“Everybody wants to get it done quickly” (by Margaret Cooter)

Nowadays it seems that the books that are being published about quilting in particular, and perhaps other textile arts in general, are along the lines of “Make a Quilt in a Day”. It’s all about speed, about making more and more items – productivity seems to be the sought-after achievement. What’s driving this need for speed?

Quilts from the 1970s – from http://blog.shopmartingale.com/quilting-sewing/four-decades-of-quilting-history/

Quilts from the 1970s – from http://blog.shopmartingale.com/quilting-sewing/four-decades-of-quilting-history/

Back in the days of the 1970s quilt revival, not only did we have just a few books setting out how to make our quilts – and if we didn’t want to use the designs they supplied, we worked out designs on graph paper. Now, everyone can do it faster and better by searching out tutorials on the web; furthermore, traditional quilters have electronic programs to work out individual designs, and contemporary quilters can use photos and so much else.

It’s really exciting, this augmented world of possibility – but is it just too exciting? Are quilters (of whatever categories and persuasions) being misled by being pushed into always doing the next new thing, and into the need for instant gratification? Or is it that through this exposure we have accumulated so much in our brain that we want to do, and doing it quicker will mean we succeed in our goal of producing as much as we can?

Sewing-machines-from-the-2000s

Quilting in the 2000s – new materials, new technologies, and no end in sight (via http://blog.shopmartingale.com/quilting-sewing/four-decades-of-quilting-history/)

We chose our own path and focus, of course, and there will always be a bandwagon effect that makes it hard not to jump on to the newest fad. For many people, though, quilting is a way to escape the frenetic pace of social media, constant information, lack of a work-life balance, and similar modern ills.

In trying to make it easier (and quicker) for ourselves, it’s hard to get away from using other people’s patterns, drawings, photos, instructions – they get us to the point where we can get on with “just making”. No further decisions need be made, the project will not falter or stall because of indecisiveness … only because of diminishing interest or lack of time.

Even for the artist/designer who turns quiltmaker, the many decisions needed to get as far as the “making” stage can sometimes be daunting. Have you had an idea and worked it up on paper or in samples, but not started the actual making because it seems that finishing this huge quilt will take too much time, time that you’d subconsciously allocated to several other projects as yet unvisualised? And could this be because, deep down somewhere, you’re not all that sure that this particular project, despite all your preparation and care, will turn out the way you want it to? Is it too big a risk to make the commitment?

silence-sculpture-derek-melander

“Silence” by Derek Melander (via http://slowtextiles.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/derick-melander-sculpture.html)

For some people, the focus is on production and results. For others, their pleasure comes from the process – they simply love the making. For all of us, we work at different speeds – sometimes we really do need a quilt to be ready tomorrow; for example, a long-planned project to welcome a baby can suddenly jump to the top of the list.

The Slow Textiles movement is embraced by some quilters but it’s definitely not in the mainstream that publishers are feeding with “quilt in a day” books.

Another hopeful sign is Modern Quilts, makers who are taking quilting back to its roots – not just by rediscovering the patterns and techniques that got the resurgence in quilting going in the 1970s, but by using the methods of those times – planning on graph paper and hand quilting among them.

Taking your time when making textile work emphasizes, quite rightly in my opinion, the sense of connection that is always inherent in cloth: connection with the body, with warmth, with continuity, with care. Connection of the maker with the fabric and with the intended use of the new item, and with its users. Connection with old cloth and its history, including the history of its making and of its maker.

Arguably, productivity is over-rated. Less can be more: more care, more satisfaction.

And yet, and yet – the proliferation of books, techniques and supplies means that specialist shops (and teachers)  can make a living out of quilting. The availability of so many patterns and kits means that beginners, or people unsure of colour choices or unwilling to burden themselves with a large stash, can derive the satisfaction of making, and express their need to make something beautiful.

