A Process Post

>> Sunday, May 23, 2010

Recently several bloggers have posted about and advocated more discussion of "process." I've been thinking a lot about what they've posted (part I, below), and I've been trying to work out my initial and more thought-out response to these posts (part II, below) and to figure out where I stand (part III, below).

{Warning: Lots of text ahead!!} 

Part I: 
Who is talking and what are they saying? Where did this "process" thing come from and what does it mean?

Cheryl reflected on her experience wandering the hall of the Invitational Show at Quilt Canada, considering the differences between art quilting and her quilting, between traditional quilting and modern quilting. She pointed out that "quick" quilts -- which may or may not be modern in creation or aesthetic -- have increased, a trend she suggests relates to blogging. Who doesn't want to announce a finish and reveal a picture of one's latest work? But this might be a sign of competitive blogging more than a symbol of renewed quilting energy.

Picking up on Cheryl's thoughts, r0ssie responded with a thought piece on what she dubbed "mutant quilting." Quilts morph from ideas and inspiration and thus, she argues, we ought to spend more time thinking about, writing about, and discussing this mutation. Whereas quilting blog conversation often starts at the end, with the finished product, she advocates "talk[ing] more about where...ideas come from" such that quilters can "learn what [they] mutated from" and "participate in creating knowledge for the next mutant." Thus she pushes us to push ourselves -- as designers and as discussants, to think about and explicitly talk about process. This means sharing sketches, choices, mistakes, and transformations, and doing so along the way, not at the end with a picture of the finished product in hand. To this end, she offered a follow-up post that articulated a "process pledge":  
"I, ________________, pledge to talk more about my processes, even when I can’t quite put them in the in words or be sure I’m being totally clear.   I’m going to put my thinking and my gut feelings out there.  
Finally, Jennifer offered a three-post series on "Quilting Without Obligation" (here, here, and here). She underscores that despite her own competitive nature, she quilts out of love and out of her own desire. As she looks out on the quilt-blogosphere, she says, "I would much rather read, "I was inspired to design this quilt by... I really struggled with this step... I don't like sewing binding on by hand but I did it... I messed up when I was cutting this fabric..." instead of "here's my perfect quilt that I made in two days, don't you love it??" Moreover, she writes, "Art should be a rich process with rich results.  A process with ups and downs.  A process with imperfections that come to life because you stretch to work with them."

That's a lot to consider and digest.

Part II:
I have to confess that my initial reaction to all of these posts was split: I agree and I am a little uncomfortable.

I'm all about process. I love learning, I love seeing how people think through their ideas (of all sorts, quilting and not), and I love seeing how ideas develop, from the mind to the page, from the page to the cut fabric, from the cut fabric to pieced blocks, from pieced blocks to the quilt. I've learned a lot from reading other people's blogs and while finished products can teach and inspire, I certainly learn more from reading about the process. In this regard, Jennifer's post really resonated with me. As a math professor taught emphasized in college, brilliance stems from failure and learning from mistakes, not from brilliance. Indeed, he made us keep "failure journals" and record attempts to solve problems, obstacles we ran into, attempts to find new paths, and reflection on why we were stuck. I think this is brilliant pedagogically and intellectually, and I think encouraging people to embrace failure -- to ponder it and to build on it -- at all levels of learning in all realms of life is truly important. In many ways, I think the call to discuss process embodies this ideal.

BUT {because there's always a but...} I must confess that the process pledge made me uncomfortable. My gut discomfort probably stemmed from my own habits of blogging a finished product. Yep, I'm guilty. And I'm guilty of making fast, quick quilts too. But I'm not ashamed of that and, I think, I tend to admit it. But my discomfort made me think about my own reasons for blogging and the rationales (thin though they may be) I have for blogging finished products. I started blogging almost 2 years ago. I had moved away from a core group of friends who, among other things, had nurtured my crafty sensibilities. Few of them were interested in fabric or quilting, but all of them supported my endeavors and wanted to know what I was up to. As a result, I decided to plunge into the newfangled (to me) world of blogging. My foray into the blogosphere started with an audience (a small audience, but an audience nonetheless) and I figured I would simply post the pictures of my latest finished project and discuss it a little, letting friends and family check in as they wanted (or not).

