard. Don’t let someone sell you shit and call it gold and be okay with that.

And if anyone needs a sewing mentor, or a quilting mentor, or wants some constructive criticism on something they are working on, I will raise my hand and offer to be that person for you.  I won’t tell you your work is crap, but I’ve been sewing almost as long as I’ve been on this earth, so I have a lot that I can recommend.  Maybe I should start posting tips on how to make things less crappy.  I’ll do my part, but mostly I think I preach to the choir; the folks making the crap that sells won’t listen because they’re already writing and teaching and selling.  But if you think you can do better and don’t know how, let me know and I will try to help you.  I’m not a 100% expert on everything, but I know enough that I can share.

What do you think?  Do you see what I see? Does any of this bother you too?

Update: If you’ve gotten this far, I hope you’ll also take the opportunity to read the follow up post that I wrote (I don’t apologize, but I do clarify the difference that I see between professional standards and personal ones; why my crap isn’t your crap; and why everybody should keep making crap, but not necessarily sell all the crap they make) as well as my new Friday series called Crapology 101.

182 Responses to “The Dumbing Down of the Quilting and Sewing Industry”

  • Anna

    I too have noticed the “dumbing down” of the quilting and sewing profession. I love handwork and really can not understand why anyone would take up the task of making a quilt and not want to do a good job of it. But I think there are two trends working against those of us who want to do quality work.

    The first is the trend that many, many, many people have is that if you can’t do it fast and easy, why bother? We are a society who craves instant gratification and putting in the hours to do something right is “so yesterday” and “so old fashioned”! I blame parents for this — is it not their job to raise adults who are hard workers and proud of the quality of their work?

    The second trend is the desire for celebrity. I can count on both of my hands the number of quilters I have met that want to be quilting superstars whether they have the talent or not. After all, what is the point of doing anything unless there is applause (and hopefully enough money for a more than comfortable retirement) for the doing? Thus leading to the last trend…

    The third trend, the industry itself who only cares about selling fabric (well made, poorly made — can anyone really tell the difference anyway as long as they use a lot of it in cookie cutter patterns that promote no more skill than a monkey peeling a banana), selling books with great covers and yet poorly written and conceived contents (who reads instructions anyway), and selling expensive sewing machines that promise professionally perfect results with a flip of the stitch regulator button.

    Quilting (as well as many of the traditional arts like drawing and painting) is now accessible to anyone who is willing to spend money if they are convinced that it will get them good results in as little time as possible. Even if a person falls for this scam just once, it is money in someone’s pocket that was not there before.

    Bravo to you for wanting to do what you can to reverse these trends! I too will do my part by not producing crap and entering my art in a few shows to remind people of what well crafted art art really looks like!

  • Wow this is great! I’m really late in reading it but I can relate. I’m just starting my budding designing career and I try to put out the best quality quilts that I can. So yay for good workmanship!

  • Mary

    I have noticed that a lot of new designers don’t know ANYTHING about sewing construction, fabrics, etc…. How can they possibly know how to create QUALITY items without knowing the demographics of the whole piece and what goes into the construction of a quality product?

  • I read your blog and couldn’t help but smile. I’m a relatively new designer and just had my debut line of fabrics with Maywood Studio in October. Most of my designs are a bit complicated, but traditional beauties that I hope will be admired for years and years. Am I popular, no, because many quilters are intimidated by my designs and they are looking for quick and easy. I make every attempt to write accurate patterns, provide quick customer service, and wear many hats. All in all, I work hard at my craft and I honor and respect you for having the moxy to say it like it is.

    • Ebony

      Congratulations Jan!! I totally hear you about people being intimidated by more complex designs; heck, lots of people are intimidated by the easy ones too! The trick here is not about popularity so much as finding your market, targeting your market, and delivering what your market expects of and needs from you. We don’t have to serve the entire quilting community, but we do have to respect the community that has embraced us. Thanks for holding yourself to your own high standard. Work it girl!

  • NellyKelly

    Thanks so much, Ebony, for having the courage to point out that the Emperor’s Suit might be a bit threadbare. I don’t usually comment, but I just had to here! I am a very new quilter… Like less than a year. Really no background in sewing, either. But I am hopelessly devoted already, to the point that I am getting emotional as I write this. Because it matters to me… I want to learn and practice and sew and I am truly living and breathing this hobby. And here’s what stinks as someone in my position… It’s hard for me to figure out who is a reliable source as I’m learning.

    I’ve spent too much hard earned dough on books or patterns that turned out to be poorly written or executed, and I don’t have a lot of folks in my life who can show me that its not my inexperience but the instructions that are to blame, for example. Having the lovely gals in the shop explain that to me the next day does not unshed those tears of frustration!! And I’ve already had to spend time unlearning things that I’d rather have spent learning correctly the first time and then moving on! I mean, when the work I am seeing online, in books, and in magazines, has chopped off points, non-matching seams, uneven stitches, how am I even supposed to know what the goal is here? I’m sorry to be a dummy, but I don’t know anyone who quilts personally, no one in my family, and the aforementioned girls in the shop are not necessarily gonna point out these issues in my work… They are trying to keep a customer, and they don’t know that I really want to know…

    There are plenty of people out there who are willing to tell a new quilter that it is worth it to spend the extra money to have good equipment and quality fabric. And they are right. And there are plenty of resources I can turn to for an honest review of a machine, a notion, a thread, or a fabric. When it comes to learning who I should be learning from, though, I kind of look for the names I know because they have been published. And the more I learn, the more even I am seeing that a lot of these people are putting out subpar products using kooky techniques, to be nice about it. I don’t know if its because they don’t know any better (like me) or because they just know they can get away with it, but either way, someone has to call bullsh**.

    I’m not expressing myself very well, but I just wanted to thank you for being the one to call them on it. among other things, you are speaking up for the newbie like me who doesn’t really have a voice. I want to learn, and I want to learn it right, and I want to grow, and if I’m doing it wrong I want someone to tell me and show me how to do it right! It’s nice to know that this is a zone where a turd is called a turd…

    • Ebony

      Thanks NellyKelly! Welcome to the dialogue! Hopefully you saw my response to you – it prompted its own blog post! :)

  • YES! a resounding YES! My father taught me that if you weren’t proud enough to wear your home made garment inside out, you made it wrong! I have carried that sentiment with me all these years. I have transferred that to my quilt making. Good article!!

  • Does anyone think that perhaps the emphasis on “quick”, “fast”, “easy” in the magazines, tv quilt shows, and online might have something to do with some of this? I find that for me, even though sometimes I like fast… does tend to produce something that looks like it was made FAST.

  • Robert

    I’m an artist first and my sewing comes second. I come up with original designs and I am getting a lot of positive feedback. I know that my sewing is scandalous. Believe me. I do strive for improvement with every new project. I will never be Nancy Zieman, but I can always shoot for her type of perfection. Also, I’m not selling anything (yet) and certainly not pushing my method. Bert62

  • Bambi

    Sorry, but there is no way that you can “start a dialogue” or have a “respectful debate and disagreement” when you begin with a diatribe.

    • Ebony

      You are entitled to your opinion, of course, and thank you for the feedback. To be fair, I did say I was going to rant in the intro to the post. I suppose the way I delivered my message prevents you from contributing anything else constructive?

      • Wow. I simply stumbled upon these posts. And look at what you hath wraught! I know I’m late to the dance, but my two cents:

        Ebony, I agree with what you’ve said. I also think the way you said it was just fine. You were respectful, you were detailed, and you clearly held a wide perspective on the matter, not simply your own.

        The ONLY thing I see as a problem is that, via the internet, people do not understand–they react. There is no way to have a real-time dialogue. There is no way to hear inflection or get immediate clarification. And so a certain percentage of the backlash is simply misunderstanding, and among people who would likely agree with you if it weren’t for the walls of the internt. That’s all fine, as long as you keep responding, as you have done.

        But the percentage of people who really are angry that you would dare to say there is something wrong with selling and teaching poorly- or even mediocrely-made goods are simply full of crap. They apparently don’t pride themselves on working hard enough to make something the best it can be before asking someone else to pay for it. They apparently are having a little tantrum over the fact that selling something they wouldn’t buy themselves is their right and isn’t anyone else’s business.

        The ugly fact of the DIY market is that, the scantest percentage of us are ever going to get paid what we are worth in terms of skill, attention to quality, and certainly in labor hours spent on the product. The huge majority of those who sell their wares are greatly underpaid. And given that, many people probably feel that it isn’t fair and that they shouldn’t work as hard and charge whatever they can get.

        It’s totally okay for you or anyone else to call that what it is. It’s true. It’s reality. People escape realities constantly. But that doesn’t mean they go away.

        • Ebony

          Oh yes Chris!! And there’s also the part where, you can write what you want in the heat of the moment, letting the words flow out of your fingers like a monsoon, and have people take that as a representation of who you are, all the time. If I were standing in conversation with someone face to face, we could argue our points back and forth, forgive one another for a misplaced word or turn of phrase, and still walk away friends. The internet can be an ugly place to be sometimes, but here we all are. Thanks for sticking around to participate in the dialogue.

          We have a free market economy, for the most part, where anyone is free to sell just about anything, and people are also free to buy it. I am also free to complain, but I can’t make someone cease their production of whatever crap (good, bad, or great) they choose to put out there; nor do I want to. My call was not to stop making, but to start paying attention. Thanks for recognizing that. :)

    • Kay

      I totally agree!! Someone needs a few more humility blocks in their quilts. When did art have to be perfect? I agree that patterns should be accurate and if you are a “professional” then your quilts should be well made but let’s not categorize things that are not perfect as crap. Quilting will survive even with quilts with unmatched seams.

  • OMG, this subject of substandard work has been eating at me for a year. Like you, I`ve been sewing for most of my years and have learned through classes, practice, more classes, reading, and hard work. I really do resent it when some neophyte waltzes in with a new take on something (something that we probably did decades ago) in a new fabric – and does it poorly to boot – and is praised and followed.

    I only sew for my pleasure, not for profit, but hate seeing the crap and wondering why quality and pride in workmanship count for less these days.

  • Well said Ebony,
    I myself produce and right my own patterns and run my own business. This is a very satisfying but busy business to have. I work very, very hard and the last thing I want is for somebody to think that my work ethic is sloppy or not presented in the best format that I can possibly produce. I go to great lengths to ensure that the pattern you receive and the service you get is 100%. (there are lots of “Mud Maps” out there).
    When I attend a show or group meeting my stand is always the very best I can present on the day…..anything less is just not doing my business any favours!

    It all comes down to pride in your work (whether you are professional or non professional), nothing else, you don’t have to compare to others, but know in your heart that you have done the best that you can possibly do. Take care in your work every step of the way and you will be rewarded.
    I would much rather have rewards for good presentation and no sales than to know that the product that I produce is sub standard to myself and others.

    And here is a note to some magazine editors out there who are under pressure to fill their pages…..your people should not settle for second best either. Over the years I have seen countless images of poor work reproduced in magazines which is one of the first places that beginner quilters stop at for help and inspiration.
    The industry needs to grow from young well informed people who will continue the craft onwards.

