Thursday, February 24, 2011

Quilts for Friends We Haven't Met Yet

Recently some Facebook "friends" (who actually are real friends) became upset over something that had to do with the perceived belittling of Quilts of Valor.  Let the record show that I have nothing but admiration, respect and awe for this organization, its mission, and its actual accomplishments.  Another quilter I have known for many years has supported QOV longer than anyone else I know, and from time to time I send her "stuff" to use in her work for these soldiers. 

The turmoil came from a post about a television show where apparently a quilter/hoarder was publicly humiliated into pruning her considerable stash.  I did not see the show (I was busy sewing at the time, I suppose), nor did I see the initial post that caused the flap (and I do not use the term "flap" with any disrespect).  So I'm coming into this as a real outsider.

The problem, as I understand it, is that quilts made for Quilts of Valor were referred to as "charity quilts" and, as such, carried an inference -- for some people -- of shoddy workmanship and/or inferior quality fabric.  I didn't quite get it.    

I make quilts to give to people I know and quilts to keep.  I also sometimes make quilts to give away to people that I do not know, people who have had some sort of life-altering event and could use a little extra comfort.  I think of those quilts as charity quilts, to differentiate from those I give to people I know. I use the same quality of fabric and degree of care in my work for all of my quilts.  I wrote to a friend who was among the incensed and asked for clarification.  I asked her, "What language would you suggest for quilts that are given away to needy individuals, to people we don't know, or to special causes?  Charity means kindness, love, that kind of thing, doesn't it?  When I hear "charity quilt" I don't assume inferior workmanship and cheap fabric.  I think it is a quilt made for an unknown recipient out of love."

She wasn't offended, took my question seriously, and wrote back, 

     I think your understanding of the word is what I wish it was in the world, but I am afraid is not.
     "Taking charity" is, I think, seen as something to be avoided -- especially by those trying to maintain their personal pride and dignity.  IMO, "charity" is often seen as the transfer of unwanted/inferior/used goods from the "haves" to the "havenots", rather than as the synonym for "love" that Corinthians (?) would have us understand it.
     By extension, though I do not know this personally, I suspect that "charity quilts" have been characterized in the quilting world as somehow inferior in quality of fabric or workmanship, therefore creating the desire to distinguish QOV from those run-of-the-mill quilts.
      Perhaps, like "Quilts of Valor", other such quilts could be called "Quilts of Caring" or "Quilts of Love"?  

She's right, of course.  But isn't it a shame that such a fine word has morphed into something so shabby?



12 comments:

Pat said...

I have been trying to watch that episode, but can't find it OnDemand. I think the flap may have had more to do with someone who wrote about the show, rather than what was said on the show itself. I did see a clip from the end, however, when 5 soldiers from a local army base surprised "the hoarder" and arrived to help her move all of the reorganized stash into its new home. The point was that they were honoring her long-time dedication to the QOV project.

You are right, though. It is unfortunate that charity has taken on the meaning of "not good enough for me personally, but good enough for you". I much prefer the terms your friend suggests such as "Quilts of Love", or Quilts of Caring". Even "quilts for no apparent reason". If it has a piece of your heart in it, it is a worthy gift.

Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

Yes, it’s a crying shame that words get so perverted from their original meaning.
That same word “charity” got into a brouhaha here in our homeowners’ assoc when one board member suggested a name for a program we were putting together to help financially those in our development who need it. Another board member was so upset by the use of the word that it wound up as a lawsuit in civil court. All ended ok, but a lesson was learned about “Loaded words”.

Anonymous said...

The group I belong to in Arizona makes "charity" quilts for a children's home and two adult care facilities. Each of us is to make at least one quilt and they are on display at our annual show (2/26) and then delivered. We use material that has been donated to us, buy the batting, and the workmanship is that of the individual quilter. Some are quite elaborate from those that have quilted for years - mind is not of their quality but not any less than those that I have made for my family. I will send a picture to Nancy of one after the show. People have to stop picking words apart and finding reasons to argue and make something out of nothing!! Your CA cuz in AZ

Quayquilter said...

