The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here: On Writing and Publishing Quilt Content
I come from a long line of women in publishing. This sounds slightly more glamorous than I mean it to; I’m not the grand-niece of legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland or heiress to an international media conglomerate, though I’d love to be wrong about that. (Anyone with information, please get in touch.)
But it’s true that there’s printer ink in my blood. My maternal grandmother, Dorothy Graham, started the local paper in Norwalk, Iowa. My mother Marianne Fons co-founded a little quilt magazine you may have heard of and, back in the day, Mom also ran a newsletter for quilters and a few of her early books were self-published. I recall long hours hanging out at the local print shop when I was a child, waiting for Mom’s order to be ready or for her to be done with the copier. I listened to the din of the printers in the back of the shop; felt the warmth radiating from them when I passed by on my way to the bathroom; inhaled the heavy scent of the sticky blue and black and red ink that covered everything. Now here I am, a writer and editor who has done it long enough to earn the distinction of being a third-generation publishing person.
You’d think this heritage would instill confidence in me, but the opposite is true: I live in fear.
This is because I know just how many things can go wrong when you put words and pictures to paper. (Hint: Everything can go wrong, and many things will.) For those of us insane enough to get into my line of work, the old saying about death and taxes is incomplete: Death, taxes, and printed errors are unavoidable. There will be blood.
But let’s get specific about the pain involved. You see, when your beat is quilts, this job is particularly insomnia-producing. This is so for the following reasons:
1. People have names. It’s incredible: I have yet to meet a single person that doesn’t have a name. Most folks appear to be fairly attached to their name and would like to be correctly identified with it. People also seem to be interested in their name being spelled correctly.
2. Quilts involve a lot of dates. Did you know 1909 is not the same thing as 1809? Crazy! Another crazy thing is that “8” is really close to “9” on a keyboard. Also, if you don’t know the exact date of a quilt, you can’t just say “ca. 1800-2000” because that’s cheating. No, you have to ask for help from a person or persons knowledgeable about dating quilts. (See No. 4.)
3. Quilts have lots of names. Quilts have names. Blocks also have names. There is no standard of naming quilts, blocks, patterns, or units. Or quilting designs. Or patterns. Though a conscientious writer/editor will do her legwork to get the most accurate identification, deciding on one resembles closing one’s eyes and pointing to Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. (See No. 4.)
4. Opinions are like thimbles: Every quilter’s got one. Oh, you poor, poor soul. You printed a story or an article — or a whole magazine — about quilts? I see. Well, then you are doomed. Prepare yourself to receive anger, scolding, and withering criticism from your readership. Any or all of the aforementioned agita will come in the form of emails, letters, and/or comments on social media platforms you never even knew existed. Bloggers may be especially cruel. If my suggested steps for dealing with this issue are followed exactly, you may survive: Go directly to your psychiatrist. Request some sort of mood stabilizer or panic attack medicine. Get flat on your back on the couch, though the cold, hard floor works just as well or better. Wait for the passage of time to relieve your shame and the sting of internet outrage. It may take a long time. Or at least until your next fresh mistake occludes the agony of the current one.
5. Letters are evil, invisible ninjas and they are laughing at you right now. You can look at a group of letters (also known as “words”) a hundred times. Your copy editor can look those same letters a hundred more times. A hundred people can look at the same group of letters a hundred-thousand times and miss something that is one-hundred percent incorrect. Take solace in the fact that this has been true since the first Egyptian carved the wrong hieroglyphic into a wall. And that typo is still there. (See steps mentioned in No. 4.)
If you can accept these incontrovertible truths about working in the publishing arm within the quilt industry, you might just be in the right line of work. Heck, you might even be a long-lost member of my family.
Floss? Thread? Perle cotton? Tapestry wool? Embroidery yarn? Pin the tail on the term, baby, because you’re gonna make someone mad no matter what! Come on, it’s fun! Image via Wikipedia.A citation like this should scare you out of actually using the picture. Do you even know what these words mean? Then how can you copy edit them?? Here we go: Quilted skirt, silk, wool and cotton, ca. 1770-1790. Jacoba de Jonge Collection, MoMu, Antwerp. Photo by Hugo Maertens, Bruges. Image via Wikipedia.
The caption for this photograph from the public domain via Flickr Commons is as follows, but you can’t fact check it at this point. Sleep tight … Michiana Mennonite Relief Sale Records, 1968-2005. X-034. Box 1, Folder 12. Mennonite Church USA Archives - Goshen. Goshen, Indiana.