    Be proud of what you produce and enjoy making your quilt.


  • I. Love. This. You are spot on Ebony! I knew I liked you! Technique is important. Modern or Traditional. Why spend so much on fabric to treat it like crap? My SIL is a new quilter and I always try to help and give advice. Why wouldn’t you be honest? Real friends/teachers help you grow.

  • Lauren aka Giddy99

    It’s true! I’m a novice, and I know I need tons of improvement, but I’ve been really disappointed with some of the “featured” quilts in more than one quilting mag lately. If I can spot the mistakes or lack of attention to detail (or God forbid, a “wavy” not-squared quilt edge), then it shouldn’t be in a magazine.

    I think it’s okay to accept that sometimes things aren’t going to be perfect, but I expect better from something that is published. I can look at my mistakes any time; I don’t need to pay $6-14 for a magazine of “expert’s” mistakes.

    Thank you for speaking up!

  • Jacqui Gardner

    At last someone who will stand up and say”The emperor has got no clothes”loved the comments

  • Missy

    Oh yes! Finally someone had the guts to just say what I have been thinking. And I have a personal story… I sewed for one of the new popular online “boutiques” sewing ruffly clothing for little girls. I took the time to perfect using my ruffler foot and to make nice rolled hems on my serger. I cut garments according to patterns and the lengths of pants, etc as listed in measurements on the boutique’s website. I delivered beautiful finished garments that were worth paying $50-$60 for.

    The really frustrating thing about this mostly fun job was that there was another sewer who did not cut according to patterns, “did her own thing” and used to work in a factory. Serger tails hanging, did not bother with rolled hems, just serged ruffle hems or dress hems with a 4-thread overlock, ends of seams not matching and just left that way, and even holes where seams were not caught. Things were mis- sized by her and made so quickly that there was no way she was paying any attention at all to details. But oh was she ever FAST..go figure.

    I sewed about 1 garment to her 4-6. We got the same pay…and she still sews for this boutique. They got very few complaints. I finally quit because I would not sew things like that and know some little girl’s parents or grandparents paid all that money for shoddy work. Can’t believe that people don’t care about how things are made..just want something unique. But it is so true : (

    Thanks for allowing me to add my rant.

  • Tahlia

    I also liken this phenomenon to bloggers writing posts about crap and then getting a hundred comments from brown-nosers stating “oh you are so right!”. heehee! ;-)

  • S

    Who is getting hurt here? Seems to me like nobody.

    While I agree that crappy workmanship sucks and I think it’s sad that people are popular from popularity rather than skill, I don’t think that this is “dumbing down” the industry at all. What if someone is popular for their design over their skill? Or popular for popularity’s sake? Why does it bother anyone or even matter?

    This post didn’t really bother me until you said it upset you that someone was proud of something that wasn’t something to be proud of. Seems like a very snobby attitude or as you said, sour grapes. I can’t see why else you would be upset about that. People should be proud of their efforts, even if they’re not perfect. Having the time and luxury to make something and then share it with the world shouldn’t be a time for sitting back thinking, well she sucks, she should take a class! I thought this community was more supportive.

    Don’t you think that deep down everyone wonders if they’re good enough? Even if they have followers who say that they are? These people get chosen to be popular by other people’s opinions, not their own.

    Still, thank you for speaking your mind, there were lots of valid points in there! It is unfair that someone who isn’t as good as another gets all the attention, but they are popular for a reason. This reminds me of Anya winning Project Runway on style and popularity but she couldn’t sew. Does that mean she sucks? That’s just my two cents.

    • S

      I mean, just so we’re clear, I obviously wasn’t trying to say you personally are jealous of other people. Uh-uh. Your work is amazing and you’re super sweet. I just wanted to say that I see it differently, since you asked for thoughts. I think that there is a general strain of misunderstanding and judgment in this industry and the world. It bothers me to think that people are sitting back horrified by other people’s creative efforts. I do wish their was more quality control when it comes to “I wrote a book” level as opposed to I have a popular blog. Perhaps your title should have been the commercialization of sewing bloggers.

    • Ebony

      Did I say that I was upset that someone was proud of something that wasn’t something to be proud of? And I’m not asking that in a defensive way, but more in a horrified, uh-oh-that’s-not-what-I-meant-at-all kind of way. I would ask you directly but you didn’t leave an email address. Hopefully you’ve had a chance to read my follow-up post too, because in it I tried to explain that I can be proud of something and love it to death, and tell other people that I love it too, and other people can praise me for it, and that thing can still be something that’s not good enough to ask someone else to pay money for. :)

      Regarding Anya… she had great vision, a great eye for design, but couldn’t sew. That means that Anya, if she wants to really make it in the fashion industry, needs to recognize that she is not great at execution, and either learn to do it better or hire someone who is. Nobody wants to wear stuff and pay big money for something that looks great but is risking a wardrobe malfunction every time they put it on.

    • Pamela Graham

      Very well said!

  • SueAnn

    You are so right and I’m just an ordinary quilter…..I quilt for loved ones. I don’t write patterns BUT I take pride in my work and am embarrassed by shoddy workmanship. Thank you for saying what so many of us feel.

  • Very very well said!

  • Susan K

    Thank you! Well said. Many go into pattern making, book writing for quick easy money without truly thinking the process through. If you want to sell a pattern or book to me, it better have something different than every other book out there, and it better be well-written, and well-made. A beginner’s work isn’t perfect, but a book or pattern sold to a beginner better be well-made to show what it should look like if properly finished.

  • Eu adorei o seu artigo, ainda sou iniciante na arte de patch e estou amando este mundo de tecidos. Estou aprendendo, pesquisando em blogs e sites, revistas, etc. Fico muito contente em ver que as artesãs fazem um belo trabalho e tem a sabedoria para distinguir o bom do ruim. Não conhecia seu blog, mas agora vou ser seguidora.

    {From Google Translate: I loved your article, I am still beginner in the art of patching and I’m loving this world of fabrics. I am learning, researching on blogs and websites, magazines, etc.. I’m very glad to see that the artisans do a great job and has the wisdom to distinguish the good from the bad. Do not know your blog but now I will be a follower. Thanks!}

  • I will be happy to link to any tips you post to my blog. Thanks for the well written article!

  • Josefina

    My feeling is that if a person knows they did a crappy job and still displays their work, that’s on them. There’s too much ugliness in this world for me to say anything bad about the crafters/quilters that you are referring to. My son is deployed for the fourth time, so my personal issues prevent me from thinking of/saying anything about our craft, quilting. I am glad, though, that you got that off your chest. Stay true to yourself.

  • cindi

    WOW! Just had this same conversation with a quilty friend recently. We saw a facebook post where a “quilter” had posted a block that took all afternoon and she was happy, happy, happy with it. I .took one look at the block and was dumbfounded. The points were all missing and nothing matched up. And it was paper pieced. How could this person be so happy with crap work? Now I know that I am OCD with my quilting at times and when I teach I stress the importance of 1/4 inch seams and to press and not iron. But I cannot putT out something that I am not proud of. And don’t get me started on the quilt shows I’ve attended recently. I actually asked a judge at one show why a certain quilt won a judges choice ribbon. The quilt was so poorly put together and the colors were horrible that I couldn’t figure it out. The judge said it was because he liked “indigo” fabrics. So I took that to mean the quality of the quilt could be crap as long as the fabric was “in”. Thanks for saying what so many of us are talking about. You definitely have started the discussion and now it is up to all of us to raise our standards and stop letting these publishers and quilters profit from subpar work.

    • Maybe it was their first paper pieced block?

      Maybe they were “happy, happy, happy” with it because they’d tried paper piecing before and HATED it and they were so happy that they came back to it again and tried.

      Maybe that inspired others too,”hey this person isn’t perfect but they did it maybe I can too”!

      Maybe that person is just learning what looks good.

      Maybe that person is a beginner-when points matching didn’t matter but just trying something did. (I remember when I was just so happy that I made a quilt and it stayed together-I never ever thought I would unpick because my seams didn’t line up perfectly)

      Maybe that person NOW is totally into making points match-they see it as a challenge.

      The point is, don’t judge someone that you don’t know.

      Yes I agree there is a lot of stuff out there that is as Ebony calls it “Crap”. Yes, a lot of those people have books, patterns and are trying to make a living. You know what, I don’t buy their stuff. The power is in the hands of us the consumer. So just don’t buy it. Move on and buy something you love.

      But please, don’t sit back behind your computer and wonder how someone could be so proud of something YOU think is crap. Let them be proud for accomplishing something that took them all damn day.

      • Ebony

        I think we have to be able to separate judgement of a person from judging the work.

        If a quilt does not win a ribbon at a show, it does not mean the person is somehow “less than.” It means that someone else’s work was better.

        If someone is just starting, or is proud of something they did (whether they are new or not), I can still tell that person, “Great effort!” and be proud of them too for accomplishing something.

        But I should also be able to look at the WORK and tell whether or not it is worth paying money for. I shouldn’t feel obligated to buy the result of that work in the name of supporting the artist, or not “judging” them. I’m not judging them. I’m judging the work. If I’m friends with that person, hopefully I have enough courage to let them know if I see something that, in my opinion, needs some work. If I am considering buying something from that person, I can use my dollar to say yes or no as to whether it is worth my money.

        I can call a work product not up-to-par without saying the PERSON is not up-to-par. I think we, as a community of makers, need to be able separate the work from the people who make it, and help each other grow.

        • Exactly, but what this commenter is saying is that the “professional” shared a paper pieced block (that happened to be her first) that wasn’t perfect but that she was proud of ON FACEBOOK (not in a book or pattern). Cindi has every right to have her opinion and critic. But calling her work crap just isn’t cool.

          My whole point and issue with so many mean spirited comments online is that people don’t always THINK before they TYPE simply because they are hiding behind a computer. Would Cindi really walk up to this person FACE TO FACE and say, hey so and so, that block that you worked all day on is crap and none of the points match? No they wouldn’t. They’d find a nicer, kind and better way to say it. Maybe they might even take the opportunity to TEACH.

          I just want people to stop and have a little empathy. If it’s in a book, or a pattern, or something that people paid money for-go for it with some tact. But if someone is just trying to show something they worked on for personal satisfaction, then back the heck F off.

          • Ebony

            Yes, that is not cool, in my opinion. Context is important. You can still be a professional in this industry, and a student at the same time while you’re honing your craft and adding new things to your arsenal. I can call my own stuff crap, and call the weakening of professional standards crap, but if I want to give someone a criticism, I would do it in a way that helps them grow, not breaks them down. We can still criticize, and be kind. I hope that was clear in my follow up post, that I did not advocate we start attacking people or their work, if we don’t know who they are or where they are on their journey. We can fight with our dollars as consumers, and by mentoring and coaching the people who need and want help. Thanks for standing up, Jen.

      • Pamela Graham

        Social Media has allowed people to sit behind their computers and say things that their Mama would have given them a good spanking!

