So, what am I feeling left out of? I've had two things come up this week that made me think about men who quilt.
First was an email from Christine, the blogger at QuiltersCandy letting me know that she had blogged about me as a part of the male quilting community. I read her post. It was thought provoking.
Next, I received the questions for a magazine article about men who quilt that I've agreed to participate in, and the very first question was about my thoughts on the male quilting community.
What male quilting community? Have I been left out of my own group?
When I started quilting in 1999, I didn't think to look for a male quilting community I could barely find a quilting community at all. The male quilters I found were John Flynn, whose engineering approach to precision was beyond my skills and understanding at the time and whose contributions to the quilting community took years for me to appreciate; Joe Cunningham, a hand quilter when I wanted to learn to machine quilt; and Ricky Tims, who was developing the cave man style of quilting that was so different than the precision I was learning at the time, but who made great strides to get men's quilts taken seriously and stood up against the social convention that quilting was for women. And, there was me.
At the time, I was still being skipped in the cutting line at JoAnn's because they thought I was just holding fabric for a woman. I generally got asked if I needed any help and treated like I was standing in the way while women were free to shop undisturbed. And, I was told the dimensions of a fat quarter every time I picked one up. Women were the accepted group in fabric stores, and that didn't have anything to do with quilting.
Ruth McDowell, Alex Anderson, Eleanor Burns. Elizabeth Hamby Carlson, Martha Thompson, Sally Collins. My mentor JC. These ladies, and ones just like them, taught me to piece and to sew; taught me color and precision and bindings. And, then there were my aspirations; Jinny Beyer, Harriet Hargrave, Diane Gaudynski. And, after that, Bonnie Hunter, who taught me how to use up what was left over. And, Leah Day, who taught me to think outside of tradition and create originality from what I saw both inside and outside of the quilt world.
Women, each and every one.
About 5 years ago, I went looking for the male quilting community. I hunted and I hunted and I found Manquilters. At the time, it was aspiring to be a male quilting community, but it seemed to diverge into too many topics for me. When I was trying to get involved, it wasn't really what I was looking for. A few guys posted quilt pictures, but nobody talked or created community among the men who joined. There was much diversity of thought and no one to channel that into a cohesive theme. There are a couple of guys I met there whose blogs I still follow and some other guys found my blog or I've found theirs, but pretty much, for me, manquilters did not represent the community I was looking for.
While I was learning the difference between a needle and a seam ripper, I was also nosing my way into the local quilting community. I finally got over my trepidation and let them see me as a quilter and not just a husband holding fabric. They welcomed me with open arms, never once being snide or judgmental. They shared freely and gave me tips and hints that worked hand-in-hand with the basics I had learned from TV. I showed off my work and I got better and better and now?? I'm teaching at that same LQS.
So, what does all that have to do with the male quilting community? I never found it, so I just joined the community that I did find. I never saw it as either male or female; just quilters. I let people see my work and I got help building my skills and I started writing a blog. And, I created what I think of as my online quilting bee; quilters that followed me and quilters that I followed. Male and Female. Black, Asian, White. Citizens of a half dozen countries. We had show and tell and we shared our skills and our challenges and our upcoming projects and we organized group projects and challenges. That blog group was lost due to a lack of technical support and I moved here, where many of my bee had already found new homes. And, I met more and more people. Quilters and appreciators of quilts. Parents. Gardeners. Cooks. And, I made them all part of my community; my bee. Not my male community. Just my community. And, they've held my hand when I was afraid and they've given me advice when I have no idea. They share their ideas and their support and their encouragement.
I'm no beer drinking, odoriferous invader into the world of women. I'm just a person who volunteered to be a parent and enjoys quilting and knitting and cooking and gardening, regardless which gender was taught to enjoy them by social convention. When I speak, I tailor my words to the audience I'd like to attract, which is diverse and inclusive. If I ran into women that resented my intrusion into the world of the womanly domestic arts, I don't really know what I'd say. I don't think it would faze me much. I'd likely just snicker behind my hand at the silliness of resenting something that's happening all around and can't be stopped, like resenting a wave that's crashing onto a beach.
Men are breaking the social barriers that prevented them from being public about their quilting, just like women broke down the social barriers that kept them from working outside the home. We are not the first men who quilt any more than Bella Abzug was the first woman to be independent. But, we may be the first men who expect to be recognized for our contributions to the community, just as Ms Abzug expected to be recognized for her contributions to women's rights.
I've never been one to keep quiet. I am one to challenge social convention. And any guy that recently got taken seriously at the local JoAnn's fabric counter can say "Thanks!"any time they want.
After I thought about it and got past some of the words, I realized Christine's message was right. There is no need for women to be bothered by men in the quilting community. There's no need to split the community into male quilters or female quilters or art quilters or biblical quilters or hand quilters or longarm quilters. We're just quilters. And we may not have anything in common, except our love of quilts
And, how will I answer that question for the magazine editor? I never found the male quilting community, but that didn't stop me from joining the community of quilters that I did find. It's a community with lots of different people in it.
We all contribute to one great, all-inclusive community of people. No devisiveness required. All are welcome. Step into the light.