Sunday, November 27, 2005

The most famous quilt I never made

Like a lot of quilters/artists over the years I have made numerous attempts to turn my passion into a paying job. I was reading Melody's blog this morning, and then Gabrielle's blog. Both of them have been very successful in both showing and selling their work and leveraging their talents to create successful careers as teachers and speakers and quiltworld celebrities. Today both are talking about cutting back their teaching schedules and making the time to explore new directions in their art.

I have never been nearly as successful as either of them, but I have made the same discovery that the "business" of art/quilting is not the same as, and often conflicts with, the making of art. I've owned a quilt shop, I've designed patterns, I've taught, I've been a sales rep for a fabric company. I'm happy not to be doing any of those things at this point in my life.

During that period of desperately trying to make a little money to justify my total devotion to fabric and sewing and art, I designed a baby quilt to submit to Quiltmaker magazine. I'm sure you've all seen the ads for their ongoing quilt design "contests". I approached it in a very calculated way. I looked at a bunch of past issues of the magazine and I asked myself what the readers were looking for. My answers all added up to a quilt, the likes of which I had never made, but I was game for giving it a shot. My criteria were:
  • It had to be easy and fast to make
  • It had to be "cute" and have a cute name
  • It should include both piecing, but not too much piecing, and applique, but nice big easy-to-stitch applique shapes.
  • Bears or bunnies--everyone loves bears and bunnies

This may sound cynical. It was not, but it was business, not art. The nice thing about the Quiltmaker contest is that you didn't have to actually make the quilt, you just had to come up with the design. My design for "Peek-a-b00 Bears" was accepted and appeared in the May/June 1996 issue. I was paid $100.

To this day I have never made this quilt, but for years I saw a version at nearly every quilt show I attended. People sent me photos of their quilts made from the pattern. People told me how much they looooooved that pattern. A Google search this morning turned up several being sold on a web site (yikes--questionable color choices!) and one that won third prize in a Twin Falls, Idaho quilt show. (Of course none give me design credit--oh well) Several years ago Quiltmaker sent out an advertising mailer to probably every quilter in the US. The center spread of the mailer was Peek-a-boo Bears along with a miniscule picture of me with very big hair. It was on their web site for years. It has been a very popular pattern. Go figure.

I'm not complaining. Really. I'm happy that people like it. But it does nag at me that this pattern may be my quilting legacy. To date it is, by far, the most famous quilt I never made.

Postscript: Apparently some people thought I was saying I was embarrassed by or ashamed of having designed this baby quilt. Not so! I still get a little thrill seeing it in print and seeing that people just keep making this quilt. Caity's comment about having made the quilt blew me away! But I still think it is a little ironic that it may always be the quilt that I am best known for, when it doesn't really reflect the work that means the most to me.

10 comments:

  1. Did you have fun when you were designing it? Did you enjoy getting the $100? We can't live in the past; all we can do is enjoy the present and plan for the future. But if we spend all our time in either past or future our present will never happen! And it was a cute quilt. I wouldn't be ashamed of having designed this. Not everyone can be clever enough to market themselves so well! As Gabrielle says marketing is everything.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Terry,

    As long as there are babies, there will be a need for baby quilts...and that one is adorable. In the year 3000, people will probably still be making your quilt. What's not to love about that?

    ReplyDelete
  3. TERRY! OMG, that's the ONLY baby quilt pattern I have ever made! And it's YOURS! Wow, that's so cool - I don't mind that you were somehwat cynical abiout the competition, it really spoke to me and I adore that pattern - and I have to also point out that this is one of only three quilts that I have ever made from a pattern - everything else is my own designs. (the other was a pattern from Quiltmaker in ?1992; yours I finished one and have another with minimal work left to do, it just got packed away during a move and never unpacked). I must dig out a photo!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nothing wrong with reading the market, Terry. There is an art to that, too.
    Plus, that big hair is great!

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's a great story, Terry. So great we linked to it. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Margaret5:46 AM

    I love your quilt, and would love to make it. When you designed it, did you also have to draft the pattern and directions? Or did the magazine do that part of it?

    ReplyDelete
  7. No email address for Margaret, so I'll answer here. Yes, I had to draft the pattern for the quilt design. The magazine really did not change it, but they redrew the pattern pieces to fit their format.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Anonymous7:23 AM

    Mom,
    I can assure you that there will always be a need for baby quilts and not just for my friends. No, I am not pregnant but if all goes well ...
    Em

    ReplyDelete
  9. What an adoreable quilt pattern! Love the story and your sense of humor about it ;) A belated CONGRATULATIONS on your win!

    ReplyDelete
  10. i know you made $100.00, and it is always flattering to know it was so well liked and received, but im sure a part of you is wondering...how much could i have made if i sold the patterns individually. i mean, obviously you tapped on a very popular idea...and now you hardly get any credit for it. i know your love of quilting and designing should be enough, but i image it can be a little frustrating to see that happen as well. At least you can be happy that your design is cuddling lots of little children :) beautiful work!

    ReplyDelete