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About Criticism, Negativity & Marketing: Some Thoughts

Well, I'm going to enter the fray. I really prefer to keep this blog a shiny, happy place but I feel compelled to add my two cents to a few topics that have been engrossing our sewing and quilting community as of late.

There are two controversies I want to speak to specifically. First, the "dumbing down" debate (started here). 

I know my response is very late. I guess I need a lot of time to let things gel. Anyway, that post is in direct response to something I said on one of my Sew, Mama, Sew! articles, namely that pinwheel blocks are challenging and for intermediate quilters. It was a rather flippant statement and I usually try to be more measured with my words. Lesson: don't ever make statements regarding a person's skill level. It just shouldn't be done. 

But that statement was the jumping off point for a host of other things the author sees wrong with the online quilting community. And, honestly, there is nothing wrong with her critique other than that the tone was snarky. I think we'd all agree that everyone is entitled to her own opinion. It's in the comment section where things seem to get more negative. It gets to the point where many bloggers and quilters feel the need to defend their work.

Which leads me to the second article, this one on Stitched In Color. (I want to say right here that I'm a big fan of Rachel's blog). Again, I think the original post was just a way to say that she has opinions. And, once again, in the comments opinions pile up until it seems as though one or two designers are taking 400 hits of "I don't like that". 

So, I'm going to break it down a bit.

Criticism and Negativity

Defenders of these kind of posts and comments say that criticism is needed and should be allowed to be expressed online as it is often done in person. And, quite frankly, I learned some things from both of these posts. My thoughts:

Consider saying it in private if it's about a specific designer / artist / quilter. When criticizing online, the person being critiqued is there and a part of the conversation. They hear everything you say. Now, we all know people who would, "tell her to her face what I think of that quilt" but most of us are not that person. Most of us are kinder with our words when telling someone what we think of her work. Anytime we post something online we need to assume the designer/quilter/artist is a part of the conversation. If we just have to say something snarky and negative, it should probably said privately between one or two other people. That's how it would be done in real life. If you're in a quilt shop and say to your friend, "I really don't get why someone would buy fabric in a muddy brown color", you and the friend are the only ones to hear it.

Consider turning off comments. Say your piece, express it's your opinion and let others do the work to post something on their own blogs. A sort of mob mentality sometimes prevails in the comment section and instead of a lot of constructive thoughts (though there certainly are some of those) you end up with a lot of "I hate that, too!"

Reword criticism so it does not offend. Read and reread. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. Would that statement offend me? There are ways to say you don't like something without being offensive. And leave off the snark. You may be really fired up, but many people reading it will be surprised and learning something new. The tone can be off-putting and cause your point to be missed in a flurry of emotion.

Consider not saying anything as a way of saying "I don't like it". Here on A Sewing Journal, if something "isn't my taste" or I "don't get the hype" I simply don't blog about it. That's my way of saying I don't like it. I know that doesn't work for everyone but it works for me.

How to say it:

  • "I don't get why everyone likes that" or "I don't get the hype" comes across as "people who buy that are just doing it because it's popular, they obviously don't think for themselves". Not always true. I love Harry Potter and it makes me steaming mad when people suggest I like the books and movies just because they're popular. I think for myself and sometimes I like popular things. Others are the same. To me, this type of statement is better left unsaid. Think about why you don't like it rather than why others don't agree with you.
  • "I love all her fabric but hate that collection". Why? Why do you hate it? Reword this sentence and take out the word hate. "I loved the colors in Collection A, but Collection B used a lot of large scale florals that I find difficult to use in my quilting"
  • "She just makes the same quilt over and over again with different colors". You may be the wrong "audience" for her blog. People who do this are usually either amateur bloggers (meaning, have another source of income therefore just blogging and quilting for fun) or have an audience of mostly new quilters. They are trying not to outgrow their audience too quickly. Remember, new people come to blogs constantly and many new quilters do not have the stamina to keep up with every project. They are looking for a lot of inspiration. You may just need to move on to other blogs.
  • "She makes wonky quilts to cover the fact that she makes a lot of mistakes" You are making a statement on another person's skill level, the same thing I did. Unless she entered her quilt in a contest that you are judging, that comment is better left unsaid or said in private to a friend. Like it or not, "wonky" is currently an aesthetic some people like and not necessarily a statement on their skill levels. Also, this statement makes it sound like people who make imperfect quilts have no business sharing them online when really I suspect most people intend it towards "leaders" in the blogging/quilting community.
  • "I hate it when people sell simple patterns that should be free, they're ripping people off" Consider putting up a list of free resources on your blog. But don't openly criticize people who pay for something they could get for free. Sometimes the pay version includes that one extra thing the free version doesn't have and it's worth the extra money to them. For example, the free version might be for a twin size quilt and it's worth $5 to someone to pay for all the math to be done for a queen. 
  • "I hate it when people use ... (charm packs, just one coordinated collection, kits, jelly rolls, etc). They need to challenge themselves" I know this criticism is usually directed more at what could be called leaders in the blogging/quilting community rather than busy people who quilt for leisure. This is actually, I think, a marketing problem. See below. But I also think you're reading the wrong blogs. There are many fantastic bloggers making quilts without using only one line of fabric. Patronize them and ignore the others.
  • "Those clothes look like clown clothes, who's kids would wear those?" "My second grader could make that!" Obviously mean. "My children don't like to wear clothing that make them stand out" or "I prefer a more muted palette in children's clothing" and "This project was too simplistic for me, probably better suited to a beginner."