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8 Responses to ““Everybody wants to get it done quickly” (by Margaret Cooter)”


  1. 1 alison schwabe April 28, 2014 at 3:40 am

    I think most creative people go through a ‘try everything’ phase – classes, gadgets and gizmos, books and magazines. I’d go further and say you need to do this – its familiarising yourself with the tools around you. Many makers – take quilters for example, remain in this zone all their quilting lives and nothing wrong with that – enjoyment in making and satisfaction at completing projects is healthy for all of us. Relatively few though, in time work through this novelty phase and then settle down to seriously explore and use some part of what they’re learned, welding it to their own vision and adapting materials and tools they find along the way to create something unique about which people say ‘How did he think of …? Amazing, wish I’d thought of it …’

  2. 2 clairan February 10, 2014 at 6:15 am

    I also have a “quilt in a day” Xmas tree quilt we use happily during the season. Of course it took me 20 years to finish it!

  3. 3 olganorris February 3, 2014 at 7:48 am

    Ah yes, I remember so many years ago when credit cards were new, there was an advertisement for one telling us to ‘take the waiting out of wanting’! Instant seems to be such an essential adjective these days – and we are all experts now.
    I suppose that we all look for help to speed up some tasks: recipes which do not involved days of preparation, self-assembly furniture, books on CD, and for one’s hand work such enabling tools of various kinds as June mentioned. After all, we are using computers and the Internet right now in order to speed communication! (I still love writing actual letters, but receive hardly any in reply.)
    A difficulty that exists when describing oneself as a quilt maker is that this is a catch-all label which covers a range of intentions and abilities which could be compared with – say – the weekend DIY-er at one end right to Structural Architectural Engineer at the other. This large range within one pigeon-hole, even if it is refined to the descriptive art-quilt maker, can lead to using the terms quick and slow as pejorative.
    I must admit that I do sometimes purchase a quick-fix book to help me look at different ways to solve a problem I have with my work. And I was looking at You-tube instructions for making pompoms using a fork the other day (also seen coincidentally on your blog, Margaret), as I happen to need pompoms for a piece I’m working on, and am loth to go through the double cardboard donut route of old. I have chosen to make work slowly, but just because my work takes months (if not years!) to complete, it does not make it better or worse – or even more haptic than that of my friend who can make a beautiful piece in a couple of weeks.
    As for kits – well, a friend gave me a kit for a quilted Christmas wreath one year – I was surprised to say the least, but decided for her sake to make it up anyway, and 30 years later I still use it every year, and remember her, the situation, and smile at my shock/horror at the very idea at the time.
    Creative making is a dance – perhaps a foxtrot: slow, slow, quick quick, slow. Some have more grace and natural rhythm than others, but we can all have a great time.

  4. 4 Debby Levine February 3, 2014 at 7:20 am

    This happened to knitting a while back, where all the knitting mags were emphasizing quick knitting. This really has dumbed down the craft but as previous commenter noted has probably made many people happy who would not otherwise have taken up knitting. I recently finished a crew neck pullover with all-over color pattern that fits me well and reminded me that knitting a sweater is hard. That is, there is lots to think about and plan along the way. I guess that’s why quick knits are so popular. Perhaps the same applies to quick quilts.

  5. 5 june February 2, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Margaret, are you saying this could be a slippery slope? If you (we, I mean) use templates for our blocks rather than designing them on graph paper, we are on our way to working entirely in prefab kits?

    It seems to me that the use of the rotary cutter and a design wall, which is way faster than graphing and cutting out a template and making a plastic form of the same, etc., isn’t necessarily the thin edge of the wedge, the slippery slope, or even the road to hell. These aids to speed are just tools, not necessarily bad nor good, just tools, like electric sanders for the wood artist or the hand-held computer devices for David Hockney.

    Lots of people love fabric, but couldn’t design on graph paper for beans. The pleasure of the fabric can be obtained even from store-bought kits (although heaven forfend that a kit would have been allowed in my house). The pleasures of tactility, of being involved in thoughts of history and tradition which quilting brings to the maker, whether she or he works by hand or by machine, by herself or with a group around a frame, are achievable, even in the easiest quick and dirty format.

    Perhaps it’s the dumbing down of the process that you gently object to — the plethora of quilt-in-a-day how-to books and web sites, most of which repeat themselves endless. I agree, but it’s because for me that’s really unrewarding. But for lots of people, the sheer doing, however it is done, is reward enough. They don’t want originality; they want the kind of ease and comfort of quick rewards and not too many places where there’s an apparent chance of failure. The makers can give away objects that others love and cherish and that brings the makers very nice rewards indeed. It isn’t art, but it’s comfort, history, and sometimes love, which is, for the most part, more than enough. They don’t need to hand-quilt to achieve pleasure.

