Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Modern Critique...or Quilty Suicide

If you are not a Quilter, then this post might not mean anything to you…or maybe you’ll find something that you can relate to in whatever profession/hobby/group you participate in.

A Fire Was Lit
A few days ago, The MQG “Mothership” wrote a blog post which honestly slipped under the radar it seems for many people (myself included) until it was mentioned in a few Facebook posts today.  I definitely encourage you to read the full posts that they wrote [linkhere]; but here is my summary.

:: It meant to explain what derivative artwork meant, then explained what one must do in order to use and or submit derivative pieces into a Quilt Show.  The post is also simultaneously encouraging people to be true to their creative genius and create original work.

Now this is a timely post for the organization since the QuiltCon 2017 juried quilt show entries are open and they are encouraging their members to ask and attribute accordingly.  Seems simple enough, right?  Hahaha…Wrong. 

Not only is derivative artwork crazy subjective, and legally only a court of law can determine the outcome, yet some would argue that the tone in the post is too high-level, too confusing, and what prompted much of the debate is that it sounds too much like a decree from the “Quilt Police”. Which for an organization born out of rebellion for what was a static aesthetic (my words, not theirs)…it does seem strange. 

This of course did not sit well with many people and before you knew it membership cards are being burned (not really; but it often feels like it when you are in the heat of the moment). 

What do you stand for?
I happily support and am a member of The MQG and while it, like all organizations has issues, at its heart I truly believe it has a desire to bring people together who have a passion for a particular aesthetic of quilting.  

Now that aesthetic you see is part of the controversy. People rallied behind it…or what each quilter interpreted it as in the beginning; but soon enough, people started to feel excluded because what they made didn’t marry up to what others were making and cheering about. 

Personally, I subscribe to the notion that everyone should create whatever they want, call it whatever they want and OWN IT.  Yet, with that freedom comes the understanding that you cannot get upset when someone else does not agree with those same definitions.  I make quilts, some of them are modern, some of them are contemporary, and some of them are simply quilts…uncategorized, yet equally as amazing as those that have definitions. 

Some might call me biased because I am the Founder/President of a local modern quilt guild; which I started because the other guilds in my area were not making the types of quilts that I wanted to be inspired by, and the people…while lovely and crazy talented, were not my tribe.  

I wanted to find my tribe and couldn’t, so I started a guild and they came…see what I did there (build it and they will come…hahaha).  Now in full disclosure, I didn’t know what tribe meant until a year or so into the guild when things just clicked, I was inspired by the quilts people were making, and conversations with others flowed easily.  We could nerd out over the newest fabrics to be released, or how important it was that we pressed our seams open, or squealing over what we saw on social media, etc.

Modern This & Modern That
People have said (I know this because I hear it within my guild) that when local modern quilt guilds talk too much about modern this and modern that they alienate people; yet I disagree. 

Let’s think of it this way, if you are part of a Musical Theater group, one would expect to hear all about Hamilton, Rent, and Annie; not the latest rendition of the play Romeo & Juliet…unless it is set to some sick rhymes by Lin Manuel Miranda; vice versa if you are part of a Dramatic Theater group. Yet, there are groups that welcome Theater Appreciation which includes everything and that’s awesome. 

And You Are Telling Me This Because...
So what does all of this have to do with The MQG and their post…well, it seems everything.  People want to belong to something larger then themselves; but at the same time people want to be noticed for being an individual.  I do this and I guarantee that you do it too.  

The last week of university, I was honored when the Dean of my Art School called all of us in the auditorium that day, Artists…it was the highest honor that I could have imagined, since that word (to me) was only handed out to those who rose above and did amazing things.  P.S. I’m still not comfortable with saying I’m an Artist, even all these years later.  

No different when attending QuiltCon and being in a room when Jacquie Gering called herself a Maker and went on to explain how we are all makers in our own right...tears flowed. Now, I’m not blind to the fact that not all labels are good, and maybe the majority are not; but there are those that can be inspiring and build confidence.

When The MQG wrote their post it seems that many took it to mean that they were being inched out because they felt that their work was not relative, important or worthy to be seen because it was a derivative or inspired by something else that existed.  I love the written word; but know first-hand that it is hard to get your point across 100% of the time without making someone upset or angry. We all say dumb things now and again, and I don’t have to answer to thousands of members, look out for lawyers or the Federal Gov’t (since The MQG is a 501c3 organization). 

Volunteering 101
Additionally, people would argue that this was a decision that members should have had a voice in making; but was this post really a decision, an educational lesson, or a request to properly attribute your work when it is shown.  The MQG thought one way; but others disagree.

As someone who has volunteered for not only this organization; but other organizations, it is easy to promise one thing; but get caught up in the minutia of delivering on it.  Transparency is one thing that is thrown around a lot lately and it is one thing that organizations struggle with at all sizes.  

There are so many things that I don’t presume to understand; but I do know that running something of this magnitude is hard work and you will not please everyone. Also, isn’t that why we have leaders/officers in the first place, we have to trust that they know what they are doing and if not, we need to comment in a constructive manner to let our voices be heard, and stand up to volunteer.  The same is true of the organizations, they should welcome the constructive stuff and work together to make changes.

In Closing

This posts might have gotten a little too preachy, so I apologize; but I get uber-passionate about this subject and I like to give people the benefit of a doubt. I do not have the same experiences of those who are upset with The MQG, so I want to hear their side of things because it will help me to become a better guild President, a better MQG member and honestly a better person.  

Remember as a member if you have a concern, you have a choice…you can provide constructive criticism/possible solutions (which I know many are doing throughout social media and sending emails accordingly) or you can complain without offering possible solutions or offering to step up yourself to change things for the better.  And as an organization you have a responsibility to your members to listen to their concerns and come together to work things out.