    • clair

      This seems really snobby to me. Can’t some one be proud of their own work? Or does it have to meet your approval before they can pat themselves on the back? Making a quilt is hard work and even though I’ve been at it for 5 years now I have a really hard time getting my points to show and seams are not matched up all the time. Doesn’t mean I didn’t try my hardest. And it certainly does not mean I’m not proud as I can be when done. I’m trying my best and learning as I go and doing something that is hard but makes me happy. If I came across a coment like this about my work it would completely destroy my sprit. It’s depressing that we feel like we have to judge others so harsh and hold them to our standers. who are we do so?

      • Ebony

        Hi Clair,
        The stuff I’m complaining about has to do with industry professionals putting things out there for sale that isn’t always done with care & attention to detail. I keep seeing terrible samples in books I’ve paid a lot of money for, poorly written patterns, and professional samples that are held up as examples of their best work and clearly are not. It was not at all directed toward people who are in the process of learning how to sew and quilt, but those who ask us for our money and do not present themselves professionally.

        I hope you will read my follow up posts where I clarify this in more detail. I used one of my own quilts to illustrate why people learning should always be proud of their work, but also why industries have and need standards.

        Continue making your quilts, continue being proud of your progress. No one should be looking at your stuff and calling it crap, but if you do decide to enter the industry as a professional, I hope that you will find some quilting mentors and pattern testers who can help you identify issues in your products before you launch them.

        Thanks for raising your voice and adding to the discussion!

        • clair

          Hi Ebony, Thanks for your response. My comment was directed to Cindi though. I see what you are saying and agree. I was actually worried you might think I was talking to you. It was Cindi’s comment that I thought was really mean and out of line. I tryed to comment on her comment thinking it would be clear that I was talking to her. But I guess it didn’t work out that way.

          Truly, I love you and your work. You are an amazing person.

      • Ronnie

        I think a post should be read completely and even mulled over for a few minutes to really think about what the blogger is saying before you make a comment…

        To Clair,
        I think you misunderstood what Ebony is saying. She is not judging you, she is NOT saying YOU shouldn’t be proud of your work. She wasn’t talking about YOUR work or the work of all of us out here trying to learn to sew, quilt, etc. She is talking about the Industry of sewing, quilting, etc. She’s talking about, for example, the people that write books about quilting that I spend my money on, and these books turn out to be a joke, showing crappy workmanship, teach nothing and are a waste of my money.

        Ebony, you hit the nail on the head! I agree with everything your are saying!

  • Madhu

    Am so happy that someone is saying it finally – the way it should be said!

  • Well, now I’m paranoid about my own work of course… but I totally see what you’re saying.
    I do think that a really big part of it is that somewhere along the line, our Foremothers stopped teaching us the basic skills- because we went off to work or burn our bras or something. And now we don’t have the basic skills. We also live in a “I want it now” culture, and that does not lend itself well to quality items!
    I have been wanting to give sewing lessons, but I am at a loss of where to start because the impression I get is that people want to come away from a class with a finished item. Well if you want to learn the real steps, how it really works well, then you’re not going to have a finished item for a few classes….
    The state of clothing in the stores is appalling, and it teaches us that substandard is good.
    Thank you for this article. Lets all band together and say we will only make quality items!

    • Michele

      I agree with what you are saying about classes. I’ve taught many quilt classes over the years and have had many not gotten enrollments because although the quilts were beautiful they weren’t simple enough or were not made in fabrics currently in the shop ( because people want to copy the sample exactly) or could not be finished in a 3 or 4 hour class ( well, duh!)! It is frustrating to say the least!

      And yes, the clothing in most of the stores is appalling! I crave independent boutiques with quality original clothing!

  • Right on, Ebony! I’m not sure what it takes to be a successful blogger. I do know how to work hard and come up with original stuff, though, and that’s what I’m banking my business on!!

  • Yes, I see “crap” and I would love for you to post suggestions on how not to produce crap. I don’t do giveaways on my blog. Mostly I do (or want to do) tutorials and I love to see tutorials on others’ blogs as well.

  • What makes me angry and grit my teeth is when I hear someone say, “It’s only a Charity Quilt, so It doesn’t matter, It will be a practice piece for me.

    I couldn’t agree more to all you said so well. I’m beginning to ask, when I actually am with the person with the maker, if they would mind a few tips that would make a nice quilt become very pretty quilt. I’ve yet to have anyone say no. Instead they usually say yes, I can use any tips I can get. I ususally only say about 3 things. I don’t want to overwhelm them, too many tips means they don’t remember or mix them up with another tip.

    I also am beginning to do that on web posts, and it too has yet to have a no. There is hope, even if they are taken to be god (lower case on purpose) in the quilting room. Some reply usually in a positive way, and thank me, others don’t reply so I just tell them anyway, It’s sad
    that you don’t want to do better, and support your own quilting.


  • I completely agree, and am so glad I’m not the only one! This is a terrific post, and well done for sharing it!

  • Gemma

    Fantastic article!! The first modern quilt book I bought was by a well known quilter, when it arrived and I poured over its pages I was shocked. Multiple close ups of stitching with tension problems! I was (and am) embarrassed for the author. But I never mentioned it. It feels wrong or rude or unkind to point out imperfections in this online community of quilters and crafters. There are a few artists I admire, a few bloggers that I aspire to, then there are those that I think are just really good at marketing. I love your final paragraph. I have dreams of being successful in this industry and I keep saying to my husband that what I need is a mentor. In many careers people have mentors either paid or unpaid. why is it not the same for us? I would love to have someone to point out what I could have done better. I put hours and hours into my work. I unpick, I am my harshest critic but I am also proud of what I make. I know that it is excellent quality. That’s all I can do, do my best and keep improving my skills in this craft. Thank you for your honesty. I hope this post goes viral. I’ll definitely be sharing it!

    • Ebony

      Yes Gemma, and maybe writing to the author might not have been taken well. But writing to the publisher or the editor of that book? Absolutely.

      That author may have been reinforced into believing their own BS, and if no one ever thought it was important enough to tell the author BEFORE THEY BECAME AN AUTHOR, then it’s much harder to address it later.

      It can be absolutely thrilling to have a book proposal accepted, but there are soooooo many opportunities for that work to have been adjusted that the blame does not rest on the author. Books go through so many edits and departments during the process that it’s relatively easy if you catch it early to say, “Nope, you have to redo this.”

      But the editors & publishers of that book had an absolute responsibility to make sure that crap did not make it into print. When they fail at their job, then we as consumers have a duty to point it out. We have to tell them, “I paid good money for this book, and I was really disappointed in the quality of the project samples in this book. The poor construction discouraged me from making the projects because if the author had trouble making it, what chance do I have? I’m going to rethink purchasing future titles from you because I don’t think I can count on them to be produced with quality.” We need to give the editors and publishers feedback, and vote with our dollars.

  • You’re right on the nose with the “dumbing down.” I see this all the time–anyone can publish a quilting “pattern” and it will sell! I’ve been teaching quiltmaking for years, and I try to impress on my students that it’s important to take the time to do your best work! I’m also a knitter 9and I crochet, too) and it’s amazing what kind of quickie crap people fall all over themselves for. There’s one (male) designer who does nothing but garter stitch stripey things and he has a huge following!

    I think all we can do is to make our own work the best it can be, help to educate people so they can see what the difference is between shoddy and competent work. I’ll never be a great artist, but I make quilts that hold up and (as my husband used to point out) my corners match!

    • Ebony

      Well, there’s no accounting for taste. As long as stripey guy is making whatever he makes well, then he can garter stitch all he wants. I may not like everything someone does from a design standpoint, or someone’s choice of color or pattern, but I can always appreciate great execution.

      Be proud of your matching corners and your lasting art! :)

  • Patricia Smith

    Ebony, I had the feeling that I would like you when I first started reading your FB posts; now, after reading this, I am SURE! I understand where you are going with this…not mean spirited but just pointing out that, by virtue of being PROFESSIONALS…i.e. getting paid for this stuff…one would expect the work product of these professionals to be of high quality. Otherwise, why would anyone want to spend money on it? But as you say, that is not always the case!

    One of my pet peeves is being told that “your kids can help with this” when a technique is being demonstrated! I am not looking for children’s projects! I want adult-level tutorials that produce adult-level outcomes. I want to grow my skills. I want to produce things that are valid…useful…as well as beautiful. And I want to be proud of the finished product. I expect no less of those producing products offered to me for sale.

    • Ebony

      Well, this is where voting with your dollar is a very powerful thing, and you can choose not to consume that tutorial for not being to your taste or what you were looking for.

      What you mentioned, to me is a mismatch of style, rather than poor execution. It could be that person trying to appeal to an audience that does not include you. :)

  • Lisa

    It’s refreshing to read your blog. Without naming names, I recently found myself poring with puzzlement over a book by a particular “designer”, which was apparently “the bees knees” in wonderful-ness. And for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why? I couldn’t see a single pattern, or quilt, that appealed at all – and I have quite an eclectic style and like lots of different things. All I saw was ….. rubbish / bad taste / no colour co-ordination. Another case of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”? (or imaginary ‘weapons of mass destruction’?)

    Thanks for seeing the light, and outing the ‘elephant’ in the room!

    • Ebony

      I understand the point you are making, but I think we have to separate style from execution.

      Civil War quilts don’t appeal to me in terms of color, use of fabric, pattern… but I can still appreciate the workmanship that goes into a well-made quilt.

      I don’t know that I would use this as an example of ENC as I am raising, just because different people have different styles, and not everything will appeal to everyone from a color/style/design perspective. You can still vote with your dollar by not buying stuff that isn’t to your taste. :)

  • THANK YOU.. omg I’m only halfway through but YES this is what is in the back of my head a lot of the time, but I think, “no I cant say that because it will sound rude” when really my own job in Mapping means you have to (or should) be constructively critical about your product and use your own and others opinions to make it the best you can and learn new things along the way.. but this is certainly not the only “industry” this problem exist in.. its more of a culture wave of not necessarily “feel goods” but “dont make them feel bads” … seriously this is great, more-so because of the fact that people are seeing this, and maybe a few of us all will get a swift kick up the ass and stop being so prissy when it comes to making quilty friends around here… love you love your work .. keep it up!

    • Ebony

      Thanks Mel!

      Just remember what hat you are wearing when evaluating something. As a consumer, you can decide whether something is worth your money by evaluating the work. As a member of the quilting community, you can deliver criticism without making it a value judgement about the person. Criticism is usually delivered best in a private setting if the spirit moves you, unless that person has asked for public feedback about their work.

      In other words, you can criticize, and still be kind. You can deliver it in a way that still makes someone feel good about themselves, but recognize where they can improve their work.

  • Kris B

    I will be the first to admit it. I am lazy. I am a lazy quilter who wants instant gratification. That is also what society has become. The difference is that I don’t go out & try to sell my stuff as great and wonderful. I am a quilter who points out her flaws in every project I do. Yet, my friends and family love that I make stuff for them. They may not be telling me the truth about loving what it actually is, but I love them for it!

