Passing Hours in the Age of Automation

Passing the Hours in the Age of Automation

Bill Gates said something astonishing in January. Many have commented on it and I’m not interested (right now) in giving an opinion about what he said. Just the fact that he SAID it has given me pause.

Are you Rusty?

Bill Gates suggested that robots be taxed at the rate human workers are taxed, because so many of them are doing human work instead of humans.

If robots are answering phones, driving, delivering parcels, and taking orders, manufacturing items, stocking warehouses, writing contracts, managing banking … if you didn’t have to work, what would you do with your time?

We humans today have more disposable time than any time in history, and I am not encouraged by how we seem to be choosing to spend it. TV. YouTube cat videos. Pornography online has soared. So have video games. We seem to be just checking out as a society.

What if we did have all that free time and could just make stuff? Hone a craft? Learn to play an instrument? Decorate cakes? My goodness, what a gift that time could be!

What would you teach someone to do? What would you like to learn? The mind boggles. I will never have enough time to learn everything I want to learn how to do, and do well. I will never read everything I want to read. I never did learn to play a banjo (maybe that’s a good thing). I still don’t know how to crochet.

Can you even imagine what we could make if everyone had the time and access to do what moved them? People are so very clever. Let’s start planning…

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

It’s been a tough month in Quilt World. The American Quilter’s Society has announced a cutback in shows per year, taking out the Chattanooga show. They also announced that they will no longer publish any new books and will not sign contracts with any new authors. Quilters’ Newsletter Magazine has ceased publication after 27 years. IMQA and MQS, the machine quilters’ organizations, have closed shop. My area doesn’t have a local quilt shop (LQS) for 50-something miles. Not local, really, is it?

I’ve also noticed that C&T Publishing has their $5/book sales more and more frequently, often selling relatively new $30 books for $5 each. This can’t be good.

I got a post from a blog I follow, an independently published quilting magazine, the other day, and in it they blamed advertisers for the demise of quilting magazines, claiming that manufacturers are increasingly using “free” social media to push their products. This can either mean that their sales aren’t very good, or they are trying to hang on to more of their profit. The article didn’t really say which the author thought.

We are so interesting, as people and as quilters. I know a lot of people with a $13,000 sewing machine who want to pay $5/yard for fabric and have things quilted and finished for $60. And often this is because they are giving away the quilt. One of the local quilt guilds gives away hundreds of quilts a year to local charities. And then we moan about how people don’t see value in the quilts we make.

When the Modern Quilt Guild began, the organizers were heavily criticized for charging dues that were realistic to pay them a salary for all the hard work they put into building a new business. Their classes and retreats cost more than people around here were used to paying. And they sold quilts for prices that reflected the cost of premium fabrics, education, time and business costs! Heresy!

It’s tempting for me to launch into a treatise about “women’s work”, but you’ve heard all that before. A graphic design education from RISD costs as much as a law degree. Quilt shops pay the same rent as Starbucks. Curating fabrics and keeping stock in a quilt shop is very hard work, and even though the people who do it often do it because they love it, they deserve to make a living wage! A longarm machine costs upwards of $13,000, and the machine is only the beginning of what one needs to quilt on it. I personally think that some people think that because they give away all their time and effort and materials, others should do the same. That brings me back to the thing about value.

We all, each and every one of us, has a voice in all of this. How we spend our time and money reflects our values. (And I’m not just talking about quilting here, either.) For example, there are beautiful and inspirational magazines available that have absolutely no advertising at all – pure content. Of course, they cost more than $5 each. I subscribe to a few, and I can’t sit down and flip through one in 15 minutes. I sometimes take 3 weeks to read every article. It’s like eating a really good meal for me, and gives me something to digest, not empty calories and just on to the next thing. I have rediscovered hand sewing and though it has taken a lot of practice for me to like what I make it’s been a great exercise. A member of my sewing guild puts hand stitches on everything she sews, and sometimes on what she buys, which of course just makes it so special, so personal, so unique.

I’ve also discovered, the hard way (moving house), that I didn’t really wear 90% of what was in my closet. I’ve been able to choose what hangs there, and getting dressed every day is much more fun than it used to be. Just looking through is more fun than it used to be! And all those things I don’t buy leave space (and money!) for the things I really love.

I’ve heard so many people say lately that they just can’t afford premium fabrics and threads and can’t pay full price for patterns. Maybe that’s true. Or maybe it’s perception. Maybe we spend so much on things we don’t really want, or need, that we really can’t afford the things we want and love. I tend to think the latter is more often the case in the people that I know. I know when I start thinking I can’t afford things, I can look at my spending habits and see all the waste.

What if, instead of sewing to give away, our guild members were willing to sit down with some of the recipients of their charity and actually show them how to make it themselves? What if we began to see value in what we do everyday – cooking, cleaning, driving people around, taking care of our parents, our children, our spouses – instead of calling it “women’s work”? What if you had to pay someone to do everything that you do every day? An Uber driver, a chef, a housekeeper, a nurse, a nanny – this all adds up! And sitting down and planning a quilt or an outfit takes time and talent and experience, and often trial-and-error. Few people are experts without a lot of time invested into an activity. We as a society tend to disregard this time spent experimenting, studying, learning and refining, because we only see the finished products once they are really great. Chanel has begun to post videos of their process. Alabama Chanin has done a lot to educate people about their costs. Let’s believe in ourselves enough to work with quality materials and invest the time to make things we are proud to consider our legacies. Because if we’re not careful, those quality materials are going to become more and more elusive.

