Sunday, January 10, 2010

stitched up: what does quilting mean?

last week, i happened to go to jude hill's big cartel site at exactly the right time to be able to, at long last, buy one of her beautiful spirit cloth creations. and it arrived already yesterday. it must have taken the first flight it could, because it seemed to get here very quickly. i think it knew how much i was looking forward to it.i've mentioned jude's spirit cloth blog and photostream before, because i have been drawn back to her work again and again for awhile now. i love the insight into her process that she shares on her blog - it's definitely magical.

as i sit here and write this, with the cloth here on my lap, i feel it radiating a quiet magic. i've had a half-written post on the topic of this quilting thing in my head for several days now, but it didn't really want to come out. now that the cloth is here, it seems the words are ready to come.

i joined jude's slow cloth group on facebook last week. there is a lively discussion going on there, but i'll admit that i ended up feeling very provoked by what was being said. especially by what was being said about contemporary quilters and quilting materials. there seemed to be a preference for old fabrics over new and hand stitching instead of sewing with a machine. a decided prejudice against what's marketed and an attitude towards quilt shows and popularizing quilt designers (tho' no one dared to name names) that i can only describe as haughty. i found myself feeling strangely angry about some of what i read (i must stress that it isn't everyone in the group or even everyone in the discussion - and jude is marvelous at redirecting the conversation onto a thoughtful and more productive track). but some of it seemed arrogant and elitist. there is actually one person who said they couldn't stand the rotary cutters many people use for cutting fabric. and another who was criticizing what people did with their quilts and how they hung them - as if they weren't their own to do with as they pleased. i was overwhelmed by a sense of irony that the conversation is taking place on facebook - the use of modern social networking to have a conversation about a return to traditional handmade quilting. hmmm....

one of the participants in the discussion, linked to this blog post about what quilting is today and what it once was (in this person's opinion). and i think the post sums up nicely the anti-commercial thread that's in evidence in the facebook group.  also ironic, because if you start to look at the blogs of the participants, you find that most have an etsy or big cartel site and some even sell through galleries, so they are, in fact, selling their work, even as they express disdain for those who do so. i'm not sure if i can make that fit together very well.

and while it would be wonderful if we could all sit in our cocoons and create to our hearts' content, the reality of the world in which we find ourselves is that we probably need to sell some of the things we make. selling not only supports our creative habits, but it also validates us if we're honest about it. and it brings us joy. i feel so happy and satisfied that my friend blanca wanted to give baby quilts that i made to some of the babies in her family for christmas. and while the financial side is nice, what's actually even nicer is that my friend liked my work enough to want to give it as a meaningful gift to someone she loves.

anyway, i guess i have this quilting thing and what it might all mean on my mind these days. on my mind as i contemplate cutting into sabin's baby's clothes to be able to make her a memory quilt of her life thus far. on my mind as i made blocks for christmas for husband's daughters to have memory quilts of their own--of our travels and our times spent together. on my mind as i contemplate the wonderful handmade quilt husband's mother made for him--a mixture of blocks he designed and traditional blocks. on my mind as i try to decide what to do with the beautiful, bright quilt top that my great grandmother made.

i'm finding it a bit surprising, the strong emotions i feel about this whole thing. there is something about stitching. something that feels connected and grounding. but i honestly have no objection to using new fabrics, just because they're popular. when i look at the quilt top that my great grandmother made, i see bright, cheerful fabrics that i'm sure were the popular ones of her era. so to use the new and beautiful fabrics i see out there seems to me to be quilting in her spirit, even if i do most of my sewing my machine and am quite attached to my rotary cutter.

i think one of the magical things about quilts is that they are very representative of their times. they are quite literally the very fabric of their time. and i don't see anything wrong with that. as i look through the book about swedish quilts that i found a few months ago, i see that the same was true then. so, i'm going to hang out in the slow cloth group and see what i can learn, because there are some real artists there, even if some of the group is a bit elitist and disdainful (despite a lot of talk about mentoring). i'm confident i can hold my own. and find my own stitching voice. but i do think that having an incredible piece like jude's story fragment beside me as i do it will help. thank you jude, for giving in a bit to the commercial side and sharing your beautiful work. i will take good care of it.


spudballoo said...

