What’s the Future of Traditional Quilting Organizations?

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.

2012 Quilt Show at Sauder Village, Archbold, Ohio

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.

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8 responses to “What’s the Future of Traditional Quilting Organizations?

  1. Pingback: End Of An Era? | The Snarky Quilter

  2. I like to think it is part of the ebb and flow that occurs with any hobby – as it gains in popularity guilds expand and as it loses guilds contract. However I would also argue that quilting is gaining at the moment so that doesn’t really work out. In the grand scheme of things though quilt guilds don’t seem to be a long-standing phenomenon. Most “old” guilds here in the states were founded in the 70’s or later. Maybe a new model will emerge, but I’ve been concerned about the aging of the traditional quilters and the smaller number of young people rising in to the ranks, too.

  3. Parsley

    I started going to my local quilt guild as soon as I found out it existed, but I felt that cliques had already formed, and it took about a year for me to feel like I knew anyone at all, even a little bit. I still didn’t think they’d particularly notice if I was there or not. When my schedule changed and I had to stop going regularly, if I saw folks from the guild, they were quick to say they missed me, etc. I thought, “Why didn’t you reach out to me when I was still there?!” I’m also by far the youngest person there when I attend, but that doesn’t bother me as much as the feeling that everyone is being a bit aloof.

    • I’m picking up a theme of unfriendly and cliquish for some guilds. I make a point of greeting any visitors to my traditional guild and welcoming them because I know it’s daunting to enter a room full of strangers who don’t seem especially friendly. We invite folks to attend our meetings as guests twice, and then ask that they join if they want to continue. As I mentioned before, the atmosphere of our guild has changed considerably over the past 5 years. We laugh a lot more now that we’re smaller.

  4. Great post!

    The local traditional quilt guild is huge, but mostly senior citizen/retirement age. They have tens of thousands of doallrs in their treasury, but when guests come to visit and there’s a special speaker they hound them for money. What if the guest didn’t know there was going to be a special speaker or that it would cost money?

    They require oodles of additional things just to be an active member. You have to donate x amount of stuff and sell this and that. You have to give away x number of quilts. As the mother of three children, with a husband who works all the time and quilting money can be a feast/famine sort of thing – who has the time and money for all of that?

    But mostly? I’m not welcome. I don’t match points or follow any of the “rules” for quilting. I don’t care for their quilts and I doubt mine would pass muster. I don’t want to sit through an hour long meeting on someone’s exceedingly large Sunbonnet Sue collection. I appreciate pre-cuts, but I don’t want to sit theough a demonstration on layer cakes and the more traditional patterns based on fabric/pattern variation.

    I have to find chldcare to go to a guild meeting so I have to really want to go in order to wrangle it. So, even though there’s a *huge* traditional guild in my city, I drive 50 minutes to go to the modern guild. It’s fun, it fits, they like my quilts, and I (mostly) like theirs. Oh, and there’s another huge traditional guild in that city as well, but our group is growing by leaps and bounds – oftentimes with members that maintain membership in both groups.

    As for charity work – there are ways that the modern quilters are taking that up – do Good Stitches over on Flickr and Stitched in Color, Jennifer Ofenstein @ Sew Hooked and Project Linus (I think she might head that up), plus others I’m sure I’m missing. I think the focus has turned online, though that doesn’t mean that modern guilds aren’t doing it locally too.

    I think the days of a single quilt guild to fit them all are over. I think traditional guilds will continue to exist, but I suspect they’ll be much smaller than they might have been in the past. Certainly there are younger quilters interested in traditional styles who might feel right at home in a traditional guild even when I don’t. I think rather than thinking of it as fighting for membership, I think we should think in terms of partnerships. When it comes to shows and local charity work, perhaps both guilds can work together which could spread out the work according to schedules and availability.

    • Many thanks for your thoughtful take on this post. I’m fortunate in that the traditional guild I belong to has lost most of its hidebound,rules focused quilters thanks to a schism. All those fussy folks have formed their own daytime guild. I honor the older members of my guild who have shown great generosity of spirit and time. Lately we’ve been picking up new, somewhat younger members who work and are somewhat new to quilting. I hope they continue with us.

  5. Most of the members of the local guild here are much older ladies and I don’t feel I have much in common with them. It’s me, not them. And the politics and cliques within the group make it that much harder to feel comfortable. I don’t even enjoy going to quilt retreats anymore because I don’t feel a connection there. Also, the differences with quilting…modern/art/traditional seem to create an ‘us versus them’ mentality that can be extremely divisive. I hope our hobby can survive.

    • Like you, people that think their way is “the” way make me tired. I guess I view quilting as a big tent and don’t have much time for a view that modern or contemporary quilting isn’t “real” quilting. I belong to both a traditional and modern quilt guild, and have been fortunate that both seem accepting of other approaches to quilting. Though I must say that I’m probably the most “out there” quilter in my traditional guild. And my modern guild is thrilled to learn traditional techniques, though I don’t tell them they’re traditional.

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