The Curse of Echo

Long ago in the time of gods and goddesses, there was a mountain nymph named Echo. She lived on Mount Cithaeron with other nymphs. One of their frequent visitors was Zeus, who … ahem … enjoyed the company of the beautiful sprites.

Zeus’s wife, Hera, was a jealous type, and she followed Zeus to the mountain one day. Echo stopped her, talking so much and so fast that Zeus had time to get away. In her anger, Hera cursed Echo. The curse? From then on, Echo could never speak for herself, but could only repeat the last few words spoken to her by someone else.

How awful that curse would be, without ability to speak for herself! Yet many quilters choose just this way, only repeating designs made by others.

I see it in Instagram, under the #medallionquilt hashtag. While there are beautiful medallions of a wide variety shown there, Marcelle medallion, Aviatrix, and others show up time and time again. Some designers even specify every fabric and color, so you can duplicate their work!

And of course, it doesn’t only happen with medallion quilts. It happens with many successful quilt patterns and kits. The designer’s voice may be heard, but the maker is silent, except for an echo.

I struggle with my thoughts on this. On the one hand, it’s fantastic that people want to make. I think most are perfectly happy making something with a recipe or paint-by-number method. They really do want quilt patterns and knitting patterns and counted cross-stitch and woodworking patterns. They will follow those patterns exactly, often in the same colors or materials. They will enjoy the process as long as it works. If they love doing this, and they are putting beauty and good into the world, who am I to criticize?

On the other hand, I want other people to experience themselves more completely, and to feel comfortable sharing expressions from their soul. The quilts I see that are most powerful, that touch me most, are also designed by their maker. And honestly, it doesn’t matter much if they’re technically strong or not. The maker’s voice comes through.

Self-expression is powerful, but it’s also scary. It can leave us open to failure and criticism. It can make us feel like our efforts or resources are wasted if the end product isn’t as we imagined. Why open yourself up to problems like that? It’s safer to do something with a known result.

I know a little bit about risk and reward. My career was in investment management. If you stick with the safe option, you won’t lose much, but there is not much to gain, either. The farther out you go on the risk scale, the more potential there is for loss. But when things go right, the rewards are great.

Believe it or not, I’m pretty risk averse. While I don’t use patterns, I have trouble pushing myself to do brand-new things. Instead, I keep pushing at the edges, so I’m learning new skills and not making the same thing time after time. (That would be an echo, too!) I’ve had to convince myself that any efforts can’t end in complete failure. If nothing else, I’ll have learned an important lesson. That helps me take on “risk” in quilting with a more open attitude. Trying something, not knowing if it will work out, and learning from the experience is exciting, like an adventure!

Don’t be like Echo. Use your own voice to tell your own story. What’s the worst that could happen?

 

 

 

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31 thoughts on “The Curse of Echo

  1. katechiconi

    I have never bought a quilt pattern. I don’t say this with any particular pride, it’s simply that I don’t want to make *someone else’s quilt*. For me, coming up with the idea and bringing it to life is an important part of the process. But I do see that for some people that’s not so important, and perhaps it’s just as well for the many people who earn their livings designing and producing patterns. Not everyone can – or indeed wants to – design a quilt, but perhaps for those who do want to, a pattern designed by someone else can be an important starting point towards personal creativity?

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  2. Susan Earle

    Yesterday I read your post about your Christmas medallion and learned so much from what you wrote about your choices and why something worked. And today this post! I love reading your posts! You’re right — the quilts I especially like are the ones that are personal– that reflect who made it. More and more I can appreciate them without feeling I want to make one “just like it”. I can get excited just about the ideas they might spark!

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Susan, for reading and commenting! I guess that’s really what I want to get at — the quilts that are personal help show the inner spirit of the person who made them. And since I am ALWAYS curious about that, that’s why I love those most. Thanks again.

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  3. WriteAndQuilt

    I’ve copied other’s designs and I’ve designed my own. Many times, I take a pattern and tweak it to my liking. But there is a lot of math involved when you don’t have a pattern, and sometimes I don’t have the time or the money to experiment and plan. I think it is up to the individual – their desires, abilities and resources. I’m just glad that there is so much out there for everyone. Creativity is the goal.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      It sounds like you’ve found a good way of working for yourself. Agreed that starting from scratch (like baking a cake from scratch) takes more time, and that’s not always available. And yes absolutely up to the individual. We all have different motivations for quilting. Thanks for commenting.

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  4. jmn111

    I try the same with the classes I teach – Improvise A Quilt, Art/Landscape Quilting – start with an idea, a particular fabric, a photo you’ve taken… let’s see what we can create. My classes are small but there are a few people who want to step outside a box and they produce great pieces.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, the same with my small class on medallion creation. It is very uncomfortable for most who sign up, but the quilts they make are interesting and real, and rather take my breath away. I love watching the progression, both of the quilts and the quilters. Thanks.

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  5. Mary D

    In my humble opinion, truly there is room for both type quilters, those who create original design and those who use or copy exact another maker’s patterns. Quilters are at every skill levels imaginable, from the first timer to the advanced expert.

    This variety in quilter gives us the inspiration we see in what others create whether original design or replica. As long as these makers retain the desire to keep creating, I offer my encouragement and support.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I agree, there is room for both. I would never wish to discourage someone from making, regardless of the form or source of inspiration. My bias comes purely from MY joy, that I’d like everyone to experience. And at the same time I know that design and improvisation are NOT joyful experiences for everyone but indeed can cause great stress and unhappiness. Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments.

