But me….I’m one to quietly observe what goes on around me, thrive on meaningful conversations (or none at all, thank you) and then take my gathered experiences, obsess over them by myself in a dark room, and eventually make something tangible out of it. Like a quilt. (Or a revenge song.)
I realize this isn’t every quilter’s process. Not every quilter is as introverted as I am, and not every project is cathartic or meaningful, or….pretty.
People who make things love to feel pride in their work. And art, well, it’s very subjective. Even you aren’t going to love everything you make. That doesn’t mean it didn’t come from the heart, teach you something of value, or take a lot of damn work.
People who don’t make things, I’m beginning to conclude, don’t really know about the experience-processing, dark room brooding, and accidental needle finger-stabbing (or the equivalent) that goes into every creative work. And as a result, they sometimes take art for granted…because they think it only deserves respect if they like it.
Which leads me to a surprisingly common occurrence when you get a group of quilters together talking. Inevitably, someone will tell a story about a gift they made that ultimately met some sort of unthinkable use within a very short period of time. I’m not talking about an emergency tourniquet after a freak logging accident, here–I’m talking about a dog bed.
I expect with this statement, I have now divided the room. Quilters, this probably happens a lot more than we’d like to think. Pet owners, I’m sorry….but we don’t all understand.
I read a group post the other day where this exact thing had happened–and the quilter actually witnessed it, with her own two eyes. Now, I will tell you–it’s a hard thing to feel as though your work isn’t appreciated, but to see (what you believe to be) clear evidence that what you’ve made has become not just unloved–but trivial–to the receiver….well, it’s heartbreaking. And this quilter was heartbroken, to the point of wondering whether she should stop making quilted gifts altogether. Dozens of other quilters confirmed that in the same situation, they would be heartbroken as well.
I’ll be the first to admit, I am by no means a pet person. I have no general disdain for animals, but having been raised on a farm, and having a lifelong mindset of an accountant, I tend to look at them as delicious sources of income. (Or protein.) Otherwise, they are virtually useless to me. (Sorry.) I had pets growing up, and I loved them, and I was sad when they died. But I never formed what I would consider a special bond with them. I hated when they’d get into the house and jump on me in my sleep, I was never fond of muddy paws on my school clothes, and I dreaded cleaning up their misplaced bodily fluids…especially from my 4-H sewing projects I hadn’t yet taken to the fair. Though I remember fondly every pet I had as a kid, I have never once wished for another as an adult.
In contrast, my best friend loves animals more than anyone else I’ve ever known. I’ve known her to have as many as seven pets at one time. She sacrifices everything for these animals, and she is happy to do it. They are family to her–commonly referred to as her “fur kids.” I have given her two quilts so far, and I have no doubt in my mind that they are loved and enjoyed by her, two dogs, and three cats. And I feel like if I can’t be alright with that, I should be giving them to someone else. (With this in mind, I also made the first one out of denim–not a bad strategy.)
So, to some extent, I can’t help but think hurt feelings we quilters experience over things like this are caused more by a lack of understanding than a lack of respect. And that is a two-way street. To be sure, occasionally the son of a quilter will marry a woman who doesn’t even know her CLOTHES are made of fabric, much less understand a thing about fiber arts and homespun gifts of love….in which case, I’d buy the couple a nice, top-of-the-line….toaster. But you have to assume the recipient of any gift will find the highest and best use for it, within the context of his or her own life–NOT the maker’s. For my friend to share the gifts I’ve given her with her pets is something I feel honored by–because I know that her living black and white menagerie get as royal a treatment as she can possibly give them. I wouldn’t be able to see it this way if I wasn’t close to someone like her, but I also don’t think she would use either quilt to line a kennel. (Thank you, Erin. :-))
Seeing animals as I do, I could easily be appalled to see any handmade quilt well-worn into a pet nest in a living room corner, or the back of a car. My logical side believes it is unlikely for a dog or cat, with limited perception of color and fiber, and a possible inability or refusal to control bladder function, would have the ability to discern the real difference between my 50-hour creation and an 8-dollar Wal-Mart blanket made in China. I’m all for making puppies comfortable. But maybe not with a family heirloom hand-quilted by Great Aunt Liza during her final days on this earth.
I get that stuff is stuff and for some, dogs are people, but some stuff represents as much to me as your dog does to you. (Time, attention, unconditional love….you get the picture, even if you find this statement horrifying. I find the litter box smell kind of horrifying, so we’re even.) For you to use something I’ve spent hours to make for a purpose that could easily be served by some other more…replaceable…item, could indeed lead me to assume you don’t care for my gift and are perhaps undeserving. I know that with many pet lovers, this isn’t the case at all. They’re among the most loving and selfless individuals on the planet, and the efforts they direct to pet care, rescue and even legislation are nothing short of heroic.
So, here is the solution I offer. Pet owners, please don’t repurpose your quilted gifts this way. Certainly, once you receive a gift, it belongs to you and it is your choice how you wish to use it. However, you may know not the hours that were spent creating this for you–the human–and how it may make the quilter feel to see it tossed into a pile in the corner, covered in dog hair. Quilters, if your friend is a pet lover, maybe making a dog (or cat) bed is a great idea. They take less fabric and time, and may be even more appreciated. You can personalize it just for little Kiki, and show your friend you appreciate her fur family as well. An added bonus–no need to pay a longarmer, pin baste, or stipple. You can sit on the couch and stuff it full of poly-fil and rainbows, drinking a glass of wine and watching a Gilmore Girls marathon on Netflix. And isn’t that the best part of quilting anyway? 😉