Every quilt I have made in the past 12 months is shrouded in secrecy. I completed 17 new pieces for the book and you will get to see all of them in October 2017—in the book—if things go according to plan. Until I make something new, I have nothing to show you. NOTHING.
I haven’t had any new work to share for months. For years.
Maybe I should change the name of this blog to Smoke and Mirrors?
Piled upon the paucity of quilts available for sharing is the fact that I am having feelings of scarcity which usually results in hoarding.
What do I mean? I have so little that I better just keep it to myself.
Why should we share? Does sharing matter? Is sharing part of quilt culture? Is there an anti-sharing undercurrent in the quilt world right? Or to put it another way, how FREE should our sharing be? Can we put a price on it? Should we?
After pondering this a bit, I have come to a personal conclusion. But first, a few other random thoughts.
We have all heard the saying “Sharing is Caring” Most of us think of this as being about teaching kids to share their toys and cookies.
But the saying is actually trademarked by the Salvation Army . For them it is about giving some of what you’ve got to someone who doesn’t have enough. I can get behind that idea in my politics and in my stitching.
I share my work, because I have dedicated myself to quilt making and the advancement of this medium in the larger world. By sharing what I have learned via the quilts I have made, I am contributing to the greater good of my community. I believe in this.
But there are people out there—check yourself—who have treated me like a strip mine—hauling away the ore of my essence without a tidbit of gratitude. My big thing here is that we all learn from each other. Don’t pretend you don’t, and honor those who have shared their knowledge with you. That’s it really, I don’t like feeling used. No one does.
Sharing matters because it advances our art form in a way that is directly in line with the maker philosophy. Quilt making has a long tradition of being passed from maker to maker in an informal manner. We learn by asking each other questions, by experimentation and sharing, by being generous with our ideas and techniques. We understand that we were standing on other quilt makers’ backs.
Not long ago there was a big kerfuffle in the Modern Quilt world. The higher-ups issued a complicated decree which basically said this. If you have created a quilt that was derived from a teacher’s pattern, book, or workshop you must get their permission to enter it into QuiltCon. This was alarming and confusing. The quilt making tradition is heavily based on the use of patterns and work learned from others. It is normal and expected that if you were to enter such a quilt in a competition, you would publicly share where your source materials came from, but you would not have to ask permission to show the quilt. Who really knows the original maker of the hexagon quilt block? My guess is Barbara Brackman knows and most likely the true creator is no longer with us. It is not some modern potentate, I can tell you that.
Why ask permission? The only answer I can think of is that the teacher who re-invented __________ (fill in the blank here—negative space, paper piecing, or improv work) now thinks that they have ownership of that quilting concept which more likely than not has been around for decades, and all they have done is put a little bit of spit shine on it.
I don’t like that. I get it though. It is about monetizing and ownership and territory. And it is about fear—fear that someone will steal from you and benefit from that taking. It is about branding and labeling and marketing.
And some how, a part of me has absorbed this way of thinking. It is the book I suppose. Authors are encouraged to keep the information in the book under wraps until it is published. It is all tied up in what my friend Jonny Gray calls the TADA moment. Which is a great thing. It is an unveiling, it is the curtain going up, it is the edge of a fishnet stocking. It is what we put our money on the bar for.
But what is going on in my studio now is NOT about the TADA moment. So why am I reluctant to share?
Years ago, I wrote a blog post about using mantras in teaching and in life.
One of my long time mantras is BE FEARLESS.
I have been battling with this since I got back into the studio this winter. Should I share what I am working on? What if people take it from me? What if I am giving it away for free? What if that makes me a sucker?
And now I think I have gotten to big for my britches. Before the book, I would say WHATEVER. Take it. It would be nice if gave me credit for what you have learned from me, but you can have it either way. In fact, I know deep down inside of me that in the act of giving you a technique, or knowledge, or idea that that very technique, or knowledge, or idea is transformed. It is no longer about me. It is now about your interpretation of the technique, knowledge, or idea.