    I can do better most of the time and I am starting to work on it. I would someday like to enter my quilt in the county fair and based on what I see there, I think I could win something. which leads right into what you are saying. reinforcement of the crap. Which is why I haven’t entered yet. I want to make sure my crap blows all the other crap away! :)

    • Ebony

      The thing is, Kris… they might be telling you the truth!!!

      Seriously, the stuff we see as flaws in our own work hardly get noticed at all by non-makers. Some of the flaws we see also don’t get noticed by the people who do make, unless we point it out to them.

      When you are recognizing flaws, you have to decide whether something is bad enough that the very idea of it being in someone’s hands makes you cringe (in which case you might pull it out and re-do) or whether it’s just something you leave & try not to do the next time you attempt it. It’s a constant evaluation against our own work ethic.

  • Debi Pennington

    Thank you for saying what needed to be said. It isn’t only the Art’s and Crafts and sewing industries, it is also the insurance industry and others we find our selves having to work with. I’ll give you some examples.

    I make handmade lace. I’m told by my insurance agent that my tools for my lace making and all of my supplies, along with those for my sewing/quilting are “arts and crafts” tools and not “artists” tools. Did my insurance agent even bother to look at my work, or ask about it? Does he know I’m a published illustrator of a lace book? Does he even care? Does he know how much money I put into my supplies, and the value of the finished product?

    My second example…my mom was an excellent garment seamstress. She sewed wedding gowns, taught sewing at our local extension office, taught quilting (after I introduced her to it) and found a passion for her later years in life. She knew how to finish seams and did beautiful beading on wedding gowns. Her gift to the bride to be (always someone she knew, she never sewed for strangers who wouldn’t appreciate her work) was to have the gown pressed for her before the wedding. She had been going to the same dry cleaners for years to have this done. One day she goes in to have a dress pressed and the new, young gal at the counter told her she would have to sign a waiver because the gown was not store bought but homemade. My mom about flipped out. She lit into that poor girl, but that poor girl certainly learned a thing or two about quality and the difference between handmade and homemade. Upon hearing the commotion, the owner of the store came out to see what the problem was. Saw my mom and told the gal that Mrs. Matthews never has to sign a waiver. Her dresses never fall apart, which was the implication behind having to sign a waiver.
    Mom’s gone now, and I have one of her quilt tops, which I will finish. It will be a while before I do so, because I know she’s looking over my shoulder, seam ripper in hand from up above.

  • Megan Hodges/Elmsley Rose

    Thankyou for writing this – I agree completely.
    While reading, I was thinking “mention Etsy in a comment” but you did. I see some shockingly made handmade items there, selling for ‘decent prices’, lowering the standard of expectation in the consumer …
    It is important to admit that we do make mistakes, so we and our audience can learn. Pride is a dangerous beast.
    A pet bear of mine is the number of people that will call themselves “artist” when they in fact have little experience/display a minimum of skill. In all sorts of media. Going for the kudos of the title.

    • Not only shockingly made etsy items selling for decent prices, but mass-produces items that sellers are claiming to be handmade. Quality, where art thou?

  • Jacquie Campbell

    WOW…here comes something I NEVER thought I would say…..Ebony dear I totally agree with you on this one!
    It has been horrible to watch the “industry” shove stuff/people down our throats as totally acceptable, just to make Names and subsequently MONEY off of those names. When in fact these people are NOT artists NOR craftsmen! They are merely those that can “work” the game! While those that are TRUE artists, and craftsmen slave away in poverty! WE do the HONING of the craft and are called the “quilt police”, they have NO regard for the care of preserving the art/craft and are hailed as Hollywood Celebs. I have seen some truly horrific things hanging in shows the last 3 years and most always they win ribbons because of WHO made them, not because of HOW they were made!
    I could name many, many, so called Famous quilt makers that could make simply stick thread in a pile of horse dung and call it art and their mindless, uneducated, followers would be hailing it as the Next best thing to life itself!

    Simply disgusting how the industry has become so Hollywood/Pro sport like! Even more disgusting how little the NEWBIES are actually learning about the TRUE craft of quilt making!

  • Caro

    A related, annoying point:
    I have recently seen clothing patterns by hot current blogistas costing over $10.00 each – one for an elastic-waist skirt, and one for elastic-waist pants.

    I know I am cheap. but I have dozens of patterns that INCLUDE an elastic-waisted whatever ALONG WITH something more intricate.

    And I don’t pay $10 for them either. Why would I buy a pattern because of the name of the chi-chi designer?

    I also recently saw a blog for a quilt design that was nothing but random squares. And the darling “designer” was oh-so graciously patting herself on the back for giving it away for FREE!!
    It wasn’t a color wheel; it wasn’t gradations; it wasn’t recognizable – just random squares. Er – I think I can do that myself, without a pattern, thankyouverymuch.

  • Well said. That is awesome and very thought provoking. This is an arguement I regularly have with my fellow patchworkers.

  • Joyce

    Well said, unfortunately a sad commentary about life in general these days! We live in a nation where good enough is OK and there is no longer pride in a job well done.

  • Carol

    Woah. I disagree. Some of us are just exploring and learning and enjoying the process. If we do not want to spend quite so much time reaching your high standards — why should you be so angry about it? And if those people you are complaining about are able to sell patterns and books, it’s not just because people are jumping on some bandwagon…’s because people like what they create. Enjoy your style, let others enjoy their style.

    • Carol, please know that I’m saying this with all the respect in the world: good sewing technique matters. It has little to do with style. We all have a favorite style to work within, and taking the time to learn, practice, and develop good technique from those that know more than us will make us all better, within our styles.

      • Carol

        Perhaps my use of the word style was not quite right. Maybe I should have said “Enjoy your work, let others enjoy their work.” What I think unreasonable is being so critical of other’s — using phrases like “don’t give a ****” and “dumbing down” and “crappy book” sound very harsh to me.

        And yes, good technique does make for a better product — I just hope that we can enjoy ourselves while we “learn, practice and develop good techniques.” And if some people’s quilting techniques are not as good as yours, so be it. My guess is they’re doing their best…..most of us are.

    • Ebony

      You – as a maker – should feel free to create. Everyone should feel free to create, and set their own standard for their own work.

      Personal standards are not necessarily industry standards. Some people are perfectly fine with cat hair in their food. I have a problem with that.

      I am very glad that the food industry has a problem with that too, so they don’t willfully let cats wander around their manufacturing facilities.

      Most people don’t like bugs in their food. Great. The food industry allows for some bugs. Parts of them anyway. Because while it would be great not to have bugs in the food, sometimes it’s unavoidable. I have a problem with this… but the industry standard is not MY standard.

      I think the quilting & sewing industry also needs to have standards, that are set & maintained by the people in the industry. That means publishers & editors stepping up, and consumers voting with their dollars.

      And the folks who are able to sell patterns and books, that’s great, but it can sometimes be a false indicator. So many patterns are via PDF, and in most cases, PDFs are not returnable. If consumers are not allowed to publicly say that a pattern is flawed for fear of bringing the wrath of the seller’s followers down on them, then a lot of crap will stay in circulation that maybe should not have.

  • Joey

    You Nailed it Ebony!

  • Michele

    I agree with you that we all need to do the best work we can. I also agree that quilts should lie flat and not have “bird nest” tangles. Many comments have taken up the argument for always having perfect points. There is a place for that for sure. But there is also a place for wonky or liberated blocks. Those wonky blocks should still be well made. But cutting off points in a wonky quilt makes it wonky not sloppy!

    Thanks for opening up the discussion !

    • Ebony

      Yes that is so true. There are things that are technique-based and doing them differently doesn’t make it wrong. Context is important.

  • Danielle

    I think you could be talking about our society in general – no one seems to take pride in a job well done, following through with what they said they would do, people pass blame/responsiblity off to someone else –
    Well written!!

  • Couldn’t agree more….

  • …. I couldn’t have said it better myself…. It seems to be in every part of the crafting world, I get so sick of seeing substandard work getting heaps of praise …

  • Thank you SO much for writing this. Just saw a tutorial the other day with REALLY sloppy sewing, and this person has 5000+ Facebook followers, as well as sponsors. I take pride in my work. I don’t have a business, but I do have a blog, and I’m okay with pointing out if I messed up on something. I don’t think everything has to be perfect, but I do think that one should at least care a little more about how their project looks when it’s for a guest tutorial on another person’s blog. Not impressed at all.

  • Patricia Smith

    Ya know, from reading your FB posts, I thought I kinda liked you. Now I am sure I do!

  • All of you have been sewing since you can remember, but know that others out there haven’t, myself included. And I am sure that some of these bloggers you are talking about are the ones that inspired me to start quilting. Yes I do agree that selling their “crap” for gold just because they are popular is wrong, but I am sure they put pride in their work too, only to have it be called crap here. I haven’t been quilting long, 2 years sewing all together. I take pride in everything I am learning and strive to do better. And I am getting better, but no where near where to publisher quality. But personally I say yay to any quilter or blogger or sewist in general who inspires another person to take up a hobby and learn something new. The quilting industry is getting acknowledged and becoming more popular due to these “bloganistas.” I just recently submitted my first quilt to a show and did not expect to win anything, which it didn’t. But it would have been painful to hear people calling my work “crap” if I had been there, and I definitely wouldn’t have had the guts to do it again. I admit I have never seen any of my mentor’s quilts in person, but I know that seeing their mistakes would make them more human to me, rather than make me think the industry is going to crap. So while I agree with some points you have said here, I respectively disagree on some others. I am probably going to be flamed for this, but I needed to say it.

    • Ebony

      If anybody flames you Kelly, let me know, and I’ll give them a good talking to. :) There is room for respectful debate and disagreement. I don’t expect everyone to agree with what I said, or interpret it in the same way that I do, but I had to say something because I am seeing a downward trend in the industry, and no one seems to be talking about it. So I am starting that dialogue.

      I’m asking everyone to be self-aware enough to know when something is fit to publish and when it’s not, and if someone can’t tell, then I expect the editors & publishers to provide that guidance. Once you start taking money from people or holding yourself out to be a professional in this industry, the bar is much higher. My post was not directed at new quilters, or first-time show entrants, or random bloggers who post about their projects on occassion. My post is about our industry professionals, and if someone isn’t ready to be an industry professional, then they should work on building their skills if it’s something they want to be.

    • And honestly if you are serious about mentoring I would love to be considered. I am learning as I go since no one in my family has ever quilted.

  • Deb

    You are so on the mark!!! I have been quilting since 1978, oh oh dating me I know but I started out with cardboard templates and scissors. When rotary cutters and mats came on the scene, I purposely strived to master points, accurate cutting sewing etc. I pride myself on making quilts that will last for many generations. I can’t believe the crap that is out there too! I am friends with a gal that does gorgeous applique and wrote a book and approached a very well know quilt magazine with her patterns and guess what??? They weren’t interested “because” and their words… People are too stupid to want something new and exciting to do they want the easy crap that’s been done 1000 different ways , but are still the same ho hum crap that they’ve published over and over. She was crushed to say the least. And these “modern” quilts, I agree that they came up with them purposely for the gals who don’t care if the quilts last to pass down to future family. I for one want someone in my family years from now to say what a wonderful quilter Debbie was…and I cherish what she left behind. It’s my legacy to my family!

