Weighing in on the Great Quilting Debate: Three Guiding Principles

on May 3 | in Sewing Trends | by | with 50 Comments

I admit, I’m often oblivious to gossip. I follow as many blogs as I possible can. I tweet and do Facebook. Yet sometimes I miss things that are kind of obvious. I saw a firestorm of debate in the quilting community, but it wasn’t until recently that I traced the controversy to a mid-March blog post and realized that Sew,Mama,Sew! ignited the spark. Yowza!

New Fangled Technology
My first job in social media.

I don’t want to go into it too much and try to address all the arguments and points of view (I can’t even begin to understand them all.) I don’t think that people should have to be nice and supportive and kind all the time and I do think there should be room for debate in the sewing community. But feelings have been hurt, some people are angry and I’m sure more than a few people feel gun-shy about what to say, what to share and what to post on their blogs. Because what we said started this debate, I feel a responsibility to chime in with my two cents. I thought I’d try to explain three principles in which I strongly believe.

Zombie Quilt
One of my early quilts.

Principle 1: Sewing should be fun!

This ain’t Little House on the Prairie and none of us are Laura Ingalls. We don’t have to sew if we don’t want to. We can sew whatever we want as many times as we want in whatever fabric we want and we should be able to write about it, photograph it and talk about it without getting any flack. And if there are parts of sewing that aren’t fun, we don’t have to do it. Some people like piecing a quilt but hate the actual quilting so they send it off to someone else. Some people love  sewing, but are perfectly happy to let someone else pick out the fabric so they buy a kit. Some people don’t want to do any math or cutting, so they buy precuts. I think you should do whatever floats your boat. Me, I’m never tracing another pattern again. I do solemnly swear I will never judge you for NOT doing the parts of sewing that aren’t fun to you. (Go ahead, raise your hand and pledge with me.)

Taking an Oath
Taking the Sew-What-You-Want pledge while Mel Brooks looks on.

Principle 2: Learning requires a certain level of discomfort.

This is something one of my graduate school professors used to say and as a mother I think about it all the time. Learning to ride a bike is scary. Learning a new language is embarrassing and exhausting. Learning  guitar hurts! Learning Calculus makes you want to bang your head on a desk (OK, maybe that was just me.) As an educator I had to keep this in mind every day. When people are learning, they’re often not happy about it because they’re uncomfortable, but a tolerance for discomfort is required if you want to learn or master anything. (Which doesn’t in any way mean that it can’t also be fun.) The wonderful thing is that when you challenge yourself it leads to growth and mastery, which most people find deeply satisfying, which is why we keep doing it.

My Happy Student
My first group of happy students.

The idea that learning and growth can be uncomfortable at times is where some of the recently frustrated and outspoken quilting bloggers and I can come together. One of the more positive and underlying messages of many of the controversial quilting posts is this:


Stretch your skills.

Stretch your repertoire.

Stretch your definition of beautiful.

Leave your comfort zone and see where it takes you.

One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately (even before all of this started) is how Sew,Mama,Sew! needs to grow with our readers. We have always tried our best to make sewing fun and approachable to as many people as possible. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of encouraging and inspiring and involving people in the craft of sewing. But lately I’ve decided that we don’t really do enough to help people develop their skills. To stretch, grow and learn. We’re making it fun, but we’re not really making it challenging, so we’re going to try to do better. If (heavy emphasis on IF, because we still strongly believe in Priciple 1) you want to take your sewing skills to the next level, we’re going to do our best to offer you ideas, advice, inspiration and resources.

My sewing circle, aka The Sweet Hot Yams.

Principle 3: Sometimes people deserve a do-over.

I try to remember to practice this with my family as much as possible. People feel passionate about things and they get riled up. They say things that maybe they would phrase differently if they’d given themselves a little more time to work it out.  Or maybe they hadn’t anticipated the effect their words would have on others. Sometimes people deserve a chance to say what they mean in a different way.

And so, today I’m very happy to bring you an excellent post by Sandi Walton of Piecemeal Quilts. (We’ll call it the first in a series of Stretch Your Skills posts.) Sandi is an accomplished and passionate quilter. Sandi believes in STRETCH so she and her friend Jeanne of Grey Cat Quilts put their convictions into action and developed a collection of blog posts called the Skill Builder Series. So far they’ve covered 1/4″ seams, quilting tools, half square triangles and more. If you’re a beginning or intermediate quilter and you’re interested in improving your skills, I encourage you to check them out. Today Sandi taks about the importance of quilting in her life and offers some advice on learning foundational skills for piecing traditional blocks.

(OK, those photos aren’t really me. Images are in the public domain via The Library of Congress.)

