The word “quilt” can mean several things, depending on the person you are talking to. What comes to mind could be a cherished quilt that was made by a friend or relative with a special story attached to it. Occasionally, the origin story has been lost. (A note to quilters: Always put a label on your quilt!) Or perhaps the quilt might be a puffy comforter-style bedspread, purchased and at a large retail store, chosen because the colors matched their bedroom. Finally, it may indeed be a quilted bed cover that says “handmade” on the tag but that was produced in another country by workers who toil for long hours for pay that is barely enough to support their families.
When I am asked what kind of quilts I make, my answer is usually, “Not your grandmother’s quilts!” This is in no way meant to disparage the beautiful and timeless art of quilting when quilting was not necessarily a hobby. Women quilted to provide the bedding that would keep their families warm at night.They might have used scraps from clothing that was too worn to wear, or even flour sacks and feed bags. Color schemes didn’t matter as long as nothing went to waste!
Quilting was also an opportunity for women to gather and socialize as they helped one another complete their quilts.After the squares of fabric were pieced together by hand stitching, the quilt need to be quilted. The top was then layered with batting (often wool) and a backing fabric, which would be stretched over a wooden quilting frame. These frames were larger enough to accommodate several women seated around them. The quilting was then done by by tying it with yarn or a needle and thread. Women took pride in their tiny, even quilting stitches. Conversation (or gossip!) filled the air until the quilt was finished and ready for a family bed.
My answer about not making “your grandmother’s” quilts is a reference to different aspects of the art. For example,I have sophisticated sewing machines and tools that make the process a bit simpler. (Make no mistake – making a quilt still takes hours and hours of work.) Don’t confuse handmade with hand stitching; my quilts are pieced and quilted on machines but are very much handmade.
I am fascinated by color and pattern. I am attracted to the brighter colors and more modern prints on fabrics. I enjoy combining them in pleasing or, occasionally, unexpected ways. I have shelves of quilting books in my studio but very few contain the traditional patterns such as “Grandmother’s Garden” or Feathered Star.” Instead,most of the books on my shelves have the word “modern” or “contemporary” in their titles. I also love to make applique quilts, which involves cutting out shapes or designs and then applying them to the quilt top.
And, fortunately, the feeling of community among quilters is alive and well, albeit through different channel.s. I belong to groups of quilters on social media and in my own neighborhood. A very good friend and I often go shopping for quilt fabrics together – she heads to the early 20th century reproduction prints while I make a beat a path tor the latest in modern batik fabrics. These different preferences strengthen our bond as we learn from and appreciate each other. Quilters, whether they live down the street or in a different country share a special bond that sustains us and makes us better!