“Oh, you quilt? My Grandmother Quilted…”

quilters blockIt happened again this week…twice!  I had my annual eye exam and this time with a new doctor, because my old eye doctor retired last year.  I also had a doctor’s appointment.  In both places the subject of my quilting came up, and in both places, sure enough, the next words out of the nurses’ mouths was “my grandmother(s) quilted.”  And in one case the next predictable sentence was “I don’t have the patience…”

It’s so predictable it happens nearly every time someone I don’t know well learns that I quilt.  I don’t mind that their grandmothers quilted.  In fact I am glad for their grandmothers and I hope that if they have one of these quilts they care for it like the treasure it is rather than stuffing it in a plastic bag and putting it in the basement storage.  Indeed, my grandmother quilted also.  But since she had 12 children, and all but one lived (or are still alive) to ripe old ages approaching 100, I don’t have any of her quilts.  (I believe some of my more than forty first cousins do.)

Their eyes lose interest if I try to explain that I make wall quilts that are intended as art for the wall or that I am a competition quilter.  I sometimes can’t help myself though. Sometimes I even continue talking even though I can tell they are not interested, or simply don’t understand, and tell them about the types of quilts I make and the equipment I use for it.  But usually, I just smile and make a simple statement that I make art for the wall using fabric, threads, and quilting as my medium and stop trying to impress or explain.  Usually they will start talking to me like some people do to the really extreme elderly…a softened, sweetened voice, and one of the nurses called me “dear.”  I am 69.  If you know my background as someone who worked more than 27 years in a job that took me all over the world to deal with tough situations, you would know how amusing (and slightly annoying) that is to me.

Sew many people today still think that the hand sewn, hand quilted or tied quilt made from clothing scraps and backed by old sheets, and not quite accurately pieced, is the only “real”quilt (indeed, this is what my grandmother’s quilts are like). There are even those who think it is “cheating” to make quilts by machine, or “simply wrong” to paint a quilt. It is clear many have never seen the exquisitely crafted (by hand, machine, and both) quilts of all styles and methods such as can be found in quilt shows today.

Why do I think educating the public about developments in the current quilt industry is important?  I don’t feel I have to defend my current career.  It isn’t going to help and only underscores some people’s view of me as I grow older (“sweet fat old lady”). I do think, however, that we need to attract new quilters.–young, middle aged, older (yes, continuing to attract the older quilt makers is just as important), men, women, and kids–that will help to keep the fabrics, threads, machines, laser lights, embroidery machines, and so on developing and available. Right now we have wonderful supplies for our craft.  And truth be told, I probably have enough to last me the rest of my life in a pinch, but I do hope when I next need a batch of specially colored threads, a particularly interesting piece of fabric, or a new high-tech machine, they will be available, and still available when I reach my nineties and am still quilting.

Sew happy everyone!  Teach someone to quilt, or in the very least, teach someone about quilting today.