Friday, July 22, 2011

Artisan Quilters

This is a portion of a page out of the most recent Pottery Barn catalogue. There you can purchase a king size quilt with matching sham for $249, plus shipping costs. Both of them made by "Skilled artisans (who) piece each quilt by hand, stitching the timeless motifs of flowers, leaves, and vines into heirloom quality works of art.".
I wouldn't dream of disparaging the quality of Pottery Barn products. It is one of my favorite shops for window-shopping, but I wonder how they can make such an offer.
With the rising costs of fabric, it is difficult to create a quilt top of any size for less than $200. Then you still need backing, batting, and thread. Assuming that you hand piece and quilt it there are hundreds of hours invested as well...perhaps thousands. It makes me wonder what the hourly wage of an "artisans" is.
On the other hand, if this is the wage of artisans, what does that make the people that I work with. What does that make me? Am I missing something?
Wikipedia.... I don't know how accurate that is, but it is the best I have at the moment. (It comes from writing while sitting in a recliner in the living room and watching a Harry Potter movie). Wikipedia claims the following;
"An artisan (from Italian: artigiano) is a skilled manual worker who makes items that may be functional or strictly decorative, including furniture, clothing, jewelry, household items and tools.".
I suppose a quilter fits that definition. Wikipedia goes further....
"Artisans were the dominant producers of consumer products prior to the Industrial Revolution....According to economist John Hicks, merchants and artisans originated as servants to the rulers...."
"During the Middle Ages the term "artisan" was applied to those who made things or provided services. It did not apply to unskilled labourers....Those who owned their own businesses were called masters."
Okay. You could use this word to describe the quilters I know. Master has come to mean more than owning your own business, although it isn't always true that a business owner, being the master of the enterprise, does masterful work. There are probably plenty examples of artisans who work for the love of the craft that do better work than masters who attempt to make a living at it. Maybe that is the distinction that is nagging me.
To me, Quilting is all about of color, love of textiles, love of people and desire to celebrate and comfort them in a manner which will extend to the time when I am not with them. Quilts become my means of offering an extended hug and a shoulder to cry on. Quilts are bound up in and around love and loving. What makes them beautiful isn't the fact that someone paid me to do it. What makes them beautiful is knowing that someone loved enough to go to the bother of creating it.
Love is the thing that you won't find in the quilt at The Pottery Barn. It's absence will keep the quilt in the realm of "functional or decorative household item."
Artisan....I used to think it meant something special. It has become a buzz word in the advertising world. What it really means is "some poor schmo made this by hand."

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