I’ve just got back from the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham. It always throws up frustrations and feelings of love v hate of the quilt world. I thought it was high time I thought about why.
Flowers in the Jungle by Joo Boeum – Korea
I cannot pinpoint the moment as a child when I started to love textiles; it just always seemed to be there, but I can pinpoint the moment which sent me down the path of quilt making and a love of quilts. My Dad regularly worked in America, he’d disappear off for two weeks at a time and when he got home he’d need to sleep, but before heading to bed he’d always produce a gift for me from his suitcase. One such trip he gave me a book, Quilts Quilts Quilts by Diana McClun and Laura Nownes. Using their instructions and a bit of my own imagination I made the sampler quilt. The seed was sown…..
Roll forward 20+ years and I’ve made many quilts, my bookshelves are filled with books on the subject, I have quilts hung as curtains in my house, I’ve been to countless quilt shows and I am always drawn to them, but I don’t always consider them to be my “art”. Part of me would love to fall freely into quilt making, to embrace it, to allow myself the guilty pleasure of piecing and applique and creating something decorative, but it would be easy and would I be doing my creativity justice?
Sister of the other one No1 by Jenny Haynes
Like all “worlds” the Quilt World has an entrenched culture, a group think blinkeredness, which can create prejudice/constraints around the ideas of what is and what isn’t quilt making, which can become a barrier to creativity. I don’t think this is a symptom of just the quilt world, I see it in all categories of craft and art. A few years ago the competition category Quilt Fine Art Masters was born with entries beginning to break some of the moulds and challenge us, sadly this year it seems to have slipped back into the safe zone and whilst each quilt on show was good I know I wasn’t the only one who was underwhelmed and uninspired by the judges choices.
It’s interesting when I talk to people at quilt shows how many disassociate themselves, quick to tell me that they “aren’t quilters” and many who are leaving or don’t want to belong to the Guild. Even some of the big names in quilting don’t actually call themselves quilters. But the Quilt World and the Institution is important as the custodian of a body of knowledge and a history of the craft, providing education to future generations and in terms of providing a network of people and support which in terms of social and human wellbeing can far outweigh the benefits of what is actually made.
Wabi-Sabi by Elizabeth Harwood
I have quilted since I was in my teens and so it was (and still is) seen by many of my peers as a hobby for older ladies or geeky. I took quilts as part of my portfolio to get into University and the comments from the interviewers was that I was so conventional with my quilts (despite the fact I had designed them myself). The label undoubtedly has a stigma. I didn’t touch quilt making again until after I’d completed my degree and didn’t know how else to find a network of creative people. As I’ve got older, my acceptance and pride in my “geekiness” overrides what others think to some degree, my concern is more that I don’t allow quilting conventions to constrain my own creativity and so I choose to keep myself at a distance, to cross boundaries into other worlds and networks, to read and research widely in all creative spheres.
Detail of Kew Lillies by Jane Nairn
One aspect I am always drawn to at the show is the heritage quilts, or quilts from different nations and how the traditions of expression differ and what has driven different trends. I made several visits to the British Quilt Study Group stand to speak with them, look at the old quilts and read some of their essays. Having read an essay on Chintz I looked afresh at some of the quilts in the competitions the following day. This intellectual study of Quilt History might be an angle in which I could participate.
Detail of hexagon and chintz quilt – maker not recorded (apologies)
I am lucky in that I have found a similar tribe of quilters in CQ West, a group of women and men who come from a range of creative backgrounds and who bring their own slant to the practise of patchwork, applique, quilting and textiles and are continually expanding that practise and challenging each other. We had a gallery stand at FOQ this year, part of the Unfolding Stories III touring exhibition which started in Kingsbridge back in April. Perhaps then, through this group I have found my corner of the Quilt World and through continuing my own practise I am, in the only way I can, challenging the culture.