On June 27, 2009, Jean Ann Wright
gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program on “Tracking Today’s Trends in Quiltmaking.”
This program was one of several the TM has arranged in conjunction with its recent exhibition of Amish Quilts.
(Note that you can see one piece and a description of this exhibition using the link above.)
This virtual version of this Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning has two parts. This is Part 1 and is devoted to letting you see some projected images of quilts with which Ms. Wright began her program. It also includes some additional comment that a colleague and I have added (this latter is explained below).
Part 2 of this virtual version provides images and discussion of the quilts that Ms. Wright and members of the audience had brought it. You can go to Part 2 using the link immediately below:
Tom Goehner, the TM’s Curator of Education introduced Ms. Wright, sketching her background and experience. She edited both Quilting Magazine and Quilting Review. But here, in this virtual version we can provide access to some details.
First, here is her card:
And three relevant links:
the third of these links, below, is for a quilting group to which Ms. Wright belongs.
One of these friends was in the room with her.
If you have dipped into any of these links, you now know that Ms. Wright has a deep experience as a quilter, as an editor of quilting publications, and as a quilt designer.
I attended this RTAM with a former work colleague, Dottie Reed, who is also a long-time quilter. This virtual version of this program will draw on notes Dottie took during this session, but also on her own knowledge and experience as a quilter.
This opportunity to construct this virtual version with Dottie is a very unusual one, like having access to an active weaver while one talks about rugs and textiles. And I am going to take full advantage of it.
Sometimes in our side conversations Dottie has provided detailed information that might move beyond the needs of some more casual readers. I will retain such passages, but label them, so that those with a more general level of interest in quilts and quilting can skip by them without loss of the central features of the Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program on which this virtual version is based.
I want to begin by setting out some of the major distinctions that exist nowadays concerning quilts and quilting. As the title of Ms. Wright’s program indicates, there are “trends” in quilt making. Things have changed over the years and are still changing. So, to these distinctions about quilting.
Traditionally, quilts have been textiles with a “pieced” or “appliqued” design face, a middle layer of batting, and a backing, which usually is one piece, but also may be pieced.
(A pieced backing may be so elaborate as to consider it a reversible quilt, or it may be more modestly pieced than the design front.)
(A “pieced” quilt face is one in which the decorative face is composed of pieces that have been sewn together at their edges. An “appliqued” quilt face is one in which the pieces that make up the decorative face have been sewn onto an underlying fabric, usually of a neutral color.)
These three layers (the decorative face, the batting and the back) were traditionally sewn together (this is the “quilting” aspect) by hand. But as we come forward in time, machine stitching has also been used and, nowadays, very elaborate sewing machines have emerged that can perform a wide variety of quilting stitches. So some quilts that, if not examined closely, look like traditional hand-sewn ones, are machine stitched.
Note 1 for the REALLY interested:
The thread used for quilting has also undergone modernization, with the use of colored thread, variegated thread, even “invisible” thread.
With the use of “invisible” thread in the machine bobbin, a quilt can almost appear to be be hand quilted. The invisible thread is a very fine version of fish-line monofilament. A machine cannot mimic hand quilting. In hand quilting there is a space between each stitch on a given side where the thread goes to the other side of the quilt. In machine quilting, the top thread and thread and the bobbin thread loop together to lock each stitch into place and there is no space between the stitches. The invisible thread won’t show through on the surface of the quilt and the effect can look like hand quilting.
Note 2 for the really interested treats some additional aspects of traditional quilts.
Traditional pieced quilt designs are usually either one-patch quilts [squares, equilateral triangles, octagons, (grandmother’s flower garden)
or multi-patch blocks in which the pieces form a pattern in each block.
The multi-patch blocks have names such as “nine patch,
in” which the nine squares have an alternating color pattern and are separated by blocks of a single color or by strips of fabric. Other mult-patch designs include: Ohio star, lone star (a very large single star made of diamond-shaped pieces, “Burgoyne surrounded,”
“hole in the barn door,” “log cabin,” etc. Another traditional pieced quilt which was very popular during the Victorian era is “crazy patchwork,”
in which odd shapes were fitted together to make a block.