    • Ebony

      Some “modern” stuff uses techniques that are different and more carefree than traditional patchwork. I still think those techniques can be executed well. Sometimes you just want to get a quilt done, and that’s fine too. I just don’t want to buy a pattern from someone who just got something “done”, thought it was cute, and decided to sell me a poorly-written pattern.

      To your friend who makes gorgeous applique… I would say, try a different publication. There are dozens of quilt magazines out there, and part of working in this industry is knowing where your quilts fit and where they don’t. A heavily appliqued quilt might not be appropriate for “Quick Quilts”, but it might be something stunning for “Quilting Quarterly” (as an example.)

  • I SO AGREE! People do seem to think that any old thing will do. I wish they could see the value in dedicating the time and effort to learning to improve their skills.

  • PREACH! I really struggle with this as I do want to encourage the new-to-the-scene, but BOY you hit the nail on the head. There is no end to the number of “patterns” out there (I’m talking about garment or accessory sewing) that are so poorly written and/or illustrated it makes me ill. I’m talking about a simple marking for straight of grain – which apparently is no longer a factor and/or extinct. I honestly believe the majority of mid-30 to younger stitchers have never had a proper lesson on how to sew, seam finishes, bias in fabric – the whole nine yards. The BASICS that must be mastered before you can make anything, really. It’s like someone painted their bedroom and now they think they are qualified to be an interior designer! Thank you for so eloquently saying what (apparently) many of us are thinking!!!

  • I’ve been quilting for six years now and have found that pattern design is my favorite aspect of creating quilts. I’ve been encouraged to publish my designs but I’ve been reluctant to do so until my piecing skills and quilting skills are up to par. I work on both daily and see the improvement from my early quilts until now; I’m just waiting for the day when I feel my skills are ready for prime time!

    My seam ripper and I are best friends and I wouldn’t have it any other way. One of my first teachers (Mary Clark) taught me not to be afraid to use it when things aren’t right and I hope to do her proud.

    I was recently at our area quilt show and saw a woman standing in front of her quilt and wondering why she hadn’t won a ribbon. Each and every point in her quilt was cut off, and not just a little. I don’t know if she honestly didn’t see it or if she thought it was okay.

    Maybe times I’ve heard the quote “Done is better than perfect” in relation to quilting. That may be true for a drag around quilt, but not for patterns, articles, books, etc. “Put your best foot forward” suits me.

    Great post, Ebony! You can mentor me anytime!

  • vicki

    Wow…I’m happy and pleasantly surprised to see so many comments by people that not only agree with you, but have noticed this trend, too. Well and bravely, said. I have also sewn for 45+ years and am still learning and trying to improve.

  • Amen. I’ve been seeing this all over the place. Just cos you have techie skills doesn’t mean you are a good quilter. Some of the things I’ve seen I’m like what. How could you possibly show that off. Unfortunately though I think is society anymore nowadays. Accepting substandard movies, music etc.

  • Ronna

    Whoo Hoo Ebony! You deserve a standing ovation for that speech! I have thought the same thing many times but you articulated exactly what the “thing” was that was tickling the back of my neck. I like the prim & the modern but I also appreciate perfection. I strive for it in my own work with each project. I look at what I do as a work in progress…I hope to be learning until my fingers no longer cooperate. Thanks for being one to uphold the standard.

  • Lori-Lyn Dunn

    It is about time someone had the nerve to stand up and say this.
    I always say I am hardest on myself- because I can’t stand when I cut of the tips of stars or my seams don’t match or my tension was too loose and the seam gives.
    But I am told “Don’t worry about it, no one will notice”. BUT I DO! I have some PRIDE IN MY WORK.

    So glad you spoke up! I am with you sister.

  • KenC

    Extremely well said. I’ve been quilting for over 25 years and have worked in quilt shops for the past 7-8 years. Some of the books/patterns I’ve seen coming in written by the Bloganistas are unbelievable. It is so obvious to me that they missed the semesters of home-ec they so desperately need to have some basics under their aprons and/or did not have someone that REALLY sews check their patterns’ instructions.
    There is a certain designer who’s fabric is incredible; gorgeous color, lovely hand, etc. BUT her instructions for her patterns are HORRID! I’ve gently steered many a doe-eyed, not enough experienced, young sewer who want to make a “designer’s name” bag, poof, whatever to another pattern writer’s work, but still using “the designers” fabric so they have a far better chance at success rather than end up hating sewing due to overwhelming frustration. Hell, I’ve been sewing for 46 years, and I can’t fathom the instructions to save my soul!

    • Colour du jour

      Oh yes I have seen that one too! And with sewing 45 years, I folded the pattern instructions back up and said that’s a bunch of crap.

    • Melissa E

      You say “It is so obvious to me that they missed the semesters of home-ec they so desperately need to have some basics under their aprons”

      Well, guess what? They don’t have home ec any more. Not even close. There is no way for people nowadays to learn these skills in school. So they end up learning it on the fly, on the internet, publicly for all to see.

  • Rina

    I completely agree! I have been sewing for 50+ years and cannot abide unmatched seams, poor quilting or shoddy construction of clothing. I was taught quilting by a group of women that believed in having pride in their work. If the seams weren’t matching you ripped it out. If the quilting stitches weren’t 10 -12 per inch, you ripped it out.

    There is no such thing as perfection but I believe that if you are going to invest the time, energy and money into making a quilt or piece of clothing you should at least aim for it. This is especially true if I am putting my name on it.

  • And one more thing – bad becomes good, because worse came along. Shame on us all for accepting that.

  • I’ve been saying this for YEARS now. If it is worth doing – it is worth doing right. No excuses – try harder – do your best. Garbage is garbage no matter how you package it. Thanks – and I hope people listen to you. There are a lot of ugly quilts that are being passed off as art, or craft – but ugly is still ugly – bad is still bad.

  • Nothing I can say will make your post better or more true. So thank you, times a MILLION!!!

  • Fran

    Bravo!!!! Finally honesty and truthfulness. Well said!!

  • I read your post with interest and some agreement – I know what you mean, but I don’t think it’s limited to creative circles. I think it’s everywhere, mostly because people are either too nice or too afraid to critique things – you know, the idea that everything has equal merit, or political correctness… Also, I think sometimes internet criticism can be taken so personally, because tone doesn’t convey well in the written word. So people avoid giving and resent receiving. Personally I find it hard to critique someone’s creativity unless I know them (probably wrongly!), sometimes for fear of discouraging their efforts.

    I don’t know what solution there is – but thank you for the article. I appreciate the food for thought. From now on I shall try to call the crap. :)

  • Ava Moore

    Thank you for sharing your “dangerous” thoughts on the topic. There is a difference between Homemade and a Craft (as in Arts and Crafts). The homemade aspect–made from a place of love–should be identified as such. I have made Homemade quilts and I have made quilts from a place of developing my Craft and skills. Homemade will be a part of life–Michael’s, Joann’s, etal, would not exist otherwise. Some folks will start out this way and hopefully a number will move to the craft side of quilting. Do I think anyone that can attempt to quilt should get a book deal? Nope. But it is driving a lot of folks to the craft that might not have otherwise been interested–I am thinking of those under 35 without quilting and sewing already in their families. I straddle generations of quilters, being in my late 40’s.

    And do I think anyone who can cut up some printed and solid fabrics and distribute them can pull off a great “Modern Quilt”? Nope–there is an art to a well designed quilt. But your comments do go a long way to understanding how some quilts landed at the first QuiltCon show and others may not have. There have been many wondering about this as well and afraid to ask. Most of the questions have been posed under the guise of “what was the judging” criteria. I am not criticizing the judges–but the question has been put out there—is it design or execution or both?

    With my rambling, I really just want to say, there will be homemade–pottery, jewelery, weaving, pick your craft–and there will be master artisans in all of these Arts and Crafts–and most folks know the difference and respect the difference. I strive to earn the respect of the latter (and only my family is recipients of the former).

    Thank you for putting it out there and not being afraid to raise the bar!!

  • You Go Girl! Stick to your values and your ethics. When the crap phase wears off, the good, the quality will still be there.
    I’ve voiced the same questions. I’ve told people that they can now just shove fabric under the needle any which way and call it modern, IF that’s what floats their boat. To each her own. Me, I like the “traditional” stuff I learned from my grandmother. I like the way my clothing and now my quilts turned out. If clients want cheap (meaning crap) I send them to Walmart.

  • Lisa E

    Amen, Ebony! I think there is also a trend towards instant gratification that is feeding this trend. Case in point, look how many (expensive!) pre-cut, fused applique kits have come on the market recently. Where is the skill in that?

  • Eden

    I absolutely agree! I often see things on the net and think, hey at is a really cute/innovative/creative idea… But geez, can’t they match points? Why won’t that star lay flat? What is wrong with this person that they put out this great idea articulated so poorly? I am actually not guilty of supporting those artists because I won’t buy something if I think I can do it better myself, so I rarely buy anything!

  • teri

    Great post. As both a quilter and an artist I can honestly say, some people are so hung up on the art aspect, they forget the craft. MASTER your craft first….the rest will come.


  • I absolutely could not agree more! My sister (also a quilter) and I were discussing recently how often we pick up a magazine or a book and the samples don’t have matching points or intersections of blocks. I would DIE before I had someone publish a photo of anything that I made if it wasn’t totally up to par. I recently was reading several “woe is me” blog posts about young women who had entered quilts in QUILT CON and received either a bad review of their quilt or their quilt was not accepted. I then took a serious look at the quilts in question. Uh…no, you did a poor job of binding, your quilting is sloppy and the border is rippled. The complainants thought that they should be judged on the artistic nature of the quilt or the totally “I thought this up in my head and made it in fabric” nature of their quilts. Quality does matter. Doing something right does matter. A quarter inch seam is a quarter inch seam. Machine quilting that looks like a drunken sailor grabbed the sewing machine is not ok. It reflects badly on the quilter.

    While I am most certainly in favor of young women taking up the art of quilting, I hope that they would learn, at the very least, actual sewing techniques and principles. Use bright, funky fabric! Use embellishments! Think outside the box! Just please, please, please – learn technique!

  • Well said..however this seems to be the case in so many industries…retail, photography, clothing and food. The problem stems from nobody saying the obvious and speaking up. Criticism does not have to be harsh and yet should be applied where necessary. Can you tell I have been raised in Europe.? Lol. We also need to educate more. Point out the obvious because those who don’t sew really don’t understand what to look for in a garment, pattern or quilt. Most importantly, we need to teach our young ones to prefer quality over quantity.
    Thank you for your honesty.

    • teri

      LOL, Jeannine- I was not raised in Europe (ok, I was raised in the US and Canada)…and anyone who knows me will confirm….if it’s crap I will TELL you it’s crap. No one, who doesn’t want an absolutely HONEST opinion, should ever ask me what I think.

