You can be constructive without being a Mean Girl.

Are Quilters Too Nice?

Over and over again, I’ve heard or read about the “kindness of quilters” from other quilters. While quilters are certainly kind as a group, often going out of our way to help out or support other quilters, are we too nice?

I’m talking about the sometimes saccharine sweet reaction when you show off a new quilt. “It’s lovely!” “Wonderful.” “Well done.” et al, repeat as necessary.

As great as it is to hear that about your quilt, does it really help you to improve as a quilter?

Honest and helpful constructive feedback

Many of us quilt in a vacuum. We sew alone. The quilt may be seen by a family member or the person who is receiving it, but they often don’t know enough to be able to give informed feedback.

Those of us who belong to a quilt guild may have the opportunity to show our quilts to other quilters, but I’ve found that unless you ask for specific feedback, people are reluctant to give critical feedback (and for good reason! It’s a minefield.)

Ask for feedback

I’ve found that asking for honest, helpful feedback can really boost my quiltmaking. Often it re-enforces something that I’ve noticed myself. It gives me something to stride for when making my next quilt. Never underestimate the power of lessons learned.

It can be difficult to communicate what I’m looking for; often I find asking other people how they would do something is a good method. “What kind of border would you put on this quilt?” “How would you quilt this?”

Or asking for feedback on an idea. “I’m thinking about doing orange and blue, what do you think?”

For after a quilt is completed, ask what someone might do differently, or if they think a certain component works. If there was a problem or issue with the quilt, I ask about how they would overcome it if they had the problem.

And don’t forget – there is no obligation to take or use the feedback received. Consider it and move on.

Entering and attending quilt shows

Quilt shows are an excellent opportunity to get a critical review of your quilt. Some quilt shows (not all) will give you feedback from the judges. All the feedback I’ve ever received has always been honest and helpful, and gave me places to be sure I improved in the future.

One thing I’ve found over the years is that I love going to quilt shows with a partner. They can be quilters themselves, or at least interested in quilting. I like to discuss what I see with my partner. I’ll take a look at a quilt and try to figure out what I like or dislike about it. Is it subjective or objective? If it’s not my style or preference, is there something the quilt maker has done well? Is there something that could be improved upon technically? Would I have done something different?

I try to imagine that if the quilter overheard me discussing her quilt, she would feel that I’m trying to make an honest assessment. Just talking about it helps me to remember to apply what I’ve learned and what I’ve seen to my own quilts.

Pick your moment

Now obviously, in many public places (virtual or real life) it’s best if you have nothing nice to say to not say anything at all.

I’ll never forget when my Star of India quilt was on display at the Royal Canberra Show (like a state fair, for my fellow Americans). I won first prize for contemporary quilts, which was a wonderful surprise. I put a lot of work into this quilt and was pretty darn chuffed. When I got to the show to see it, I took a picture to post on social media and was hanging around, when a woman with a pram and her friend approached. The woman pointed at my quilt and said “Oh my god, it’s awful! I can’t believe that won.” I will admit I did a bit of a double take. Now, I typically will not hesitate to jump in and stand up for myself, but homegirl looked like she would throw down, so I demurred. But I’ll never forget it. (For the record, I am aware that my quilt is incredible and I’m proud of the job I’ve done.)

A large public Facebook group is probably not the place to start making unrequested feedback either. It’s amazing how quickly that can turn into a total shitshow.

There are a multitude of articles on Google for how to give constructive feedback, and it’s worth taking a look before wading in.

You can be constructive without being a Mean Girl.

In conclusion…

In the right place, at the right time, with the right people requesting honest constructive feedback, it’s probably more helpful to offer suggestions than just to say “Wow!”

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