That is our tradition.
I believe in the free dissemination of our art form. And yes, I have written a book, and I hope you will buy it when it comes out. In the meantime, I am going to take photos of my studio and design walls in action, and I am going to share them.
Excuse the mess. It just means I am building about ten quilts at once. And now that I have completed this session of navel gazing, I can’t wait to share them.
I’ve only recently started reading your blog and I love it! I don’t remember how I found you, but I’m glad I did. I love your work, and rest assured, I for one can’t wait to mention where I found a particular inspiration – it makes me seem so thoroughly engaged with the wider quilt world! But also rest assured that I believe you are right that I could never make a quilt like you (I don’t have enough solids in my stash for one thing!) but I have found elements in your work that utterly delight me and with which I have experimented to see what I can make of them. And I love seeing your studio. It reminds me that creativity isn’t neat as a pin and that the amount of productivity clearly evident is inspiration in itself. I hope THE BOOK ships to the UK!!
Dear Marianneteacake (Love the name!) I am so glad you found your way here. Yes my studio is disaster right now. I don’t want to stop making long enough to clean it, but that moment is coming soon because I need to put new quilts on the long arm. Thank you for stopping by!
Maria, thank you so much for sharing so openly. It’s such a balancing act. I have had ideas and work stolen and so your sharing resonates. My first reaction was to pull the shades – so to speak – but I think the creative spirit can’t really live that way. Artists are the most generous and reflective people I know. I came to somewhat the same conclusion.
You are so right Jeannie. I think we have to accept–especially if we teach–that our ideas will be used by others. I am glad you stopped by and commented.
Beautiful work. Thank you for this thought process walk you take us on. It’s like a poetic stroll though the woods with places and work to look at at each turn. In addition to the scarcity you share about I believe there are many quilts that don’t get shared simply from being born (the quilt) inside a home that isn’t a part of the on line quilt sharing culture. Or made by hands that just wouldn’t think to share that way – beyond the place or recipient it’s going to live. Your work is just beautiful and totally contributes to quilt culture moving forward. So weather it comes out now, over time, or BING! with the book it’s good because the work is so good. Thats what matters in the end. Don’t you think? The piece, the process and heart of the work, the quilt. Thanks for sharing. And caring.
YES. Jen. You are absolutely right. I like the way you think! In fact our tradition is full of what you are talking about–quilts being made and kept hidden away in trunks or closets and then finally someone sees one of those quilts and thinks this must be shared! We are all grateful when that happens.
Ha, hardly a mess…if anything I suppose you could call it (lovingly) organized chaos. But seriously I agree with Marianneteacake, I could never make a quilt like you, not because I don’t want to, but because I’m not as talented/ creative/artistic/fearless as you. But if I did, or could I would boast about what a privilege it was to learn from you. Absolutely I will buy your book and who knows, maybe I will make something close but with a caltexgal spin on it. Thanks for sharing….
I would love to see a caltexgal spin on my work! I love when that happens in class–that information I share is gobbled up and comes out in a totally new form.
considering you have “nothing” to show us, your posts are pretty darn inspiring.
Thank you! I glad to hear you say that.
Maria, love your words of wisdom regarding sharing … it’s sad that some in the quilt world want to start branding an art that has been around for generations.
Dear Jean J- I know what you are saying. I think we are on one end of the pedelum swing right now. Things will eventually sort out and the traditon of generosity that has been a part of quilt making from the beginning will prevail.
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing your studio and that you also use your longarm as an extra long storage surface. For some reason that drives my husband crazy, even though he does the same with his table saw. I find the thoughtfulness of your topics engaging enough that I don’t need a lot of visual stimulation to accompany it. I love your work, and I’m inspired by the detailed quilting. If I were ever to attempt something similar, it would certainly be credited as “inspired by”, because I believe that then someone who may not be familiar with you would be introduced to you. It seems that those who would steal from others creatively are insecure with their own talent. Somehow karma has a way of balancing things out.