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50 Responses to Weighing in on the Great Quilting Debate: Three Guiding Principles

  1. What a thoughtful, diplomatic and open-minded response you have posted. I have always thought you were terrific, and I like your three principles — also the wonderful photos! Thank you for the inspiration. 🙂

  2. Leila says:

    The whole “debate” got me thinking too. I am just about to kick off a We Can Do It! Skill Builder Sampler QAL. Each month we will focus on a different skill and make 3 blocks (easy to more challenging) with that new skill.

    Please check it out and feel free to pass the word on. 🙂


  3. Christina says:

    Thanks for keeping it classy Kristen! You are a great resource for so many sewists, we are lucky to have you.

  4. Claire says:

    I forgot to add say that Sew Mama Sew, with its practical how-to’s, gave me that courage to have a go at something this ambitious, otherwise my gift to the new baby would have been a set of books or a soft toy like her older brothers received!

  5. Claire says:

    I made my first quilt just before Xmas, as a gift for my new born niece, hoping that it would become a family heirloom (no pressure there then). I teach maths to adults for a living, so cutting my own fabric to size wasn’t going to be a problem (sewing to size was a whole different issue) and I could use a lot of fabrics I already loved, and reuse some from second hand bedding (after a hot wash with a drop of bleach just in case) which made the whole project a lot cheaper.
    I was working right on the edge of my comfort zone, trying to produce something beautiful for a little girl, having no idea of what kind of woman she would grow up to be.
    I found the hardest things were sewing evenly, machine quilting through the layers, and sewing the binding (by machine as I was seriously running out of time by then) even though I cheated and used really wide ribbon for the binding.
    I’m proud of what I achieved, especially for a first try and would happily do it all over again, although perhaps not for another couple of months. I chose the easiest pattern I could to show off the rainbow of colours. I would have loved to do a pinwheel with the 14 different fabrics (7 plain, 7 patterned) but that would have been completely beyond me.
    My next one will be a little bit harder, perhaps log cabin blocks, but I really want to get the quilting and binding working well, so I might just choose two colourful fabrics and quilting then together without any patchwork at all, just for the practice!

  6. nancy says:

    I have learned so(sew?) much from your blog and others, which has helped me get back into sewing after a long absence. All your hard work is deeply appreciated, rock on! And may I just say you are one classy woman. GoMamaGo!

  7. Colette says:

    Yay ~ so looking forward to these skill building posts! Any chance you might do one on needle turn applique? I’d really love to improve my applique skills!

  8. Joanna says:

    Great post. I’ve begun to live by the principle that it’s a choice to be offended. I have enjoyed the debate. It has challenged me to improve my skills. I now decide if I’m going to work on the craft or do some mindless, theraputic sewing. I enjoy your blog. Thanks for the time you put into it.

  9. Kristyne says:

    You’re lovely! 😉

  10. Penny says:

    I haven’t read the controversy, but I just want you to know that I appreciate Sew Mama Sew very much. I am a self-taught seamstress and had only done clothing before finding your site. Thank you for helping me learn new projects from a napkin to beautiful purses to a small quilt. I want to applaud all that you do and ask you to keep it up! Blessings!!!

  11. Cara says:

    Sorry, I meant fourth principle. See, I’m a terrible proofreader and the editors out there definitely don’t want to read my blog…if I had a blog. 🙂

  12. Cara says:

    I have mostly ignored this debate and can’t say a particularly care. But, I have to add a third principle, one we seem to forget as debates like this erupt in all types of blogs – you don’t have to read it. You think A is a Mommy-blogger and what she writes is trite? FIne, don’t read her. You think B is a terrible writer and never proofreads? Fine, don’t read him. You think B posts on and on about quilts that are over-simplified? I can suggest lots of other great blogs that will inspire you. You don’t have to read it. But, if you choose to read it, you should live by the principle ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, just don’t say anything.’ It may not apply if you get a personal email asking your opinion from your guild member, but it sure as heck applies to a blog post. I know this doesn’t get to the heart of the debate/discussion, and I’ve already admitted I chose not to really follow it. But, just in the two or three posts that I did read it was fairly clear that this was yet another controversy in blogland that could be alot smaller if people would adopt a live and let live policy.

  13. Suzanne says:

    Thank you for your thoughts.

  14. perfect post! While I was aware of the controversy to a certain extent, I didn’t really understand it, but these three guiding principles are very much the way I like to approach life as well – thank you for putting it into words so well.

  15. Amen!! I’m not a sewer, I’m more in embroidering and cross stitching, I also teach online how to do it. BUT your blog is an inspiration to me. I do not have a good relation with my sewing machine, sometime is easier for me to sew by hand , the reason is I need to learn and practice more with my sewing machine; your blog teach me how to do it and I love it.

    I’m completely agree with your 3 points. I have followed them since I was a child.

    Thanks for this wonderful article 🙂

  16. Megan says:

    Couldn’t agree more! Thank you for a wonderful reminder about keeping things fun as well as accepting the occasional discomfort of learning new things.