Here is a complete “crazy block” quilt:
Traditional quilts were divided into “utility quilts” – to be used to keep warm, and “best quilts.” Utility quilts were often “whole cloth” quilts composed of a single piece of fabric on the front and another on the back. Any design was in the quilting.
The simplest example of a whole cloth quilt is a mattress pad, and the most elaborate whole cloth quilts reach the level of art quilts.
“Applique” quilts were either “broderie perse”
in which large-printed designs of flowers or other objects were cut from fabric and rearranged on a plain (usually white or creme) fabric to create and original design
in which a quilter created a flower, house, horse, cat, or other object from one or more pieces of colored fabric and sewed the object to another fabric.
“Baltimore Album” applique quilts
There are more here:
are considered “traditional” and reached a high form of art.
Baltimore album quilts became popular in the mid-1800’s in Baltimore, MD. Individual blocks were extremely elaborate and frequently each block was made by a different woman as a wedding gift (see http://imagailhatcher.com/awards.htm). Many of these quilts reach the level of “art.” This form of applique is still popular today for accomplished quilters, and while some use elaborate blocks, others, such as the “Conway Album Quilt” (see the web site above) are less elaborate, more modern versions.
Traditional applique quilts were hand-stitched, with stitching as nearly hidden as possible. Today, applique is done both by hand and machine, and there are several different ways to machine applique, all of which have different appearances.
A second set of quilts, nowadays, are called “art quilts.” An “art quilt” is one that is innovative, but that meets the definition of “art” rather than “craft.” With “art quilts” the emphasis is on the designs created. Art quilts may or may not conform to the usual definition of a quilt. They may or may not be sewn wonderfully. They may not be sewn at all, as some approach fabric collage. Dottie: “I’ll never forget the ‘art quilt,’ that was exhibited here at The Textile Museum ten years ago, and that was held together with safety pins.”
“Art quilts” may be hand or machine-stitched, may be abstract designs, may be pictorial, or may be an innovative way of arranging a traditional block. For example, the traditional “flying geese” block is rectangular
made from three equilateral triangles placed in a row.
A modern innovation has been to stretch the triangles so that the geese fly in a circle.
(The image above does not show the full quilt that resulted from this innovation. When it was first made by Carol Fallart it was an art quilt, but it has been copied many times since then.)
“Art quilts” sewn on a machine can still be very time-consuming.
Traditional quilts were mostly geometric. “Calico” fabrics, are plain woven textiles with very small repeating designs. They are inexpensive and have been popular with quilters for a long time. During the Depression, feed sacks were printed with 30s style “calico” patterns and were widely used for quilts. And these “antique” fabrics or reproductions of them have become popular again for many quilters.
A further note on “calico:” “Calico” is a type of printed fabric. The term “calico” has different meanings according to the country in which it is used. Originally, “calico” was a plain-woven textile which originated in the city of Kozhikode, Kerala, India, which was known by Europeans as “Calicut” in the 11th century.
Amish quilts are a distinct type of “traditional” quilt, using only solid colors in a simple, large, geometric design but with elaborate quilting. The block designs above are examples of traditional quilt blocks.
Note 3 for the very interested:
“Art quilt” makers do not so much desire the ability to sew wonderfully fine and regular stitches by hand, but rather yearn for the most advanced sewing machines with complex quilting capabilities. (Dottie Reed was a traditional quilter, but now works mostly by machine. She says that like art quilts, the quilts she makes nowadays are “non-traditional and innovative” but, modestly adds “…I don’t know if they reach the definition of “art quilts.”)
Until about the late 1960’s to 1970, sewing machines mostly sewed the “straight stitch,” (like that used in most clothing), although some early machines sewed a “chain stitch” (like you see on a bag for dog food, where you grab the end of the string and pull the stitching out — not very practical for clothing.
But in the late 60’s-early 70’s, the “zig-zag” stitch (which was patented in 1873) was introduced more generally. Now sewing machines often had “cams” that enabled the machine to stitch button holds (a real blessing) and other simple designs.
Later, variations of the zigzag stitch were added, as were simple embroidered patterns. Today’s innovations in sewing machine capabilities include the above-mentioned quilting stitches, entire patterns for quilting a quilt block, elaborate embroidery designs, may even make lace edgings and free-standing lace designs, the ability to sew in a circle, may connect to computers to download designs from the web, etc.
