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…



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.