I think I must make you one of my new 'Rage on Board' badges. Now, should I use a rotary cutter...hand sewn...machine? Oh, hang on, I forget...we're in the real world where real people couldn't give a doodah about such nonsense.'s a quilt, it's art, it's sewing...get over it. There's no quilting 'law' no wrong or right (as with most things in life in fact) just what pleases you.

So if it pleases you, just do it. And sod the snooty cows.


PS I'm quite feisty at the moment. Bloody snow = horrendous cabin fever = crabby Spud

d smith kaich jones said...

Julie - This is exactly how I feel when people start talking about using film cameras instead of digital, or when people diss photoshop - people who have no problem shooting film and then manipulating it during developing or asking their photo lab to do so for them, and then needing all kinds of special stuff done when printed. It feels silly & arrogant to me - I don't get angry, I just roll my eyes and laugh at them.

I have a friend I've mentioned before who is a quilter and she is one of those gotta be by hand, gotta use old looking or old really fabrics (usually the uglier the better, as far as I'm concerned), and the reason? It makes her feel better about what she's doing, makes her feel better about calling it art.

So I guess in any field there are those people. Pay no attention. It doesn't matter, not really. Just keep quilting.

:) Debi

spudballoo said...

PPS Why not sew it with thread spun from the manes of unicorns and flog them for $50k a piece as an 'image of hope'?


Elizabeth said...

This is exactly why I prefer to be hermit instead of a social weaver.

The sentence where you are talking about the strong emotions and stitching brought a smile to my face. I am looking forward to your posts on the quilt for your lovely daughter and the cycles you go'll through.

See you soon.

Elisa @ Globetrotting in Heels said...

I just don't get the whole snob thing. It seems that people look for ways that their work or they themselves can be considered superior to someone else or someone else's work. It happens in all fields of life, and to me it's just ridiculous.
What do you care about how someone does their stuff? We don't all have to like the same things. We don't all have to do things the same way.
In Italy there's a saying: "The world is beautiful because it's varied." I agree.

More to the point, I think it can be nice to mix tradition and modern style. It can name things interesting. Things evolve afterall, they don't stay the same.

For instance, I really don't like antique furniture, but I love those antique chairs and armchairs when they are reupholstered with a cool fabric and painted a strong color. It's fun.

And art, like everything, also has its periods. And then artists gather influences from different periods and different artists and do their own thing. There is nothing wrong with that.

jude said...

i would like to thank you for the kind words and your sense of fairness. there is a lot to be said about what is happening in the group. as with all large groups, conversation gets out of hand and there starts to be a disconnect because of ego. the premise of the group is not that at all. and i am trying to address that somehow. slowly as usual. the group is about the conversation and your words are part of it. thank you. the respect to listen, we need that. i love your little squares.

A Cuban In London said...

A gem of a post. The dichotomy art/retail is one that many artists fear and avoid. But there's no avoiding it, you must make a living. Judging by the material you present to us, you're very, very gifted. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

arlee said...

Well said thoughts!
Slow Cloth has polarized a lot of people i think----i admit to two years ago thinking it was just a craze. Then i went through a period where all i did was by hand--and now i've integrated machine work back in again to complement and contrast. I think there's room for both in this area---"slow" can be a considered measure of what is expected and thoughtful and clear with a "gadget" *or* the hand, i think---i'm not willing to give up either--both are only *tools* in the hands of each of us Makers, and that's what we need to remember.

Marilynne said...

I have an old quilt top that my grandmother and her daughters made. One of those daughters was my mother. It is so handmade looking and not square. I want to make a quilt from it and have the materials, but I'm loathe to get started. I see this would not be a problem with you. Good luck with your new group.

Deb G said...

My bottom line is that we need to create in a way that makes us happy and satisfies us. There is no one right answer, one right avenue to being creative. I do feel sustainability is important, but there is balance in that too and sometimes new ways are more sustainable than old. It will be interesting to see where "Slow Cloth" goes.

Velma Bolyard said...

hey--just found my way here and caught this post. good thinking. there will always be elitists. there will be people who think it has to be one way. but, technology needs to be appropriate to the maker, to the made. i once had a very bad teacher. he "owned" what he was teaching, made me feel and look foolish. he was very, very important. what was he teaching? spinning linen. hard to believe.