Elizabeth Townsend Gard,
Founder and Director
Just Wanna Quilt
Forgive the length. We keep it long for preservation purposes.
It's simple. Quilt every day. Talk to people about their quilting life. Research and write about the copyright and other IP issues related to quilting. Build a community of quilters, scholars, and law students. Oh, and have as much fun as possible along the way. And that's what we did! 'm Elizabeth Townsend Gard, and I'm a Professor of Law at Tulane University Law School. Here's my quilting story.
In 2017, I became a full professor at Tulane Law School. This means I've gone through ten years of hurdles, and before that, two post-doc positions, and law school. Before that, I earned my master's and a doctorate in Modern European history, focusing on gender, biography, and cultural history. I've been in school for a long time. This is the first project I've worked on that is all about not being judged. And so, I'm taking a new approach, building on the work that I have done throughout my career, but also trying a new method of vulnerability and transparency. It's called immersive research (do jump in, and experience) primarily through a research podcast and a Facebook group. It turned into so much more. We've written books. We're a Quilting Army. We sell Grace longarms. We're creating Copyright Camp. We've been to Quilt Market. And who knows what is next? And "we". Immersive research turned into collaboration and community. It's awesome.
Before Just Wanna Quilt, I worked on a project called the "Durationator ," a software research system to determine the copyright status of works anywhere in the world. It was comprehensive, complicated, proprietary, secretive, challenging, fun, and really really time-consuming. The result was a system that we are now marketing to libraries, archives, museums, lawyers and content holders to assist with copyright issues that arise with all kinds of works - books, photographs, artwork, sound recordings, audiovisual works, etc. Over 90 students worked as research assistants, and every IP class I taught worked on some aspect of the project. We went through incubators, had a licensing deal with Thomson Reuters, and decided to offer subscriptions directly. I coded by hand nearly every copyright law (historical ones included) of every country and dependency in the world. The project was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in Golan v. Holder twice! My tenure pieces were all about duration in one way or another. I became an expert. The project continues. (We had a lot of press over our work with Internet Archive in Fall 2017. See the latest Slate article)
We also looked at the role of law in creativity in a number arenas -- art, video games, sound recording. We were starting to see patterns. But I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to understand the pain and joy of creation to better understand how copyright worked (or didn't work). So, when the Dean of the law school asked me what my next project was, he said, to think carefully and do something I really wanted to do. I had an inkling. I wanted to do something with quilting. I had a feeling that there were some interesting copyright issues. I loved to quilt. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and two years in, my life has been transformed in every possible manner.
Then, two things happened.
First, Hillary lost the election. I started crocheting pink hats for the Pussyhat Project, and we made a 7 foot long quilted banner for the Women's March in Washington (and one for NOLA too). But it was when I saw the sea of pink that I realized that there were millions of us out there making pink hats -- involved in a crafty and quilting world. We were strong, and until the Women's March, largely invisible.
Second, I made a quilt for the PILF auction at the law school. This is the group that raises money to allow students to do non-profit and pro bono work in the summers. I actually forgot that I had promised them a quilt. So, I looked around my stash and found a bunch of Star Wars material, including a panel kit. So, in a few hours, I had quickly pieced up and machine quilted. It sold for auction around $300! I told Denise at Mes Amis Quilt Shop and she asked, "Can you do that with Star Wars materials?" As a law professor, I hadn't given it a second thought - First Sale. And I I knew from my fanfiction copyright research work that Disney (the content owner) would not likely care that I donated a quilt from legally bought fabric to support pro bono law students. But it got me thinking...
And so, when the Dean asked me what my next project would be, I responded: quilting and copyright. A full-scale project.
And then two other surprises happened. First, I started to reach out to quilters, and it was amazing. This project became about community, about working with others. This is different from the Durationator project which was about teaching law students. Instead, the quilting project is about learning and working with other quilters and the industry to understand the world. The law students will still be learning. But this project is about me learning. And then taking my new knowledge, and applying it to my superhuman copyright knowledge.
I was also influenced Eric Goldman. Eric is a superstar in the IP field, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law. And he blogs. He came to my IP seminar and was talking about his writing process. He said that he uses his blog to work on issues that later are incorporated into larger works. He writes 2-3 serious blogs a week. These became part of his law review articles. I thought that was incredibly brave. Putting out work while still in process is not the norm. Law review articles usually take a year to write, and that's focused on one aspect of a large subject. But this project is different. This is a research project through the podcast and Facebook group. It's my journey. It's the community I'm hoping to build. It's the quilting I hope to get better at, but show my mistakes and triumph along the way.
Finally, there is Sid. When I started this project, Sid was 13, and already a quilter and sewist since age 5. We decided to take a journey around the country in the summer of 2017 -- Chicago, New York, Vermont and New York, all by train and car. We talked with quilters and learned more about the landscape. From these first interactions, Sid was willing to play -- to go to a quilt retreat in Vermont, to tour the New England Quilt Museum, and to talk with quilters as we traveled. Oh, and to quilt too. As the project grew, she was dragged into every aspect -- from the covers of our first books to organizing and design the booths. They put up with quilters in the house, appeared on the podcast, was part of our story written by Mary Fons for Quiltfolk magazine, and now is co-writing a series of books with me,a nd is the Creative Director of the Just Wanna Quilt project as a whole. I cannot imagine the project without them. Every step of the way, Sid has been part of this. Just Wanna Quilt is as much their creation as mine. And I'm happy to report that their first college project at art school, was indeed a quilt - my job is done.
Elizabeth's Quilting Room(s) of One's Own,
or how the project and the supplies grow over time
Virginia Woolf believed that women writers needed a room of their own. It was a feminist thing. Quilters often want to show off their "room". I think this is an important aspect. We'll keep exploring why. For now, here is my Quilting Room of My Own. This way year one. This is was before Quiltfolk came to the house to photograph the space. Cute, under control.
In 2017 I wrote: We live in an old converted New Orleans duplex, and I've taken over what would normally be the "Dining Room" upstairs. I don't have a big stash. I'm more of a project-based quilter. I always have a bunch of projects going. I love FMQ, although I'm still a beginner. I love being in the middle of the house. I have two Juki machines -- an Exceed (low end model) and the 2010. I used to sew on a Bernina and also a Brother. I transitioned to Juki this summer. The worst part? The pile of quilts that taunt me to finish them...but that's part of the joy as well.
Two years later I had basically taken up half of the upstairs of the duplex -- kitchen, dining room and living room. We have two Grace long arms. Still the Jukis. We've added a Brother embroidery machine, an Accuquilt cutting system, and a lot more fabric.
It is now 2023, and we've expanded again. We've added a Brother coverstitch machine, gotten rid of one of the long arms, added a dress form (for clothes making) and taken over a second room. We have two cutting tables, and we now have a bunch of bolts of fabric. We also have a new tv to watch those YouTube videos!