The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
Oh, for a Quiltmaker’s
My mother is a supportive and kind-hearted person. My sisters and I have never been afraid to take risks or try new things because we know Mom isn’t going to stick it to us if we fail or make a mistake.
That is, unless the mistake is a typo.
Watch out, mister: Marianne Fons has an eagle-eye!
Photo: Gary Peeples/USFWS via Wikipedia.
Mom is weird about typos. She really hates ‘em. When she sees one in an email, a paper, a Facebook comment, or a blog post one of us has written, she feels the need to point it out immediately. She’s not being cruel: I think she just really enjoys spotting typos. It’s like how other people enjoy spotting rare birds. (It’s the same with grammar stuff, by the way: “No, it’s ‘Yesterday in bed I lay.’ And why were you still in bed??”)
For a typo-phobic person like my mother, the quilt world can be a challenging place, not because copy in the quilt world is carelessly composed and/or poorly edited, not because people don’t know how to use a spell check function. To the contrary, quilt world people are a smart and careful bunch, on the whole. One spin through the exhibits at Festival bear this out: Blue-ribbon-level quilts like those are obviously made by people who sweat the details.
So how come one quilter’s pattern instructs you to “hand-quilt” your quilt, but the magazine your friend just bought shows methods for “hand quilting” — no hyphen. So, who’s right? Is there a hyphen or not? And while we’re at it, is it a “whole-cloth” quilt or “wholecloth” quilt, one word? Are you a “longarmer” who “longarms” or a “long-armer” who “long-arms?” Or do you just plain “long arm?” It’s enough to make a gal just want to sew and be done with it — as long as you’re not hand-piecing/hand piecing, of course. Argh!
Yes, but was it copy-edited?? Image: Wikipedia
The problem is that the quilt world doesn’t have a universal style guide for our jargon. Some people hyphenate the kinds of words I mentioned above; some don’t, and it’s pretty much based on personal preference and prior decisions made about such things. Bernina calls its quilting machines “Longarms” while Baby Lock advertises “Long Arms.” Your word processing program will probably flag “longarm” and not “long arm,” but Bernina isn’t guilty of being sloppy with their copy. After all: Bernina is a Swiss company: Precision is their thing. (Swiss watches, anyone?)
There aren’t easy answers, because if we look to the “rules” of grammar—rules put in
scare quotes because those “rules” change over time — we find out people are breaking rules right and left. A hyphen is used when an adjective modifies a noun or pronoun. Technically, you don’t need to modify a single adjective-noun combo, as in “a hand quilted quilt.” But at some point, people started using a hyphen and now… well, it looks a little weird without it, right?
Whatever you call it, it’s gorgeous. Image: Wikipedia.The best advice I can give you if you’re writing copy for the quilt world — whether that copy is going into patterns, a magazine article, or a column like this one — is to be consistent. If you’re a hand-piecer, keep hand-piecing your quilt, and show off your hand-pieced masterpiece in your next guild meeting, where you’ll be applauded by the rest of the hand-piecers in the group. If you’re long-arming a wholecloth quilt, don’t finish longarming that whole-cloth quilt. Make a little style guide for yourself (or ask your editor) and stick to it.
There are also certain standard-making entities who you can look to: The International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, uses a capital “C” when identifying Crazy quilts and uses a hyphen for those darn whole-cloth quilts, and I follow their lead in those instances. As for the actual dictionary, well, I’ve never found it to be much help, unless I forget which way the accent goes in appliqué.
I think my Mom sincerely wants typos to be fixed because unlike so many other problems in the world, it’s easy to see how one could fix a typo, given the chance. But in the quilt word, one woman’s typo is another woman’s perfectly-placed hyphen. Good luck out there.