  17. Jessica says:

    well, geeze! Who knew? I don’t mind being out of that loop! I love these 3 points. As a person for whom sewing is a hobby, not a job, all of the internet inspiration can be overwhelming! Sometimes you feel like you ‘have to’ do something a certain way, which is when I remind myself ‘this is supposed to be fun!”.

    As far as SMS teaching is concerned, maybe you could start a reoccurring post, something like ‘Skill Stretching’. Personally, I have never understood how to use binding on a quilt. I keep flipping them inside out and top-stitching around the edges. This is fine, but I like the polished look of binding! No directions in a book have helped…typically, there are no pictures and vague directions that say, “Attach the binding” HA!

    Thank you for all the inspiration, mentally and creatively!

  18. Lindsey says:

    What a great post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  19. Well said! Thank you for all you do for the sewing and quilting communities.

  20. Jen says:

    Awesome post Kristin! I love the fact that even though you use your site as a way to teach and bring people together, you still want to do more!

    Reading throguh the comments and seeing how many people didn’t even know about this really makes me realize that everything was so blown up.

    Thank you for bringing it back to reality!

  21. SandyH says:

    I had followed some of the blog conversations because they made me think, but I didn’t read all the comments to each blog post and therein lay most of the “controversy,” I suspect. That’s the good and the bad of the Internet–it’s been named the “one true democracy” where everyone truly can speak their mind. I would like to point out that the fact there even was a controversy is more about individuals and not about the entire quilting world. Just sayin’ (as a quilter!). I love your blog post here. Very well done–I agree with every word. There are times I want to stretch my skills and times I just want to relax and do things I’m really comfortable with. The beautiful thing about quilting is that there is room for both!

  22. Audrey says:

    I love this post. I’ve copied Principal 2 to my desktop. WOW! I need to read that one often. Thanks!

  23. Elizabeth E. says:

    I know all about the discussion that’s taken place and you’ve done a great job in moving the “discussion” forward. I still wish that the idea of having a certain set of skills was okay–that we acknowledge that there are some ahead of us in some ways and some behind us, but that it is one long continuum. And that’s also okay to identify some quilt projects as “more difficult” and some as “less.” I think that’s what the original flare-up was over, was the labeling issue. This should only be construed, in my mind, as a helpful sort of thing. I’m a total fan of Sew Mama Sew (my credit card agrees) so enjoy any sort of discussion you and your blog host. Keep up the good work!

  24. Dana says:

    It’s funny that you just heard about all of this, but those two blogs have been doing a wonderful job of teaching, so I’m glad it happened. I guess there are a lot of other things going around right now. I’m just keeping my head down.

  25. craftytammie says:

    i’m oblivious to this controversy but i often confuse my kids’ names so nothing new here.

    sewmamasew, you were there in 2008 when i first stuck my big toe into the sewing pool, and without you, i would not have been inspired to do anything. i love your giveaway days, i love your themed months, i love your guest posters and fabric shop!! and i especially love your picture of one of your early quilts, it’s beautiful. as a new quilter, i am sure i am not doing it right, but i’ve seen some of the quilts my GreatGma made and i come by it honestly.

  26. Em says:

    Add me to the “oblivious” list.

    Oh, and share the gossip: WHAT IS THE DEBATE? I’m feeling completely like I missed something I shouldn’t have.

    That being said, I do appreciate your Principle #2 right now. I’ve been trying to modify pants recently to fit my daughter and I don’t know how much time I’ve spent with my seam ripper (certainly more than I’ve spent with my sewing machine). I will try to remember that I’m learning in all this.

  27. Misty says:

    A very gracious and well-thought-out response to the debate about quilting. I look forward to seeing more posts that will stretch our skills. 🙂

  28. Betty says:

    I am not sure what the controversy it, but I share your same views and I know most, if not all of my quilting friends do also.

    Love your blog.

  29. Sally says:

    Beautifully said!

  30. I’m so glad you spoke up here – and I completely agree with your three points. I definitely will pledge with you! Learning definitely should be uncomfortable, and stretching is super important. Trying new things, even things you didn’t think you could do, is super important and a big part of the growth process, IMHO. 🙂

  31. Alethea says:

    I was also unaware that there was an internet fight about quilting (which, by the way, just goes to show that people will fight over just about ANYTHING on the internet!).

    I think I understand though. No one wants to see some form of art being “dumbed down” because, in a sense, they feel that it depreciates their hard work. But at the same time, it brings a complex art down to the masses, and then they can have a taste of it and appreciate it better. This same phenomenon occurs in many hobbies and professions: cooking, gardening, video games, computer programming, writing, etc., anything where there are tiers of complexity.

    It kind of reminds me of the movie “Mona Lisa Smile” where the professor gives her students paint-by-number kits of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.” She explains that it’s fine art simplified for the masses so they can try to be Van Gogh too. The girls then paint the images not by the numbers but according to their own creativity. The result is a series of unique compositions where each girl makes the image their own.

