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The Last Person I’d Want to Learn Anything From

Just now on Facebook, I discovered a link because my friend and crafts author Susan Beal commented about it: The Dumbing Down of the Quilting and Sewing Industry « LoveBug Studios.

I seriously, passionately, and wholeheartedly disagree with almost everything Ebony asserts in her post. And though I’d never read her blog before, and I’m not familiar with her work, I’ve decided I’m not interested in looking further into either. I find perfection to be pretty uninteresting. And I find the desire of one person to paint the world with her own perfectionism to be infuriating.

We owe her nothing.

Nothing.

You owe me nothing.

You owe other crafters nothing.

Nothing.

Don’t let talk like hers discourage you from making things. And certainly don’t let it discourage you from liking things other people make, from appreciating other people’s work for whatever reasons you have.

Know what I love? Exposed seams. Asymmetry. Feeling the joy a maker obviously felt while making a thing.

I won’t buy or praise or promote work I don’t enjoy or find sub-par.

I’ll spend my money how I want to spend it. I’ll make (and photograph and offer for sale) what I want to make. People will agree with my choices or they won’t. They’ll buy my work or they won’t.

When people like Ebony leave comments on my work – on anyone’s work – with unsolicited I-know-better-than-you-so-obviously-you-must-want-to-hear-from-me tips or advice, I don’t appreciate it. I resent it. I discount it. I do not want to learn from her.

Now.

To get past my own rant and into something possibly more constructive, I think Ebony is very seriously wrong in one major way (amongst others), and very seriously correct in another.

First, as I said, she’s painting the whole world with her own perfectionism. She says she wants people to want to do better for themselves, but what she’s really saying is that she’s very disappointed in everyone and would like them to do better so she’s not so offended all the time. She’s conflating her own personal standards with some impossible-to-define set of public standards. Because she’s disappointed, everyone should be disappointed. This is not okay.

But on to the part where I agree with her: There are some very serious flaws in the crafts publishing (and media) industry. Very serious flaws. She’s bang on about this. Some crafts books are overseen by people who don’t know the craft. Some deadlines are unrealistically (and rigidly) too tight. Authors are almost never allowed to attend photo shoots for their own books, which leads to inaccuracies in photography. Marketing sometimes shouts over editorial. As an author, I know very well what it’s like to try desperately to convey my message and maintain my integrity while also playing nice with the dozens of people who are also involved in making my books, and who have their own opinions about what’s best. I’ve won some battles and I’ve lost some. I have no doubt that every author has experienced the same.

I’ve seen some books that could have been amazing but ended up not so amazing. And Ebony is right that some books get made because of the author’s popularity and not necessarily because they have anything important or interesting or beautiful to say. That’s business. I’m not much bothered by the popularity game in publishing. If you were a publisher, wouldn’t  you want some sure-things in your line-up? I would.

{Right here, I deleted a rant about how-to television. I hate it. It’s so awkward. So very awkward. You may or may not notice that I don’t highlight my work in how-to television in my professional bio. It’s the only body of work I’ve ever done that I’m not proud of. Perhaps one day I’ll figure out a responsible way to write about this.} {ETA 11/2015: I’ve since become an instructor at Craftsy, which, though not actual television, is how-to video, and my experience and classes are things I’m very, very proud of. They do it right.}

I had an entirely different post planned for today, but I’ve gone off the rails on this one and I’m just going to publish it so I don’t spend the next hour revising it.

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Diane Gilleland

Hmmm… you know, I think Ebony’s writing not so much about perfectionism, but about celebrity and mainstream industry. I don’t disagree with her points about popular sewists and quilters getting market opportunity based on their popularity (and the potential revenue it represents), when far more skilled but obscure craftspeople go ignored. (There’s nothing new in that; this is just the first time in human history, perhaps, when we can all see it happening.)

I also agree with what you’re saying about the internet community needing to embrace all kinds of creating, and to let go of the rigid standards of perfection that can squash its joy. Every wonky thing I make has value for me as a learning journey!

…But I gotta say this: the longer I hang out in the online craft community in general, the more I gravitate to the kind of carefully-honed, deeply considered work Ebony’s talking about. Absolutely, every maker has a right to his or her joy in spraying chalkboard paint all over yet another mason jar, or covering something or other with washi tape, but I can only be inspired by so much of that stuff. At the end of the day, I get excited by two things: really good skills, and really original expression (my five-word rant: to hell with trends, please).

