Sure, it’s art, but is it a quilt?

This week the Quilt Show’s blog gave my Cranky Claus a mention. I have the sense that they focus on traditional or decorative techniques, so I particularly appreciate their highlighting this piece. It was created with some techniques that aren’t traditional to quilters and its subject matter has a little bite, more than some of the blog’s commenters cared for.

I’ve never gotten the feeling that Alex Anderson or Ricky Tims, the “names” behind the show and the site, are prejudiced in that sense, though. Their offerings may be more traditional or feature approachable techniques, but that’s simply a matter of knowing their target audience and how they wish to serve it.

I have fond memories of watching Alex’s show, Simply Quilts, when my son was first born. A wide variety of intriguing techniques were showcased; focussing on them helped me keep my sanity while my son was yowling. There was definitely an air of “Why not? Let’s try it!” about that show, a philosophy which has always served me well. I later met Ricky Tims for about a nanosecond when he handed me an award at one of the Houston shows, one of many he’s presented over the years.

I’m fortunate to have been born to a rich tradition of needlework. My grandmothers were accomplished quilters, thrifty souls who saved every tidbit of fabric from sewing clothes and meticulously pieced them together to keep their families warm. My paternal grandmother went a step beyond that, tatting exquisite bits of lace to adorn her dressers and tabletops. I’ve deviated from that path by pursuing art quilting rather than tatting or traditional quilting, but I like to think that my current work continues the tradition of “Why not? Let’s try it!”. 

A few years before I came on the art quilting scene, people were grappling with the notion that one could paint an image on a piece of whole cloth, stitch it, and it would be legitimately a quilt. It strikes me as a logical step: whole cloth quilts with intricate stitching already existed, so why not paint your own image on the cloth first? However, the development wasn’t universally well received. While some embraced the idea, others muttered about it darkly, even going so far as to say that those weren’t “real” quilts and they shouldn’t be accepted in shows.

Since then, I’ve witnessed similar debating each time there’s a new development. I’ve heard grumbling about art quilts whose surface was made from photos printed on fabric. Ditto for art quilts whose surface is made from fabric collage, stitched leather, quilts made from non-fabric items such as plastic fencing, and sculptures constructed from quilted cloth. Now a few of us create cloth based on images we’ve made with the assistance of a computer.

Some are intrigued by these techniques. Some find them repellent and state that they aren’t “valid” compared to traditional techniques such as piecing, applique, or stitching over a whole piece of unornamented cloth. Still others have concerns about subject matter, protesting that certain topics shouldn’t be depicted in fiber.

I hope that aspiring artists, craftsmen, and art quilters won’t be put off by the naysayers and will celebrate their creativity in whatever ways they see fit. It’s a big planet. There’s room for people to work traditionally or to push the margins. I shall continue to do the latter. 

One of my current projects involves a baby dragon who’s gotten up to great mischief. To bring his story to life, I have to create or otherwise obtain models, pose them, texture them, and light them. Even after the scene has been rendered, there’ll be more work to do, hand editing the render. Then I’ll decide whether the image would benefit from being printed out on fabric and stitched. Not everything does. While some images become quilts, others become book covers or have other uses. In a previous life, these would have included advertising or product marketing art.

There’s no “make art” button on my computer, you see. Regardless of the medium or techniques one uses, whether it’s painting or piecing or collage, it takes time and care to create. It’s a laborious process but I love doing it. Creating my own worlds and bringing them to life is intoxicating.

I invite others to try it themselves. All of the resources below are powerful and free:

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