I heartily agree with this. I have relatively few people in my circle for whom to make quilts but I regard my charity quilts as a chance to try out ideas and play and to make in workshops but they are of the same quality as those I make for myself. I've been making quilts for teenagers out of Cherrywood fabrics which I love but don't suit my decorating scheme. The charity is for myself too as I love making quilts so it's a win win.
When you're down on your luck, dignity and respect from fellow human beings is all the more important. Someone on a quilt list who had experienced life on the streets stressed this and I took it to heart.
Love the blog, Nancy and your thoughtful approach to life.
No need to acknowledge. .Mary
PS I saw a clip from Enough Already on the OWN site.

Nancy said...

I DID see the episode. I had seen a blurb and was able to find it and DVR it... This lady was letting her QOV "stuff" (as they called it) take over her life. Her living room was filled to the top and there was no room for her family in there..really! No where to sit. Her grandkids couldn't visit as their mom didn't think it was safe. She didn't just purge her quilting supplies, she also purged her personal items such as Christmas decorations... I was not offended at all by the use of the term "charity quilts" and didn't take it to mean that the quilts were inferior in workmanship...It showed that her whole life was taken over by "stuff"..and the quilts were just part of it.

Denise in PA said...

I just heard about this episode and am also trying to find a replay or online version, but no luck. I just wanted to say that I've done a number of Quilts of Valor and put love and my best workmanship into every stitch.

Sandy H said...

One of my pet peeves is hearing quiltmakers make comments such as, "I thought this fabric was ugly so I put it into this 'charity quilt,'" or "When you're testing a new method, make a 'charity quilt,' as it won't matter so much how it turns out." I'm putting the term "charity quilt" there in quote marks because it shows that within the quilting world, we've turned the phrase "charity quilt" into "doesn't have to be very nice" in the way we've referred to them. When I make quilts for donating, I try to make them as nice as I would a quilt for a family member or friend. I completely agree with your assessment of the issue, and I love your suggestions of renaming (although I always hate giving up a perfectly good word--but it has taken on a lot of baggage over the years). I'm a big Peter Walsh fan so I want to find that episode myself--I loved the old Clean Sweep series and use those techniques all the time!

Kim said...

The word charity in my book means hours and hours of my time and workmanship given in love to those who's need is greater than mine at this time......who knows when I will be on the other end?


Happy Sewing

piecemealquilts said...

Charity quilts should not be made poorly, but I don't have a problem if they are made from simpler pattern. I think of them as utility quilts, made to be used. They should be pretty (or, for QOV, handsome!) but they don't have to be complex. Sometimes quantity is more important than complexity. (Notice I didn't use the word "quality.") I'd rather see a dozen well-made, attractive, bed-sized rail fence quilts delivered to a charitable organization than one double wedding ring sitting in pieces in a sewing room. (Of course there are organizations that specifically request smaller quilts such as wheelchair lap quilts and preemie baby quilts.)

Unfortunately, I have also seen donated quilts that were poorly made, downright ugly, or so small as to be useless. That is a reflection of the maker. Changing the name won't change the quality of the work they choose to produce.

Nanci said...

I did see the show and wasn't at all offended by the term "Charity Quilt" and really think the show did a good job of "honoring" the very work that she and her friends did by totally converting her gargage to house all her fabrics and made a wonderful area for them to continue making these quilts for those who have given so much for us all. I love the term "quilts of love" though and just think we should start using that term until it catches on because I think most of us use our own stash to make these quilts and are in no way inferior.

Laurie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurie said...

I see it both ways. "Charity" in our society has taken on a bad connotation -- it's bad to receive, and it implies the givers are somehow "better than."

Which is too bad, because as you said, the roots pf the word are beautiful. It come from the latin "caritas" which originally meant "preciousness, dearness, high price." Far from the "castoffs from the rich" meaning it's come to have. I believe there are also places in Bible translations where it has been used interchangeably with "love," right? (Hasn't 1 Cor 13:13 sometimes been translated ast "faith, hope and charity"?)

(edited comment. stay tuned for more info.) :-)