This week I dug through my quilts to prepare a trunk show for my quilt guild. The show has been billed as my journey from traditional to art quilts. We’ll see if the show actually happens as the past few January meetings have been canceled due to blizzards.
Weather issues aside, it’s been strange to look over the work I’ve done since the mid-1990s. I have a few pieces done before then, but those were the days it took me 2 years or so to finish a quilt. I can’t review all the quilts I’ve made as I’ve given away a fair number, mostly the more traditional ones. It takes someone with oddball taste to actually prefer an art quilt over what most folks, especially family members, think of as a quilt.
I started quilting to produce gifts for my family when I was very short on money but long on time and fabric. My first efforts were hand quilted pillows that featured various traditional quilt blocks copied from library quilting books. I used cardboard templates and scissors, and never realized that it wasn’t done to cut off triangle points. My aspirational book was Michael James’ The Quiltmaker’s Handbook. I loved his quilts – what great curves! – but couldn’t see me doing all that painstaking work.
Once I got a job (and some money) I put aside quilting until around 1987 when I made a bed sized log cabin quilt in a class. That was my first exposure to a rotary cutter. The teacher wouldn’t let us use hers, but cut all our strips herself.
Quilting got set aside again after my son was born, but I decided to make him a quilted wall hanging in the early 1990s, and I really haven’t stopped making quilts since. My production has stepped up since 2000, which I attribute to making quilty friends and joining a guild. Of course, retiring helped too.
My first several quilts were more or less faithful reproductions of patterns from books. Once I had made a few quilts I started changing up the patterns to better suit the fabric I had available or my patience with what I found to be a boring block.
After that log cabin bed quilt class I didn’t take another class until I learned to hand quilt (the right way) from Jane Hall. Books were my usual guides. I did have a childhood with a grandmother and mother who sewed, so dealing with fabric and a sewing machine was already in my skill set. I have mixed feelings about classes. Often classes are geared to making a specific pattern and turn into sewathons. I’ve found the most useful classes to be techniques oriented, and have enjoyed online classes through Quilt University and Craftsy. However, I understand that classes to make a specific pattern are going to be more popular (and sell more fabric and gadgets) so quilt shops offer more of them.
So, how did I get from traditional quilts to contemporary/art quilts? I didn’t wake up one day and think, I’m now an art quilter. Honestly, it happened because I grew really bored with making the same block over and over to produce a quilt. First, I got tired of using only 4 or 5 fabrics in a quilt. I became enamored with scrap quilts.
Next came designing block combinations with graph paper and colored pencils. I love to color. Then, I started sewing scraps together with no pattern to make new cloth. And that was fun. But I had to make some sense of that new cloth, and that’s when I began working without a net.
Yes, I still make quilts (mostly blocks) from a pattern, especially for paper piecing. No, I don’t think I’ll make any more bed quilts. Five is enough. I’m enjoying quilting more than I ever did. I’ve learned what delights me – color mostly, as well as the lure of the “that looks interesting; let’s play with it.” It’s great if other people like what I make, but I do this stuff for myself.