Friday, October 28, 2011

Is the pendulum about to switch?

We know that all things in life come in phases -- the pendulum swings one way and then turns back.  We also know that some people detect this early, selling the stock while it's still on the way up (but almost at the top), abandoning the trendy fashion before anybody else realizes it's passe.  As a regular reader of the New York Times Styles and Home sections, I am aware of this happening all the time, even if I never see any evidence in my real life.

Recently, for instance, I read that granite countertops are so last decade, and even glass countertops (which I hadn't even realized were in) will be on the way out long before you have a chance to sell your house.  As a proud owner of Formica, I didn't get too upset over either of these reports.  But yesterday's trendwatching story hit a lot closer to home.

Seems that handmade crafts and vintage accessories are reaching the cusp and soon that pendulum will start swinging back, at least according to this article.  Among other examples, the writer cites pillows made from hand-loomed silk or old grain sacks, tie-dyed rugs and knitted ottoman covers.  It has become too easy, she explains, to get one-of-a-kind, handmade stuff, thanks to Etsy and other internet shopping sites.  The writer asks, obviously expecting the answer to be yes, "have we finally reached a saturation point, where the 'authentic' loses its eternal quality and becomes just another fad?"

Well, let's look at the bright side: she didn't mention the Q word.  I always hate to see quilts mentioned in the same breath as pillows and tabletop models of the Eiffel Tower.  Call me a hopeless romantic, but I think that my favorite handicraft format is something a step above, not because all quilts are art, but because they have a more substantive tradition and heritage.  Perhaps I delude myself (my baby is the most beautiful....).

But if it's true that the pendulum of valuing and making handcrafts is about to swing back in the other direction, I wonder what effect it will have on the quilt scene.  Will a lot of relatively new quilters decide to abandon their little fling and switch to the new trend, whatever that is?
In many ways, niche pastimes such as quilting, knitting, garment sewing and other handcrafts benefit greatly from their periodic fifteen minutes of fame.  New fabrics, yarns, magazines, TV shows, workshops, and other accoutrements of popularity appear and become more widely available.  For an exhilarating moment, practitioners of these centuries-old, traditionally women's arts can feel fashion-forward instead of dowdy, and might even pick up some cash teaching, writing, exhibiting or selling their stuff.

But if (when?) the pendulum swings back, what then? Will the quilt industry settle back and cater less to newbies and more to the hard-core quilters?  Will it get harder to buy our fabric and tools?  Will the quilt shows get less lavish, the winning quilts less encrusted with Swarovski crystals?  Will the younger people who have been pepping up the field move on to other trends and let quilting revert to an old ladies' interest? 

I watched this happen once already, when quilting became fashion's darling during the Bicentennial and the aftermath of the 1971 quilt show at the Whitney Museum.  After a couple of years of media fascination, it went back into the shadows -- not as obsolete or passe as it had been before, but definitely out of the spotlight.  Two steps forward, one step back.  I don't know what the ratio is, but out of every hundred people who discovered quilting, a certain number of them moved on when the pendulum reversed, and a certain number stuck with it. 

There's some satisfaction to living long enough to see things come around full circle, and I think the spiral has definitely moved upwards since our last time in the limelight.  If handcrafted stuff is indeed becoming "just another fad," then maybe I'll be glad to have the fashionistas go somewhere else and leave me and my hardcore friends to our quilting.


  1. The Boomer generation, born in the 40's, certainly swings the curve more so than the others. I am interested in concrete counter tops, industrial stainless and open shelving in the kitchen. Granite has been "out" with me for a few years now. I don't have any burlap couch cushions or wool owls. I don't knit horrid sweaters or socks. I don't seek 1969 cameras to make image transfers.

    I left "competitive" quilting a few years ago. I still make things, but for my own personal satisfaction. I make my own fabric also. I paint it but haven't tried to dye any. I NEVER embellish. Even one button or bead seems hideous. Heavy quilting makes me gag. Zippers likewise. Trail blazing? Perhaps.

    Trends go where the money is. My Boomer group has the money. Let's see what happens.

  2. I'm not sure if I qualify as an "old timer", but I've been knitting for 37 years now and I have no intention of quitting. I still love to crochet too, even though that was considered way too 1970's. And, just for record, we just put a beautiful solid surface countertop from the Formica company in our restored farmhouse (it's exactly like Felice's countertop I think). So there! ;)