      Your last statement is so very true. It’s not acceptable to crank out 100 widgets if they are crappy widgets. Better to produce 10 and have them be OUTSTANDING widgets…..


  • I am not a quilter but my grandmother was and I remember huge looms in her home taking up space because she handquilted everything. It was an insane amount of work and she taught me the same thing–use the seam ripper to do it right if it is worth doing at all. She taught me how to machine sew but I don’t know how to quilt. Your post on Sizzix’s blog with your machine quilted awesoe folded portfolio things was amazing (sorry I dont remember the name of them).

    This phenomenon is not exclusive to the quilting and sewing industries, unfortunately. It is everywhere – in crafts, in handmade, in cooking. But people do still appreciate quality and expertise and excellence. Its just not necessarily the same people who are following these lower-quality producers (I struggle to call them artists). It is disappointing to see a company compromise their integrity as a brand because they want to capitalize on the following a blogger has, even if that blogger is producing crap or they are just posting crap other people “make”. But that is kind of a favor they do for those of us who believe in quality. I now know WHO NOT to work with — thanks!

    I try to look at the bright side as I am always a cup half-empty person and I make HUGE effortsto try to think of things in a positive way. People posting crap are accessible. For example, I would LOVE to learn to quilt like you did on those portfolios — that was so gorgeous! But I know it would take me years to get to that level of skill because I just don’t have the time to invest. More simple quilting is more accessible. Yeah, it looks bad, but it is something that anyone can do. The point where someone transitions from a novice, reading those crappy blogs and books, to someone pursuing excellence and expertise is when they start reading blogs and books like yours. Your work appeals to those who are looking for excellence. Some people can look at an expert’s work and be inspired and want to pursue excellence from the get go. But most people get too intimidated and they would quit before they started if the only blog they came upon was one with super detailed pojects like yours. They need to try to easy, haphazard, imperfect projects first to know they can do it, see if they can enjoy it. And then, one day, they might transition to improving their skills. Or they might never. But all the fabric and books and things they bought support the industry and make it possible for people like you to continue spreading excellence.

    Thanks for sharing :)

  • Thank you for putting this out there. I think the other problem may be that a lot of people are new to the craft, and aren’t finding a place to learn proper technique. I work and teach at a quilt shop, and while we teach wonderful classes and they do well for us, I know not everyone has that option. In a world where it seems like you can learn everything from youtube, I think many people often forget that others have been honing their craft through classes and many, many years of work. And ultimately, that brings it back to your point, if you can get away with crap, why not just leave it?

  • amen my sister! I find this sooo true and thank you for saying so. I have found that instructions in patterns are totally wonky lately. That even in books now hand drawn sharpie templates are used- what? Why are we so quick to turn something out that steps aren’t tested, templates aren’t digitized, and the final piece show worthy. I hope the trend to accepting nothing less than great will come back.

  • Fran

    What a great post. I also feel this way about patterns. A certain designer produces many patterns but they have very little details in them. They also are not very efficient (making flying geese and HST with lots of waste). I feel like if you are going to put the time into a pattern, you need to do it right and the best way. There are also no directions for piecing together the backing which really frustrates me. The quilts are beautiful in the end, but I am tired of buying a pattern only to have to rework it and figure parts out myself.

  • Amy

    Yes. I agree 100% what;s worse… I saw a class on a popular (popluarity making) website where the technique wasn’t just bad it was dangerous!

    & woa to the naysayers, they were treated with a full serving of rebuke: “‘The teacher is doing a great job, why are you criticizing her’, etc.”

    • michele

      You are so right! I commented on the technique of a teacher on a popular quilting website that is designed for newbies. I thought she needed to mention that she was a left-hander, and mentioned that she should cut from the folded edge of the fabric. No one greed with me; they all thought that I was just being unnecessarily critical. I finally had to change my settings so the comments wouldn’t come to my email. I just hope they learn they’re lesson when they ruin a piece of fabric because it shifts on them…

  • I’ve been concerned with this too in the fashion industry. I stopped teaching sewing because I was sick of the underlying attitude that one could go to “5 easy lessons” and be able to sew anything. These sewing skills take time and practice – that’s it.
    It’s about time someone said these things, well done Ebony.

  • I have just spent the evening with my stitch ripper as a couple of fabrics I using have stretched and my seams wouldn’t match. Part of the charm of patchwork is that everyting is, or should be, put together with care. I will certainly be more careful next time picking my fabric!
    I agree with the post and most of the comments. However not everyone has the confidence to put together their own designs, or even chose the fabric. Simple designs and precut fabrics have their place as long as care is taken to make them

  • Sonia

    B R A V O ! ! ! You have been brave enough to say what many of us have been thinking & discussing quietly for some time. I teach P&Q, have done for many years. I had an incident in class recently where a student piped up and said “Oh no that’s not the way XX says to do it. XX does it this way” when I asked why she couldn’t tell me other than XX said so. Now XX has been blogging for a couple of years and quilting even less. As you said the blog goes viral and suddenly a self taught dabbler is turned into a guru. Suddenly she is receiving sponsorship from various companies to help their sales. Sheesh! I was taught to make my quilts last more than my lifetime, to take pride in each and every stitch. I do not consider vlisofixed shapes on a poly cotton sheet and tacked together with crappy yarn to be something that would last through one wash, not do I consider these creations ‘artistic or innovative’ I consider them to be a lazy con on the unsuspecting. Quilting was always considered to be a true craft, heirloom works that could be handed down through the family. They were an example of the makers abilities and skills. Where is the skill in snip and stick? BRAVO!

  • Thank you!!! My mom, Sharon Schamber (she’s a pretty well known long arm quilter), and I have had many conversations about this exact topic. It’s the reason why I’m working my arse off to get my name, and skills, out there, in the social networking side of our industry. I want to show that settling for “good enough” is not good enough. Technique matters. Period. {mwah!}

    • Lani

      Sharon Schamber is AWESOME!! Not only a well known longarmer, but quilt maker too. Her work is incredulous, beautiful, inspiring!! Etc. She is my quilting, quilt making, appliqueing HERO!!

      Yes, there is a certain person who I love, however, I wish she was more precise in her stitching in her videos. As a longarmer and piecer, I cringed the first time I saw them. People need to take their time piecing a quilt. Its not a race. I also wish she would “press” her fabric/pieces, not iron them. I do love her ideas and just know that I would be precise piecing. But I think, what if a beginner were watching and they think this is how you piece a quilt?

  • SoozeM

    Yes, thank you for posting this, I have been thinking that for a long time! I have been sewing and quilting for many years now, and I love mentoring new quilters, but so many are not prepared to put in the hard work and build their skill level, and I see so many new sewers attempt things that are beyond their skill level and yet they still expect them to be perfect without learning the necessary skills first! There is nothing wrong with making a simple quilt as long as it is well made! But trying to convince someone who has never sewn before that trying to make an intricate king size mariners compass quilt in a week is probably not the best thing to start with is sometimes not that easy!

  • Thanks for this post! I had been sewing for years before I took up quilting, and I learned to quilt from some “old school” traditional quilters before I branched out in using more modern fabrics and aesthetics. I remember going to a quilt guild meeting and seeing a perfectly pieced quilt with all 1 1/2″ squares, and I remarked that I could never make that. And the woman said, “Keep working and you’ll get there.” She was right – I might be able to make that quilt (with much cursing and seam ripping) now.

    I have been really disappointed at how much the DIY and quilting community has become industry driven. I started quilting and making in order to be subversive and try to escape from consumer culture, only to find these things overtaken by consumer culture. What matters is designing projects that use up a lot of fabric fast so you need more fabric so you buy the next collection so you need more fast projects to sew so you can buy more fabric . . . . what matters is producing more magazines and books, not better quality magazines and books, by people everyone “loves”, promoted by people that everyone “loves” whether the designer really has anything new to say or not.

    I also agree that there is a difference between the quilt I make for my kids to drag around the park vs one that I would make to sell – I have been quilting for 8 years, and I am just feeling like I am at the point that I could make something good enough to sell or really put on my bed. But I have made tons of quilts for my kids and friends’ kids and just for fun.

  • I could not agree more! I have thought this for quite awhile, as well. One of the things I pride myself in (and the ONLY good feedback that I received re. my QC quilts) is my attention to detail. I love seeing the new quilters pop up, but I also think that there is great value in knowing the history and the “right way” to do things. Yes, I really just said that….sometimes there IS a right way to do it! I started quilting 11 years ago, back when I had to dig through the shelves at JoAnn’s for a few prints that weren’t calico. And while I’m entirely self-taught, I read a LOT of books and learned alongside my mom, who’s been sewing forever. I know all of the “new” techniques that people are coming up with for sewing curves, or circles, or applique, or hand quilting, or even bias tape applique!
    I’ve also noticed several people announcing that they are teaching, only to find out that the technique is new to them as well!
    I feel that there are times for fine attention to detail, and times when it is less important. And it was refreshing to sit in a class and hear an instructor that the it’s ok to leave those little imperfections – and I do, occasionally. But for business, no way!

  • Christine Gibbons

    Ebony: Thanks for such an interesting write up. Boy have you hit the nail on the head. I have been sewing, quilting, embroidery, cross stitch etc for almost 50 years. My mother taught me “IF you don’t do it right don’t do it at all.” ” A job worth doing is a job worth doing right.” ” Practice makes perfect. I would not think of not finishing a seam or hem properly. My seams are sewn straight and pressed. I too have a beef with patterns, books and projects made on the rush and not sewn properly and the finished product left half done. I don’t like raw seams on the top of quilts. Slapping a square on top of background fabric doesn’t make a quilt. As with how people dress in today’s society with no pride in what a person is wearing – pajamas out shopping or to school, hair not even combed. There is no pride in the haphazard sewing and quilting that some are putting in books, blogs, magazines and even in quilt shows.

    Knowing that I have done the very best I can do gives me great pride. I would rather have the knowledge that I put 100% effort in to a project.

  • Jean

    You took the words right out of my mouth. I just purchased a book online and the first thing I noticed was how terrible the samples were. The first book by this person was not like that at all. I’m disappointed in the book’s appearance, but my blocks/quilts will look much better so I’m not upset that I bought the book. Guess that’s a mixed response, but I’ve seen the same thing happen with knitting and stamping.

  • This SO true, I refer to it as the Emporer’s New Clothes Syndrome, where people will just jump on the bandwagon of someone popular without really looking at what they are producing. I find a lot of the really popular stuff out there now is really only appealing because of the fabrics being used, not for the design or workmanship. I learnt patchwork & quilting in the 80’s, the old fashioned way, drafting my own patterns & handpiecing my work. I used to teach, but gave it up when too many students just wanted the quickest way to make stuff. Patchwork & quilting is not about quantity, it’s about quality, & with all the ‘quick’ methods out there now quality has taken a back seat. I also used to design for magazines, but I cringe when I look at some of the work I had published, not because it was shoddy, but because it was so basic. The reason being, the magazine give you so little time to design for them, there simply isn’t time to produce something worth while. Again the onus was on quick & easy, which is ok to get people going, but we all need to grow with our craft. I’m so glad you decided to open this discussion.

