Thursday, September 8, 2016
Outsourcing the quilting 2 -- is it collaboration?
In the long discussion on the SAQA list about having somebody else quilt for you, there was a wide range of opinion about whether the quilter should be treated as an equal partner. A few of the commenters believe that anybody who touches a quilt becomes a collaborator, an artist whose vision is just as important as that of the person who made the top.
One comment was: "Even adding binding is an art and a major component of any successful work, therefore since part of a quilt is the binding, in my opinion if another person has contributed this, then this piece should be considered a 2-person collaboration."
This argument strikes me as kind of silly. First off, binding is not a major component of any work, successful or not. (Not to mention that binding is kind of passe in the art/quilt world, where the more common finish is to face the edges.) More important, no matter how beautifully the binding is sewed on, it rarely involves artistry -- in other words, decisions to be made, choices, alternatives weighed to achieve just the right effect. OK, if the binder chooses the color and width, and whether to miter the corners or not, that might make a tiny difference in the way the quilt looks, but no more.
And where does it end? Do you give credit if your cleaning lady did the wash after you hand-dyed your fabric? Do you credit your granddaughter who wound the bobbins? Do you credit the clerk in the fabric store who rooted around in the back room to find a bolt of the perfect orange? Do you credit your husband for cutting the hanging stick and affixing the eye hooks? Do you credit your critique group for helping you decide whether you needed more of that perfect orange? I say none of the above.
Sometimes when other people help you they have indeed contributed to the art. Sometimes they haven't. I think the former should be credited; the latter shouldn't.
When it comes to quilting, there are definitely times when your helper does contribute to the artistic vision. But there's a difference between skill and artistry; skill is when somebody does a technically beautiful job of what they're told to do, artistry is when somebody's own ideas are part of the mix.
I'll give two examples from my own experience.
Several years ago Nancy Crow, who does none of her own quilting, asked me to machine quilt some smaller pieces. She had been working exclusively with hand-quilters but wanted to explore whether machine quilting would allow her to finish more work, and more quickly. She gave me detailed instructions, complete with a diagram of each quilt showing the direction of the quilting lines and the thread colors for each sector. She sent me the thread, the batting and the backing. I was told to stitch parallel lines somewhere between 1/4 and 3/8 inches apart, and since her shapes were of course not perfect rectangles, I had to use my considerable mathematical skills to make sure the lines were the right distance apart all the way from top to bottom, closer together in the narrow places and farther apart in the wide places. That was the limit of my "artistic input."
She was gracious to put my name in small type someplace in the credits when the quilts were shown and published, but certainly not as a collaborator, nor did I expect that.
A couple of times I have had people quilt my tops. On my large piece Entropy, I had no clear idea of how it should be quilted, even after working on it for several months. I discussed it at length with M J Kinman, my friend and quilter, and after we came to no conclusions, she took some leftover piecing and experimented with several different designs. The one I chose was her invention, and I went with it because its seismographic zigzags complemented the concept, and because she thought she could get into a rhythm and make it work. Had I done my own quilting I would probably have come up with something quite different, but I was willing to turn it over and be happy with whatever she did.
When the piece was accepted into Quilt National '15 I wrote in "Machine quilted by M J Kinman" in the box for techniques, and that's how it appeared in the catalog and signage for the exhibit. That's exactly the way Nancy Crow credited me, and yet M J had more artistic input on my piece than I did on Nancy's.
But I would say neither of these encounters was a collaboration. To me, collaboration means that both partners are in on the thinking and the decision-making from the very beginning.
What do you think?