Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Invisible Man

From the original "Friendster" version of SOTC.

--------The Invisible Man DATE: 04/19/2006 10:51:16 AM-----

I went in to Montavilla Sewing yesterday to pick up my machine; I had had to take it in last week after it started having trouble with erratic tension and skipped stitches. As usual in any sewing or quilting establishment where they don't know me, I had to wait five or six minutes before anyone acknowledged my presence -- it takes them that long to realize that I'm not just a husband in tow. Finally, a perky counterperson asked if I needed help

"I'm here to pick up my machine," I said.

"Oh! Well, can you give me your phone number?" she asked.

"Sure," I said, and gave her the number of my work phone, a number that has about 120 extensions.

She tapped on the computer, looked up at me, and brightly said


Well, no.


All right, I'm going to apologize right up front for cribbing my title from Ralph Ellison. Certainly I don't feel discriminated against in any meaningful sense as a man trying to make his lonely way in a woman's world. By and large, I've felt very welcomed to the craft. But still, I am obviously and conspicuously off-demographic, and people's reactions can get kind of comical sometimes.
A few months ago, I went to a new quilt shop near my neighborhood. The woman minding the store gave me a big, friendly welcome when I came in, and then said "You must be here about the leak!"

I wasn't there about the leak, so I said "nope!" I suppose could have been more helpful by saying something like "No, I'm actually a quilter, here to purchase some quilt-related merchandise!" but for whatever reason I hate spelling that out. So, I just said, "nope."
Clearly suspicious, the woman gave me a much less friendly "can I help you with something, then?" Having already spotted what I was looking for, I said, "no, I'm just looking for some chalk."

At this point, she actually moved as if to block me from going any further, and said -- in a disgusted tone, as if I'd said I was looking for some Night Train -- "Chalk?!? This is a quilting store!"

"Yes," I acknowledged. "And you sell quilter's chalk." I helpfully held up a bottle of the stuff (which is used to make non-permanent guide lines when quilting) to show her.

At this point, she made a dizzying 180 from hostile to fawning. For some reason, that bugged me more than the hostility. The hostility had been a fairly understandable reaction to an unexpected presence in her store. The fawning was just annoying, and has so far kept me from going back.

If I go in any new shop with Sue, she will always have to redirect the storekeeper's attention to me. Absolutely always. She's good at it, though.

I've noticed at guild that people are quick to ask me to show them whatever I'm working on, and that some are quick to tell me what I'm doing wrong -- or at least, what they would do differently. But maybe that happens to all new or young members.

It's a fairly common thing that quilters, on meeting me, rush to reassure me that "oh, I know a lot of men who quilt." I've learned not to probe on this point. If I do, they will then tell me about the one man they know who quilts, then look pained.

When I show up at a quilt show, I'm often told that there are "several quilts in this show by men." Well, if that's true, there must be a bunch of male quilters out there named "Sonya," "Margaret," and "Julie."

What they are really trying to do, I suspect, is reassure themselves that I, the person in front of them, is not a freak. My mom, similarly, used to always talk about how "masculine" my quilts were, until I started teasing her about it. "My son's not a freak!! My son's NOT a freak!!" Although I'm not a big fan of embroidered flowers, chintz prints, and ruffles, I have a hard time seeing anything distinctively testosterone-driven in my work, either.

The most odious indignity that a quiltin' man must suffer, though, is exposure to books and articles about Quilts for the Men in Your Life. These are invariably ghastly. Quilts for Men are always thematic, and the themes are as follows: Cars. Sports. Huntin'. Fishin'. Golf. Ties. Yes, friends, that's the sum total of what men are about. Now, in theory, it would be possible to create a golf-themed quilt that was attractive, interesting, or in excellent taste. But I ain't seen it yet.

Sorry this entry doesn't have pictures.


COMMENT:AUTHOR: Charlie DATE: 05/14/2006 06:28:10 PM
Michael man, I hear you. You would not believe the looks I get at my pole dancing classes at Bally's.-----

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Challenge Quilt. About Time.

From the original "Friendster" version of SOTC.

The Challenge Quilt. About Time.
DATE: 04/11/2006 10:49:01 PM
All right. At long last, I can show you the challenge quilt. Here it is:
And here's the "artist's statement":
Each square of the Quilt Map of Oregon represents an area of 12 miles by 12 miles. The colors are meant to generally represent types of vegetation, and for their exact distribution I drew heavily on land use maps in the Atlas of Oregon . Quilting represents county boundaries. Most major cities, mountains, and lakes are shown, and are accurately placed within a few miles. Those familiar with the state should be able to pick out the Ochoco, Strawberry, Blue, and Wallowa Mountains, as well as familiar features like the Willamette Valley, Mt. Hood, Crater Lake (and Wizard Island!), and the lower Columbia River.