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  6. Kerry

    Being a relative newbie I’ve found that doing quiltalong tutorials have been really helpful for skill building. I do enjoy mystery quilts too for that same purpose – but with those I want to be different so I use different colours to make my mark on it instead. When I actually do free motion quilting I like to draw my own designs for meandering. I prefer to custom quilt, but when the prints are fussy I know the quilting won’t show (discovered that when I hand quilted a border on a giant dahlia tablecloth – can only see it on the back!) but play lots otherwise. I’ve been playing around with EQ6 (can’t upgrade over here to 7 – government ruling meh) but not got around to actually making one from there just yet. The closest I’ve got to designing and carrying through (not EQ6) was to make a cushion by drawing a Celtic interwoven pattern and appliqued it and table mats with my own design – although not really original – stars! Lol!
    So room for all sorts I guess. Some people are happy just to follow because they know their quilt will have colours that work and a design that is pretty and they are happy just sewing along. We tend to recognise the designers, but someone in their family won’t and will be happy to receive an echo. Just my thoughts – which meander while I type! Sorry!

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks for commenting. This is a really good point — many (most?) quilters quilt for love, giving many of the quilts they make. And the people they give to, as you say, will love the quilt no matter who designed it. There is SOOOO much satisfaction in that.

      And hurray for you dabbling with design! That is a leap to make as a beginner, for sure. It takes quite a lot of confidence to do so, hard to obtain when you’re just getting your feet wet. Thanks again.

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  7. tierneycreates

    Melanie you rocked this post – pure awesomeness and inspiration!!! I do like to be an Echo every so often but I love improvisational design. Or mix it up – start with an “Echo” and then add your own crazy spin to it!

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I love to see what people do when they go for a crazy spin. And as you say, echoing is nice now and then. It’s the reason I like making disappearing 9-patch quilts about once a year. I don’t have to think very hard about them and they always turn out well. (hmm… it’s about time for another…)
      Thanks, Tierney!

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  8. jeanswenson

    You mentioned quilting and cross-stitching, coincidentally, two of my passions (of the hobby-variety, that is). While I find expansive horizons for creating my own, unique quilts, with cross-stitch, not so much. Cross-stitch is similar to quilting with its grid format, but at a much, much more micro level. Figuring out what color to put where in 1/10th of an inch perspective, I think would drive me insane. But luckily, I am now finding that there are online resources for uploading a photo or drawing and actually converting it to a cross-stitch pattern. I haven’t yet explored this, but it has me tempted…

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Oh my, I hadn’t thought of the challenge of putting thread through canvas. I do have one OLD counted cross-stitch project in the cabinet. It’s a kit. 🙂 While I’d still like to finish it someday, I can’t imagine designing my own. I’d love to see what you do with it, if you decide to start digitizing photos for that. Sounds interesting and exciting!

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  9. zippyquilts

    I’ve offered improvisational and pattern-based classes, and find that most people are happier with the pattern. They even go so far as to take pictures (with permission) of my class sample so they can duplicate the color arrangement. People quilt for different reasons, and if following a pattern is what they want to do, I say that’s just fine.

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  10. snarkyquilter

    I try very hard not to judge quilters who insist on a pattern for everything. I tell myself many just love to sew, and not having to make decisions is what they want – they have enough stress in their lives. I understand many are afraid of choosing the wrong colors and want their work to be just like the sample, especially if the quilt is to be a gift. But…I wish they knew the fun they’re missing out on, even if they only tweak the patterns they use. Another negative aspect of patterns is they sometimes give instructions that aren’t the easiest way to do something. Last week someone showed me a kit they were starting and asked about the flying geese used to make the blocks. I realized there was a simpler way, and suggested it. The person was skeptical but seemed willing to consider it. Sigh. I’ll save my diatribe on lousy instructions in patterns for another time.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      This really sounds like what I was trying to say, perhaps badly. I understand why people use patterns and really it’s fine that they do. But there is so much satisfaction in doing your own thing, and I wish they could feel that sense, too. As to pattern instructions, I think technical writing is a specific skill, not necessarily related to either quilting or design… 🙂

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  11. Pingback: On originality vs doing someone else’s pattern. – Free Form Quilts

  12. KerryCan

    I think you know that I agree with you about this–others should so whatever they like in order to enjoy quilting, or whatever craft they do, but, for me, I want to design my own quilts. And, like you, I am risk averse (more than you, I’m sure!), so I design based on traditional pieced blocks that I can combine and tweak and make my own. My own . . . that’s the key for me.

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  13. Cindy Anderson

    Melanie, You have shared a very interesting perspective. There are definitely two kinds of quilters. Some of us are a blend of both. Improv quilting is where I derive the most joy. It’s where I can spread my wings and explore.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      When I teach my design class, I always get a comment about how much fun it is. But I know that’s partly because of the support they get in the process. I, also, don’t tend to try something completely new without some instruction or help, so I get it. I always hope everyone can feel the same joy you do, but I also *try* to remember that it’s different strokes for different folks. Thanks for your comment.

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      1. Cindy Anderson

        It is different strokes for different folks. 😊 Support is helpful because the unknown is scary. It’s nice to have a safety net. For some that net is the pattern, instructions and chosen fabrics. For others, like me, it’s a book or instructor such as yourself. 😊

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  14. Pat T.

    *Thank you* for this post/reflection, Melanie!!
    I do SO enjoy reading what you write!…
    I understand completely, too… I love the designing process, and, as I *love* the math, it’s all great fun for me! (Perhaps too much fun!… I end up creating/planning more quilts on graph paper than I actually get around to bringing to reality! SO many ideas!!)
    *Thank you!*, again, Melanie, for all you do to teach, encourage, and inspire!!
    Pat T.

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