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The tradition of quilting

I’ve laid low through all the discussion (and discord) over modern vs. traditional, mostly because I don’t really understand the debate.  But since my opinion is hardly controversial, I thought I’d throw it out there and move on. I am a quilter and what follows is my view of the world.

(If you’re lucky enough to not know what I’m talking about…well, you’re just lucky!)

I’ve been quilting for more than 20 years (and sewing for almost 40), and did it alone for most of that time. I was younger than most quilters I met. No guilds, few friends who quilted, no blogs or internet resources. The women in my family sewed, but no one quilted. I bought lots of books for inspiration, and then did my own thing. Which, for the most part, meant spinning off of “traditional” patterns using “contemporary” fabrics (yes, the much-maligned batiks and asian fabrics were modern a few short years ago).

I quilted what I loved – why else would I do it?

Traditional quilters have been taking it on the nose for a bit. Some of it is deserved – like many young quilters I tried attending a few guild meetings only to feel ignored. I used (and still do) crazy colors and fabrics ahead of many and occasionally felt misunderstood ~ although I will admit that age has taught me a thing or two about owning my quilting confidence.

Some of the heat comes from the perception that there are rules for quilting, and traditional quilters are responsible for enforcing them.  But guess what? Traditional quilters broke all the rules laid down for them. Hand vs. machine applique – or even (shudder) raw edge? There are no rules, and they opened the door wide for today’s quilters.  You’re welcome!

And by the way – it’s not RULES that emphasize consistent 1/4 inch seams, quality materials, matching corners and good pressing techniques, it’s EXPERIENCE.  Assuming you want a flat top that can be quilted without puckers, tucks, expletives and tears, that will hold up in the wash and will last longer than the time it took you to make it.  There!  I’ve said it.

I’ve read many comments lately that can only be described as disdain for traditional quilting. But lumping hundreds of years of quilting history into one term is a shame. Welsh wholecloth, Baltimore Albums and crazy quilts, Depression-era Sunbonnet Sues and Dresdens, log cabin prairie quilts made from salvaged materials, the mystery of Amish (and Hmong) quilting and Civil War quilts made by the same hands that birthed the magic of Gee’s Bend.

I’ll concede the 1980s and 90s weren’t stellar, but consider what we had to work with.  It was grim, and you should thank us for keeping the craft alive during the burgundy/green/federal blue and mauve years.

Quilting is not THEN or NOW. It’s both.

It certainly went out of style during the affluence of the 1950s, only to return in the late 70s as a way to honor the history of our country.  And here I am today, designing a red, white and blue summer quilt with fabrics from Denyse Schmidt (arguably one of the queens of the modern quilting movement) that is strongly rooted in that tradition.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Truthfully, I’m not sure I believe there is any such thing as modern quilts. In my mind, modern quilting is NOT about quilts. It’s blogs, and modern quilt guilds, online tutorials and new quilters bravely learning an art form that their mothers and even grandmothers skipped. It’s about tools and techniques nobody imagined just a few years ago. It’s a virtual community of wonderful, talented, creative and occasionally flawed individuals.

The debate will continue, I’m sure. But I’ve seen an effort to break down the labels and move us forward, and it comes as no surprise.  Quilters are a warm, inclusive bunch. We make QUILTS, after all!

As has happened so many times before, the quilts in my heart are evolving once again. I’m inspired by the freedom of new quilters, amazing fabric designs, colors and textures and patterns.  I see things I’ve never noticed before. I have the tools, and the confidence to try things I’ve never tried before. I’m finding friendship and acceptance and a whole new energy for quilting. And I’m embracing it all.

Isn’t that the tradition of quilting?

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. I really like the way you put this. It’s hard as a modern guild founder to put in to words how modern quilting is different than traditional quilting because they aren’t very different! Technology is the biggest difference I think, both in the way we communicate, learn, and create our quilts. Thanks for sharing!

    May 9, 2011
    • I know – I guess I’ve decided if they are that difficult to define, we’re probably trying too hard. And I’d rather be quilting!

      May 9, 2011
  2. AMEN! Until blogging I mostly quilted alone. I have never taken a class or belonged to a guild or “group” activity like that. So, the whole modern/traditional debate sort of confuses me. Particularly because each camp has trouble defining their own position.

    CS Lewis (a big hero of mine) was once talking about “children’s” literature and how people defined some of his books as children’s and then complained that they were much too adult in theme. His reponse was that there was no such thing as children’s books and adult books; there were only good books and bad books.

    Perhaps it might be the same with quilting. There are not modern and traditional quilts. THere are only good quilts and bad quilts. (Bad meaning poorly or carelessly constructed). For example, have tried some improv type blocks and they are challenging. They take too long for me and I don’t care for them, but I have much respect for those who do them well. And since you mentioned Gees Bend, is improv traditional or modern anyway?

    Anyway, I know this is a very long comment, but your post really got me thinking.

    May 9, 2011
    • Thank goodness ~ somebody else who thinks improv blocks are a challenge! 🙂 I love them, but they are not intuitive to me at all.

      If I had not read CS Lewis as a child, I might not have read him as an adult. That would have been sad, indeed. Thanks for sharing!

      May 9, 2011
  3. *karendianne. #

    A friend of mine shared your post with me today. I’m sure glad she did. What an excellent perspective you have. This entire debate has left a bad taste in my mouth and actually was a factor in my taking a break. Just not interested in all the negativity. I take the wider view of quilting and the world. We are all One with something to contribute and share. You certainly have contributed much! Its a pleasure to meet you. Warmly and with kindness, *karendianne.

    May 9, 2011
  4. Sounds much like the debates that happen all the time in Knitting and Crochet. I’m an equal opportunity crafter. I love the hobbie and the pride that comes with a well(and not so well) completed project,a new technique learned and a challenge met.

    May 9, 2011
    • I feel the same ~ there may be grace in the everyday lather, rinse, repeat of life but my hobbies give me a sense of accomplishment like nothing else.

      May 9, 2011
  5. I just heart quilting, no matter how it’s done.


    May 18, 2011
    • It’s that simple, isn’t it?

      May 18, 2011

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