After seeing about a dozen “I love my local quilt shop” posts on Instagram and the blogs with no explanation of where this ritual came from or who was behind it, I posted the following on Instagram:
Under my image, people answered my question (Fab Shop Network–a trade organization for “independent quilt and fabric shopowners and design studios”is behind it) and some interesting and informative discussion ensued (you can see some/most of it here: http://instagram.com/p/U4_laWArMf/ )
However, elsewhere on Instagram, a post went up that stated that I had diminished the event:
The poster here (Rachael / imaginegnats) probably thought she was being polite by not linking to my post in hers, but it was almost certainly a poor choice because in my post I had only done the following:
(1) Asked a question: “Who is behind the ‘I love my local quilt shop’ thing?
(2) Stated my reason for asking: “This is weird to me.”
(3) And stated my opinion of my LQS: “I only kind of like my local quilt shop.”
She characterized my post as “diminishing the event” and being outside what she sees as the omni-supportiveness of the online quilting community. Under her post, commenters (who may very well not have seen my post/known what they were talking about) go on to suggest that I am a dick, dumb, terrible, and that i have pooped on someone’s good idea (you can see that here: http://instagram.com/p/U5F4UJO-zB/ ).
I emailed Rachael this morning to say that I was writing this post and she was very sincere in responding, apologizing, and explaining where she was coming from (she works at a quilt shop) and that some of what was said (i.e., “people are dicks”) are ongoing jokes with friends and not intended to be taken personally, though obviously, I couldn’t know that. Further, Rachael wrote, “i am glad that you’re writing that post. b/c i think it is an important
discussion. we do need to make sure that we’re supporting each other.
and we all need to be aware of what that means (obviously myself
included)… for lack of a better phrase, to act like grown-ups. and i
am happy to own up that the choices i made were not ones i’m proud of.”
So, I’m not writing this to call her out. The reason I’ve named names as I begin to write this post is because I think vague references and not naming names leads to people forgetting that there are real people on all sides. I’m not picking a fight, I’m trying to start a discussion.
So, with that introduction, I want to talk about four things today:
(1) What it means to be a dick.
(2) What it means to think critically and offer criticism.
(3) Things that have been said to me at my Local Quilt Shop.
(4) Advice for Local Brick-and-Mortar Quilt Shops.
These are all somewhat related in my brain.
(1) What it means to be a dick.
Upon observing a collective behavior that was new to me, I called it weird (definition: out of the ordinary course, strange, unusual) and asked who was behind it.
Am I a dick? A dick is a person who is a jerk or does mean and stupid things. Sometimes, I’m a dick. On this occasion I was not. Unless it’s stupid to not know that the Fab Shop Network was behind the event (that information was not part of any Instagram posts that I saw and was–I went back and checked– 2+ clicks away for the blog posts I read); because then, yes, I was stupid.
Am I dumb? No, I am capable of speech. If we’re using this term in the (offensive and outdated) sense of “ignorant” than yes, I was ignorant of the root cause of the mass postings about local quilt shops.
Am I terrible? According to some of my students, who think they write A papers and are given C’s by yours truly, yes I am terrible (definition: harsh, severe, extremely bad, appalling). Was I terrible on the occasion of posting a question and two personal sentiments on Instagram? No.
Have I pooped on someone’s good idea? I did not literally or metaphorically defecate on anything. I asked a question about an event. I said I found the mass event unusual. I said I kind of liked my local quilt shop.
Did I diminish the event? If I have the power to diminish a nation-wide event by asking who is behind it, then something is very wrong.
Was I unsupportive? No, I didn’t say it was a bad event or that people shouldn’t have taken part, I was mystified by what was going on and why and asked a question. I *am* only tepidly supportive of my local quilt shop, but that’s well-earned on their part (I’ll follow up on this below).
So, who’s a dick? Arguably, the people who misunderstood and mischaracterized what I posted and then posted insults elsewhere. Unfortunately, I don’t think this behavior is that uncommon. Is it intentional? I doubt it. However, we’re all grown ups, right? We can think before we type, yes? But here’s the root of the problem as I see it…this online sewing community over-prioritizes and misunderstands what it means to be nice and it also under-prioriticizes and misunderstands what it means to be critical.
(2) What it means to think critically and offer criticism.
I’m an academic. As an academic, it is my job to take nothing at face value.
It is my job to value progress over banal politeness.
It is my job to know random facts like the fact that the word “nice” spent centuries meaning ignorant and it still kind of means that. “Be nice,” is often said instead of “shut up.”
I know that my professional world is strange. How? I worked in corporate America for a few years. I have family and friends whose experience with Universities and the people that inhabit them is limited. They can find it exhausting to talk to me because I pick at every idea. I’m trained to be inquisitive, direct, and assertive; that’s also my nature. I’m not easy going. I’m insensitive (in both the sense that I’m slow to take personal offense and the sense that I am not the most intuitive about what will give offense).
Most importantly, I have this periodic blind spot in that I think that people should always, immediately, recognize the difference between picking at an idea and picking on a person. But a lot of people don’t see the difference. I try to remember this and be kind and limit my criticism unless criticism in specifically invited.
Nobody has asked for it here, but here are some thoughts that come to mind in regards to the local quilt shop love day:
1) There are
two assertions floating around: craft business are
experiencing a boom and local quilt shops are struggling. Does anyone actually have any data to support these statements? Would they share it with me?
2) If local quilt shops are struggling, why are they struggling? Are they losing business to online stores? Are they losing business to chain stores? Are they losing business because they aren’t changing to meet the needs of the quilters in their communities?