  32. Candace says:

    Great post. I think you made some excellent points and look forward to seeing posts in the future that challenge people to grow in their craft.

  33. Seanna Lea says:

    I can take that pledge. Life is too short (and full of too many obligations that are less than pleasant) to spend all of your free time on a hobby that you don’t enjoy. It’s the reason why I try lots of things, but only consistently do one or two of them. Some are only fun for a short period of time.

  34. anna says:

    this is such a beautiful post, it rings true for me. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us. 🙂

  35. Melinda says:

    So I was intrigued and I googled “dumbing down of quilting” after getting a few leads on the source of the controversy. After reading the source article, here are my thoughts… I read a lot of sewing blogs but not any quilting blogs because I am not a quilter. Some of the sewing blogs I read, the bloggers have jumped into quilting for fun and seem to make oblique references to not doing it the right way but it works for them etc. So I always had a notion that there were quilters who were annoyed at the masses getting into quilting themselves. As someone who is new to the sewing community I find the quilting community very unfriendly to newbies. I sew for fun, not for the competition of it. I don’t care to be chided into developing new skills. But at the end of the day we get the power to choose to read and participate in what makes us happy! This blog makes me happy! Thanks for embracing us and being a friendly place to read about sewing!

  36. Maman A Droit says:

    I’m also clueless about whatever controversy you stirred up, but as a newbie sewer I love your blog and feel like I’ve already learned a lot and have been inspired to try new projects! I grew up enjoying quilts my Grandmas made, but lived far enough away I didn’t manage to learn enough to try it myself. Now I call them on the phone and ask them questions about projects from your blog and others that I’m trying!
    I’m looking forward to more beginner how-to posts!

  37. Chris says:

    Perfectly stated. Learning is uncomfortable at times, and we have to accept that sometimes failure is part of the process. And it IS a process. I was born with an adventurous spirit and love the stretch and to try new things. I’m excited to see where this new series takes me.

  38. Katrina says:

    Excellent points but the lack of links makes it impossible for folks like me, who are a little out of the loop, to grasp what’s going on. Is there a chance you could put links in this article so we could see exactly what SMS article sparked what blog posts elsewhere that you’re referring to? I’ve been in on some blog conversations similar to this lately but I’m not positive it’s one and the same and I’d really like to be able to wrap my head around the matter. please? thank you?

  39. I think this is a bold move on your part, and I like your three points. I thought sandi’s post was informative, and I’m off to figure out what, exactly, quarter square triangles are.

  40. Thank you for such a gracious, constructive, thoughtful, and healing post after so much hurt and anger over the past couple of months. Well done!

  41. Staci says:

    Very nice post, thank you for it!

  42. Sara says:

    Life is messy, isn’t it? Our good intentions can cut like a knife, our passion can smother someone else’s flame. There is no avoiding it in this world: we mess each other up sometimes. I really appreciate all the points you put forward but #3 hits home for me. In this modern world of electronic communication it is even easier to misunderstand or miscommunicate. There is no body language to interpret, no nuance of tone or phrasing. A do over sounds pretty reasonable to me. Plus the Sweet Hot Yams have some Sweet Hot Hair-dos and I want to join the party! Anybody in?

  43. I’m clueless about the spark and fire, but this is a great post. And timely for me, personally.

    I think you do make sewing fun, but you do push people. I think your recent series on e-patterns is a good example (and it was totally fun)!

  44. Annie says:

    Have you ever thought of going into politics? I mean it. A few days after federal elections, (I’m Canadian) all we’ve heard in the pre-election weeks is a bunch of nonsense and all that to re-elect the same guy. We are running in circles because no one wants to tell the truth in case it makes anyone uncomfortable. I have no Idea what the debate was about but your words about learning being uncomfortable are very fitting for the times, and we need more people like you in the world. My motto? The easy road doesn’t always lead to greatness. Make an effort, it will pay off.(and it could actually be fun!!!) have a good day!

  45. Very thoughtfully summarized! I appreciate the levity you’ve brought to the GQD, too!! I think taking ourselves less seriously can be an eye-opening experience, which may even prompt more stretch. I’ll be tuning into their skill builder posts – I need it!

  46. Southern Gal says:

    I read a couple of blogs with opinions on this subject and was wondering what was up. I was totally in the dark. Thanks for clearing up your view.

  47. Johanna says:

    Thank you, Kristen, that was a wonderful post!
    I especially like number two 🙂

  48. Valerie Boudier says:

    I empathise with the calculus – I loved maths until we got there

  49. shelly says:

    I love this post.

  50. heather says:

    YOU are one smart minx my dearly loved friend and the sewing community is so much more rich with you in there lives!

    xo, H

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