I promise you this is the last (for the time being, anyway) word I will have about local quilt shops, nationally renowned teachers, and on-line stores. I promise.
The internet is a wonderful tool for any artist or crafty-minded person. Countless numbers of YouTube videos are out there on almost any subject any quilter could think of. Machine quilting with a domestic machine, loading a long arm, machine applique with invisible thread, piecing tricks – they are all out there and available with a point of the cursor and a click of the mouse. And many of these videos aren’t made by just any quilter. A lot of these videos are produced by nationally renowned instructors such as Jenny Doan, Eleanor Burns, Jodi Barrows, Karen Kay Buckley – the list is endless.
And they’re free on YouTube. Which means anyone with Wi-Fi access and a phone can watch and learn from the Master Quilters. That’s a good thing, right? It levels the quilting field so that everyone and not just a select few can obtain great quilty truths from truly great quilters. It’s the democracy of quilting, correct?
Well… yes and no.
The “Yes” part is that it is indeed a wonderful concept that everyone can watch these videos, whether they’re on YouTube or any other website and learn new concepts. This makes everyone a better quilter. There are several women I quilt with that I know would love to take lessons from a nationally-known teacher, but the price is so far out of their budget, there’s just no way it will ever happen. These videos make those teachers available to these women. And that is a good thing.
But here’s the “No” part – nothing is ever really free.
Let’s look at this a little closer. We all use YouTube. Admit it. You’re having a tension issue and can’t make heads or tails out of your sewing machine manual? Chances are there is a video out there that explains it a lot better than the mechanical engineer who wrote the darn handbook. Need a little, quick inspiration? Jenny Doan has a new tutorial out there and she is absolutely darling. Want to take a class from Mary Sorenson, Leah Day, Jinny Beyer, or Beth Ferrier? You don’t need to look any further than Craftsy. Love Bethanne Nemesh’s long arm techniques and want to learn from her? Iquilt can hook you up in a clicky minute.
So what’s so bad about that? Sure, on YouTube the video is free. On sites like Craftsy and Iquilt, you pay a fee. So the teacher is earning some kind of profit, right?
Yes. On that point you’re absolutely right. And the nationally-known teacher reaches so many more quilters this way than he or she ever could on the quilt show and teaching circuit. It’s easier in some ways, too. The traveling is more limited – they may have to travel to the studios where the video class is produced instead of all over the United States. They prep for the class one time instead of hundreds. So it’s a win-win. Why on earth should a renowned teacher ever offer actual classes again, and why on earth should anyone pay out a couple of hundred bucks to take an actual class?
I’ve taken classes with some of these nationally-known teachers and it would be really easy for me to flip out this excuse: Take the class for the experience. And that reason would be partially correct. But the “experience” can be a flimsy reason to shell out a few hundred bucks for a class.
The teachers I have taken classes from have been very thoughtful about making the experience a once-in-a-life time opportunity for their students. They take the fact that you’ve paid out major bucks very seriously and make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. They will limit class size, make sure the room is prepped, and everything is ready to go the minute class is ready to begin. And they cover everything in the syllabus.
However, in a video class, there are no opportunities to ask questions, laugh with the instructor, and get to know them personally. Like most other quilters, they seem to long for the quilty fellowship as much as anyone. But this still begs the question I asked earlier: Why on earth should a renowned teacher ever offer actual classes again, and why on earth should anyone pay out a couple of hundred bucks to take an actual class?
The answer is, there really isn’t a good reason. And a part of me is afraid that if we all purchase the on-line classes and forgo attending the real ones, more and more instructors will stop offering them. Then another part of our quilting culture will be lost, just like the local quilt shops are disappearing one by one.
Now hold that thought and let’s move on to the next sticky quilting issue – on line shopping.