3)Fab Shop Network is a trade organization for “independent quilt shop-owners.” Aren’t most online shops owned independently? Are they part of Fab Shop Network? We will have a day where we recognize how online shops promote the craft, sponsor blogs and conventions and other places where people learn and grow? Or are we assuming that online shops either don’t contribute or don’t deserve recognition or don’t need recognition? Why?
4) If shops pay to be part of Fab Shop Network and then are blogging about this day without disclosing that connection, is that a “material connection” and if so, are they running afoul of Federal Trade Commission rules on disclosure?
5) What does “local” mean in this setting? Because if I were to map out the locations of the quilt shops I frequent, the one that is 2.0 miles from my house is an online shop. Is it “local” or not?
To me, the above list is just a bunch of ideas flitting around that I would like to play with and find evidence to answer. It’s not about specific people. It’s not even about me. It’s about wanting to make a useful map of the world. It’s purposeful, reflective thinking about what the world and what it might be like. It’s critical thinking.
Here’s some more:
Why does the national board of the Modern Quilt Guild claim to represent me/us? Did I vote them in and forget?
In the context of art and craft, the word modern does not mean “what’s popular now.” Modern has a specific aesthetic meaning and it’s a cop-out to pretend otherwise.
Will “modern quilting” be like every other upstart subculture…slowly watered down and co-opted by more mainstream forces? Reduced to a vaguely defined brand and used to sell things?
Again, these are just thoughts that I have. They are things I want to talk about. They are my responses to things I have seen and done. I just want to think about things and make my own choices and do my best to be wise.
However, there have been numerous situations where I have been shushed or otherwise told these thoughts and questions are inappropriate. Like a kid who starts to ask about Santa or sex in front of their younger siblings.
And here’s my big question: Is it possible to have a healthy community when critical thoughts are considered outside of the realm of legitimate discourse?
I don’t think so. I also don’t think you can call a community supportive if it demands uniformity on a whole host of issues.
(3) I only kind of like my local quilt shop.
Here are some things that have been said to me at my local quilt shop:
“Are you going to use these fabrics together?” (With a tone that implies the correct answer is ‘NO, I would never use these together. These are hideous together.’)
“Oh, I find this print so…interesting…what are you going to use it for? I wouldn’t have any idea what to do with a print like this!” (With a tone that suggests that what you I am about to buy is SO GROSS!)
Dropping off a machine for repair, “This is the thread you use?” (With a tone that suggests my thread is made out of poop.) Please note: the problem with the machine was not thread or lint related. The thread was Aurifil.
I shop there sometimes for solids, because they have all the kona solids. I also look through the prints and occasionally pick something out. I get their emails about classes, but they aren’t relevant to me since I’m not a beginner, and I don’t sew garments or quilts from patterns. I sometimes ask if they are going to get a particular line of fabric (ex: I asked about Lizzy House’s latest, because I remembered them selling her older lines), I was told, “I don’t know,” and the salesperson didn’t go and check with the owner. I bought that fabric elsewhere.
So, yeah, I don’t love the shop. I know people that do, and I don’t try to dissuade them from that opinion. My support for that specific shop is a bit tepid, but I do understand the value of local quilt shops and I saw them getting what I considered vague advice and some bum advice at Quilt Market, so I have written my advice here.
(4) Advice for Brick-and-Mortar Quilt Shops.
Be kind. Here are some neutral, chatty things that you can say, “What a lovely blue!” “Have you decided what you’re making?” “Are you a quilter?” “Do you spend much time a week quilting?” “Are you making something for yourself?” Fire workers who can’t be kind, you are in a service economy.
Don’t assume you know more than your anonymous customer. I have been in quilt shops all over the USA with quilt book authors, award-winning quilters, big name bloggers, non-quilters, and beginning quilters. They all behave the same way in quilt shops. They all look similar. Ask some preliminary questions before trying to sell a person on your beginner’s quilt class.
At Quilt Market, I sat in on Bill Kerr’s schoolhouse class where he tried to explain how brick-and-mortar stores could try to appeal to modern quilters. He said that fabric didn’t matter. I disagree. Modern quilters know fabric lines and designers and are looking for specific things. If I had a brick-and-mortar store, I would have a website that listed
what lines I had ordered and I would update the website (and send email to interested persons) when the fabric
came in. My employees would know this what lines were coming in and would look it up when asked by customers. I would shelve modern fabrics by line, not by color; I would keep fat-quarter bundles and half-yard bundles of lines in stock.
If you’re trying to get modern quilters to be regulars in your shop, you’ve got to cover their basics: keep some solids in stock (always keep white, snow, ash, and coal; add in more if you have space) Stock some of the trendier blenders (text prints, pearl bracelets, bike path, sketch) and maybe some luxury solids (shot cottons, crossweaves, yarn-dyed linen).
Figure out a way to turn over your stock more quickly. Things sell out really quickly online and brick-and-mortar stores can be a nice counter-balance to that. However, some of the shops in my area seem to have the same fabric for years with no change, that’s too slow.
At a bare-minimum, for your online presence, make sure your shop is listed on Yelp! with the correct address and hours. This should take about 10 minutes. If there are no pictures or reviews, add pictures and ask customers to write descriptive reviews.
- Don’t be a dick, whether you are an individual on Instagram or a worker in a quilt shop.
- You can disagree with people, but don’t do it behind their backs: start a conversation.
- Don’t confuse critical thought with being unkind. If humans didn’t learn to think critically, we would have modern medicine or civil rights.
- Not loving a particular quilt shop because of specific, repeated experiences there is not the same as pooping on all local quilt shops.