Over the past few months I’ve been noticing the age of the audience members at quilting events. At a quilters tea attended by 180 women, I felt like one of the younger attendees – and I will be eligible for Medicare this summer. A regional quilt council made me feel the same way. Then, I flipped through a recent issue of Quilting Quarterly, published by NQA and, guess what, most of the people in photos also looked to be well beyond the half century mark. Look at pictures of folks working and browsing local quilt shows and you’ll see the same thing.
I don’t doubt that many, many younger people are quilting. The modern quilt movement is powerful testament to that. What I don’t see is lots of younger people becoming part of face to face traditional quilting community at the local, regional, or national level. Local modern quilt guilds have sprung up, whether because younger quilters don’t know about existing quilt guilds in their area or they don’t feel welcome, I don’t know. Certainly the zeitgeist is different. QuiltCon threw an eighties party. I think a fifties party might be just the ticket for many traditional organizations.
This brings me to another aspect of traditional quilting organizations’ future – who will pick up the work done by such groups? I’m talking about the local charity projects, the quilt shows, etc. I don’t think this situation is confined to quilting. Friends tell me that many local civic groups traditionally run by women are losing members to age and its infirmities, and not attracting new, younger blood. Back in the day, when women were less likely to work full time, they joined organizations for companionship and outside interests.
I don’t think women today are less interested in social organizations, but it takes work to run them, and that takes time many women with full time jobs don’t have. Or else they participate online through blogs and other social media. My traditional guild has many members who work and really aren’t diving into guild projects such as our quilt show.
From personal experience – more on this in future posts – I know it takes almost a week to put on a quilt show, and that doesn’t include all the planning beforehand. Quilt intake, judging, and hanging have to be done before the show opens. Much of this work takes place on week days, when members who work aren’t available. So, as older guild members move to Florida (where quilt shows seem to be thriving) or become too infirm for all the work, putting on our quilt show is becoming increasingly problematic.
I’m sure some folks will say I’m way off base here, but I think traditional quilting organizations are approaching a decision point. I believe they need to take steps to attract new, younger members and make changes in how they are perceived, or they will eventually fade away.
And that would be a shame. Without the traditional guild I belong to I never would have done as much quilting as I have. There’s so much knowledge and expertise stored in those old ladies’ heads, and the only way to access it is face to face.