Quilt Show and Museum, Paducah KY

Quilt Show and Museum, Paducah KY

Downtown Paducah Kentucky
Downtown Paducah Kentucky

It was time for a big shot of inspiration, time to get away from the unpacking and shifting and sorting and get a new perspective. So it must be time for the big quilt show in Paducah!

My first time here, and I must say I was impressed by some things. First, the town of Paducah is effectively doubled by the influx of quilters and quilt enthusiasts and vendors, and it seemed that every single person from the town rose to the occasion. Seemed that absolutely everyone pitched in and helped. Everyone appeared to be fed, watered and housed in style! And better yet, with good humor. It was impossible not to see how tired the people at Hancock’s of Paducah were, and yet they could still talk and laugh with their customers. And find fabric, no matter how displaced.

The downtown area, which is where the main activities of the show take place, is very much human scale, and very walkable. Like so many of our smaller towns the older buildings had been repurposed with great style and imagination. And of course, quilts everywhere.

The museum was much smaller than I expected, and so, of course, I asked. The museum was designed to be inviting, not intimidating, to beckon people in, not push them away. It is unimposing, unassuming, without grand landscaping but with picnic tables and plenty of parking. This limits the number of quilts that can be displayed at one time, which is actually probably better for the textiles themselves and opens up the possibility of seeing something one might not have noticed if overwhelmed. Many quilts I had wanted to see weren’t displayed, and yet I felt completely satisfied by what I did see. Satiated. I had time to linger and really, really look at them. No photos allowed, and no program that I could find, so I must rely on my not-always-trustworthy memory.

The National Quilt Museum, Paducah KY
The National Quilt Museum, Paducah KY

One special exhibition was titled “The Gala of the Unexpected” and several of the exhibiting artists had certainly risen to the occasion. One “quilt” was made from chicken wire and flattened beer cans, but I can’t remember the artist’s statement. One was made from items from the artist’s house, sparked by the idea of “feedsacks” and using modern flour sacks, trash bags, shopping bags and other interesting materials, items that were on hand. My favorite was a take on a traditional block quilt made entirely from duct tape. Quilts have definitely left the bed and assumed a place on the wall!

The miniatures were amazing. Really amazing.

The antique New York Beauties exhibit was almost emotional as much as visual. There’s just something about antique quilts that grabs me by the heart. Maybe because they are often so imperfect. Maybe the spirit of the maker is embedded in the materials, so touched and handled by human hands. Several of them made me just take a deep breath …

Sylvia Schaeffer and Celestial Orbs, AQS Paducah, 2016
Sylvia Schaeffer and Celestial Orbs, Honorable Mention Modern Category, AQS Paducah 2016

The show was the gargantuan event we have come to expect from the national shows, and the winners were the usual suspects. A notable exception is fellow Athenian and modern quilter Sylvia Schaeffer, who won yet another ribbon in a major show, this time for “Celestial Orbs”. It’s always fun to see what people are doing, and some of it is quite impressive indeed. But none of it warmed my heart like the imperfect old quilts by anonymous makers, and so that’s what I’m going to hold close for this show.

 

Just Say “Yes”

Just Say Yes

Sketchbook cover, screenprinted, stamped, sewn and quilted
Sketchbook cover, screenprinted, stamped, sewn and quilted

In July I had a rather intimate conversation with a new acquaintance, a relative stranger, but someone whose work and work ethic I had witnessed and admired greatly from close quarters. I admitted that I had been asking the Universe for a feeling of safety, security, and that after talking with her for those two weeks I had begun to think that perhaps I should be asking for courage instead.

Well, be careful what you ask for.

Some time ago, I read somewhere about a practice Thich Nhat Hanh had when working with children. He was teaching his walking meditation but with children he encouraged them to say “Yes!” with every step. Every step. That’s a lot of “yes’s”, ya’ll. Since I’m such a baby with so many of these advanced methodologies, I thought maybe I’d start with the kids’ exercises.

What I found, to my surprise, was that after 3 or 4 minutes of a “yes” with every step, my mood would brighten, my step would lighten, and each “yes” would be more exuberant that the last, so that by the end of the exercise it was all I could do to contain myself to acceptable levels given the density of my household. I also found that “yes” came out of my mouth more readily than “no” when opportunities were made available, and as a result of that I have made some incredible new friends, been some incredible new places, and started some incredible new paths that I am so excited about that I almost leap out of bed every morning.

Dream Streams journal cover
Dream Streams journal cover

But perhaps the most exciting result of this change of attitude is to see it reflected in my recent work. I can see joy again. Playfulness, which I knew had to still be lurking somewhere. Humor. A little bit of rebellion, but hey, I can’t expect to change overnight. I’ve also been asked to participate in a few things that make me feel excited, and even to give a little talk about our choices in what we buy, wear, use, and gift to others, subjects very near and dear to my heart. Mindfulness in all things.

Try it for yourself. Brace yourself for the energy that comes. And then tell us about it! What puts a spring in your step these days?