While waiting for The Book, I would propose a topic that I would be interested in, which doesn’t require photos of quilts. How do you keep track of your quilts – – show entry dates, shipping dates, etc? So far I’m using a spreadsheet I’ve cobbled together but would like to think there’s a better way.
Dear Belbelle- I agree that “thieves” often are insecure and/or don’t even know they are doing it. And yes I believe that karma does balance things out. Especially if you can remain unemotional in the moment and just let it pass. Because another moment–usally better–will come next. I have written several posts about entering shows. When I selected the layout for my blog, I wanted something sleek that did not have a lot of noise on the home page. Which is visually appealing, but does not allow the reader to easily search for things. If you go to my ABOUT page there is a search bar where you can look for old posts about entering shows. And I will try to write a compilation post in the near future that lists all of those writings together. Good idea! Thank you!
Amen sister! Great blog and very thoughtful.
Thank you Deborah! I hope you are doing good.
Looking forward to buying your book! You inspire me.
You know where it all started, so thank you!
I loved your post, Maria. That’s why I read your blog. I hope it outstrips the fleece baby blankets and the top-down sweater in popularity. I’ll click on it 7 or 8 times. Maybe that will help.
I wish you would write a blog. That would be awesome. Behind the baby blankets and sweaters is the Fiesta Ball Gowns of San Antonio!
I like all of the photos you shared today. Lots of them get my brain going, and I can imagine myself trying to figure out how to sew a ‘patterned’ block from solids. Realistically I guess I’d probably give it a stab and then go off on a tangent. More often than not I try something and it veers off in its own way. I don’t actually own many solid fabrics! I’d like to think that my home sewing doesn’t take value away from your wonderfully artistic quilts. I enjoy lots and lots of quilt blogs, big and small. Thanks for sharing:)
Emily, I would love for my work to inspire you to try new things, and then I hope you will share them!
I admire your passion, commitment and dedication to your art. Even at 75 years old I cannot light on one media and have tried many art forms and distractions in between raising three boys too. For one reason or another I consider myself an artist having tried music, dance, the fine arts, craft and been delighted for awhile with all of them. Today I am happy as a poet and freelance writer that allows me to meet, interview, and know many interesting people and their art. It is wonderful to find what makes us happy and to share what we have learned along the way however differently. Watching your journey and hearing about you experiences and from others on your blog has been a real treat. Can’t wait to read your book. Thanks
Aunt Carole- You have had dozens of creative lives which is truly amazing. Thank you for commenting. It is always good to hear from you!
This topic resonates with me. Not because I am some great name in the quilt world or an up and rising star but because of the many shades, nuances, feelings, conteversory and more this topic brings up.
Maybe it is the role saying there is nothing new under the sun or the competitiveness that it brings out in people?
Or it is how you can argue both sides?
Simply it comes down to we are influenced by what we take in by our senses. Every class, book, blog, DVDs, media that enters our brain is stored in our own little hard drive. Then everything that comes out is influenced by that information. Therefore you can not be helped but to be influenced by what you surround your self in. Unless you live in an isolated bubble. Lol
The media of art quilting is one that is a bit harder to monetize. Generally when you write a book you are writing a technique book, a process book. You are not writing a pattern book. Do this quilt this way and you can make a quilt exactly like mine.
Two different models to teach by. By in large the majority of quilters are the buy the pattern ….make the quilt people.
Take an art quilt class, learn a technique and seldom will your piece be a duplicate. It might be a derivative.
Interesting topic for sure.
I love your work. Read your blog. I am inspired by your work , would love to take a class some day and will probably buy your book. I have a hard time being free and abstract with my work. I try free form piecing but usually like to create pictures in fabric.
I love to play and share with my friends. I think that makes us better human beings. It makes us happier.
