Recently I read an amazing statistic on Twitter that 14% of all households in this country have at least one member who makes quilts. Think of that--that's huge. Over 16 million households spending a total of over 3.5 BILLION dollars in quilting fabric and supplies. Check out the results here--http://ow.ly/1VPma--(thanks to Quilters Newsletter in cooperation with International Quilt Market and Festival, a division of Quilts, Inc for this fact). Average age is 62. Female. They even researched the favorite types of fabric prints--but I digress.
Now let's face it--most of these quilt makers are making what we call traditional patterns. The pieced patterns--Ohio Star, Trip Around the World, Irish Chain. Patterns that they can name better than me. They are doing the newest methods in quilt making--Slash and Stash (or is it Stash and Slash), Strip Piecing, Watercolor. Names that fly by me as they proudly tell me of their latest adventure. Do I dye my own fabric? Have I seen the latest TV show?
And I must confess there is a part of me that is a bit envious. In another life, I would love to make the perfect Double Wedding Ring Quilt. What about a Tumbling Block Quilt--hand pieced and quilted. I love the simplicity of the older Amish Quilts. A wool quilt in perfect colors. Wouldn't it be fun to see the larger patterns develop in a Storm at Sea pattern?
Now in reality I know it is not for me. I used to make log cabin quilts. Lots of them. I love that design. But I tired of the long seams. I tired of the frustration of so much repetition. I used to play all sorts of games with myself--counting the number of pieces left to sew together. Promising I could take a break when I ran out of bobbin thread. Trying not to count the amount of work left to do. It still wasn't enough and I worked on developing my own style.
Now there have also has been an interesting series of discussions on the SAQA forum--that is short for Studio Art Quilt Association for those who don't know. A great organization of artists who are exploring quilts as artistic expression. Some of the members I respect the most are questioning whether the definition of quilt--three layers, attached--is too confining. Would they sell better if it was called fiber art? Or textile art? Does the history of quilt making lessen the perceived value of the work? Are we now beyond this?
All interesting questions. And very sincere issues.
But I think there is more to quilt making than just following the latest patterns and designs. I think of an older woman I knew slightly. Her husband at the end of his life was becoming even more ornery and demanding by the day as his health failed. Basically as she said--he was impossible to live with--but she had no choice. She admitted quite bluntly that without her weekly quilt group she would have gone crazy herself.
I remember a wonderful presentation I saw while waiting to give a presentation at a Quilting Guild in Williamstown. Woman after woman proudly showing the quilts they had made so a distant city hospital could wrap them around children whose lives would be all too brief. The only memory some parents would hold of an anticipated child. Hundreds of quilts made with so much care and purpose and sent off to lessen sorrow just a bit.
I think of myself a couple of days ago. As you may remember from my last post, I had to go to a funeral for a friend of mine who died far too young and far too suddenly. The young adult children trying to make sense of the senseless. The minister--a friend of the family--trying to promise an after life that did not at least at the time provide me with answers. For solace I pulled weeds in my garden with a quiet rhythm. I mulched day lilies. Labeled iris until I had made some order out of a chaos in my mind.
And for me I guess I need to keep this larger concept of quilts in my work. I feel that it gives an additional meaning and depth that fiber art would not. By adding these memories of the traditional my quilts become part of a greater whole. Does it lessen their freshness that they are rooted in the past? I don't know--and I am not sure I care. Would I want to forget all those other quilt makers and the needs that quilts fill? I don't think so. At least not right now.
And you--do you keep the traditional in your work? Do you think it should be kept? I am not sure of the answers.