So, there you have it. The reason it took so long is that I had to find a piece of fabric for each of the 600 squares that represented the terrain, and possibly the cities or mountains, in that section of the state. I actually laid the whole thing out on a poster-sized map of the state -- if you know what to look for, you can see that in the very first picture in this blog.

Last night was the big meeting where the guild voted for the best 8 challenge quilts that will be representin' PDX at the national competition in Nashville. It turned out there were about 20 entries. Mine was probably 19th best, which means I achieved both my goals: I wasn't (too) embarassed to have my piece hanging, and I didn't come in last. After the 8 winners were picked, the rest of us were called up to stand by our pieces, and everybody got a polite round of applause. That was nice. The only moment that could have been a drag was when someone who didn't know I was in the competition pointed mine out to me as one of the ones that "doesn't work." But it didn't bug me. I know it doesn't work.

There are two design problems with Quilt Map. One comes from the dark value of the ocean. I was forced to do a dark ocean by the dark blue of the challenge fabric, but that makes the left edge of the piece much more aggressive than the mild greys that represent Washington, Idaho, Nevada, and Cali. I could have countered this if I'd gone with my initial impulse, and shown the other states in saturated colors like purple, rust, etc. But then, there wouldn't have been enough contrast around the state borders, and it would have been hard to recognize the whole as a map of Oregon. That would have been bad, for a map of Oregon.

The other problem is with the quilting. In the quilt world, dense quilting is valued. And for good reason -- it makes a piece look crisp and gives it texture. Sometimes, the texture of dense quilting is enough, even on an otherwise blank piece of white fabric, to make a stunning quilt in and of itself. Loosely quilted pieces, by contrast, look kind of dull and flabby, and tend to sag.

In Quilt Map, I used quilting to show county lines. That's cool cartographically, but on the west side of the state results in a pretty thin quilting pattern. On the east side of the state, it's a disaster. Malheur County is a big sucker, leaving a gap of five or six inches between quilting lines. Not cool. I entertained the idea of also quilting in rivers and highways, maybe in different colors of thread, but the same problem would come up in the eastern half of the state, where rivers and roads are fairly infrequent. Plus, it would have raised all sorts of tricky decisions about WHICH rivers and roads to include. And I was getting exhausted.

So, it ain't going to Nashville, but it will be at the Quilt show on April 28, 29, 30. (see the post titled "Log Cabin," below). See ya there.
DATE: 04/13/2006 10:35:08 AM
I think it's a really great quilt to be honest with you. Aren't you awarded extra points just for the concept?

AUTHOR: Michael
DATE: 04/13/2006 06:24:08 PM
To be fair to myself, the judging was done without people seeing the artist's statement. So, they wouldn't have necessarily had a sense right away of how accurate it is, or why it was so thinly quilted. But on the other hand, the eight pieces that are going to the national show were all really spectacular. The people in the guild are wicked good.
AUTHOR: Charlie
DATE: 04/15/2006 04:47:37 PM
I agree with Eric that you are being too hard on yourself. I think it's really cool. But I did find it interesting that you felt yours to be the 19th best. Was there one that you knew no matter what everyone's was better than, or was it a modest mathematical way of expressing it's not in the top 8 but was not the worst?
AUTHOR: Michael
DATE: 04/17/2006 03:54:42 PM
Let's make an analogy recording music. We'll stipulate that a few of my songs are really good, as songs -- good lyrics matched to a good melody, harmony, beat, and arrangement. Would you expect to ever hear them on the radio? Of course not. The reason is, I am shaky on the basic skills (singin', playin' guitar) and also on the more subtle skills (miking instruments, equalizing sound, mixing, and all of the stuff I don't even know about that makes a recording sound radio-ready). Other songs, perhaps even a few that arguably aren't as good in their ideal form (if I may get Platonic on your ass (so to speak)) are going to get airplay. Mine aren't.

Thus it is also with quilting, my friends. The overall idea may be good, arguably more interesting than what some of the others came up with, but the details of the execution mean something too. In fact, they mean a lot. I am not embarassing myself by putting quilts like this in the show, but you could make a reasonable case that I'm really a year or two away from "show-ready."

Yes, there was a clear loser, although it was a perfectly respectable entry. (There were also a few that were eliminated for not meeting size requirements, so I guess I "beat" them too). I felt like I was a pretty clear runner-up loser, but a generous observer could have put me in a lower tier with 3 or 4 others.