So Maria all I see of you is your blog, your work with SAQA , work in your community and really through the eyes of the Internet and I would say that if you were in my neck of the woods you would be welcome and fit in perfect with my group of happy, sharing, caring, giving pals!
Stay Maria! She seems pretty good just the way she is. No one likes a grumpy quilt diva!
Jo- What a great commentary which ends with the best advice ever–No one likes a grumpy quilt diva. You’ve got that right. Words of true wisdom that I will remember. Thank you!
Loved your thoughtful post and I am so looking forward to your new book! Commercial endeavors such as publishing impose that “secret sewing” until the big reveal and some shows and exhibitions also put constraints on the sharing (but that seems to be changing). Personally, when I feel reluctant to share something during the process phase, it can be traced to the competitive nature of juried shows. I am trying to just enjoy (and share) the process of making and then look for an opportunity to show the work when the piece is finished. However, sometimes I do make a piece for the purpose of entering it into a specific exhibit. Thank you for sharing your work, your process and your thoughts with us! Hopefully makers will give credit to their inspiration and acknowledge those who generously share their work with us.
I have the same conflic. Sometimes, I want to sit on the piece because I want to enter it into a particular show–the TADA moment. On the other hand, I also want to share half finished bits of progress because I love it when others share their process. So I suppose we just do what feels right in the moment. I am still kind of keeping the unfinished Quilt National piece under wraps for an assortment of reasons, but I am trying to share everything else. Thank you Marla!
I’ve noticed that Quilt National has relaxed their policy on digital sharing prior to entering and exhibiting, but it does have a longstanding tradition and history to consider.
Brava Maria for thoughtfully, bravely, and fearlessly sharing.
Thank you Vicky!
I can relate to your conversation with yourself on this. If everyone in the world were honest and forthright we wouldn’t even worry that we want to share. It is too bad we do have that niggle of worry. There are always people who will take advantage of someone else’s generosity. Most of us will continue to be generous in spite of it. Love your words and images. Thanks for sharing!
Heidi- You get me. Thank you!
I understand your concern, Maria but here are my two cents: even if I wanted to copy your work I couldn’t. I could try to put the same colors together but unless I copied every color and every piece and cut it exactly as you would, I would never come even close to your superior color and design sense. Your works have a magic that only you can create because they come from your heart. So even if people try to copy, their work can only be second rate forgeries. It is truly unfortunate that so few people really understand how much time and effort you have put into your quilts. Just know that there are people who do understand the work it takes and honor you as an artist. Not that my opinion matters, but I am one of your biggest fans. You rock!
Annette- you are part of those quilts! More often than not, your lovely hand dyed fabrics are featured in my work. Thank you for the fabric and for the kind words!
Great post. In architecture school I was wary of copying existing plans and ideas. Finally a professor convinced me that there is no such thing as an original idea. He encouraged me to to copy an admired plan EXACTLY onto my site and use that as a jumping off point. In fact, he challenged me to find an existing design that would work perfectly on my unique site, needing no changes to improve the design. I’m still looking for that perfect plan and creating many new ones in the meantime.
It is kind of like using the quilt block as your starting point. A traditional quilt block is frequently my template, as the existing architecture plan is your starting point. That is really interesting way to think about. It isn’t really “nothing is new under the sun”, it is more like “don’t re-invent the wheel”. Thank you Petra for commenting. It is a really good point to think about.
Your blog is certainly filled with inspiration and color. I love seeing the photos of your highly organized studio. Thank you for sharing all that you do.
I think it is so very important to credit the artist who inspired your project, and when I use a pattern from a designer, I do that. I want to include them in my blog comments, link back to their website, credit them on the label etc. When I am inspired by something I see, then I try to credit that which inspired me. There is nothing “new” under the sun, except the way you see the fabric pieces coming together; and your color choices which are unusual and inspiring.
