Saturday, December 26, 2015

On Quilting: An Essay

As far as I know, none of my ancestors were quilters. After spending many years engaged in other needlecrafts, mainly embroidery, I came to quilting around 1985 when a quilt shop opened in my city. It was love at first stitch! Now, 30 years later, I cannot imagine what my life would have been like had I not become an avid and active quilter. There would have been no trips to quilt shows, no sewing late into the night, no perusing quilt magazines to see the latest tools and quilts, nor would there have been any quilting companions. In no time at all, I gave up my "day job" to become a full-time quiltmaker, learning all the "tricks of the trade" and working steadily for 9 years to become certified as a "master craftsman in quiltmaking" through the E.G.A. program.

Two concurrent activities occurred. I began collecting every book I could find on the subject of quilts, not just pattern books, but books about state documentation projects and books about quilt history. Lo and behold, I bought an antique quilt top as a "study" piece. After reproducing it, I offered an article about it to a magazine and the editor loved it (and published my finished quilt along with directions for making it). I came to love antique quilts and began writing about them. For 15 years (until 2014), I had my own column in a magazine and wrote for other magazines as well, meanwhile writing a number of books.

Antique quilts are charming! They can be tattered, having been well-loved and well-used, but they retain a certain charm. Like children, we do not love them because they are perfect; only because they "are." In fact, imperfection is one of the expected and accepted qualities of anything aged. We accept the wrinkled face of our grandmother because we known that she has earned every line. We appreciate the nicks and scratches of old furniture, proof that a piece has had a former "life."

When we look at an old quilt, we sometimes want to imagine how it looked before it became faded or torn, before a mouse chewed a hole in it, or before the binding became so war-worn. Yet, we can look at that same quilt and simply marvel at the wonderful and tiny hand-quilted stitches or the fine appliqué, or exquisite Redwork embroidered motifs.

A favorite vintage quilt has a rather frayed binding 

Bed quilts, due to their utilitarian nature, are often not well-cared for. That trend seems to be changing due to the current emphasis by institutions such as the International Quilt Study Center to share quilt care information with the public, and books (such as my book, Straight Talk About Quilt Care). Ever since the 1960s when the first quilt exhibition happened where quilts were displayed vertically, and the subsequent 1971 pivotal exhibit of Amish quilts at the Whitney Museum in New York, quilts have been elevated to a new dimension of fabric art.

I am happy to be a quilter at this point in time when quilts are seen as the art objects they truly represent. Any time color and design come together, art is created, a fact somewhat taken for granted over the centuries, it seems, where quilts are concerned. Today, we live in a world of abundant color and design as new quilts are being made, sometimes inspired by quilts of the past and in other instances, brand new designs. It is a blessing to feel part of a greater community, the "quilt community." And, the Internet is greatly responsible for helping like-minded folks share their love of the art of quilting, as well as antique quilts. Quilting changed my life. I cannot imagine not being a quilter.

Happy Quilting!

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