Process Versus Product

Process Versus Product

I slipped into the back row of the room just as the guest speaker, a talented quilter who had given a workshop that afternoon to the quilt guild of which I was a member, stood before a table laden with examples of her work.  Speaking in mellow and melodious Texan tones, I immediately sensed that this speaker’s voice, alone would put me into my oft-embarrassing yet usual state of after-supper stupor.  In an attempt to fight off the gentle waves of sleepiness that overcame me, I found myself slowly succumbing to a state of warm and fuzzy semi-awareness and head-bobbling.  But then I heard the speaker say: “and I made this quilt top in three hours one afternoon, you can too, with my new method of piecing quilts”.  I sat bolt upright.  ‘Three hours’ I thought to myself, ‘why the rush?’  I looked around at my neighbouring quilters.  Was I the only one to notice that making a quilt top in three hours could be offensive to some people?  As waves of warm acceptance for the speaker spread around the room, I listened as she sprinkled her talk with just the right amount of ‘down-home’ humour about how her granny and mother had taught she and her sisters how to sew when she was growing up.  Pulled back into that cosy place in my psyche where awareness is one level down from alertness, I was abruptly woken up by sudden and enthusiastic hand-clapping.  The lecture had ended and I had missed most of it.  Still, all I could think of was the fact that quilters would actually want to make a quilt top in three hours.  That would feel stressful to me and so production-line-like.  And heaven only knows, the world is becoming more ‘production-like’.

In all reality, our lives have become more rushed, mothers no longer stay home to raise children, they work outside the home.  People don’t have the time they used to have to, well, make quilts.  Moms rush home from work, feed their families, take their children to hockey practice, ballet classes, swimming lessons, soccer games.  They have little time left over for themselves.  And yes, if they are quilters, making a quilt in three hours is sometimes all the time they have left over for themselves.  But, is that what making quilts is all about…learning the latest and fastest sewing techniques?  Even this speaker at our guild meeting admitted that she has spent very few days at home this year because of traveling around the country speaking to different quilt guilds.  I imagined that even she gets worn out repeating the same lecture from place to place, guild to guild, delivering it with a smile and humour.  Yet, once her day in the sun has passed and quilters have tried out her sewing techniques, someone else will come along with an even better idea of creating short-cuts to sewing quilts.

Three days later and the ‘three hour quilt’ still ringing in my ears, I decide a visit to my minister-friend, Penny, who lives just up the line from me in the country and who is always a good sounding board, is in order.  Besides her apple trees were ready for picking and I make apple sauce from her apple orchard for my bed and breakfast guests.  We sit at her old pine table in the kitchen with a cup of hot tea and we talk while she is eating breakfast.   “Three hours to make a quilt top” I began, getting into the discussion of wondering why everyone is in so much of a rush these days and why something like that would appeal to quilters.  Penny is used to hearing my soap-box talks and patiently hears me out.  I ask her which she thinks is  more important, the process of doing something or the end product.  “We” she said, meaning she and I, “are process people, San.  We like the process almost more than the end product.  The process makes us think; it grounds us in what we are doing, we embrace process.  We like to figure things out, play with ideas, toss them around in our minds.  I look for analogies in what I do with my ministry, you look for design ideas”.  Then, she added, minister-like, “there must be harmony in your creative process and a sense of peace in your inner being. 

I went to pick apples after that with her words tumbling around in my mind.  A sense of peace in your inner being, harmony in your creative process.  It’s what I’ve always needed to feel when I sit down at my quilt work.  I can’t be rushed.  How could she have known what I needed to feel?  And how could I know what others need to feel?  Still trying to figure this out, back home I turned on my computer and consulted Google.  I put in my topic:  Process Versus Product and up came several ‘answers’ to my question.  An article titled:  “Demystifying the Creative Process” offered this:  everyone has creative potential and those who harness their potential and work through the process, become all the more ‘different’.    I scratched my head at what they meant by ‘more different’ and so I moved on to the next heading, it seemed more to the point, by talking about the left and right brain.  Since my days of teaching quilting and watching how people work, I’ve had a sneaky suspicion that people who make pieced quilts so quickly and so accurately on the sewing machine, in assembly-line fashion also have no problem balancing their cheque-books (which people don’t do any longer, the digital world seems to have changed all that).  Whereas I, who have an aversion to machinery, with my head in the clouds half the time, thinking about new designs and seeing pictures of them in my mind, I am always out a few dollars and cents balancing my cheque book.  Besides my sewing machine and I have a very tenuous relationship.  The article said:

 Left Brain:  Logical, sequential, rational, analyses, objective, thinks well in parts.

Right Brain:  Random, intuitive, holistic, synthesizes, subjective, thinks well in wholes.

The left brain, the article said, is concerned with logical thinking analysis and accuracy, the right brain focuses on aesthetics, feeling and creativity.  That may explain my cheque-book and machine-resistance thing.

So I decided to send an email survey to four trusted quilt friends, Kathi, in Idaho, Jean, in British Columbia, Doris, in Tennessee and Celia in New Brunswick.  Their responses were interesting.  Jean, a retired lawyer, invented some of her own parts to my questions; Kathi, responded and said that her answers were the same as Jean’s; Doris typed my questions in bold and neatly typed her answers below each questions and Celia, who is busy with a new one year old grandson, didn’t reply at all.  My questionaire went like this:

  1. The process of making a quilt and why?  What is it about the process you like?
  2. Do you prefer to make as many quilts as you can in as short a period of time as you can, instead of focusing on making just one quilt a year?
  3. What happens when you get to the end of your process:  What do you do with all the quilts you make?  Are you more interested in the process of making quilts or more interested in the end product?

The general consensus was:  everyone enjoyed cutting up fabric and making quilts.  Setting the quilt blocks or quilt together was not as much fun (too boring) choosing the borders is fun (more creative) and they loved everything about the process, from the designwork, to purchasing fabric, to the last stitch in the binding.  As to quick quilts and slow quilts, most said they liked to have two kinds of projects on the go, fast quilts for gifts and fund raisers, slow projects that required a lot of handwork, they liked for themselves.    I asked one last question, “why do quilters want to make as many quilts as they can and why are they in such a hurry to make them?”   Doris, in Tennessee, said “I have absolutely no clue as to why.  We have those types in my guild, too.  They could be doing worse things with their time and money, though and I often wish they’d make me a quilt”.

In the end, I’ve come to the conclusion that it must all boil down to body-type and mind-set.  If you live your life in a hurry, you’ll do everything in a hurry, think fast, sew fast, make lots of quilts, fast.  If you’re dreamy like me with your head in the clouds half the time, you probably have some aversion to new electronic gadgets and equipment like computers and sewing machines and work slowly and patiently by hand sewing quilts.  I thought it’s like beating a dead horse trying to change who we are and what we do, we’re all different, which is what makes quiltmaking so interesting.  Some like doing things one way, some, another, in the end, we all make quilts and that’s what quilting is all about, being different and producing the same product in the end.

So I decided to make my apple sauce and think about my next topic on my soapbox.  It’s going to be about what a quilt consists of:

  1. Good sewing techniques
  2. A good use of colour
  3. And a good design, and understanding what a good design is all about.

Hmmm…actually, I should reverse that, the design of the quilt is the most important aspect of a quilt because without is, we can’t use our sewing techniques and we have no place to put our coloured fabrics.  Maybe I’d better save that for another day.

And maybe it doesn’t matter how we work at our quilts.  It matters that we enjoy making them.

Article appeared in The Canadian Quilter, September, 2009 © 2009, Sandy Small Proudfoot