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Aug 14

Not your Grandmother’s Quilt

modern quilt

A modern quilt design

Contemporary quilting has come a long way since the days when grandmothers gathered around a table and spent hours making patchwork quilts. Quilts today are often designed with amazing creativity. In the art world there is definitely a modern take on this age-old practice of home décor.

A quilt is an artistic piece where form and function meet. It can be used for warmth on a chilly day or hung on the wall as piece of art. Quilting exhibits are popping up in art galleries all over and it is now an accepted form of artistic work. Some quilts sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

In the early days of quilting, it was often a collaborative endeavor. Women would come together and work for hours on a quilt as they chatted and enjoyed social time. There is strong collaborative sensibility still alive today. Many people are familiar with the AIDS memorial quilt. More than 48,000 people contributed 3 x 6 foot memorial panels to commemorate those who have died of AIDS. This community project was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. It remains the largest community project ever attempted in the world.

Artistic quilts today are often used to commemorate someone who has died or to create an intention of healing for someone who is ill. Artist Kristin Hoelscher-Schacker created a wonderful piece called Prayer Flag. She started the quilt when her sister-in-law was sick and dying. The quilt incorporates prayer flags, Mexican Milagros charms, and Tibetan prayer beads.

Designs in quilting today often incorporate exotic prints like batiks from Indonesia. Some artists use modern printers to create artistic panels for their quilts. Sometimes intricate landscapes and still lifes are rendered in fabric. Complex mathematical and geometric designs such as tessellations and fractals are often represented. The layering of different fabrics can create depth and texture.

Some artists still use an old Bernina sewing machine to create their quilts. And others use newer tools and techniques such as fusing fabric to the quilt as if it were a canvas. Artist Pat Kroth incorporates many different materials into her quilts. Her modern quilts are layered with rickrack, jewelry, postage stamps, buttons, paperclips, and even candy wrappers!

Similarly, Diane Savona makes her quilts of materials gathered at estate sales. Recycling of materials is certainly a trend in the modern arts in general. And in Savona’s quilts we can find hand-made doilies, old embroidery, and antique lace. Her contemporary quilts are a look back through history at the fabric art of previous generations.

So it would seem that artistic quilters of today rely upon their imagination, experiences and emotions to create quilts. Quilting as a modern art form arose with the rise of feminism in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The quilt could say so much about gender roles and home crafts that were traditionally performed by women. Even today most quilting artists are female with a few exceptions.

The Whitney was the first large gallery to take quilting seriously.  In 1971 the exhibit Abstract Design I American Quilts was presented. This exhibit allowed quilting to break away from the idea that it was just something on display at county fairs. There are now many annual exhibits of contemporary quilting, including the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas.

This new vision of quilts as a serious art form has worked its way backward through culture as well. It’s now very common for everyday quilters to think more creatively and construct new designs that have been influenced by the artistic quilting movement seen in galleries.

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