Talking about the sewing machines most of today’s quilters use, Dottie said that she invested a few years ago in a “Mercedes-level” model and that, while it does good work, she now longs for the “Lamborghini-level-machines” that have since come to market.)
[“Cheater” quilts that include the entire design of one side of a quilt (we will show you one later) are not “art quilts.” They are the lazy, quick way to make some “utility” quilts. Cheaters tend to be used on quilts that get used and washed a lot, and that can get worn out. They are often used on any quilt where it is not worth the time to piece the top. Charity quilts (such as those quilters made for Hurrican Katrina victims) or those given to people to whom you are not close but for whom a gift is obliged, are examples of such quilts.]
Beginning in the 1930’s, a third level of quilting activity, the ” quilt kit”, became available. These kits responded to the fact that many women would like to make a quilt or two, but don’t have the time to do all the preparation and design work that quilting, more comprehensively defined, can entail. The kits made this possible by supplying the fabric selection, the design, and complete assembly and sewing instructions. Not only is this something of time-saver, it also ensures, for the novice quilter, that the fabric designs and colors work well together.
So some folks, like Ms. Wright, have become “designers of quilts,” often working with fabric companies to produce attractive quilt designs that can be sold as kits to busy quilters.
A quilt kit contains a specific pattern for either a patchwork (pieced) quilt or an applique quilt, a picture of what it will look like when finished, enough fabric to complete the top of the quilt (sometimes some of the pieces are pre-cut) and instructions for how to put the quilt top together. These kits make it possible to make a quilt top in a few days or less, sometimes as little as a day.
The quilt kits, in addition to saving time, ensure that color and scales choices, choices of fabrics which are used are attractive when placed together, and, for “art quilt” kits, that the design is of a high quality.
This third level seems to be that at which most of Ms. Wright’s current work resides, and her program demonstrated that there are real design skills associated with taking a set of fabrics provided by a given fabric manufacturer and producing from it an attractive quilt design and kit.
With these preparatory remarks we turn to Ms. Wright’s program proper. She started with a
with a PowerPoint assisted talk on quilts she has made and/or designed. She showed 25. I was able to take single photos of about 15 of them. Here they are in the sequence shown.
The first four quilts Ms. Wright showed below all seem to be innovative, one-of-a-kind quilts that reach the definition of “art quilt” (whether or not they qualify as pure “art”).
We have provided further comments on some of these first four below.
Quilt 1 combines the dominant foreground images of an elephant with a faint, background echo of a traditional “double wedding ring” design.
In Quilt 2 egrets are staggered with over-under checkerboard strips with have color that move them forward in these areas, but fainter checkerboard areas serve, mostly, as a shadowy background for the egret panels.
Quilt 3 is a painting of plant forms on fabric. It is obviously bound and presumably quilted, although the quilting stitches cannot be seen in this image. In fact, in most most or all of the images we present, here, the quilting stitches are not visible, but if they were absent, the finished quilt would be baggy. This piece is a 66 inch square.
Quilt 4 features tree forms, radially arranged around an eight-lobed central medallion and further decorated with vines and flower. An overall expanding geometric “star” impression is projected. This is an antique, pieced and appliqued bed-sized quilt (72 inches square).
No comment on Quilt 8.
No comment on Quilt 12.
No comment on Quilt 13.
Quilt 15 is a shaped, wall-hanging quilt, composed of three quilt panels hanging close together. The squares at the top are most likely loops through which a rod of some sort is passed through to hang the quilt on the wall.
John comment: Dottie does not comment on such a wall-hanging quilt being especially unusual, but to a non-quilter it was a surprise that there are quilts of this sort.
Quilt 16 is a very innovative piece of work.
The background fabrics are decorated with circles made of novelty yarns which are couched on. [“Couched” means that that the yarn or other item (string, ribbon, etc.) is laid on the underlying surface and attached with an up and down stitch. The up sides and the down sides of the stitches are often of shorter and longer lengths ,depending on the function or effect desired. If “attaching” is the primary function (as it appears to be in this quilt) the stitch on the top surface is very short and effectively disappears into the material. (One can also make the upper surface stitch effectively invisible by using thread or a similar small fiber.) If the function of the couching is to “create pattern,” the length(s) of the stitches on top surface will be longer.]