3 years ago, I saw a series of quilts (chairs) at a show in Hampton Virginia and KNEW immediately, from 30 feet away, that it was YOUR work. Your style is very YOU. 🙂
Thank you Mary! I hope you are doing good and getting lots of stitching done in your similarly organized studio!
very thoughtful blog (my first visit, what a great way to start). I teach a monthly class at a local shop and am very free with my ideas and instructions, and know that some are taking and copying these for friends or even teaching their own classes at other shops using my ideas and hard work. It niggled at me for a while and then I had to let it go- I don’t want to register patterns, write a book or undertake other marketing efforts. And as you said, many of my ideas are distillations of other people’s work, so I’m just passing it on anyway. My students are happy, I’m having fun, and at least locally, I’m a well-respected teacher with a great following.
I’m looking forward to your book. Even if I see you quilts on the blog I’d still buy the book to see the story behind them! Thanks, Peg
Thank you Peg. You made many great points. As teachers, we have to decide that what we put out into the universe will also be shared by others. I agree. And as you mentioned, at first it bothered you a bit, but you have some to terms with it. I think that is really what this blog post was about–me trying to come to terms with what it means to share and not care what happens.I am glad you visited and commented!
For someone who has nothing to share, I sure did enjoy the pictures in this post!
I feel like we’ve had this conversation before… Marianne Burr told me “there’s nothing new under the sun.” We will be influenced by what we see in the world, and it will show up in our work. And there will always be evil people in the world, and very likely they will copy other people’s work. But if we hide our work away and never share it, is it really art? What’s the point?
I am a huge fan of your work. But I don’t want to make quilts just like yours. (haha, I’ve tried. After 8 tiny squares I am DONE.) But really, I just am inspired by the beauty and brilliance of them. Something in them speaks to me. Keep sharing!
Thank you Debby. I also appreciate your work and and ideas and I glad you are out there sharing them. It makes me happy to know that we are in this together!
I appreciate thoughts and photos you have shared. I am looking forward to your book in the fall. I was lucky enough to take a couple of classes at festival in Houston from you and loved learning how you work , about your style, your use of color. If I made Lines Triangles and Squares if would be my quilt – but I would certainly acknowledge you as teacher and I would not enter quilt in a show as my idea or use it for profit. Recently I have been taking an online class where work is suppose to be “original” – all the people on the planet quilting now – is there more than three original ideas left out there.?! I think imitation is sincerest form of flattery – but I think the rift comes whether or not it is for monetary reason or for your own enjoyment or to hold up for show and tell at a guild meeting. It is hard to own an idea once you put it out there. There are two interesting books out there that pertain to this subject – Steal Like An Artist and Show your Work by Austin Kleon. I am working my way through the first one now and it is worth the read. I am finishing up class I mentioned above and teacher asked us to write a review of class and if she could post our art work on her site. I couldn’t believe I actually gave it a second thought, but I did. For me, it is really hard to do something original and pleasing (I am the girl who works from patterns, books and classes) – and I acknowledge that I did it with someone else’s technique – so I think I get at least part of what you are saying. I am trying to find ways to work that have more of me in them. It is not easy. I think the ideas you shared are great food for thought. Happy quilting in Alaska!
Cyd- what a thoughtful response. Thank you. You are right. There really is nothing new under the sun except for TWO things–1. your interpretation of the idea which is essentially saying that YOU are original in your being and your interpretation because of that will be unique and 2. this place and time in history is new/original. So while it may be a decades old idea–the lone star for example–your take could be original. I hope you continue to explore quilting ideas and push yourself to think freshly about them. It is hard but worth it. I will check out those books. Thank you!
I love this post! Thank you for being so open and sharing your thoughts. Can’t wait to see your book and whatever new directions you may go. Your blog is always inspiring to me.
Thank you Elaine! I am still a bit conflicted about the post. I know now that I was saying many things and some of them contradicted each other, but that is all part of the process, and I am glad you are with me on this journey.