    I can live with that, so long as that kind of quilting is seen for what it is — a pastime, a hobby, something along the lines of a jig-saw puzzle, only more fun to do. It’s when it gets mixed up with what quilted art is that it bothers me. I think that’s where things get muddied and the pleasures of making are confused with the pleasures of creating. Creation is hard, difficulty, full of all kinds of possibilities for failure, criticism, and rejection, as well as mostly silent and mostly self-awarded awards. One is seldom loved for one’s art; one is almost always loved for one’s quilts.

    It seems to me that your approach might call for the slow quilt methods because that’s what your art calls for. Mine never did — I wasn’t into tradition nor history, and so didn’t have any need for the “resonance” of doing slow quilts. Of course, I made lots of slow _art_, because a lot of it didn’t work the first few tries and more had to be torn out and tried again. Much eventually got thrown away. It was not because I chose to use older tools that it was slow. It was because what I wanted — to make something that echoed what was in my mind — was so difficult to make satisfactorily. I was not looking to have a warm tactile experience that I could give to my grandchild when I was finished with it. I was after something more difficult to dig out and achieve. There were, there are, no patterns for what’s in my mind.

    By the way, the image “Silence” made me laugh out loud. It had a lot of interesting resonances, not the least because I’m giving away fabric by the bin fulls.

    Thanks for making me sort out my own thoughts on this subject.

  6. 6 kathleenloomis February 2, 2014 at 6:35 am

    All depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

    For busy people who want to make functional items — a baby quilt for your new grand-niece, a quilt for the guest bedroom — it makes sense to go for speed. If you take your time the baby will need a lot bigger quilt than if you can manage to whip it out this month.

    For artists who love working out the possibilities but shy back from the actual making (too complicated, too difficult) you can always call yourself a conceptual artist, put the plan into your beautiful sketchbook/journal, and declare it finished.

    If you love the actual making then I guess you qualify as a “process artist” and you probably don’t want to whip through it too fast, any more than you want to gulp down that exquisite dessert in one bite. (I’m in this category, as you might tell from the choice of metaphor.)

    But a lot of people don’t seem to know what they’re trying to accomplish. Especially those who want to be “art quilters” but have no idea of art. These are the people whose last quilt reflects the last workshop they attended, who are suckers to buy the new tools and materials, who try everything and master nothing.

  7. 7 arlee February 2, 2014 at 6:31 am

    I used to judge myself on how many things were finished in a year–and rarely do i show any of those, or am really that proud of them. In the last three years, i’ve let myself slow down, with technique, thinking process, research and results. It’s much more satisfying for me to view work that i am connected to *because* i have taken “more time”. It seems very much to me that quantity over quality, fast fix over real depth has become the way for some to feel they are Artists. I don’t believe any of the masters in any other medium keep a ledger on how many paintings/sculptures/plates/widgets, whatever they have produced each month.

    Time also has the advantage of your voice and style being added to the work. When you slow down, and i’m not talking about just hand stitching or embroidery here, as that is *not* what “slow” means or what the Slow Cloth movement is about, you actually have the luxury of really looking at what you are doing, can ask yourself if design elements or techniques actually fit with what you are doing, and really get personal with the cloth. You also learn to fix mistakes, not just cover them up–though as we all know, the occasional mistake can be serendipitous. That can apply to machine work, or any of the fancy “buy more product” mixed media projects as well. It often seems also that speed kills creativity in the competition to try everything, new under the sun or not.

    It’s not so much about the hand, as it is the involved mind. Originality doesn’t arrive at lightening speed, nor does Becoming an Artist. In the words of The Old English Poets “Ti-i-i-ime is on my side, yes it is, yes it is.”


  1. 1 ‘You’re freer if you know you can’t save anything.’ (by Olga Norris – a couple of days early) | Ragged Cloth Cafe, serving Art and Textiles Trackback on April 18, 2014 at 2:43 am
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