The dangles are curled ribbon. The bottom strip of fabric with the “pebble” design), is a batik.
Overall Quilt 16 is 20 inches square.
Dottie’s notes say that Quilt 17 is a “log cabin” variation, but she says that the sense in which this may be true is not evident to her. Regardless, she says, it is a wonderful quilt, made of one-square blocks of very unusual fabrics. Some squares may be batiks, some may be hand-painted, and some look like hand-painted batiks.
Note 4 for the very interested, this time, in “log cabin” quilts.
Dottie says that Quilt 18 (for which we do not have a good image) is, definitely a log cabin quilt, but a non-traditional one. She sent me a little treatise on the “log cabin” design and I’m including it here.
Here is an image of a traditional “log cabin” design.
The traditional “log cabin” design has a small red (for the chimney) block in the center, with strips of the same width placed in rotation around each side until the desired size of the finished block is reached. Here, below, is a single block from a traditional ‘log cabin” design.
Also, traditionally, one diagonal half of the square consists of light fabrics and the other half of medium colored or dark fabrics.
Here’s how blocks of this sort can be combined to make a complete quilt face.
Such versions of the “log cabin” design are probably the oldest and simplest of multi-piece, quilt blocks. Some such blocks appear to date back to ancient Egypt where mummified cat wrappings used this design.
Traditionally, in the U.S. “log cabin” blocks can be set together in many different ways. Some conbinations have their own names.
Here is one “catalog” of “log cabin” variations in black and white.
There is more discussion of the “log cabin” design at:
But the “log cabin” design has spawned some very non-traditional variations. Here, below, is one that is very new and very non-traditional.
This is a variation of the “log cabin” block design composed of triangular shapes instead of squares.
You can read a little more about it at this link:
Back to Ms. Wright’s projected quilts.
Quilt 21 (a fuzzy detail of it)
Quilt 21 is an innovative quilt using rectangles cut from commercial fabrics.
Quilt 24 was made from a fabric collection. It consists of a central star block (one of a great many star variations) surrounded by a multi-colored, checkerboard (one patch) square border and a variation of the “clamshell” block.
Quilt 25 is also made from a fabric collection. We can’t tell from the photo whether this is pieced with individual pieces of fabric or put together with one or more pieces of fabric with a quilt block printed on it. It appears to be bordered with a separate fabric.
Quilt 26 is a collection of individual squares of different flowers from one or more printed fabrics and framed by different coordinating fabrics. These squares are framed by narrow dark border and a wonderful outer border that may be a batik. The outer dark area is a binding that matches the dark, narrow, minor border on the inside edge of the major border.
Ms. Wright described Quilt 27 as from the “Flower Bucket Collection.” This quilt is pieced with the flowers most likely appliqued. Ms. Wright said that it is notable for its use of color, although red-green usages in quilts are frequent and traditional.
Perhaps, Ms. Wright was pointing to the fact that the red and green usages are of two of the most directly complementary colors on the color wheel (they are literally opposite one another). Some like yellow-green conbinations, and they, too, can be attractive, but yellow’s strongest complement is purple. So, while a “red-green” combination is not unusual, it does exhibit stronger complementary contrast than would any other combination used with either of them.
In Quilt 26, a single, boxed flower form is placed, but not centered, on a traditional checkerboard, which is in turn placed asymmetrically inside a wider, flower-patterned fabric border, and two narrower borders further still to the outside in light and medium green. Even further outside this border array are two more, first, a pieced strip border, and to the very outside, a scalloped border in red.
This scalloped usage is similar to some “tongue” usages as outside borders on “penny” rugs. Dottie suspects that a teacup or saucer was used to cut these scalloped pieces.
The combination in a single quilt of all the elements described above is non-traditional and creative. Simple non-traditional designs like this have been sold as patterns or kits.
Ms. Wright had brought a few quilts “in the fabric,” and she showed these next.
To see these quilts and those brought in by members of the audience you need to use the link below to go to Part 2 of this“Tracking Today’s Trends in Quiltmaking.”
Dottie Reed and John Howe