At some point along the way, I found a whole world of modern quilt bloggers. I stumbled through the crafty-bloggy world by clicking on links here and there. I had no map and had no method. I occasionally commented, but more often than not, bookmarked and returned as I randomly saw fit. Google Reader stepped in and allowed me to add subscriptions so I could stay more on top of the blogs I liked and, as I discovered more, I added more and more blogs and I do my best to read them. At some point too, I found myself with more readers. People beyond my real-life circle of friends. They came over, they read what I had to say, and they commented (commented!).

Thus blogging and reading blogs has absolutely transformed the way I quilt, the way I show my quilts, and the way I think about conveying my ideas to others. BUT (it had to come back!) in two ways, my quilting remains the same as it always has:

1) I more often quilt in bursts than in steady, regular chunks of time which means that I may spend a weekend on a quilt, moving it from nothing to something quickly and then not finish it until I have another chunk of time. This emanates from the time (or lack thereof) I have and is not necessarily conducive to process posting.

2) More importantly, I make the vast majority of quilts (and other sewn items) for other people, as gifts. I learned to sew and quilt by helping my mom make a quilt for a friend who was moving away and I continue to make quilts for friends and family, as markers of celebration of one sort or another. I don't know how many items I've made in the past few years, but I've only kept 2 of them: 1 challah cover and 1 scarf. I therefore have a very pragmatic reason for waiting to post finished products: I want my recipients to be surprised by the gifts I give them and many, though not all, of them read my blog, some occasionally, some regularly.

Most of the people to whom I give things know I'm making them something (I've got several overdue gifts to catch up on as I write) and thus the actual item and design are the only ways I can surprise them. This absolutely conflicts with the process pledge, an idea I like so much in theory. I'm not going to discuss or show pictures of the works-in-progress because I want to maintain a surprise.

There are occasions when this isn't totally an issue. For example, when I made Beth & Harley's chuppah, they were fine with my blogging about it. When I made Jen & Claire's chuppah, they were okay with my posting in-progress pictures but not the final version. But more often than not, I'm plugging away at a quilt that I don't want to reveal before the recipient receives it.

Part III:
Where does this leave me?

I know that as much I look forward to learning from other people's process posts, I probably won't 'process post' most of the things I make ahead of time. I commit to maintaining my habits of discussing the metamorphosis of the quilts I make, though it will most often occur after the final product exists. As I write this, I realize I could store posts ahead of time that document process even if I don't post them until the quilt has made its way to its new owner. But that seems a little disingenuous, so I need to think about it more.

However, I also aim to do a little more process posting. I have 2 quilt projects that exist only in my head and are not intended for anyone in particular (though they will probably end up as gifts to someone!). When tomorrow offers me daylight with which to photograph the starting point of each project, I'll do so and post about it and see where it goes.

Part IV:
This is a really long post and if you've made it this far, I'm impressed! I'd love to hear what you think about anything I've said (disagreement is, of course, fine and even welcome). I'd also love to hear what you'd like to see me blog about in the future.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for teaching me so much of what I've learned in the past couple of years.


going kiwi May 23, 2010 at 1:45 AM  

I found you through SMS Giveaway and started following you. I am currently working on my first quilt. SMS opened my eyes to the world of blog quilters. I really don't know much about the discussion or lack of discussion of the process. But I enjoyed your post and it made me think about how I was going to make this quilt into the piece I want it to be. I am no longer kicking myself to get it done fast, just to get it done. I want to make it special and lovely for my daughter. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the subject. Sorry for the rant but I did enjoy this post.

Anonymous May 23, 2010 at 9:19 AM  

What a well thought out response to the process pledge concept! I am also a finish poster, although I'm not finishing as much as I'd like. I'll probably blog in greater detail about this, but maybe for me, the process pledge will encourage me to post more. When I don't finish something I don't post, and when I don't post I feel like I'm failing, and when I feel like I'm failing I don't sew, so I don't finish, so I don't post... You see the pattern.
I am (fortunate?) that most people I know in real life don't read my blog, so I don't have to worry about surprises. I really like your idea to blog the process but save it until after the finished project. You say it seems disingenuous, but it is a great way for you to document your process without messing up the surprise. I doubt most readers would care if they saw the process before or after the finished quilt. In fact, it might even be better because they'd already have an image of the end product in mind and could follow the process better.
By the way - maybe blogging has encouraged simpler quilts, or maybe simpler quilts are just more prevalent because they are so many new, young quilters who want to create, want to feature exciting fabrics, and want to USE their quilts - NOW. Either way, complicated quilts deserve admiration and respect, but simple quilts also deserve admiration and respect.

Jilly May 23, 2010 at 10:21 AM  

I've been thinking about this (after reading r0ssie's post) too. I do post a lot of process already, since I'm mostly messing around with fabric and just playing, even if it is for an intended person. PLus only some of my friends read my blog -- the rest are facebook-only people and are too busy planting farms to read my blog, or they don't know about it.

The thing I've been thinking about is the idea of not doing quick / easy quilts. I tend to do a mix. I've actually started making quicker quilts as gifts because I don't have much time and I've realized that most people don't understand the difference in time it takes to make a quilt with quick squares or rectangles and they appreciate it as much as something that took you 10 or 12 hours more because it has complicated triangles or applique or something. And then I get hurt because they don't appreciate all the work that went into the quilt and feel taken for granted, even though I decided to make it for them in the first place, so its totally me. So for gifts, I've started making quicker quilts, while making some slightly more complex quilts for myself. But I'm also inspired by people like Amanda Soule, who just likes to make things to brighten her home and make her and her family happy, and doesn't care wether its "art" or not.

It does seem some quilters are doing REALLY quick quilts just to get finishes in and make tutorials up and then everyone copies their quilts because they are a "popular" blogger and you suddenly get a ton of zig-zag quilts or rail fence quilts or whatever out there. But I also think there's something a bit snobby abut saying that if you're not pushing yourself with every single quilt you make you're not a "real" quilter, or maybe a quilter but not an artist . . . its a big discussion, isn't it? I was going to blog about this, too, but my post is half finished, and now I think I've just written the whole thing here. I might just have to copy this as my post.

two hippos May 23, 2010 at 11:22 AM  

Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments!

I love that people are feeling okay with showing work in progress, with slowing down, with working at one's own pace, whatever that is.

I think Jilly is right that there's a tricky balance with quick and easy quilts. There's nothing wrong with showcasing some lovely fabric and making an easy quilt for a gift or for oneself. Likewise, quick quilts can, on the one hand, generate a sense of competition. But on the other hand, it lets lots of people quilt who may not have hours to design and redesign and so on. Quilt snobbery is no better than quilt competition. And I want everyone who wants to plunge into quilting to do so and not worry that they're "too simple." After all, everyone has to start somewhere! I love the idea of focusing on brightening space and lives and not worrying about anything else.

Rossie May 23, 2010 at 12:53 PM  

Thanks for linking to your response.

I can definitely see where you are coming from with the quilts-as-gifts and therefore not wanting to blog them in process. I've got a couple projects like that myself. Posting about process is just meant to be a "think about it, do it when it suits you" thing.

As for process snobbery or push snobbery, which someone commented on, that's not the point of the process pledge. Being transparent about process is inherently democratizing and asking for more diversity in posts (specifically more about process) shouldn't be read as a wholesale rejection of the status quo. I think there's a place for everything.

As for pushing, yes, I'm always going to prefer a quilter who pushes to one that makes the same stuff over and over. The point of advocating for pushing, however, is not to bring anyone down, but to bring about a better vocabulary for pushing, so that more people have access to the various methods that can open up new quilting worlds. I'm still working on a way to make that work...I have this idea of an open/public/anyone-can-post-to-it push gallery, but right now I don't have the time or website skills to make it happen. Hopefully, it will happen soon!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


Emily June 7, 2010 at 11:24 PM  

I liked your post on this. I too, took the process pledge... but I think it means less to me about the sharing than it does the pushing bounderies and learning from them. I tend to ramble on my blog more often than not, about what I'm in the middle of. I don't really have any readers though, so I guess it's all for my own sake! :) I do look forward to reading all sorts of people's proccess notes though. :)

Cheryl Arkison June 11, 2010 at 3:29 PM  

Good for you for putting this out there. It, too, is process.

Can I say that I am glad - just a little - that it made you uncomfortable. Generally, most of us don't move forward unless we feel a little bit uncomfortable. When it is easy and comfortable we go with the same old thing. So, good for you for pushing yourself.

I'll be reading to see where you go.

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