The Quilt Scout

by Mary Fons

Die, Quilt Police

Column #8

There was plenty of fabric in 1912; this person was just being ornery and “creative.” Cigarette silk quilt, USA, c. 1912. Los Angeles County MusThere is perhaps nothing more dangerous to the future of quiltmaking in America than the disgruntled, dissatisfied quilter who—dangerous as it is to admit—is typically in her late sixties, doesn’t approve of her soon-to-be daughter-in-law, and is a touch too proud of her own cookie bars.


While not evil to her core or beyond redemption, the problem with this figure is that she is likely to be a member of the Quilt Police—and the Quilt Police have the power to kill quilting in America.


The Quilt Police refers to any individual or a group of individuals who audibly judge, criticize, or otherwise disapprove of the methods and/or resulting projects of a quilter deemed to have less experience than they have.


To the Quilt Police, everyone has less experience. There are Quilt Police in varying degrees of severity in every guild, class, and block exchange from one coast to the other.


The advice and guidance dispensed by the Quilt Police may well have merit, but that guidance is unsolicited and, therefore, hard to accept.


Most Policers are fonts of information because they’ve been making quilts a lot longer than you have: centuries, in some cases. But because they’re so sour about it, because they can’t say anything without pursing their lips afterward, very little of what they say can be absorbed or appreciated. I have never heard the words: “I admire and respect the Quilt Police. They keep me safe and inspire me be a good citizen.”


No, the Police make a quilter—beginner or otherwise—feel bad about her quarter-inch seam.


They do not approve of her fabric choices, nor do they think she’s doing anything impressive with her patchwork and shouldn’t she be? By now? The Police are disappointed that you’ve never done any kind of hand quilting. (Note: most of your local Police squad hasn’t done in any in years. They’ll blame the weather, but really, they just don’t like it that much.)


Put simply, the Quilt Police are the mean girls of the quilt world; mean girls whose husbands are on Cialis. Don’t shoot the messenger: I have never met a policewoman between the ages of 20 and 55.


Most of the time, we speak of the “QP” in jest. Even the name, “Quilt Police” is a good-humored title for critical quilters. They get a chuckle and a roll of the eyes, ultimately dismissed like they’re no big deal. Yes, they’re annoying, but nothing worth spending too much time thinking about, like when you get tomato on your sandwich when you asked for no tomato.


This is a compelling metaphor because a member of the Quilt Police is precisely the sort of person who would promptly send her sandwich back to be made correctly.


But it’s my position that the Quilt Police aren’t so funny, really. I’m all for correction when needed, I don’t think everyone should get a trophy just for playing the game. But harsh criticism and judgments made on new quilters (or any quilter with a thin skin) is toxic to our craft. It must be eradicated at once, cut off at the replacement knee.


Modern Quilt Guild branches popped up around the country after 2010 so fast and arrived so fully formed, it was clear something had been ready to pounce for a long time.


In five or so years, there are dozens upon dozens of modern guilds from one side of the country to the other, offering a perpetual stream of webinars, quilt challenges, contests and so on; they’ve grown their own quilt world superstars and they’ve organized Quiltcon, their now-yearly consumer/trade show.


Our world was ripe for a style change around that time: we hadn’t seen anything truly new, style-wise, since contemporary quilters started to play with elements used by the art quilters who emerged in the 1980s. But the growth of the moderns wasn’t just because they didn’t want to make all-batik Mariner’s Compass quilts. They were running from the Quilt Police.


Many modern quilt guild members told me they felt “iced out” of traditional guilds and that their work was, at worst, ridiculed, and, at least, looked down upon. Isn’t a quilt you don’t happen to like still great because it’s a quilt? Hard to argue against that, but the Quilt Police try.


It’s not just moderns who feel unwelcome. Pam Powell of Normal, IL, shares her story:


“I belonged to the Chattanooga Quilters' Guild (Chattanooga, TN) in the 90's. We made quilts for the local Ronald McDonald House. I made mine out of bright, cheery fabrics in simple patterns with lofty batting; once they were pieced I just seamed and turned them. I got eyeball rolls when I pulled them out and got the biggest laugh of the day at one of our end of the season luncheons. I was hurt, because I thought it was a "hip" take on an old—albeit new to me—art. I second guessed all of my options after that; I moved soon after and never joined another guild.”


Ouch. I don’t think members of the Quilt Police are bad people. I don’t believe they’re always aware of their judginess. They’re just misguided in their dispensing of advice and/or oblivious to how they come off. Good intentions are useless; it’s what you do that counts.


Quilt Police members want high standards for the craft we all love so much, and they want to share their knowledge and the skills they’ve grown over the years. They mean well, I think. The goal is to get their “meaning well” closer to the “being nice” side of the dial.


If you suspect you’re a member of the Quilt Police, try two things: chill out, be nice, and try to have a sense of humor about all this. It’s quilting. We’re not the G6 Summit. We’re not even the school board. We just like to make pretty blankets.


Kathy McBride has a story of a kind of Quilt Police redemption and this is a good lesson for us all:


“I began a Stitcher's Garden class to learn appliqué and how my new machine actually worked. I didn't even know how to thread the machine properly and didn't know where the reverse button was. I had the occasion to talk with the 90+ yr. old while in the middle of the class. She said, ‘I love appliqué. That's my favorite quilting method.’ I said, ‘I am doing a machine appliqué class. I've never learned to do needle-turned applique.’ She said, ‘Oh. Then you're cheating.’ I said, ‘I guess I am—just like I am cheating every time I use the microwave instead of stoking the woodstove.’ Laughter ensued. I had a van-load of people and everyone (including the 90+ yr. old) laughed and laughed.”