I suspect that at least some of Ebony’s frustration may be coming from the fact that many of us still (consciously or unconsciously) equate mainstream business opportunity with official recognition of our value – and that makes the “popularity train” difficult to watch. The web isn’t new anymore, but so many of our human impulses are still adjusting.

Jen Watkiss

Reading this as a not-particularly-crafty person, I see this as a much broader issue that’s cropping up all over the place, as people keep having to come to terms with the fact that the world is not in fact, a meritocracy. And to those who value perfection over promotion, or tweaking, rather than shipping, that’s a huge disappointment, and seems profoundly unfair. I suspect Ebony is just getting that memo, and is adjusting to the message.

theitgirl

Ebony’s post really bothered, me, but what bothered me more were her fans/followers who agree with every word she wrote.

Heather

There’s room in this world for every kind of crafter/person/quilter. If you focus on perfection/making sure every stitch is even, etc., then great. I like to focus on other things. Both are valid approaches.

Julianna Puccini

If I had to choose between the two, I would rather make/own/buy/look at something beautiful/innovative/inspiring that was imperfectly constructed rather than something that was boring/unoriginal yet “technically” perfect.

Kim

I agree with her somewhat… She comes across as someone who crafts to make a nice finished PRODUCT, and that’s OK. However, there are some people who craft because they enjoy the PROCESS rather than the product. That’s fine too.

I’m a crocheter and sometimes I get annoyed at the focus on “quick and easy!” patterns when I am looking for something to engage my crochet skills. Some people might see this as a dumbing-down of the craft. However, I have to remind myself that the majority of crocheters in my age group a) did not start crocheting until they were adults and b) had to learn from books, online videos, etc. because none of their relatives could teach them. The number of people with beginner-level skills is probably vastly greater than the number of people with advanced skills and they need these types of patterns to learn.

However, I do think that beginners should learn the basic “rules” before they can break them- a crochet example would be how to weave in ends so they don’t unravel. Like the author of the post, I would be annoyed if I saw people teaching or writing books with loose ends unraveling all over the place.

I think that there has to be a balance between creating something that’s extremely well-made but boring and something that’s exciting and different but sloppy.

Nancy Cavillones

What I took away from the post is that if you are making a product to sell, and not necessarily for your own enjoyment, it should be a high-quality item with no technical flaws. I didn’t get that she was saying all these craft bloggers should be turning out expert work but rather, if you are a professional selling your wares (whatever they are) to the public, then technical skills matter, no matter what your style is. I mean, her opinion of what good style is probably different from what yours is or what mine is, but skills are skills. I kind of felt like she is suffering from some kind of inferiority complex–she desperately wants the profession of crafting/needle arts/textiles to be taken as seriously as being some other kind of artist or professional but the influx of crafters out there is bringing the industry down or something.

carrieoke13

I am catching up with my blog reading and man, I could not agree with this post more. hooray for joyful crafting and creating things you love in a way that makes you happy.

Ebony Love

Thanks for continuing the dialogue here, and presenting an alternative view of the issues I raised in my post. I have to disagree with you on one point though: I wasn’t talking about perfectionism, mine or anyone else’s. I wasn’t trying to discourage anyone from making (making is how you learn, how you get better, how you express yourself) but rather looking at the industry (the people we pay to teach & inspire & supply us) and expecting something more. I’m not disappointed in “everyone”; I love that our craft is thriving and growing. I just also want it to be sustainable. We don’t build bridges without standards; but if we don’t make sure that the bridge meets the standard, the bridge will collapse. There are lots of ways to build a bridge; not all of them lead to a sturdy one. Some ways spawn innovation. You need them all to be able to describe the world of bridge building, but the bridges that get built are ultimately the ones that won’t fall down. You hope. :) What that initial post did, and the posts that followed, was to open up a dialogue where people felt freer to express themselves. I described the elephant I was seeing in the room… other people see the elephant differently or not at all (or don’t care what he looks like because to them it doesn’t matter.) I am sorry that my way of expressing myself turned you off to the point that you couldn’t read any further (rants are sometimes that way), but I am really glad that you did contribute to the discussion here and that I found it & got to read this additional layer of interpretation. (And to theitgirl: I found it incredibly hilarious that the very thing I was… Read more »

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