Yesterday I went on a bit of a rampage about the modern era "art quilt." I have to say that this has been bugging me for a long time and I have to admit that I was even surprised at my rabid reaction.
I know I've written about "rubber glove" quilters and my lack of understanding about what they do. What's most frustrating from my point of view is that for many years I was the renegade quilter. The one that thought it was OK to mix cottons and other fabrics, who didn't freak out if something was off grain, and who wasn't overly concerned that my stitches weren't 10 to an inch. In the early days there were a lot of hardliners and I encountered them at quilt shows. I think they were afraid that their comfort zone was being threatened and us "darned art quilters" were going to take over and then they were going to be on the outside looking in.
I don't remember ever mocking traditional quilters, even while I was purposely stretching the limits. I always appreciated their skill and their committment. Let's face it, if those dear ladies hadn't stuck it out as long as they did to teach a new generation, who knows what would have happened to quilting. It could have ended up like macrame.
I remember being very frustrated that my skills weren't up to par. My mother was often critical of my technique and told me that I needed to improve my skill set. She was right and I was very fortunate that she didn't reflexively praise me, but instead encouraged and inspired me. I was also fortunate in having a wonderful sewing instructor, LaVina Scott at San Joaquin Delta College. She had worked in the fashion business in San Francisco for years and knew how to make everything from shoes to hats. She taught me technique and I leaned how to do things the "right" way. It was a wonderful gift to be expected to be the best, but the most important thing she did is that she gave me the wings....and then let me fly. I'll never forget what she said on the last day of our class, she said, "OK Ladies, now you know the rules, go out and break them!"
And so I did! As often as possible and not always with the best results. However, through it all I always maintained my admiration for those fine hand quilters out there and their beautiful work. In the beginning of my quilting journey I was all for machine quilting. I was young and in a hurry. Today I've come full circle to the point where I do very few things by machine, and always quilt by hand.
Now I'm one of those who question the validity of machine quilted quilts. It's not that I don't like them or that I don't think they're "quilts" I just question judging them side by side with hand quilted work. I know that quilting by machine is difficult, especially if you are hand guiding the machine, but does it rise to the same level of hand quilting? I'm not sure yet, but I do know that it bugs me when an entirely machine made quilt wins first prize at a big show. I just think the machine quilters have an advantage, and a lot of that is financial.
Those who can't afford the expensive quilting machines are left out of the mix, and I think that's a crime. I look back to my early days when if I had 10 bucks to spend on fabric that was a lot. I wonder how many young quilters are discouraged when they find out how much a decent machine costs? Are we helping or hurting the next generation of quilters by emphasizing a style of work not affordable to everyone?
As to the new breed of "Art Quilters," well, I'm not sure about them either. A lot of them are coming out of art schools where they are trained to be "Textile Artists." They dye, stamp, shred, staple, pummel, and generally abuse fabric and call it "art." I have seen some of these pieces that I do like a lot. Some of them have been quilted and are beautiful. I would be happy to include them in our world.
However, a lot of what is produced under the current "Art Quilt" label aren't quilts or art. They have a tendency to look the same, as if they all learned the same techniques and are reproducing the same ideas over and over and over again. I suspect that some of these artists will move on to other mediums and some may even embrace aspects of more traditional quilting. I hope both of these things happen because there are some artists suited to our medium and others that really should move on. I'd love to see more "Art/Traditional Quilt" hybrids, where all sides can get together and enjoy what's been created.
Isn't it interesting that some of the same struggles that existed within the quilting community in the 1970s are still with us? Will there always be this pull between traditional and non-traditional quilters? I think it's eased a bit on the traditional end. Different fabrics and color combinations are more widely accepted, and the ease with which machine quilting is accepted is a new thing too. I wonder what things will look like 20, even 10 years from now?
Oh well, in the meantime, I'd better get some quilting done!