Thoughts While Quilting: Labels

What labels are you waiting to give yourself? Do you have a self-imposed level of achievement you have to reach before you will give yourself a title? Giving myself permission to call myself the things I aspire to be has certainly been a challenge—and not just when it comes to quilting. Even when I was running almost daily, I still didn’t consider myself a “runner.” I had self-imposed expectations that a “runner” was someone who runs faster and was able to run longer than I could. 

A trend I have seen recently is a push to call quilts art—something with which I wholeheartedly agree. It got me thinking, if I’m making quilts, am I an artist? Perhaps, like me, you didn’t always think of quilts when someone mentioned “art.” I sewed in my home economics class, not my art class.  Painters and sculptors were briefly discussed in history class, and drawing and painting were the focus of my art and design classes.  Textiles as an art medium was just not something that was discussed, and was not the way I thought of quilts.

A quick google search of the definition of art makes no mention of textiles. Merriam-Webster gives the definition, "something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings." It follows that quilts are exactly that—pieces of art created from textiles. 

Considering the definition of art, it seems pretty straightforward that quilts are art, and if you are making quilts you are therefore an artist. I would argue, however, that that's not how most of us quilters see ourselves. So what are some of the imaginary rules or criteria that may be preventing us from calling ourselves quilters, artists, or designers?

I, like many of you, generally follow a quilt pattern when I make a quilt. Following a pattern allows me to jump to the parts of quilting that I find most enjoyable: playing with colors, choosing fabrics, deciding fabric placements, and sewing the quilt. Part of what I love about quilting is the methodical practice of following instructions; a quilt pattern gives me a starting point to create something that is my own.

Let's consider the question from a strictly logical perspective. You made a quilt (which we have already established is art) from a quilt pattern that someone else designed—what about your part? You chose your fabrics, designed your layout, created a color scheme, considered textures, and, ultimately, you are the one who sewed the quilt together. It would seem that you used your "imagination and skill" to create something that is "beautiful" even though you used a pattern. Think about it, if you built a house using plans, would you hesitate to call yourself a builder? If you make cookies by following a recipe, are you not the baker? So yes, if you made a quilt using a quilt pattern, you are an artist.

Do we need to have made a certain number of quilts? Do we need to quilt all of our quilts instead of sending them to a long arm quilter? Do we need a certain number of followers on social media to be part of the quilting community? If you think strictly logically, the answer to all of these questions is no. But logic doesn't always win in matters of self-identity.

It's easy for me to logically argue that yes, without qualification, I am an artist (the lawyer in me hasn't quite gone away). From a mental and emotional standpoint, however, it can be so hard to accept and truly believe—especially when you did not think of quilts as art when you started quilting and now have to have a mindset shift. 

What if we tried to let go of our doubts and fully embraced all the labels that we are, and those that we aspire to become? Setting imaginary performance levels before giving ourselves permission to call ourselves any given label, I think, stifles our progress and can make us feel "less than." If we are making quilts we are makers, quilters, sewists, creatives, designers, and artists. We should let logic prevail and embrace all of the labels that we are.  

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