Thank you for your post. I apologize if I haven’t been grateful for all of the great information and inspiration you’ve provided over all the years. Your machine quilting instructions got me started on a skill that I have spent years wanting to learn, and had never tried. I still refer back to them all the time. Your sketches and shapes are a springboard that I use to play with different designs. I just finished a small quilt with a little square where I put in a modified flame flower, and thought of you when I did it. Thank you for taking the time to write all of that out, to share it, to send me (!) a paper copy!. You’re one of the direct reasons I started machine quilting.
I’m very much looking forward to your book.
Carrie- I would NEVER think of you as ungrateful. You have been supporting me with your kind words for awhile now. I thank you VERY much.
It’s about money and ego..
I’ve been quilting a long time. I’ve never taught never sold my quilts never made patterns
I quilt to please myself.It’s nice that I have a job that pays well. On the other hand I’ve never push myself because I didn’t want to I didn’t like to compete. I do believe I would be a better quilter if I did take some chances and push myself. Which you have to do in order to make money and compete.
Liz- Those are all really good points. It sounds like you are like me when it comes to knitting. I do it because I enjoy it. I find a pattern and yarn that I want to work with and I do it. As you said, ” I quilt to please myself.” Which is a great reason to quilt!
Maria I love your unique work and am inspired by it though I could never duplicate it because I do not see the world as you do. My interpretations would alway come out different. I thank you for being willing to share your artistic creations and I look forward to owning your book.
Wow love all that you have said. I have had work copied, a new idea stolen from a so called friend, she knew it too, called to ask if she could show it. I have felt like hiding but then I like to share too. The book is such a good reason to keep us out for now. I can tell I will want a copy of the book. This is my first visit and I love the bits you did show. You will be sharing just all at once and it will help support your hard work and time as an artist. Thank you for sharing your feeling on to share or not to share. I think many of us feel this way.
I share what I’m working on because honestly not many people quite pick colors and patterns like I do. Not boasting but then again, I have a very wide palette because I work in both prints and plains and don’t confine my prints to a certain era. A Civil War reproduction print may end up next to a shot cotton next to a Tula Pink next to a ’60s calico. Besides there’s lots to blog about besides what’s on your design wall. Your designing methods, a before-and-after series of pics or talking about some vintage quilt that got you excited. When I get anxious about someone else ripping me off (and I occasionally do-) I try to keep in mind what the old Eskimo said—-“Only the lead dog gets a view.” You’re the lead dog of your own work. Mush and good luck.
I am grateful for the skills you teach me as a quilt maker, and for the insight you help me mine as a creative person.
I believe strongly in purchasing books, patterns, etc. in order to support our creative leaders. I NEED you to make a living. You cannot continue to teach me, to guide me, if you don’t.
The idea of asking permission to show works INSPIRED by others is comical to me. I am inspired by music and poetry and other visual arts…should I ask Lin Manuel Miranda AND Yvonne Wells?
thank you Maria for your thoughts on sharing, very stimulating. I make up my own designs and I have learned to be delighted when I see other quilters copying my ideas, because that is part of the purpose of being creative. When we inspire others its a privilege and an honour, not a rip off. And to acknowledge the source of our inspiration shows respect and gratitude. But often we don’t even know what it was that inspired us.
On a different subject, i find Pinterest a bit worrying. it stops us exploring in a more dynamic and proactive fashion. Its all there at the touch of the key pad without having to move a muscle. The computer is already the thief of time and here we are not leaving the house to explore and discover stuff for ourselves.
your book sounds fab, will look out for it.
Christine- You have made some really good points. I was just at QuiltCon where I had some interesting encounters. At least two makers told me that they used my ideas in their work, but when I reviewed their artist statement they did not mention me. This feels weird for me. I am still trying to sort that out. It is one thing, if they are not aware of what they are doing and that happens all the time. It is another if they are aware of what they are doing, yet choose not to reveal their design source. I am still chewing on that. Thank you for stopping by and commenting!