Please take the time to hear both sides and remember that The MQG came about because a few people had a vision, let’s not forget that is how we will change things as well.


  1. I thought the MQG article was really helpful, I had no idea people were upset about it! To me, "quilt police" is saying "oh this quilt isn't modern because it has batiks" not "don't steal someone else's work." At Paducah this year one of the award winning quilts was "an Indian bride" except, as someone who loves Bollywood, I instantly recognized it as a Bollywood star. The person who made the quilt clearly didn't take that photo herself and I highly, highly doubt got permission to make a quilt (deritivative work) from it, considering she didn't even know it was a photo of aishwarya bacchan, one of the most famous stars in India. And I was pretty darn pissed about it, and still am. So I found the MQG's post very timely. It's not ok to use other people's work and claim it as your own. To me that's not "quilt police." It's common decency (and the law).

  2. I read the MQG post, but I didn't find it controversial in the least. On the contrary, I thought it was a smart (and necessary) step in clarifying what the guild will accept as "original" work for the juried portion of QuiltCon. In years past, some really talented quilters have submitted really beautiful derivative work, only to be disqualified or judged harshly as a result. My impression is that the guild is saying, "Look. Your quilt IS beautiful. And, yes, it IS modern. But for the QuiltCon competition, ORIGINAL DESIGN is a prerequisite for awards consideration. We are happy to display your beautiful work, and enjoy/admire/share it with the modern quilting community at this prestigious event, but for the sake of JUDGING, we have decided that ORIGINALITY is the benchmark." Seems to me that DEFINING the criteria in advance should minimize the chance for the hurt feelings and misunderstandings of the past.

  3. I skimmed the article the first time, so I went back to read it again. I've seen similar articles on deriivitive work. I agree with the article and am surprised people are upset.

  4. I think where the article failed was in purporting the idea that people can make completely original quilts. Many of us see ourselves as part of a long history and lineage of quilters, all remixing the same blocks, all making old things new again. The author(s) conflated inspiration with derivation, and that's what has people so upset. I don't like being told that if I make a quilt inspired by another quilt design, it's derivative. I can't remove all the quilts I've ever seen from my brain. I'll always be inspired by them and I WANT TO BE. It's not possible to create in a vacuum and I wouldn't want to anyway.

    Obviously some lines should be drawn. The previous example about the portrait of the Bollywood star is a great one. Stuff like that shouldn't be allowed and the quilter should have done the right thing and fessed up to using a photo that wasn't hers. But for many of us, the MQG was far too broad and sweeping in its definition of derivative. I shouldn't have to call my quilt derivative if I happen to put three triangles together in a similar way to a more famous quilter. I shouldn't have to ask permission of all the teachers I've studied under to use their tips and techniques and then show my work at QuiltCon.

  5. Hey K...putting your intention in words is always a challenge. We'll continue to listen, to clarify and to share. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. I agree with Laura. I recently saw a quilt in a magazine that was nothing but flying geese and HSTs. There was a bold line at the bottom about not copying. I have seen virtually this same quilt 20 times or more. Who's derivative? Additionally, the instructions used the flying geese construction I first saw on Quilt-in-a-day, but no credit was given to Eleanor Burns. So where does it start and where end? If you're publishing your pattern in a mag how do you get off with no copying. Do not republish the whole thing as your idea, absolutely. When some of the pieces are not even your original idea, no way!

  7. My impression of the negative feedback from the blogpost is that it may not necessarily be due to the 'derivative' explanation, references and general content. Personally, I think we can all benefit from more knowledge in this area, so I appreciate the effort to share best practices with the MQG community. I want to believe (and hope) that most quilters make an effort to give credit where it is due. However, I think generally a lot of discontent is with the fact that the post introduced a change in the way quilts will be judged and awarded prizes at QuiltCon. The change is significant. I am very aware of the relative speed with which the MQG has grown and succeeded and done many things incredibly well. I just don't think that most organisations make changes to an established process without consultation with members or the Board. I saw on FB last night that Heather Grant said the post was in response to member & designer requests, but if you were not one of the few members or designers that had been party to the discussion, then the blogpost explaining the ineligibility of derivative work for prizes was a completely new concept. Therein lies the 'transparency' issue. The MQG is blessed with passionate, creative members. They want to be involved and to participate (heck, people are travelling from all over the world to attend a quilt show that is only 3 years old, this should be evidence enough of their passion!). Additionally, I do completely understand the comments like "well, this has completely put me off entering". What if a designer comes along, sees your quilt and says to an MQG officer, Hey, I made that two years ago, this was my idea first, this is derivative work that isn't credited to me! I hope we are not entering an era of challenges to originality and mean-spirited accusations of copying/stealing.

  8. I am all about honoring copyright. I get into trouble in my own Guild for reminding people about it. That said, after I read the article you mention, I got the impression that no one could hang a quilt in any quilt show unless they got permission from the pattern designer. Really? That seems a step too far in my opinion. 95% of what is hung in our local quilt shows are made by hobby quilters who are following someone else's pattern. As long as they give credit to that pattern designer, I wouldn't think they had to get written permission from the designer. Who is going to do this? We would have nothing to show at a local quilt show. Is that really the intent of the law?

  9. Just to offer another viewpoint on the post in question--according to their new standards, all of the art-history inspired quilts that I've made (including Onwards) are derivative. I am absolutely in favor of giving credit where credit is due, and have always listed the sources of my inspiration when entering quilts in shows. I think the outcry about the new policy was, at least in part, because as-written it is so sweepingly general as to label all quilts that reference other art works as derivative.


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