  • Sue

    I’m with you all the way on this topic. You’ve expressed it perfectly, I wish I had your skill with words! I came into the blogging and online quilt world just over 18 months ago and was somewhat bemused by the gushing praises heaped on so many less than impressive quilts/quilters. I learned to quilt by teaching myself and I’m not part of any quilt group so this all came as a bit surprise to me, I wondered whether I was being too fussy myself. Perhaps my previous sewing experience with clothing when I was younger gave me a higher sewing skill level but I just cannot leave something which I know is sub-standard. I don’t sell quilts, only gift them but I still want it to be the best I can make it. I’m always willing to learn new and better ways of doing things so share away, I’ll be with you! That is the one thing I do love about the blogging world, those with knowledge sharing with others to spread the word. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thank you for this courageous post! I love to sew, but my crafting time is limited by other commitments, like family and job. I realize that I could do better if I had more time to hone my skills, but I rarely offer any of my work for sale. I usually give my handiwork to family and friends as gifts, and they generally adore whatever I’ve made. I could point out all the problems with each piece, but most of them would never notice it.

    In a world of Walmarts and Targets, where bedding and clothing are offered for less money than I could buy the fabric and patterns (generally because the finished items are made overseas for much less than we would pay workers here in the U.S), it’s hard for makers to compete with mass-produced goods. I don’t know very many people who would pay $300 – $500 (or more) for a handmade queen or king quilt, when they can go to a chain store and get something “nice” for $100 (or less).

    Anyway, I’m one of those Creatives who aspires to make a career from my creativity, which includes sewing among many, many other activities. If you’re serious about mentoring would-be pros, I’d love to chat more with you about what it takes to improve my skills enough to not look like I’m throwing crap at the wall. :)

  • Judy Looker

    I agree 100%. I started quilting by hand in the 70’s and learned all the rules and regulations produce a piece that was up to the standards of quilt show judges. Quilting is so many things and crap is not one of them…taking pride in one’s work is!

  • I have been thinking along the same lines today after going through a large packet of blocks I received to put together a “charity” quilt. So many contributers completely ignored the paraments of the project- from vastly different color schemes, odd-sized blocks, and using very cheap fabric. The workmanship was also concerning – it was like people used toenail clippers or garden shears to cut the edges of their blocks. There was a piece of applique that was completely loose and unstitched on one part. Now I know that the theme of your post is about people making a living and profiting off of teaching/creating their craft but I still think it’s appalling that people don’t seem to put much care into things that they make for a good cause. Now it’s become MY job to make up/compensate for those who couln’t be bothered to be careful/patient/meticulous when they made something that was supposed to be “helpful.”

  • I agree with everything you said. Im not a technical person when it comes to sewing perfection but I always like my work to look presentable. Especially when sewing for someone else. My work as an elementary teacher librarian drains me creatively and I wish I could sew my visions better-I have so many ideas. One of the comments friends made about QuiltCon was how horribly many of the quilts hung-wavy or not squared(so easy to do) or were finished sloppily(machine binding). I personally dont know why hand finishing a binding has become such a tedious and time consuming process(cause its not!). I do want to say something about the super easy patterns and books available. Quilting means different things to different people. Many will never be artists, dont understand about color, or could never write or improvise their own pattern. I wish there had ben more patterns/books with easy patterns that created great looking quilts. I had to teach my self from rather technical books. But Thats ok. We need the paint by number quilters to support the industry and help it grow. Its takes all kinds to make the quilting world. Sometimes we need to recognize that more. I am 100% in agreement about shoddy publishing however. Even the paint by number quilters deserve the best examples to strive for.

  • Cindy Henneke

    GOOD FOR YOU!! This has been a trend for far too long. It seems that what gets the publicity, especially in non-quilting articles is this garbage that people think is quilting. I attended a large quilt show recently and was horrified at the workmanship. Why would someone even enter these pieces and more importantly, why was it juried in? These were famous people.

    I think by continuing to hold our standards high is the best way to rise above the shoddiness out there. When we buy a book, take it back to the shop or send it back to Amazon and give it a bad review if it is poor quality. My seam ripper is my best tool and yes, I have a bad reputation for making others adhere to these standards. So thank you for articulating this so well!

  • Maga

    Thank you for posting this. It is very courageous of you because the truth is rarely welcome. I agree wholeheartedly with what you have written in this post.

  • Jean M

    This isn’t just happening in the quilt and sewing world, this is happening in all the art venues. I also make stained glass and I am very anal about my work, but people don’t care, they want it cheaper.

  • TRUTH, sister. Very well put.

  • shannon

    Welcome to WalMart.

    It’s interesting that you call this out in the quilting/creating industry, because it’s everywhere.

    Let’s hear it for not catering to the lowest common denominator! I hope you do get called on to be a mentor. Thank you, and congrats.

  • Kim

    This worries me a lot. I’m still getting my feet wet in the world of quilting. I’ve been too busy to do much more than that. And I wonder if I’m being instructed well in the art of quilting. I have been to several classes and I have a relationship with the quilter who teaches how to do quality work. And the classes that don’t, I don’t go back for any more classes. Or buy fabric there, either.

    I’m going to subscribe to your blog because I hope I’ll learn a thing or two.

  • Thank you so much for writing this! I have been thinking the same thing for quite a while. I could not have written my thoughts as well as you did here.

    I would rather see quality over quantity. If there is only enough good stuff for 2 or three issues of a magazine in a year – don’t try to put out 6. Print only quality books. It’s just all too much. Everyone is in it for a buck, their piece of the pie, and the industry just can’t handle it.

    Maybe it’s all that 4-H training of my youth and putting in a zipper multiple times – my mother always said “if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right!” I still hear her voice in my head whenever I make a mistake and contemplate leaving it – I always “listen” to her and fix it. I wouldn’t want to let my mother down, would I?

    • Judy

      4-H was a great teacher in doing it right. That is where I learned to quilt with a bunch of kids from a rough neighborhood on Long Island. I may not produce 50 quilts a year but what I do is quality work that I take pride in completing.

  • I think you hit it on the head: the industry has discovered the power of celebrity and personality for marketing, and craftsmanship is immaterial as long as product keeps selling. Personally, I’m more concerned with designing and making interesting quilts than I am with developing a huge social media following, but I don’t know how sustainable that is as a business model.

    This isn’t something that just affects sewn items, either–I’m amazed sometimes at the shoddy printed materials put out by independent designers as well as bigger companies. It really makes me wonder if it’s worth putting all the time into layout and illustration and instruction writing and print production when patterns can retail at $25+ even with hand-drawn templates, vague instructions, or inkjet printing. And then there are patterns that are beautifully printed and produced, but the project is so simple in its construction that I can’t believe anyone would actually need a pattern for it! By no means do I think my patterns or my sewing are perfect, but as someone with a professional background in book publishing, I really strive to maintain professional standards for both (time constraints being a constant competing pressure…).

    It was lovely to meet you at Quilt Market, and The Big Little Book of Fabric Die Cutting Tips proves that thoughtful, careful production can be coupled with valuable content. Kudos!

  • Cathy

    AMEN, Ebony! I can’t tell you how many books I have on my shelf that I ordered because they were by a well known quilt designer or longarm quilter only to be disappointed by the content. Unfortunately what you’ve said applies across our culture now. Quality is no longer appreciated. We live in a throw away society. People don’t take pride in their work.

    I appreciate your dedication to your art. I have followed you for some time on YouTube, and now that I’ve got into die cutting I’ve started following your blog, Facebook, bought your big little book. You have never disappointed, everything you put out their to help us is always top quality. It shows that you csrr.

  • Barbara McDowell

    Thank you so much. This is the best sewing article I’ve ever read. Having sewn for over 50 years with countless mistakes along the way, and primarily teaching sewing these days I get so frustrated with other’s “work” that I’ve seen, and let’s not mention ready-to-wear. Sewing students won’t accept it takes patience and diligence when learning to sew. They don’t want to take the time read, and don’t ask enough questions. “Oh, that’s good enough…I need it for tomorrow” doesn’t cut it. I also tell them that they are going to make mistakes, we all do – even the experts, so accept that you are going to make mistakes, keep that seam ripper within arms’ reach, and be gentle with it. Others who “sew” have shown me their sewing projects, and I end up cringing most of the time, and wonder who taught them to “sew”. Just because you place fabric under the presser foot, doesn’t mean you know how to sew. Sewing is much more than attaching fabric together with a needle and thread.

  • Mary Val

    Money makes the world go round, doesn’t it. Throw something together, slap on a price tag, and away they go. I have found that the majority of the quilters i know don’t know HOW to sew. They make quilts, but they don’t sew. Or they are only beginning to learn by making pillows and purses and totes. They panic at the word bias, or zipper, or match the seams. Match a plaid on a garment? They never heard of it. Buttonholes, facings, inset gathered sleeves, huh? Cleaning finishing your seams with various methods? They have no idea. Fit a pattern? Alter the design of an existing pattern? Draft a pattern? Get out of town. How about something as simple as hand sewing a binding invisibly to the back of your quilt — they don’t know HOW to do that. This is not all the quilters I know, naturally; but many view me as an anomaly in that I have been sewing for 35 years. I recently purchased a garment pattern (a long fleece bathrobe for winter) and was appalled at how poorly written the pattern was. This was a pattern by one of the major pattern companies. Some of you may not remember :^) but 35 years ago sewing patterns were meticulously written and full of tips and pointers and how to. No longer, if this pattern is representative. I could only conclude that whoever wrote the pattern was ignorant of those good sewing techniques. If you know very little about the basic sewing skills, you’re not going to recognize the shoddy workmanship in the quilt industry.

    I love the modern quilts, but I have to say, FAR too many of the patterns being sold as “modern” are crappy little boxes, boring and repetitious, that don’t require any skill. They are written for someone who doesn’t have the skill to make a straight sashing, square up a block, and have all the blocks the same size. They appear to be written for people who don’t have enough knowledge or experience to tackle anything requiring some care and thought. Look at some of the patterns in the quilt magazines — are they serious? We all start someplace — you should have seen my first quilt, all those years ago, lol – but still. If the patterns and designs are being written by people who don’t have the skills and knowledge, you get a poor product.

    Not all the patterns and tutorials, and finished product I see are like that, of course. Walk through your local guild quilt show and you will see the sloppily made quilts, and some truly *amazing* quilts. I think the best thing that we can do is share our own skills whenever possible about some of the basics that make such a tremendous difference in the final product. And have pride in our own work — if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

  • Anne DeRuiter

    A bible verse came to mind as I was reading your post: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” There will always be, in most every industry, a broad road populated with people for whom good enough is good enough. The narrow road people have too much integrity to follow that path, but because the cost is high, few people will walk that way.

    You see the same concept in construction trades. There’s a world of difference between a guy who can make kitchen cabinets and a true cabinet maker who is a craftsman. And the uneducated will either not notice the difference or not care.

    I gotta tell you, Ebony, I think this subject would be an excellent book. A primer on excellent workmanship, what makes certain thread or fabric better and why your final product will be better as a result. THAT would be a way to educate the illiterate.

