Sunday, June 24, 2007

Abandon Hip

As my side bio notes, I read the NYT every Sunday morning--though I live no where near NYC. So, in this morning's edition, there's an interesting story about hipster crafters at the Renegade Craft Fair (see

Reading this piece made me revisit a train of thought that's been moving at a slow rumble through my head for a while . . I think ever since I read a piece on QuiltersBuzz (a buzz marketing blog) about how all the new fabric lines all-in-the-mode-of-AmyButler have made quilting fresh and new again.

In a nutshell, here it is . . . on a very real level, I don't want quilting to be hip. One of the things that drew me to quilting in the first place is that it wasn't edgy. In other parts of my life, I love the new and the hip. I get Cookie, Lucky, and Domino. I have a spanking new BlackBerry. I listen to self-burned CDs on which Tony Bennett fades into Ghostface Killah fades into Deerhoof fades into Hem. But, quilting has always been that Milk and Cookies Yankee Candle-scented part of my life that's been a sovereign nation free from detachment, irony, and kitsch.

If you've read my blog for a while, you know that I was asked to enter a few quilts in a gallery show at my college around the holidays last year. So, since I'm still stitching away on my next 10 stars for the Harvest Moon quilt and have no new photos, I thought I'd finally share what I wrote for my artist's statement:

I became a quilter for comfort. I was seeking a respite from graduate studies and wanted something that was not postmodern, did not involve footnotes, and would not try to out clever my already too clever rhetoric. I wanted a billowing bolt of nostalgia on which to rest my weary head.

To this day, I find every aspect of quilting comforting. The hand, weave, texture, tone, shade, pattern of the fabric. The deceptive depth of even the thinnest batting. The moments alone in my quilting garret pondering projects. The thumping sound of the machine as it brings together disparate elements whose only similarity may be that they all once came from a seedy cotton ball. The meditative aspect of machine quilting as I wind first this way, then that, either assuring that the lines do or do not touch in just the right way. The accidental interplay between colors and shapes that surprises at last--no matter how well planned I think the project is.

I once read that women on the prairie would piece an entire quilt top, then painstakingly take it apart, and begin anew to create another, and another. They did so to stave off the madness of long days and longer nights in the oppressive heat and numbing cold. A window opens with each piece of fabric in these quilts; the life revealed in the faded prints, dropped stitches, and hard-earned stains. There are days in each of our lives when we inhabit this prairie. And, like all art, quilts are there to comfort and sustain us, to challenge and push us forward, to make us see life anew.

Now in the interruption-studied 21st century, I quilt for quite the opposite reason than did my prairie ancestors. I long to finish. My heart races as a stack of pieces joins into pairs, sets, blocks, a top, a layered sandwich, and then a finished piece. As I turn the corner on the last bit of whip-stitching on each binding, I can barely contain my excitement. Done! This progression convinces me that some things actually do end—and that this end is frequently both lovely and useful.


YankeeQuilter said...

A wonderful artist statement.

I can relate to the need for a tangible finish in life. I remember spending days (and some nights) slogging thorugh very detailed financial plans for a large corporation that made projections out 5-10 years. It felt nice to go home, put a binding on a quilt, toss it over the bed and crawl under!

Shelina said...

What a beautiful artist's statement! I too stay away from the trendy - the Amy Butler, the Kaffe Fassett. I want my quilts to be something that I will enjoy looking at five, ten, twenty years from now, and those trendy ones won't hold my interest. There are some trendy styles I like - the batiks, etc., but I buy them because I like them, not because they are the "in" thing.
I like finishes too - even though I don't get very many of them. It is nice to know that eventually one piece or another can actually be done.

Patti said...

You said it perfectly - my response is "hear, hear!" I love all the new fabrics, but I don't see them in quilts. I see them in clothing, in home decor. But I don't buy them. I don't sew clothes any more. I sew quilts - and the fabrics that call to me always are the fabrics that bring the past to life.

Quilt crazy said...

I too tend to stay away from the trendy. I quilt for pure pleasure and joy. Thanks for sharing your statement, it's inspiring me to write my own! Watch for it on

Juliann in WA said...

