"Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics"
In 2011, The Kentucky Quilt Project Inc. created a nine-part documentary series titled "Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics," that takes a fresh look at quilts and spreads the word about the quilt's unique position at the center of American culture.
What is a quilt? A window into the past that bring history alive. A ‘real’ quilt is a three-layer fabric sandwich sewn together and folded over a bed. It’s also an amalgamation of fabric, photography, print making and other media and hangs on a gallery wall.
We all wonder how people dressed, traveled, thought and behaved in generations past, and we need only to look to quilts to find out. Since quilts were made—not by artisans—but by ordinary women whose lives they closely reflect, they are founts of information about the people and periods they represent. Quilts have a unique ability to preserve, not only our own family histories, but the history of America beyond the reach of memory.
Quilts are superb to display on walls as great works of art, among the most significant forms of American artistic expression. Quilts aren’t just bed coverings. They are remarkable cultural relics—a meeting place for love of both art and antiques.
Empowering women one at a time, quilts are the ultimate symbol of liberation. Quilt power equals woman power—expressing politics and religious beliefs and speaking out on current cultural issues. Quilt’s historical and current roles as an avenue of personal expression are a sly medium of social and political opinion and a building block of financial security. Unique among objects, quilts are both lowly “women’s work” and great art. They are something made from nothing, both nurturing and inspiring. They can communicate both intimate memories and great societal truths, and they have throughout history.
“Old quilts have been my teachers. They are full of little-used ideas for today's quilters.” -Gwen Marston
Today’s quilters can learn much about pictorial content, sequence of shapes and colors, composition and bold design from studying these antique quilts. As the art critiques noted in the 1971 reviews of the Whitney Museum of Arts’ exhibition, “Abstract Design in American Quilts”, these quilts from the 1800s preceded by a century the invention of abstract modern art. They also noted that the antique quilts were authentic visual articulation of the American imagination that had their origins in the workaday functions of regional life. The dazzling sensibility for color and visual construction displayed with such appealing vigor is amazing.
These antique quilts from my collection paint with fabric and have a vitality that the abstract artist’s canvases sometimes lack. Though humble in origin, these quilts dazzle with their sophisticated color patterns and bold, slashing forms like great modern abstract art.
Modern Quilt Guild
The MQG developed out of the thriving online community of modern quilters and their desire to start meeting in person. The founding guild was formed by Alissa Haight Carlton and Latifah Saafir in Los Angeles in October of 2009. Through blogs and the Internet, word spread quickly and soon guilds started popping up everywhere.
Modern quilts are primarily functional and inspired by modern design. Several identifying characteristics are: the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work. "Modern traditionalism" or the updating of classic quilt designs is also often seen.
A defining event occurred in 1998 when Martha Stewart Living featured Denyse Schmidt, calling her quilts a “chic, modernist aesthetic." This was a key inspirational moment for many quilters.
The growth of the movement was facilitated by affordable digital cameras, the changing fabric industry and the rise of social media. In 2002, the Quilts of Gee’s Bend exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the publication of Yoshiko Jinzenji’s book Quilt Artistry, further provided inspiration.
Two influential books were published in 2005, Denyse Schmidt Quilts and the Modern Quilt Workshop by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr. The first online “Quilt Alongs” were established on blogs around these two books and awareness continued to increase in the online world. The Flickr group, Fresh Modern Quilts, established in 2008, provided the first online centralized social media venue for quilters in the movement, and modern quilting took off like wildfire with over 100 guilds today.
One of our featured quilters
Jamie Fingal, Rebel Quilter
Jamie Fingal hails from Orange, California, known as the Rebel Quilter for her over the edge style of making quilts. She doesn't use batting or do binding, breaking the rules of convention with her “think outside the box” approach. Jamie uses wool blended felt for a foundation and backing and Mistyfused, under the term 'raw edge applique.' She only uses black thread in her work, because it looks like a line drawing, which is how most of her quilts begin, with a sketch.
Jamie’s art quilts are bright, spirited and playful using commercial cottons, batiks and hand dyed fabrics. A piece of her heart and soul is in everything she creates as she pushes the envelope. Known as the Zipper Queen, Jamie uses actual zippers and trim as a door to a house, a design element and for the borders on a quilt. One of her famous quilts Metal Measures is made entirely out of measuring tape fabric and zippers in a Log Cabin style, similar to her quilt Dress Up. Jamie's philosophy about making quilts is more about having fun, than about perfection. Her style is eclectic, a little edgy, and whimsical. Motifs in her work include houses with cups and saucers on the roofs, funky portraits and let's-throw- caution-to-the wind abstract. She constantly asks herself what if? in her quilt making.
Jamie also designs fabric, stencils, authored Embellished Mini Quilts and self-published a coloring book, Whimsical Inspirations. Jamie is one half of the curating team, Dinner at Eight Artists with Leslie Tucker Jenison. She believes in giving back, and coordinates the "Welcome Home" quilt project with Furnishing Hope that benefits wounded service members.
Courtesy of Why Quilts Matter, History, Art & Politics
When I first started collecting quilts, anything made before 1900 was an antique and 1930s quilts were vintage. Today, there’s a new vintage, and it’s a trend seen in the last decade with other collectibles. There really wasn’t much interest in quilts from the second half of the 20th century until recently, but the market is quickly heating up. Interestingly, the quilts of this period don’t necessarily adhere to the style commonly known as mid-century modern.
Back in November 2010, I found a flannel-backed, tied spread, crazy block pattern, full of hot colors and wild fabrics from the mid to late 1960s and early 1970s. It was visually exciting, and way outside the box. It was the kind of thing you might find wadded up in a ball under a table at a tag sale, or used to wrap furniture when moving. But I felt it was better than that, much better. Would people laugh at me for thinking it was so great? Did I care?
I call the quilt “Wild Thing” and it kicked off a thrilling period of collecting. Over the last two years I’ve acquired over 100 quilts from the second half of the 20th century, with a strong focus on the 1970s. “Wild Thing” is now on its way to Galway, Ireland, where it will be part of the “Feeling Groovy” exhibit in the International Quilt Festival of Ireland. It was an honor to be invited.
Lately there’s been a lot of discussion among historians about late 20th century quilts. Roderick Kiracofe has collected these quilts over the last decade. In February, he exhibited at QuiltCon, the first national convention of The Modern Quilt Guild. The exhibit was called “Modern Historical Quilts” and included ten of his quilts. He recently released the second of two self-published books, “Quilts 2? and three of my quilts are in the book.
Although the quilts are still very affordable, prices have steadily climbed in the last year. More people have started to collect them, and the great quilts are becoming a little harder to find.
These quilts don’t bear a strong resemblance to mid-century modern style, the most prominent design style of the period. They are much more down to earth, and not especially slick looking. Fabrics are cringe-worthy to some—primarily polyester double knits and floral cotton calicoes. Patterns tend to be simple and traditional, with much experimental use of color. Bindings are wide, just like men’s neckties of the time, and construction is very basic. Many of the quilts are tied and backed with materials such as flannel or cotton bed sheets. Most of the piecing and appliqué are done by machine.
Just like the quilts of other historical periods, quilts of the 1970s usually have a very specific look and feel. They are bold, bright, quirky, and made to be used. Not surprisingly, these quilts inform the work of the Modern quilters—a group that certainly embraces the new vintage. Back in the 1970s, the growing interest in quilts was very much a rediscovery of quilt making in America. Today, it’s more like a passing of the torch, and there’s something really great about that.