  • Well said, Ebony! I absolutely, totally agree with you. I’ve been a stitcher/quilter for more than 60 years and my sewing is not perfect, but I continually try to improve. I think that’s part of our craft, at least for me, trying to get better with both technique and design. It is about time someone with “visibility” and the personal character and strength such as yourself came out and said what you did. BRAVO! Please continue to show and share your leadership… there are many out here who totally appreciate you! And that’s my two cents! ;-)

  • Thank you for saying this with such passion. Yesterday I saw a blog post featuring “modern” place mats—a rectangle of fabric with several pieces of fraying scraps tacked randomly on the surface. Wow. It was poorly designed and poorly made. Antique or new, traditional or modern, experienced quilter or novice—we should maintain the same high standards. I’ve been working with another quilter for several years now. In the beginning, her quilts were really, really badly done. Another quilter in the guild was actively pursuing mentoring her, but her attitude was that craftsmanship wasn’t important–just get it done. She makes really, really crappy quilts. No redeeming value at all. Harsh, but true. And SHE DOESN’T CARE!!! That’s the worst thing. I’m seeing the payoff in that once-beginner quilter though–each quilt is better than the last, and she will take apart a block, a section or the whole top and do it over til it’s right. My kind of quilter.

  • Dianne Ritter

    Well said! I wondered if I was being hyper critical but apparently not! The problem is the same in the knitting industry, popular designers putting out patterns that cost an arm and a leg but when you try to knit it up the pattern doesn’t work. A search of the web finds and “errata” page for the designer as long as your arm! Whatever happened to proofing the pattern and producing an item that you can be proud to have your name associated with?
    I recently attended our national quilt show in Penticton BC and was astounded to see the quality of workmanship in some of the quilts JURIED into the show!!
    I think that part of the problem has been criticism that hasn’t been constructive put out on the web that comes across as elitist, judgemental and exclusive.
    I agree with your statements about mentoring in a constructive and supportive way. We all have a love of fabric and sewing in common. Encouraging one another to strive for excellence will ensure that our craft survives into the future.
    Thank you for speaking up.

  • Margaret Kennedy

    Not being “in the business”, I don’t have the occasion to see many quilts or other projects made by so-called professionals. Most books lately don’t inspire me so I am rarely purchasing. What I do notice are how poorly some quilts in the major quilt magazines are quilted, even the cover quilts.

    When I take a picture of my own quilt, I always aim for an area where the quilting is the best. I remember a project on the cover of a major magazine where the quilting was so wobbly that it was awful! VERY amateur. That and the quilts that have hardly any quilting and are sagging in the picture in the magazine article drive me nuts. I do enjoy the modern quilts with lots of quilting, but not the modern/contemporary quilts with insufficient quilting.

    I think “skill” should be respected as much as “artistry”, and it should not be either/or.

  • Well said. I have bought at least 6 books in the past few years that are fine examples of what you are talking about. I have also seen it in show quilts.I think it’s a problem that cuts across a lot of industries and I think it’s reflected in an education system that declares everyone a “winner”. If you are not taught to recognize that there are people who do something better than you and you aren’t challenged to aspire to develop those talents for yourself then you don’t value the process of developing skills.

  • Sharon Short

    I agree with you 100%! The inside should look as good as the outside. It has always bothered me to see what I call “messy” sewing on the inside of a garment or a quilt block in an swap. I know there are different levels of sewing and experience but when you are swapping quilt blocks or making a garment to sell come on! your seams should be even and straight. Thank you for writing this article and voicing what needed to be said for so many years.

  • YES!!!! Eileen and I were looking at books during the CMQG retreat a few years ago and she and I were pretty appalled by the close ups of really bad stitches. I agree 100% with you. It is totally fine to make mistakes, no doubt. But to publish that is pretty sad. The message it sends is that craftsmanship does not count, or it doesn’t matter. No one is saying that everything has to be perfect, but if we are holding up someone as an example of excellence or as someone to admire, then they should produce quality work, or at least admit their mistakes and say “hey, I had to finish this last minute for a baby shower, so I cut corners and will be more careful next time”. We are all human.

  • Sherry

    Bravo Ebony! You said exactly what I’ve been thinking for a while now. The crap output in the quilting world is at an all-time high. I think those ‘famous’ quilters and bloggers that churn out crap need to know that we see it as crap:)

  • mjb

    I haven’t noticed this so much in quilt books yet (maybe I’m not good enough to see it), but I’m really glad to be able to check things out from the library and see what’s in clothes pattern books before I buy them. Part of it is the lack of technical editors in the industry, but I feel bad for people who are learning to sew from these resources and getting frustrated because the stuff doesn’t work out for them because of the bad direction. On the other hand, if I focus too much on perfection I’ll never get anything accomplished or submitted for anything outside of my house. I know I have a lot to learn, but at some point I just need to do things and accept them as part of the process.

  • Someone had to say that the “Emperor Has No Clothes”. Bravo, Ebony, for the courage to say it. We have a quilter in my area that makes the crappiest T-shirt quilts you’d ever imagine and gets $350. for them. Makes me gag.

  • I agree with you. I think this has happened a lot in the music industry too. One reason that I wash all my quilts before I will consider selling or gifting them is that I want to KNOW that the construction will hold up. If I seam is going to rip out with the first washing, I want to be the one that sees it and can fix it. I know that once it is sold they may not tell me, but they will tell their friends and it will cost me much more than the time spent washing, drying and checking seams.

  • Well said!
    I was at à quilt show a couple of years ago and went to à lecture by à famous artist.
    She showed us some of her work and I could’nt believen how Badly made it was.
    Everybody marvelled at THE work, and I thought, maybe it’s just me, maybe I am too critical

  • I have agreed with you for a long time now and I find this exact thing very discouraging as a hopeful designer and currently a teacher. If you are teaching a class in anything you should know what you are talking about! You should walk the walk not just talk the talk. Sometimes I will read a tutorial on a blog that everyone is raving about and i will say – but it looks horrible and didn’t work. I don’t buy a lot of books or patterns anymore b/c most of them are over-priced and under-done and so simple that you can figure them out by looking at the cover.

    There are some great designers and bloggers out there and usually they don’t get half the attention of the less than great ones :-(

  • Ebony, I am just a novice quilter/sewer but I understand fully what you mean. It’s the same in any profession when someone puts themselves out there as someone that is either self professed or professed by others to be competent and they are far from it. I look at every item I make, whether it is a quilt, knitted item or sewn item and search for what I don’t like about it and how can I make it better. Mistakes are fine, they are how we learn but you do need to learn from them. We traveled from our home in NJ to Pennsylvania to a quilt show and will not attend that show again. It was so substandard that I couldn’t justify taking a full day of my family’s time to do it again. Thank you for giving a voice to thoughts that are shared by a good many.

  • Carmen Wyant

    Yes!!!! I’ve seen this too many times to mention and just shook my head and wondered who taught these people to sew. It is the same as someone setting themselves up to teach something that they have just discovered, but don’t really have mastery over. They just plow on and dismiss the shoddy work and/or work done the wrong way as a part of the “look” of the item when anyone with any experience with the technique can tell that it is just ignorance of the technique coming out. What really exasperates me is that there are lots of places and people to learn the right way from and they just don’t bother. And while I like almost every style of quilting and needlework, some of the stuff that is termed “modern” seems to just be laziness and wanting to get it done now rather than taking the time to do a better job and enjoying the process. In this day and age it seems that the faster you finish, the better you think you are. I have sewn most of my life, my mother sewed most of our clothes when we were growing up and I’ve learned from her all of my life and as unpolitically correct as it is, I learned a lot in Home Ec when I was in school. I don’t think that they teach Home Ec anymore, at least not in the same sense it was taught when I went to school and that is too bad because young people come out of school with no handwork skills whatsoever. And our Home Ec was one of the first to be either sex-not just girls. Of course the guys only took it because they got to cook food and eat it, but they learned other things in spite of themselves.:) Great post and you really hit the nail on the head.

  • Thanks for saying it, Ebony! It was great talking with you at Market about all of this and I’m so happy to know I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Kudos to you for saying what many of us have thought. xo!

  • Yes! Thank you. I am one of those who appreciates honest feedback, not the standard golden praise. If no one tells me, I can’t improve! Very sad I didn’t get to meet you at Market.

  • Linda

    Yes! Thank you! I was beginning to think it was just me. I look at some things made by individuals who are teaching, and producing “patterns” and books, and I wonder, what am I missing here? I see a poorly constructed, haphazardly made item, only to then read it’s a commission piece or destined for a magazine. While the modern movement in particular delights in breaking rules and taking a fresh approach, there is no excuse for pumping more crap out into the world.

  • Ebony you have given voice to my soapbox! I have many times wondered why the hell I bother. I recently bought 2 popular quilt books and was amazed by the crap. I could not believe that the author had close up pictures of horrible stitches and construction. Are the publishers only out to make money? What about promoting the process of learning? The joy of accomplishment? A disservice is being done to new sewers / quilters / artists.
    Thank you for writing this.

  • Yes! :) I am glad you wrote this. As a person who hasn’t “made it” in the quilting world I see so many projects by my peers being published (magazines, compilation books, etc) that make me think “Why?” to me it’s not even just poor workmanship, sometimes these projects are so dumbingly simple that I cannot imagine that a publisher wanted a project so simple. I understand beginners need help and inspiration at a level that they can grasp, but it seems to me that so many magazines especially do not produce materials for anyone but the beginner. It’s a waste of my time to even sew many of these things. I think that’s one of the main reasons I haven’t been published – I don’t want to overly simplify my work.

    I do hate my seam ripper though. I’ll use it if i HAVE to. :)

  • Chelley Black

    Several years ago, I traveled several hours to a quilt museum to see an exhibition of quilts by one of my favorite designers. I was really shocked at the quality of the work. Seams weren’t matched, quilting was shoddy, etc. This was NOT intentional or a part of the design. When I expressed my disappointment to fellow quilters, I was told, “Oh, it’s just because he designs them and someone else does the work.” I’m sorry, but for me, that’s not good enough. I would not want MY name associated with work that wasn’t as least as well done as I would do it. He is still one of my all time favorite designers. I just don’t understand this part of his business / work / marketing plan.

  • Everything you said is exactly right. I am planning on writing an email to you later because I have alot to say, but need a while to sit down and do it, which I don’t have right now (I consider myself “modern” in style, but really exasperated with many things). Thank you for posting this.

  • YESYESYES! I wrote on this on my own blog a bit recently after I attended a quilt show in Baltimore and saw a quilt by a well-known designer and teacher that was so poorly pieced and so badly quilted, I could not believe anyone had allowed it to be displayed. And I was wondering the exact same things: does fame destroy accountability? Are we offering fame too easily, to people who have not earned it? And are we so committed to being accepting and encouraging, and saying, “It’s okay to make mistakes,” that we have lost sight of what it means to take pride in our work and to want to produce things that show us at our best, not just what we can toss off quickly? Thank you for saying all of this better than I could.

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