Is there a lack of a critical voice online? Should there be more criticism? Many commenters on Rachel's post felt like they buy patterns and books all the time that were recommended on blogs only to find them lacking. Are bloggers afraid to voice real criticism for fear that they will hurt feelings or be looked over for reviews?

  • Did a part of the book or pattern confuse you? Did you look for errata online to see if it was addressed?
  • Try emailing the author/designer for a response.
  • Consider scrapping the review. Email the publisher with your concerns and tell them you'd rather not review the product. Don't add your voice to the chorus if you have reservations.
  • When pointing out the "cons" consider whether a person of a different skill level or with a different aesthetic would see it differently and add that.

 Clean out your feed reader and bookmarks

  • Some bloggers (in order to finance their quilting and blogging) rely on income and free fabric from shops and manufacturers. Therefore they must make projects with them as examples (much like you'd see in your local quilt shop). This does NOT bother me. But if it bothers you, stop reading and move on. Vote with your patronage.
  • Don't let popularity bother you. This argument about "dumbing down" and the like is everywhere. TV, movies, music, art, graphic design, you-name-it. You won't win. People will like what they like. You just can't police taste.
  • Have your opinion and be nice. Be the change you want to see in the community without taking others down. Support what you like and ignore the rest the best you can.
  • Support other like-minded bloggers and make your own community around your aesthetic and tastes.

 

Marketing

Another thing I'm getting from these debates is that there's possibly a marketing problem in the community. I alluded to it with the "I hate quilts made with all one collection" comment. Also, again on Rachel's blog, commenters were "sick of" fabric lines that were over-hyped. 

The internet is still somewhat the wild west for advertising and marketing. Fabric companies and designers are sending out advanced printings of fabric lines to bloggers and quilters to make things and inspire us. Again, it's like your local quilt shop making samples out of new fabrics. Except, we're all patronizing the same 50 quilt shops at the same time and seeing the same thing.

Is the problem that we all read the same blogs so we all see the same thing 25 times over? Should the fabric (and the book tours) be sent to a more diverse selection of bloggers to reach a wider audience? I'm sure that's the intent, but somehow instead I think we feel that we're all seeing the same thing on every blog at the same time. **Please note that not all quilters and bloggers are receiving free fabric even some of the time. It also happens that many of them just happen to like the same thing!**

My thoughts:

  • Have quilters make quilts where they integrate the new line with an older line or two, showing how well the fabric would work with other fabrics people may have in their stash.
  • Consider the audiences of the more popular quilters and how they overlap, staggering the collections they receive.
  • I know some fabric collections sell out quickly, but it would be nice to be reminded of an "old" collection six months or a year later. However, I know that oftentimes a popular collection will sell out by then which leads me to...
  • Don't hype the ones that will sell out. Send out the quieter collections to be made up by popular quilters and let the "big dogs" sell themselves.
  • I really, really wish book tours would span a year instead of, like, 6 weeks. I sometimes forget about them by the time I have the money to buy one.
  • Require bloggers who host book tours to make something from the book and review it.

So now that I've finished my long-winded opinion, what do you think? Please try to be supportive in your comments and leave out snarkiness and hate. And please don't go after specific people. I'm looking for your general thoughts on criticism, negativity and marketing in the online handmade community.