Monday, March 03, 2008

The Soapbox

Here are a few observations I made and opinions I formed from the attending the Indiana Heritage Quilt Show.

1. The quality of machine quilting now is truly extraordinary. In fact, the quilting on the winning quilts was better than the teachers' quilts, two of whom were teaching machine quilting. I'm talking about long arm quilting, I think, although this show doesn't make a distinction in categories, and so unless the quilt maker stated in her description how the quilt was done, it's hard to know. I do know that one excellent quilt was quilted on a standard machine.

2. Shows face a challenge in clarifying categories. Distinguishing different types of machine quilting is one area that is changing so fast that categories need to change to keep up. It doesn't seem fair for a hand guided home machine to have to compete with a long arm, particularly a computer guided long arm. Then there's the professional vs. amateur category. One thing I noticed at this show was how many more professional entries there are now. That's not surprising, considering how many people have long arm quilting businesses. But again, can a competent, small business long arm quilter compete with someone who is not just a professional quilter, but a professional competitive quilter? That's clearly what is happening.

Then there is a question of what makes an "art quilt." At this show the same person won in Wall Quilt and Art Quilt (amateur). The two entries were hanging side by side, identical in technique as far as I could see, and similar in subject matter (both raw edge applique/collage landscapes). The only apparent difference was size. "Art Quilt" or "Fabric Art" needs some definition--a tall order, I know.

3. And finally, I've noticed in the last few years an increasing emphasis on what I heard described as the "Wow factor." Of course a winning quilt has to have something special about it. But does special have to mean oversized, brightly colored, high contrast motifs? Does it have to mean fully saturated complementary colors used in equal amounts? Does it have to mean glue on crystals that don't necessarily enhance the design? Does it have to mean cloying sentimentality? Can't special mean a subtly beautiful color scheme, a well-balanced design, an interesting play of geometric shapes, or wit, originality, and taste? Is it a good thing for a quilt to "look just like a painting"?

If I go too far with this, it sounds like I'm criticizing the quilters, whose technical skills are breath-taking, deserving the highest admiration. I'm not. I'm criticizing a current trend, fad, whatever you might call it, that quilters are responding to. I don't think it's necessarily a healthy trend. If 80 years ago women were creating kitsch in their spare time with needle and thread and calicos, and they're now creating kitsch with $5000+ sewing machines, $10 a yard fabric, and $8 a spool thread, have we progressed? I don't think so. A few years ago, non-quilters began to look at quilting with respect. We're going to lose that respect and become just a marketing opportunity unless design becomes as important as workmanship.

Finally, since this sounds a bit negative, I just want to clarify that the IHQS is a very well organized, well run show, with a broad range of quilt styles and levels, and first class teachers. I've always enjoyed going to it, and will continue to make it part of my quilting plan. If you made it through all this, thanks for persevering!

11 comments:

dee said...

thanks for stopping by Kay. I'm so envious that you got to see Edward Hopper and it's funny you should say that about my picture. All the while I looked at it after Roger took it, I kept thinking it reminded me of something so familiar...well DUH! Thanks for clearing that up. I don't think Roger realized it either. I think that's Quoddy Light if I remember correctly.

Colleen formerly of South Africa said...

I agree with all you commented on the quilt show. Thanks for sharing...YOu are preaching to the choir sister!

The Calico Cat said...

Well put! I have had those feelings at quilt show for a while... When it comes down to it, what get in is what gets entered. If no one is entering hand quilted quilts then they can't be shown - after a couple years of that the scheme of the show shifts... Good, bad, indifferent - I don't know, but that is what I go to several shows... The Lancaster show has a very different feel to the Mid-Atlantic show...

Karen Dianne Lee said...

This is an interesting synopsis of the show. I had a difficulty at the Quilt Fest here with the art quilts.

It was frustrating to look at the "Art" quilts vs what we thought were obviously "Fabric Art" and yet they weren't separated.

I didn't really enjoy those displays because they were jumbled together.

...in Jacksonville with Love, *karendianne.

jenclair said...

You mention "trends," and one thing about the internet is that these trends catch on quickly and are imitated and enlarged upon. It is both a positive and a negative aspect of the internet that things move so much more quickly.

I have to agree with Calico Cat's comment: "what gets in is what gets entered" and while a certain style or technique may dominate for a while, trends change.

In my own situation, I often note that styles that I love change; by the same token, a style that I loved and abandoned sometimes makes it's comeback.

Deb Geyer said...

Those are all good comments and questions!

Kay said...

Jenclair, you're so right about the internet! Another reason these ideas spread so fast is the quilting magazines, several of which recycle the same quilts over and over. It's always almost a shock to come across a "new" quilt that looks unlike something that has been so widely publicized.

Allison Ann Aller said...

Great post, Kathy...

AQS has a category specifically for quilts entirely made by hand, just so you know. Bettina Havig fought tooth and nail for that.

Also, a little birdie national quilt judge told me that often the judges of quilt shows know how to evaluate technique, but are not qualified or really experienced enough to judge a quilt's original design. Think about it. Those mitered binding corners take on increased importance, then, don't they?

But I always come back to the experience of the quilter...was she enjoying herself while she was creating the quilt? In the long run, that is what is most important to me...

Exuberant Color said...

I think the catagories need to be broken down more for non-traditional techniques and art quilts. Just because it is non-tradional, like raw edges doesn't make it an art quilt. The machine quilting thing is way out of hand, with expectations so high only the professionals have a chance.

paulahewitt said...

I really enjoyed this - you articulated a lot of points that I have been mulling over - sometimes I feel that while I fiddle about piecing one inch squares by hand... the trends will have moved so far I'll never catchup..by the time im ready to include tyvek, encausted crayon and hot glue to my quilt the trend will be over, and I'll still be doing something passe! then again im so slow maybe the trend will have been recycled.

thanks for leaving a comment - Im glad you did because I enjoyed reading your blog (i thought you were another 'basement' blog i was already reading for a moment!)

Kathy said...

Your comments are right on target, especially in regard to the "machine quilting" category. Even the most meticulous short arm machine quilter can't compete with a computer driven long arm.