Sometimes there’s a saying that is so commonly used that you don’t even think twice about it. Last month, while on vacation with my family, my brother Steven commented on how cool my specifically planned cutting looked in my English paper piecing project. I told him how in the quilting world it’s called “fussy cutting”, and how much fun I was having with this, my first foray into it. He looked at me with an almost offended air, repeating with disdain, “fussy cutting”?!
Steven is an artist who lives in San Francisco among many other artists of various trades. Perhaps this is why he was so taken aback by the terminology paired with quilters’ practice of selectively cutting a fabric based upon a particular element or design. He reasoned, “You wouldn’t call Michelangelo a “fussy” painter. You might call him meticulous, or careful, but never fussy.” He has a point.
Dictionary.com offers this definition for the word fussy:
adjective, fussier, fussiest.
a fussy eater.
All the bric-a-brac gave the room a fussy, cluttered look.
His writing is so fussy I lose the thread of the story.”
This conversation got me thinking: who coined the term “fussy cutting” and when did it start getting popular? I wonder if it was a saying created by the quilters, or by those seeing the completed work. A bit of googling uncovered the fact that the first evidence of selectively cutting motifs from fabric was the development of Broderie Perse in England in the 1700’s (from answers.com, so take it for what it is). The article goes on to explain that “…this technique was used by women of wealth, who had the leisure time to devote to this style of applique. Their goal was to make a “best” quilt that would be shown off to friends or used on special occasions.” In other words, it was women of wealth who could afford the time and fabric to select only very specific features to make a “best” quilt, leaving the fussy cut refuse to waste or other small, non-functional projects. Was the term “fussing cutting” created by those of lesser social status out of semi-contempt of those who could afford such fabric waste and leisure?
In searching more, in an interview with Eleanor Burns conducted in 1999, she casually mentions that she and her sister may have coined the term “fussy cutting”. Here’s an excerpt of the interview:
Brenda Horton (BH): Now you called your sister the fussy one but you “fussy cut” sometimes on your patterns, is that where you got the term?
Eleanor Burns (EB): Yes, she told me “fussy cut.” What’s really interesting, we may have coined the word “fussy-cut” but now it’s a standard in the industry. And that’s really fun to see something you started as just common terminology.
MF: Explain to us what “fussy-cut” is.
EB: Fussy-cut means you would have a large floral design with a lot of flowers. You might just specially cut out one flower and use that one flower repeat throughout your quilt, so it’s just specially cut out of the fabric to use in a certain piece. It puts together a really pretty design– fussy.
It doesn’t sound very disparaging, although between sisters, perhaps there is a bit of a teasing tone? What do you think?
For me, I can no longer say “fussy cutting” without thinking of my conversation with my brother. Here’s my IG post from the night of the conversation:
I wrote: Testing out my fussy cutting choices for my next #patchworkofthecrosses. Talking with my artist brother, we decided that “fussy cutting” is quite pejorative. So now, it will be punctilious, meticulous, assiduous, deliberate… but never “fussy”. Who’s with me!? #assiduouscutting not #fussycutting 🙂 Thanks, @vanfremdling and thanks to@goinghometoroost and @amybutlerdesign for the fantastic fabric for my @kickassiduouscutting !! #epp
I’m sure that “fussy cutting” will still be part of my quilting lingo, since when in Rome! However, I will also be using “assiduous cutting”, “meticulous cutting”, and “punctilious cutting” interchangeably. Personally, I lean toward “assiduous cutting” since then I can say I’m doing some “kick-ass-iduous cutting” tonight!
What do you think? Do you think “fussy cutting” has a derogatory inclination? If you are a quilt historian and have any more information regarding the origination of the term “fussy cutting”, I’d love to know!
Until then, have fun with your punctilious, meticulous, assiduous, deliberate, and okay… sometimes fussy… cutting. I know I will!