Creating and Letting Go

A few years ago I was teaching a dye workshop to the members of the Baltimore Modern Quilt Guild when one of the students told me that she suspected that I had coined the phrase/design concept of working with "low volume" fabrics. I responded that I had and that I was happy to see how interested folks were in this idea. If you're curious about the original article, check out Quilting Arts magazine issue #38 dated to April/May 2009. 

When I wrote the piece I never suspected that this technique would become as ubiquitous as it has, spawning numerous other articles, online and in-person workshops focused on the process as well as books. While I'm happy that people enjoy exploring these fabrics and crafting with them, I'm rarely mentioned as the originator of the concept as it applies to modern quilting.

Mostly, I don't mind...at least I don't think I mind...because I've always believed that an idea can be copied, but my creativity is unique to me. I'm relatively confident I'll come up with something new. Also, I know that I riff off of other people's work as well. For instance, I've designed several improvisational quilts, both for my books and for articles and even for an online class, yet I did not invent the concept of improvisation. I discovered it in books and magazines like everyone else. 

I've just started working on a quilt design,

 influenced by the amazing art quilts of Eleanor McCain (I've mentioned her a couple of times in my weekly newsletter), that I'm calling Gingham, a title I didn't even come up with but was penned by a follower on Instagram. 

So, the cross pollination might just be as ubiquitous as the term "low volume". 

Yet, despite being aware of both generating and receiving influence, I look over my shoulder, not because I worry about being copied, but because I worry about copying. Sometimes I take sabbaticals from looking through books, magazines, and the internet, but other times I intentionally immerse myself in other people's images and ideas. 

And then, sometimes this happens:

If you're scratching your head and wondering what the hell "THIS" is, let me explain.

Last night I was drawing in my sketchbook, fleshing out old ideas and exploring new ones, when I had a thought, rather I posed a question, " What would a quilt look like if the image was a black and white outline of a block rather the block itself?" Believe it or not, that drawing is me jotting this idea down with the intention of returning to this concept soon or at least soon-ish. 

Then I woke up this morning, checked my instagram feed and saw this.

Don't get me wrong, I love this design. It's clean and modern and very clever, but, it also reminds me of what I was sketching last night. And, while I understand that it's plausible, even probable, that many folks might come to a similar concept independent of each other, I still felt the wind go out of my sails just a bit. 

Will I still pursue this idea? Probably. I think there are many ways to interpret the concept and I recognize that my first drawing and my final design may be only distantly related to each other. But, I will look over my shoulder more vigilantly with this idea than I otherwise would. Is that legitimate or even necessary? I don't know, but I know I will be extra-aware because I want to protect my own creativity. I want to ensure, at least for myself, that my designs are the product of my explorations within what I have deemed acceptable parameters of influence. Maybe those parameters are too loose or stringent for someone else, but they're mine and I know where the boundaries exist.

Which circles back to why I'm not bothered by my designs, concepts, or techniques having lives of their own that don't necessarily include me anymore. My creativity spawned something, others brought their creativity to it and made it their own. The something, whether it was conceived back in 2009 or yesterday, is not what is precious. What's precious is the creativity behind that something.