First of all, what does "dumbing down" mean? Basically, it is a negative term for things that are overly simplified, specifically to appeal to those of little education or intelligence. In quilting, I believe it refers to a simplification of technique, a decline in creativity, a degradation of standards, and the overall undermining of the entire craft.
Here's what I think.
There is absolutely a place for simple patterns and easy, fast projects. In today's economy, so many of us have very few hours to spend on an interest such as quilting (or scrapbooking, or embroidery, or basket weaving for goodness sake). A quilt we can make in a weekend is appealing for a lot of reasons. Some of us will take the Turning Twenty pattern and run with it. My own daughter, who was working full time, made five Turning Twenty quilts--one for each of her bridesmaids, before her wedding! She was an inexperienced quilter, but after making five of those babies, she sure had a grasp of a quarter inch seam allowance and the value of accurate cutting. Were the quilts simple? Sure, but the fabrics for each were especially chosen for each recipient, and the lessons in color placement, tone, and value were invaluable to a new quilter. The quilts were quilted beautifully by a paid professional, and without exception, every one was received with joy by the recipient. Does she have a desire to make another Turning Twenty quilt? Uh, that would be a no. But the experience served its purpose, don't you see? Now she is ready to move on.
Will my daughter make more quilts? You bet. And you can count on any future quilts being more complex and involving more advanced techniques.
You see, the thing is, we all have to start somewhere. Do you remember your first quilting project? Or second, or third? Remember the thrill you had going through magazines or books, searching for a project you thought you could tackle? Back in the 80's, I used to love to browse Quilter's Newsletter. I would drool over template cut, hand pieced, intricate designs that were way above my skill level. I wanted to be Jinny Beyer when I grew up. I had a list of quilts I wanted to make someday. Rarely, they had a project that had a rating of one or two "scissors" that might be at the level of a beginner. I even tackled a couple of them. One, I hand quilted and gave to my beloved grandmother, and is one of my favorite quilts that I ever made. Yes, that is Sohpie laying on it, chewing my favorite slipper.
In the mid 80's, I had the privlege of attending a lecture by the amazing Mary Ellen Hopkins. Remember her book "It's Ok If You Sit On My Quilt"? Her designs were ridiculously simple. Dumbed down even. But they encouraged creativity and originality in the quilter. Get some graph paper and some colored pencils and design a quilt! She really opened some mental doors for me.
Then, I discovered Lynnette Jensen, of Thimbleberries fame, My friend Carrie reminded me of her the other day. Lynette is brilliant. I loved her designs! Simple? You betcha. Gigantic large pieces? Oh yeah. Nine hundred thousand other women making the exact same thing? Why not? I embraced it. I remember making one of her sampler quilts. I made a block that was the cutest little house, another one that was a sunflower, one that was a bird house. So cute. I was thrilled at my little blocks, and madly in love with her pretty fabric. I was EXCITED about the process, the fabric, and the results. My sister Trish made the exact same quilt and you couldn't tell hers apart from mine if your life depended on it. So what? They gave us pleasure and taught us techniques and gave us practice.
Then there was Eleanor Burns. By the time I became aware of her, I felt I had moved on to more advanced techniques and designs, but the message is the same: get some fabric you love, invest in a weekend and make a quilt. Excitement, materials, time= a finished project you can be proud of.
In my mind, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. You have to start somewhere. If you are excited about the craft, the materials and the process, the results will please you. And then you have gained the confidence to move on to more complex, more creative and more dynamic projects.
I have plenty more to say about this, but my post is getting l-l-o-o-n-n-g-g. More later.