Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Future of Quilting

 Rachel and I were invited to participate in a Lowell Quilt Festival panel discussion last Friday morning.  The other panelists included Mary and Marianne Fons and Martha Sielman (executive director of Studio Art Quilt Associates).  The purpose of the discussion was to talk about the future of quilting amongst this selection of traditional, contemporary, and modern quilters. 

I will admit that I was a little nervous - I am not a professional in the quilting industry and could only speak from my own experience.  But my minor anxiety was unnecessary - the whole event was pretty easy going and lighthearted.  The discussion primarily focused on the similarities between quilters of all ages and styles - we all thrive on the sense of community that is fostered among quilters and guilds, we find great joy in creating, and we often use quilting as an escape from the stress of daily life.  I talked a little about the differences, from my own observations, between traditional and modern quilters - mainly that modern quilters tend to rely on internet resources for networking, swaps, information on quilting techniques, and purchasing fabric.  We also tend to be a younger crowd, most have full time jobs, and many of us are raising young children. 
 Rachel and I talked a bit about how the modern aesthetic is quite similar to the traditional aesthetic and that those who really try to divide the camps and insist that the modern style is "new" or "better" tend to alienate others. 
 I mentioned that "dumbing down of quilting" blog post that swept the internet about a year ago.  The woman seemed upset that modern quilters were getting so much attention and acclaim for making "simple quilts."  It upset a lot of people and many argued that difficult piecing techniques are not the only quilting skills worth admiring or mastering.  In our guild, we try to be very accepting of all styles, levels, and preferences - no quilt police for sure!  It's all about enjoying the process and having fun for us.  [I have sprinkled this blog post with pictures of quilts from our show - I am so proud of the level of craftmanship and diversity displayed by our group!]
 Marianne gave me permission to post an email she sent to Rachel and I:

Just a quick note to say again how much I enjoyed meeting you both. The exhibit at Appleton Mills was just terrific.

"I've thought a lot about things both of you said during the panel discussion, and I have to tell you, you brought back memories of when I first started making quilts in 1976.

Everyone who was quilting was, like me, in our 20s or 30s. My first quilting heroes like Jean Ray Laury and others were about ten years older. At first, there wasn't any 100% cotton fabric, and then there was, but I had no money, really, to buy much. Liz had more money than I did (though not much) so she bought more, which worked out for me later because she was able to afford to buy some really ugly fabrics she later hated. I didn't have any of those.

Later, in the mid-80s, when we switched to rotary cutters from scissors, and there were enough fabrics around to actually make a scrap quilt (we were simply blown away to put, like, 60 fabrics in one quilt!), we found we could work those ugly fabrics into the mix unnoticeably. It was fabulous.

As far as money for classes or to, OMG, take a trip to a quilting event farther than we could drive to and back in one day (child care!), there just wasn't any. It was out of the question. For me, using quilting to MAKE money was the key to happiness, and I started teaching (with Liz) when we were barely ahead of our students.

The satisfaction I got from finding a quilt block design I liked, drafting the pattern, choosing the fabrics, sewing that first block, then more, was incredible. It made everything else in my life better.

Now, almost 40 years later, I get just as much joy out of starting a quilt as I did from the beginning. The joy of making is so sweet I can hardly understand why everyone doesn't do it.

As I said during the panel discussion, you (mostly) young "modern" gals and we (mostly) older "traditional" quilters have way more in common than any differences."
Marianne Fons seemed interested in how we could "bridge the gap" between younger/modern quilters and the traditional quilting world.  The only ideas I could tell her are that many local guilds and shops cater to the retired/empty nester in both store hours/meeting schedules, selection of fabrics (e.g. a local shop near me only carries two solids - black and white), and many of us have experienced disapproval for daring to bring our children to a shop or a guild meeting. 

When I was cleaning out a closet this weekend, I came across the October 2007 issue of Fons and Porter's Love of Quilting magazine.  The quilt on the cover is identical to the quilt on the cover of the first edition of "Quilty."  (Quilty is a new magazine, geared towards modern quilters, created by Mary Fons).  I think it is pretty remarkable that Quilty redid an older Love of Quilting pattern for the cover of their premiere issue. 
It was a privilege to participate in the panel and it made me feel excited for what the future holds for our craft.


  1. It was really fun reading your post. Its so true that modern quilters and traditional quilters have lot in common than our differences.
    Actually the "Bits N Pieces" quilt shop in Pelham, NH is very friendly. I have been there with my baby few times, the owner Liz is very welcoming and didn't mind it at all. I just love that quilt shop. They have a great collections of fabrics.

  2. I loved your exhibit. I agree there are a lot of similarities between what my mother did and what I've done and now what you are doing. And there will be crossover from me, a very traditional quilter who's been dabbling in various art quilt techniques recently and has made one modern bed sized quilt. I'm sure I'll continue to explore modern quilting.