Monday, May 1, 2017
Americana: An American patchwork
When my friend Pam George died suddenly, our friend and avid quilter, Amy Anderson, gathered some of Pam's clothing to make quilts for her grieving children.
Amy's concept of remaking used clothing into quilts goes back to the practical needs of our first settlers. The old saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” suggests that throwing away the good parts of clothing with the worn out parts is simply wasteful.
Practical quilts are a way of preserving usefulness of worn blankets or clothing by stitching them together in layers to providing warmth.
Once Americans began to prosper, they also began to see quilting as an art form. They became more decorative than simply utilitarian.
Quilting bees became a common social event where women gathered to quilt each other's projects.
Both of the World Wars had quilt-making as part of the war efforts, but mostly for auction to raise money for troops or the Red Cross.
When the Great Depression reversed earlier prosperity, many quilts reflected the downturn, reverting to being made of scraps of used clothing and leftover fabric. Their purpose returned to providing warmth more than decoration.
The art of quilting fell out of fashion in the 1950s and early 1960s, but the back to nature, eco-friendly and family history movement that started in the late 1960s revived interest. Symbolic and traditional quilts have become more common since that time.
Keeping craft alive
My daughter-in-law, Lindsay Stephenson, knew of my keen interest in American slave history. She made me a set of quilt blocks in patterns representative of a slave ship, an auction block, the Underground Railroad and a slave cabin.
The quilts from the area of Gee's Bend, Alabama, are important to American folk art. The quilts are made by African-American quilters and their ancestors. They have a distinctly handmade look, most often using primary colors.
The Anabaptists emigrated to Pennsylvania early in the 1700s. The Mennonites and Amish have developed distinct patterns and color schemes. The Amish quilt patterns most often include a black background.
My friend Kathy Porter was the 2016 president of the Utah Quilt Guild. She recently showed me dozens of astonishingly intricate and beautiful "art" quilts she had made. She demonstrated for me the process of "paper piecing." The tiny bits of fabric are sewn directly to the pattern in a designated order. Some pieces are barely a quarter inch, and the process is so painstaking, it would cross the most patient person's eyes.
Kathy explained that art quilts most often are appliqued. Bits of colored fabric are glued in place like brush strokes of paint. When the design is finished, a felt or cotton filler and quilt back is applied by machine-stitching through the three layers. The quilting itself can add another dimension of pattern to the artwork. This type of art is intended for vertical display.
Kathy admits that most people have a life and fit their quilting into scraps of time. She makes quilts and fits her life in between.
There are quilt guilds all over the country. The Utah Quilt Guild alone has more than 1,000 members and includes members from several neighboring states. The guild is divided into regional guilds which are further subdivided into "bees" of 30-50 members that meet at least monthly.
There are many quilting techniques and hundreds of patterns within the techniques. Kathy showed me prize-winning art quilts, bed quilts, applique quilts, paper pieced quilts, and what she calls “fast” quilts. Her sewing and storage rooms are treasure troves of colors, patterns and quilting supplies. Her quilting machine dominates her basement family room.
With quilt guilds going strong all over the country, they promise to continue to preserve and to innovate this beautiful craft of American art.
Only in America. God bless it.
at May 01, 2017