Saturday, March 03, 2007

Quiltfest, Someset, N.J.

Sorry this is a lousy photo, I should have charged the battery of my camera yesterday. Anyway Empire Quilters took a bus to the Quiltfest at Somerset, New Jersy today. Mancusco is the presenter so it attracts good one-woman shows, and many fine quilts as well as lots of venders. But the venue is lousy -- actually it's the lighting of the venue that is lousy. This is the thrid year I have seen this show and I always curse under my breath about the things I cannot see well.

However, a full day at such an event gives me plenty of food for thought, and for blogging for three or four days. i kind of wish I had gone to any one of the three or four major art shows in NYC last weekend so I could compare the iighting. Mancusco is a respected producer of quilt shows but I think they are more interested in the commercial -- popularion, likely attendance -- than in showing the quilts to best advantage.

Anyway, the the quilting question bothering me for the past few years has had to do with the density of quilting now to be seen on most qujilts. Historicaly quilting [the almost last step in making a quilt, i.e., when the three layers are sewn togehter with lines of stithcing, by hand or by machine, ofen with decorative design] had to be no more than twoi inches apart to keep the filling [batting] from shifting around. Once upon a time it was loose cotton or wool stuffing and apt to shift with use and washing. Today batting comes in large sheets and does not come apart. Close togehter quilting is not necessary. For some time during my quilting years the amount of quilting was the quilters' choice and was expected to add to the overall attractiveness of the quilt, usuallly by echoing quilting lines or filling in large spaces with attractive and related designs.

In the last few years, say five, two thing have happened. Home quilters have learned the free motion quilting technique done with feed dogs on the machine down and a special see through foot. They first became adept at stippling which was a fill-in kind of meandering line and then at various other kinds of free motion quilting. At the same time they started using lots of special threads, variated or metalic which gave an additional interest to the surface of the quilt. I am not an historian but it seems to me that Carol Bryer Fallert was one of the first well known quilters to popularized this method. In Carol's art quilts the quilting adds surface interest and beauty to her designs.

This kind of dense quilting has almost become de rigour in all kinds of quilts. It has been adopted by traditional quilters as wel as traditiona-comtemporary quilters. Sometimes the result is a quilt that has become so stiff it can almost stand alone. This is excellent for wall quilts which are best stiff and hanging straight. But it totally destroys the soft coziness ofr bed quilts. And very often the close stitching, whether stipples, or whatever designs, overlays an interesting not twist on a traditioina l pattern but detracts rather than adds to the pattern itself.

The second innovation in the quilt world of late is the long arm quilting machine. The people who purchase this expensive mechanism very often pay for their investment by doing custom quilting for those who can pay to "send their quilts out". In this case the quilting is usually very dense and whether or not it's appropriate for the quilt depends on both the quilter's insistance and the long arm-quilter's adaptablity and skill. More and more people are having others quilt their quilts since we are in an economic upswing just now.

Thus nearly all the quilts I saw today were densely quilted. Sometimes this added to the beautfy of the quilt and sometiems it was simply there like a too fussy dress on a woman who might look elegant in something simpler. Both these developements are farily new and I am aware at shows like this that my eye is being trained/accustomed to the "new look." Just as I used to get accustomed every year or two to a different skirt length. Our eyes do adjust and that which is not the current standard starts to look weird, dowdy, old fashioned. Just as mini skirts were a disaster on fat-kneed women and those with thunder thighs, so intense, all over quiilting is disturbing on various quilts.

Quilting women have always been early adapters [they used sewing machines for piecing as early as they could get them[ and they have also been copy cats and insecure about their own tastes. Most quilters do not have the self-consciousness of people who have had formal art traiining, they have not been told to think for themselves at eachs step of a quilt's consctruction. Instead they feed their insecurity by taking classes where ever/whenever they can and so are fed the latest styles and cliches both in construction and surface quilting.

I must admit I am thinking about this because I recognize my own "Me-too"ness. I cannot real do free motion quilting on my old machine; I need to sew basicaally straight, or at best wavy, lines. I cannot stipple and do fancy all over designs. It's probably lots of fun ... I keep considering purchasing a new sewing machine Then I think: for $5000 or so I can take a fabulous trip to ... [a lot of places I swAnt to go] For now, I'd rather travel and meanwhile if I'm stuck with being a very out-of-it quilter, so be it.

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