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!