No quilter can dispute the ease of shopping on the internet. Want a fabric that’s hard to find, in a color that’s impossible to match? That’s no longer an obstacle. A google search can yield hundreds of results in a matter of seconds. Inspiration hits you at 2 a.m. and you’ve just got to have five yards of orange fabric delivered to your door in no less than 24-hours? Not a problem. Point, click and it’s shipped. See a pattern you just have to have? Sometimes it’s just a download away.
It’s all very, very convenient. There is no disputing that. But remember what I said in the first blog about this (the one where I was channeling Kathleen Kelly)—that we must begin to carefully cultivate our stash and purge ourselves of the notion that “She who dies with the most fabric wins?” We also need to begin to change the way we purchase items on line.
Like most of you, I get tons of emails. And a great deal of these emails are quilt or fabric related. Which means, yes, I get notices from MassDrop and Fabric.com. Do I order from them? Yes.
But not until I’ve considered other options. When Dragonfly was open, it was my go-to store because it was my local quilt shop. I would have rather paid a little more and thrown my dollars Gerald’s and Patty’s direction for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted them to stay open as long as possible. And second, I got to touch the fabric and see it in reality and not on a screen. I purchased as much as I could from my LQS. However, inevitably, there were some pieces of fabric they didn’t have and I would have to make a decision about where to purchase them. This is where I had to begin to change my consumerism and train myself to avoid the “big box” fabric warehouses.
So some things begin to come into play here. Like a lot of quilters, I go to quilt shows. I tend to pick up the vendor’s business cards and keep them. My DH and I also travel a bit and he always takes me to a quilt shop or two in the area we’re visiting. I get business cards from these shops, too. So now, at this juncture, I pull those cards out. The vendors and shops on most of these cards are truly Mom and Pop operations that are either LQS’s or are small business ventures that sell quality products, offer superior customer service, and like most quilting entrepreneurs these days, struggle to keep their heads above water. These are companies I go to first to do my on-line shopping. And my reasons behind this deal with more than just to help keep the doors open for these business owners. It has to do with the fact that most of the time our business principles, work ethics, and values are similar. It’s important to me that I support that.
I would encourage you to do the same. I know Amazon and the larger websites are easy to navigate and easy to order from – believe me, I know. However, behind every small vendor website exists real people who very, very much want to make a difference in our quilting world. And they want to stay open.
And we want them to stay open.
Change is inevitable in any art or craft. There are new influences, new inventions, and new technology that inexorably alter the way craftsmen do things. Just think about the rotary cutter. That item was introduced to the quilt world in the mid-70’s and by the late ‘80’s it was impossible to find a quilt pattern that didn’t offer rotary cutting instructions. It changed rulers, templates, and the amount of time we spent cutting our fabric. We rarely ever think about not picking up a rotary cutter to cut out our quilts.
However, quilting is more than new fabric, new inventions, and new technology. Quilting is an art, but it’s also a culture. You don’t think so? The definition of culture is “The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” And part of our quilting culture has always been that intersection where the art meets artists (plural). The declination of the number of local quilt shops has the potential of directly limiting the opportunities for quilters to meet other quilters, exchange ideas, techniques, and inspire each other. The fewer the number of quilt classes taught by nationally known teachers means even fewer opportunities for the quilter to step out of her local quilt realm and experience that exchange on an even wider level.
And we have yet to see what that impact will be. While we know quilting has always been one of the more “flexible” arts, adapting to whatever fabric and tools are available to it; it has, however, remained one of the arts that was often done as a group – it was social interaction as well as creative output. With the opportunities of that collaboration dwindling in number, there is the danger that quilting will become a socially isolated event linked only by Facebook groups, blogs, and on-line chat rooms.
It is important that we not become so focused on the act and art of quilting that we lose sight of the culture of the craft, because it’s not all about the quilts. It’s about the quilters – the fellowship that we have with each other. It’s about sharing the good times and the bad. It’s about multiplying the joys and dividing the sorrows. It’s about taking the scraps that life hands you and sticking your finger in fate’s eye when you make something beautiful out of it.
That’s what quilting is all about. And that’s the unfiltered truth.
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam