Things I’ve Learned From Blogging

This is my 400th post at Catbird Quilt Studio. It feels like this should be a profound moment in some way, but it’s not. In truth I don’t know how many blog posts I’ve written. A few of the posts here were re-blogs, though most were my original work. But I also contribute to the Our View From Iowa blog with Jim. We have 330 posts between us, some written by me and some by him and some by both of us. And before coming to WordPress, I contributed at a couple of other sites, totaling well north of 100 posts there. Let’s just guess there are something like 700 posts.

Rather than worrying about how many I’ve written, it might be better to consider what I’ve learned through the process. Below are some thoughts about writing and reading blogs (and posts elsewhere, such as Facebook,) and about relationships in our digital world.

ABOUT WRITING
Respect your readers. Assume they are intelligent and capable, and write to that level.

Offer something of value; make it worth the readers’ time. A story, a tutorial, helpful pointers on process, or just a great photo can make a reader glad they clicked in.

Edit. Edit for clarity, basic grammar, and spelling. Even with editing, mistakes happen. Fix them when you see them.

Don’t post when angry. Rants can be fun to write and read, but rants also can cause damage. Write when angry, perhaps, but re-read, edit, and post (or not) after you’ve calmed down.

Welcome comments and questions. Don’t just invite them, also respond to them. It’s a small way to acknowledge readers’ time and effort. I prefer to respond on the blog. I think it is more inclusive for all readers that way.

Give credit. Use links, credit photos, provide references and original sources. It’s not hard, and it’s the right thing to do.

ABOUT READING
Give the writer the benefit of the doubt. This includes both the person who originally posted as well as those who comment.

Disagree respectfully. Don’t call names, of the individual or whatever affiliation they seem to represent. If you’re disagreeing on a matter of fact, cite sources. If it is a matter of opinion, remember we’re all entitled to our own. Walking away often is a good strategy, regardless of the point of disagreement.

xkcd “Duty Calls”. http://xkcd.com/386/

Not everyone comes from your background. The online world includes all kinds, from all places. Maybe she calls it a “cushion” when really it is a “throw pillow.” Who cares?

Use your time wisely. Reading blogs is not an adequate substitute for real life. DO stuff, too. If you are a quilter, go quilt. If you have a spouse or other family or friends, talk to them. If you love to bake, bake something. Don’t just read baking blogs and imagine what great things you could make.

ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS IN OUR DIGITAL WORLD
Our online connections include blogging, Facebook and other social media sites, and basic email with people we’ve known for decades. I’ll preface this by saying I’ve had enormously rewarding personal experiences online, as well as deeply disappointing, even upsetting ones. Jim and I have even traveled halfway across the country to meet multiple people we’ve known online. Sometimes that has gone great (Hi Jim F! Hi Ben!) and other times less so.

A lot has been written about how difficult it is to convey meaning in words, without the larger context of intonation and facial expression. Some people always sound like jerks in writing. It can be hard to separate those who actually are jerks from those who are not. This is where it helps to know someone in a broader way.

Because we are working with limited information when dealing with people online, all of the above writing and reading pointers can help. Here are a couple more thoughts.

People disappear. Bloggers quit blogging, sisters slam doors, people you thought were dear friends walk away. After an attempt or two to communicate, let them go.

RPT is key. RPT stands for “Real People Time.” It’s the term Jim and I use for opportunities to socialize in person with others. While it’s tempting to hole up here by ourselves, we always feel better when we have a little RPT.

Blogging, in general, has been wonderful for me. I’ve made friends I would never have made without it. I’ve shared my quilting with thousands more than would have seen it otherwise. I’ve researched plants and animals and history. I’ve sharpened my technical writing skills with tutorials. This may be my 400th post or my 700th post, depending on how you count. The enrichment in my life has been infinite.

Thank you for reading this post. If you stop by regularly, please know I appreciate it. 

Oh My Stars | Winner Chosen

Thanks to those of you who offered to “buy” the quilt. We’re happy to announce the winner.

How I See It

Melanie and I are happy to announce the recipient of the Oh My Stars donation quilt. The story and monetary offer combined to make a compelling case that it should go to this person. She will be known as Grace in order to maintain her privacy. Here are details of the donation quilt offer in case you missed the earlier post.

Grace has been a volunteer with her local hospice center after they cared for her mother and father. She has assisted patients and their families as they transitioned through the hospice process. Grace knows first-hand the wonderful help they give to others in their hours of great need. She has chosen to donate her offering to Iowa City Hospice.

Melanie and I visited the office of Iowa City Hospice. We brought the quilt and Grace’s donation. We explained the circumstances of the quilt project that led to her donation. They…

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How to Finish UFOs

UFO: Unfinished Object; an art or crafting project that was begun but not finished, with some extended delay in making progress toward completion. The creator still intends to complete it, differentiating it from an abandoned project. UFO is a common term in quilting and knitting, but can apply to other creative endeavors such as writing, scrapbooking, painting, etc.

Over the last year or so, I’ve seen a lot more emphasis in quilting blogs on UFOs. Last year was a movement toward “A Lovely Year of Finishes,” complete with a button, goal setting, and linky parties. This year’s version is “One Monthly Goal,” or OMG. I love that these encourage quilters to complete their projects, just as Stashbusters has been doing for years.

But the question often comes up of what to do with projects you DON’T WANT TO FINISH. It just isn’t going to turn out the way you’d imagined, or it’s boring beyond tears, or you hate the process, or it was intended for someone not in your life anymore. In truth, you want to abandon it, but you don’t want to be a quitter, or don’t want to waste the effort or materials already used. What then? How to FINISH those unfinished objects?

The first thing to remember is that quilting is supposed to be rewarding and positive, not stressful and upsetting. If you look at a project and a black cloud appears above it, it might be time to make another decision. It doesn’t matter what resources already went into it. It’s too late to change that. What matters is what resources you put into it now, including time, energy, and material.

You have choices. One choice is to make a quilt of a different design than originally planned. What you do might depend on how much you have done. Do you have some blocks made? Can those blocks be assembled into a top, maybe of a smaller size or with a different setting? With sashings if there weren’t any in the original design, without if there were? On point, or with unpieced alternate blocks?

If you imagine your setting as a big 9-patch, you only need 4 or 5 pieced blocks, alternated with something else, to create a small quilt. It could be a lap quilt or a baby quilt or a doll quilt, or a table mat. A narrow table runner might need even fewer blocks.

Maybe you were part of a swap and found the blocks you received vary substantially in size. You can frame all the blocks with one fabric and then trim them to a consistent size. Then use the same framing fabric for sashing. No one will ever see the differences in size. The BEST book for dealing with swap blocks and other setting problems is Setting Solutions by Sharyn Craig. (I do own the book now.)

Maybe you signed up for an appliqué block of the month, but found you hate appliqué. If you have at least one, lovely big block, say 12″ or larger, you could make a medallion quilt with the block as the center.

Other options for a small number of blocks include a tote bag, mug rug, or placemats. My guild members make placemats for Meals on Wheels every couple of years, and nursing homes often use small quilts as door decorations for residents.

Or you could give all the blocks to someone else. Or use them as practice pieces for your free motion quilting.

If you have part of the top already assembled and don’t like where it’s going, try something new. My friend Mary at Zippy Quilts shows some great saves on improv projects she’s done.

What if you proceed and make a quilt top, what then? You can finish it and keep it, repurposing the quilt for something else. Make pillow covers or a travel bag, like Carole at From My Carolina Home. Or give the quilt to a friend or relative who would like it, donate it, make a cat bed out of it… Or don’t quilt the top. Donations often are appreciated at your real-world guild. My guild finishes a lot of unquilted tops for donations to local organizations. And once a year or so, we hold a fund-raiser auction. My friend Karen bought a beautiful quilt top at the January auction. She’s already quilted and bound it. Now she’ll give it back to the guild for a community donation quilt.

If you don’t have blocks or parts made, but simply have a pattern and fabric pulled together, take it all apart. Restash the fabric if you want. Or if the fabric gives you bad memories or no longer meets your quality standards, give it away, too.

Finishing UFOs does not require making a quilt. Finishing can mean throwing them away or passing them on. You can put them in the burn bin, you can wash the car with rags made from them. Finishing means declaring you are DONE with that project. Then it is NOT a UFO, it is a FO, Finished Object. DONE.

The most important thing to remember with UFOs is there is NO ONE who gets to decide how they are finished or disposed of, except you. If you don’t want to finish it, don’t. Life is too short to spend it on stuff (like this) you don’t want to do. If you don’t make the quilt, no one will die and no one will go to jail. NO bad thing will happen.

Here is my one UFO. Yes, one. This one got stuck because I didn’t know how to set and border the 6-pointed star. Now as I look at it, I don’t love it, or the idea, as much as I did when I started it. I’m not ready to abandon it, but I probably won’t hurry to finish it, either.

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Tell me about your UFOs. What stops you from finishing? 

 

Still Not in Stride

So much I want to say, things to write about, pictures to show… Tomorrow (Saturday) I should be able to finish the quilting on the big-block quilt. First I need to test the tension again, having smoothed the tension disks today. Another blog post on that later, perhaps.

And I finished the kaleidoscope quilt weeks ago and want to tell you about it, but that seems beyond me right now, too.

If that’s not enough, I’m working on my applique project. Today it occurred to me I could use buttons for the daisy centers. Must buy some colorful buttons…

But dang it if I didn’t get my second cold in the last three weeks. I’m a really healthy woman, so this is unusual to say the least. (And I’m very aware that a cold is about as bad as it gets for me, and I’m very fortunate.) As with the last one, though, OH the TIRED! Hard to get much done. Yesterday I wanted to lie down almost all day. Yeah, that kind of tired. Today was better. Tomorrow will be better yet, no doubt.

In the meantime, I thought I would post one of my favorite photos, a favorite memory. In 2011 Jim and I traveled to Ireland. We did a day trip to one of the Aran Islands. These beautiful chickens were enjoying the sun outside a pub.

Maybe next week I’ll hit my stride. I hope so, as there is a lot going on this month.

Review: Quilter’s Academy Vol. 5 — Master’s Year by Harriet Hargrave

(and her daughter Carrie Hargrave-Jones)

Yesterday I listened to a podcast featured by Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps. Abby interviewed Jennifer Keltner, publisher and chief visionary officer of Martingale, the big craft and quilting book publisher. (Fun fact — Jennifer and I were on our high school speech team together in the late 1970s, and our team won the state championship my senior year.) Jennifer talked about the books we cherish. She said if you ask anyone to show and talk about their favorite book, they may start out looking at the book, but soon they’ll be caressing the cover as they describe it. (If you have any interest at all in the publishing world, this was a great interview, well worth the time.)

That is how I wanted to feel about Quilter’s Academy Volume 5. As a book about medallion quilts by a premier author and teacher, I wanted it to be a great book. I thought it might be. After all, if I had to pick only a few books from my personal library to keep, one of them would be The Art of Classic Quiltmaking, by Harriet Hargrave and Sharyn Craig.

Quilter’s Academy Volume 5 came out on January 7 of this year. I bought it a few days ago. I wanted to love it. I don’t.

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A QUICK OVERVIEW
The format of the book is intended to emulate a year or more of coursework in quilting. The chapters are titled as “classes,” suggesting that studying each carefully will earn the reader credit towards their achievements in quilting.

This is the fifth book in a series of six. As the fifth book or “year” of coursework, this touts itself as master’s level study, incorporating all the quilter has learned from the previous four volumes, and extending it with the difficulty that medallions pose.

The authors’ note claims the book is not intended to be a pattern book, but a source of inspiration for design of original medallion quilts. In fact, however, half of the book’s pages are patterns.

WHAT I LIKE
Let’s start with what I do like. “Class 510,” aka Chapter 1, covers a history of medallion quilts, from palampores of the 1500s, to appliquéd Broderie Perse of the late 1700s, to fully pieced medallions of the 1800s and later. The chapter features many photos of historical quilts and has a bibliography at the end. It’s fun to see photos of a few quilts that are new to me, and I appreciate inclusion of the historical information for those who haven’t studied it.

Class 590, or Chapter 9, covers a wide variety of border ideas and their construction. From checkerboards and half-square triangles, to squares on point and diamonds, the book provides a lot of well-illustrated choices, with varying amounts of construction detail.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE
Unfortunately, there is a lot more I don’t like about this book than I like. I can’t cover it all, but I’ll hit a few points.

The Look
Though it’s a cliche that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, admit it — quilting books are judged on their looks. It’s a fair assessment in this case: if we want to make beautiful quilts, we want to learn from someone who understands and shows us beauty. The cover, as shown above, is highly unappealing to me. In greys, browns, and tans, there is nothing about it that invites a look inside. We can’t see a compelling quilt, just a stack of monotone fabrics and a pile of pencils and graph paper.

If that look brightened inside, the cover might be forgotten. Unfortunately it’s not. Most of the quilts are built in browns. Of those that aren’t, most are very muted palettes. The authors explain the choice this way:

If you are just discovering the Quilter’s Academy series, please don’t judge it based on the photos of the quilts. We have kept the fabric choices very traditional to keep them from looking dated, which the use of faddish colors can do. We do hope you realize that all the patterns can be jazzed up by using wild and crazy fabrics…

So, they want the luxury of showing us unattractive quilts without being judged on them. We just have to use our imagination and try some “wild and crazy” fabrics or ones that are faddish, if we want a different look. There actually are some classic, traditional color combinations that are brighter than those shown.

Another problem with the book’s look is inconsistency. Initial pages are full-page, single-column layouts. After that, page layouts come in a wide variety with no apparent logic. There are two columns of equal width, two columns of unequal width, and three columns. This leaves the illustrations, photos, tips, and notes of all different sizes.

Finally, the photos are generally murky, not crisp and showing good detail. This may be a problem of reproduction rather than photography or photo selection, or even quilt selection. However it further diminishes the appearance of the book.

The Content
The book is marketed as a text or reference book on medallion design, and one which will inspire readers to create their own medallions. The authors state it is not intended to be a pattern book. In fact it is. There are 12 quilt designs with construction information, or patterns. There is very little teaching of design. There are minimal comments on border widths relative to construction, but little to nothing on sizing for pleasing proportions. There is no obvious discussion of design principles and elements such as unity, repetition, proportion, color, value, or shape.

Instead, the design portion of the book covers drawing medallion layouts on graph paper. I didn’t notice any mention of the various software packages available, or even that there are any. The “Final Or Thesis” section provides graph paper layouts of six quilt designs. However, they are already drawn. I guess our master’s thesis assignment is to color them in, presumably with browns and tans, so they are not faddish.

A reference book and a pattern book do share one responsibility. That is clarity in writing. Here again, the book disappoints. Pattern directions are written in an informal way, rather than structured like technical writing. Construction directions for each border should include the same information in the same order. They should include the finished width of the border, finished width of the center when the border is attached, the size of the units, and the pieces to cut. Then concise directions for construction should follow, or a broader “make half-square triangles by your preferred method.” Too often the authors intend specific directions for units and refer the reader to other volumes in the series. In my opinion, the book should be able to stand alone, but it does not.

Math is mentioned but rarely demonstrated. Sentences like “The math shows … ” don’t actually show what equation was used or the inputs. The reader isn’t shown how to replicate the method with different numbers.

Clarity is a problem in the descriptive writing, also. Several of the quilts are “inspired” by photos of quilts found elsewhere, such as the internet. The inspiration pieces are referred to, but without pictures, it isn’t possible for the reader to make the leap between inspiration and execution. Also there are cases such as “This classy Christmas quilt is made totally from blocks… This quilt was inspired by… ” The second sentence immediately follows the first, but they refer to different quilts. It is confusing.

Finally, a reference or text book should have an index. This book does not.

The Tone
One of the points discussed by Jennifer Keltner in the While She Naps interview was the writer’s voice. The author’s personality should shine through, as it would in a spoken conversation. In this book, the “voice” is exhibited most clearly in the introduction. In less than a full page, the authors dismiss modern quilting as a fad, suggest modern quilters have few skills and poor workmanship, and accuse quilters in general of preferring “chronic mediocrity.” They speak of non-traditional colors as “faddish” and “wild and crazy.” And they excuse any mistakes in the text: “Our intention was to cause you to think through the problem and arrive at the answer… We have received all types of comments and emails concerning this…” The paragraph goes on to say the students who celebrated the authors’ mistakes as learning opportunities are the ones who “totally got it!”

Besides the negative, unpleasant tone of the introduction, I object to the premise of the book on the face of it. It pretends that medallion quilts are in rarefied air, something only appropriate for “master’s level” quilters. This is simply not so. Beginning quilters can create beautiful medallions if they can sew a consistent quarter inch seam. You don’t need special qualities, except perhaps being both adventurous and persistent.

Summary
The book is a big disappointment to me. I bought it hoping for a useful, enjoyable addition to my library. I bought it hoping it would be MY book, brought to life by someone else so I don’t need to. My book focuses on design, and on teaching quilters to make their medallion quilt, not MY medallion quilt. Sadly, the Hargraves’ book falls far short of my hopes and expectations.

[Having said that, in case you wonder about a conflict of interest, my book is on hold for now. I am not dissing the Quilter’s Academy book because it represents competition. It does not.]

Publishing this review, frankly, is fairly stressful. Everyone wants to be “nice” and say nice things about others’ work. However, the US retail price is $27.95. I buy my books carefully. I try to keep a small, useful, and inspiring library. If you feel the same way about your library and your book budget, you deserve an honest appraisal before considering this book.

Please feel free to disagree, respectfully, in comments. Either way I am interested in your opinion.