What a lovely post. I think quilting will come and go in the world of what is hip and for some it will be a passing phase. But for those of us who are quilters deep down, under our skin, it will remain a craft that brings comfort.

Carol E. said...

Very eloquently stated! Well done!

Laurel S Holman said...

I just love your writing style, and had to pause and comment on how amazing it is that you seem able to do so much, especially with preschoolers in the house! Mine are 1 and 3 and I can't even manage to read the paper anymore much less the NYTimes much less keep up with my (rudimentary) quilting, which has been virtually untouched for the past three years. You are inspiring me to make better use of those middle-of-the-night hours. : )

comicbooklady said...

I echo, "hear, hear!" You said it all. Thanks.

atet said...

I've been debating whether or not to respond to your post. It made me think quite a bit. Mostly about the notion of hipness and what exactly is cutting edge. I do think that many quilters are drawn to the hobby/art/obsession out of a sense of connection to the past that allows for expression in the present. That's all to the good.

But, I think we run the risk of over romaticising the practices of the past as well. Quilting was something that was "hip" for women who created quilts in the 1800's and early 1900's. The number of patterns, kits, and articles about it in the past indicate that its popularity and "hipness" (depending on your definition of hip I suppose) have waxed and waned over the years, but that it was indeed au currant to quilt at various points in time. And, within quilting, there have been trends that catch on, or not -- colors, fabrics, patterns that were "new" that explode into many quilts from disparate areas of the country.

As for design aesthetic, I have been surprised and delighted by a book I am reading to see quilts that on first glance scream the "modern quilt" aesthetic that are in fact close to or more than 100 years old. (Wild by design)

Personally, quilting is a relaxtion, a connection to the past, as well as a place where I can express myself in color rather than my own rather dense rhetoric from my academic pursuits. But my choice of modern fabrics and designs is just that a choice. Other people make other choices. Also great. Viva la difference.

If quilting is seen as popular and hip, great. More people who come to the craft and bring new ideas, innovations, and experiences to the table. Cool. Does my involvement depend on that conversation? No. But it sure makes talking to other quilters and crafters more interesting. It gives me choices that can reflect the fact that I have varied interests and I can express all of them in fabric.

Again, thanks for the thought provoking post. As for the Kaffe Fassett and Amy Butler fabrics, hey, more for me! I love the colors and textures they bring to the party, not because they are hip (since both designers use antique and retro fabrics/designs as inspiration -- Fassett from the British Museum's collection of textiles no less the reaction to them as "too modern" puzzles me a bit), but because their color choices and the whimsy they bring to their work reflect the joy I take in making my own quilts and my own rather bizzare color sense.

atet said...

oh -- and it would really help if I could spell. The rather pompous tone of my response would really benefit from having taken time to check some of the spelling. Ugh.

Sarah Nopp said...

I had forgotten to check QuiltersBuzz in quite some time- thank you for the reminder.
I came across that post by the President of the Quilters Hall of Fame and I sent her some of my observations about quilting life online like she asked for.
I am curious to see how she uses that information.

Jenni @ Fairybread said...

Interesting to read your statement. I am drawn to the old quilts and repro fabrics, but also like the look of some of the modern fabrics. I am not drawn to 'art quilts' or 'picture quilts' though. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that we look for the things in quilting that are maybe missing in our lives. I too like to finish, as this is a problem area for me. It is good for me to see something through, not just flit off to something new when I get bored. I love the fabric more than the sewing, but love to sleep under a quilt. It's a bit like knitting too - it's making a comeback as we yearn for a simple meditative element in our busy lives.

Helen said...

This post and the responses to it are exactly why I love to read blogs. Great discussion from differing (and not necessarily mutually exclusive)points of view. For me, I love lots of different styles of quilts but make mostly traditional style ones. It is the process I love (as well as the finished quilt!) and the most satisfying part is hand sewing that binding on, although I don't get to that part as often as I would like!

I had a 5 1/2 hour power cut last week. It is boring sitting in the dark doing nothing! The only thing I could cope with in candle light was doing a running stitch around circles of fabrics for berries. It made me appreciate all my mod cons!