Sunday, August 8, 2010

Questions and Thoughts on a Recent Quilt Show.......

I recently went to a quilt show which was nationally advertised, juried and judged.

It is a fact that the show organizers can only exhibit quilts that have been entered. The quality of a show is always limited by its entries.  As my friend and I walked through the show we were stunned by what we saw. There are many words to describe the majority of the quilts hanging, none of which are positive. In an attempt at extreme self control, I would call the quilts "unfortunate."

It was equally disturbing to me that the judges chose to award the works that had the most quilting and stitching; regardless of the quality or appropriateness of those stitches to the whole work. When I see this happening in the quilt world I wonder, what is going on? What is causing the poor design in so many quilts? Why don't the judges consider the quilt as a whole; the composition, the colors, fabrics used, as well as the effectiveness and quality of the quilting to the chosen design? It seems they are not looking at the whole picture.

All of this results in much soul searching in my part. Why am I disliking so much of the new work that is out there? Am I on the wrong track? I feel like my visual aesthetic is not in sync with the quilt world.
Celebration of Life by Ann Fahl
Lately, I've been pleased by the work I've been producing. I have a new piece hanging in my living room (you'll have to wait to see it), that I hope to keep for my entire life. It makes me feel so good to look at it. Yet I know when it is entered in the shows next year, it will not hang well with the rest of the competition.

What is driving this new direction in the quilt world?  Is it strictly commercialism? This has bothered me for a long time. Everyone jumps on the new tool, the latest book, or hot new technique that is out there. What has happened to the love of quilting?  Why not just make a quilt because you want to? Quilts can be made with simple tools: just fabric, scissors, thread and a needle. Why have we gotten so far off the track?

As quilters we are so lucky to be sewing at this time in history. There are so many beautiful fabrics and thread from which to choose. The internet provides us with information on technique and is heaven. We should be producing interesting, wonderful creative pieces with strong visual impact. Instead...........

Is it the economic times we live in? The world's economy is in a big slump and this affects our emotional and physical well being. Perhaps we just aren't making good design and color choices as a result of our financial situation and personal stress.
Symphony of Color II by Ann Fahl
Let's take a long look at our inner quilting selves. What do we want to accomplish in our lifetime of quilting? Let's try to create better, more original work, quilts that come from the heart.  Rushing through the process and adding yet another quilt to your stack isn't the best motivator for making good work. I like to enjoy and savor each step of the quilting process. The end result is a more satisfying quilt for the maker and the viewer.

All of us working together can make a stronger positive impact on the quilting world, we can make higher quality quilts for the generation that follows.

Ann Fahl

For more comments visit Diane Gaudynski's latest blog


Karen said...

Ann...I love your work...don't ever stop doing what comes from your heart. As a fairly new quilter, I look at the stuff I've done and think...oh its so simple looking or its not very stylish or modern....but then I think about the process and I get all warm and fuzzy inside. I'm the happiest when I'm in the midst of making something that makes ME happy!

Even Keel said...

I so agree with you. The technology is now the quilt with no thought of the impact of applying all the new tech-noid stuff on the surface with no regard for the design. i was at a quilt show yesterday and really looked at the quilting on the peices being shown. It had no relation to the top design just smucked over the surface.
In most of the cases poor choices in machine quilting made most of the peices not very enjoyable. We come from the era of a re-birth of quilting with all its precision and teaching of the basics. This means we put thought into each step and do not just hand it over to be squibbled quilted by a machine. The human touch is missing.
Deb in Wisconsin

Anonymous said...

I'd love to know which show caused you such despondency.

Not being in sync with the quilt world is a good thing in my book. Following your muse is hard to do, and in the end you have to make the quilt that makes your heart sing, the public be damned.

I think you do that.


annieQ said...

Karen, Yanko, and Janet all mention the human and emotional element part of quilt making. This is so important in the creation of a quilt.

Then the quilting on top can either enhance or detract from what you have so carefully created.

And yes, making a quilt should make your heart sing!

Shevvy said...

As a relatively new quilter I find I am okay with ideas for piecing the quilts, too many really as my head is full of different things. Yet when it comes to the quilting I get stumped and some of the very complicated designs I see online completely intimidate me.

However, saying that, I still think of everything I do as practise pieces and am trying out lots of colours and combinations that don't come naturally to me.

I guess I do get quite heavily influenced by what I see online which may be the same as the show you visited. But then at this stage I wouldn't dream of entering any of my quilts into anything that the public and especially judges could see.

Carol B in NH said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly! Yesterday I attended a very good artist's show. The creations are mixed mediums, from metal to fabric.
I only saw a few quilters? I was, really, shocked at the quality I saw. It went from fantastic and really well done to....huh?

Workmanship should not be sacrificed for speed of production.
Work that comes from the heart really shows - which puts the "other" work to shame, in my book.
I do realize that I am painting this whole thing with a huge brush and not everyone is either on this side or that. BUT, I think we should work from our inner selves. Time improves all skills and the quality will shine through.

QuilterBee said...

I think the quilting world is splitting into Modern and Traditional. Modern quilters are usually inspired by the traditional quilts of the past and present. While many traditional quilters can be judgemental towrd the works of a modern quilter's work.

I'm not sure what quilts were hanging at the show, but although they did not please everyone, someone made them with their hands and heart. And then were brave enough to actually enter them in a show. I'm sure the makers of those quilts would be devastated if they read this blog, lol!
Maybe one day we can all just appreciate each others work and celebrate the fact the quilting is alive and being passed down. Whether it passes our taste test or not.

annieQ said...

Shevvy said that she was a new quilter and trying out many new things. At every stage in a quilter's life, we should continue to experiment and try new things. For all of us, it is difficult to jump in and try something that we've never done before. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Not every quilt we make is "show worthy" or good enough to give as a gift. But all of us learn things from every project we tackle. I have a large roll of quilts that I will never show in public, but won't throw out either! They were things that were unsuccessful. If we have some of these quilts, it means we are willing to try new ideas.

I've been quilting for 32 years. Most of those years were seriously committed to the art. The newness and the thrill of going to a quilt show is pretty much gone. I admit that. There is still lots of wonderful work out there, but it is harder to find.

All of you new quilters out there, continue your journey; it is an exciting one that can last a lifetime.

My recent blog is just an expression of my extreme disappointment at what is being shown at the big shows.

FlourishingPalms said...

Thank you for being so bold as to put into words a feeling/sense I've had for a while, and really wasn't aware of it. Quiltmaking seems to be about production, which I too admit to being woo'ed into doing.

Right now I have a quilt waiting for my free-motion machine quilting, and I'm struggling to find the right quilting designs and overall feel that suits this quilt. It's not an easy thing to determine when we are overwhelmed with intense and structured FMQing by award-winning longarm quilters. I am smart enough to know that more is not better, and so I'm challenged and intimidated about finding the right style. What's the secret to that kind of quiltmaking success?

California Fiber artist and composer said...

It seems that the long arm quilters are setting the standards in many shows and many quilters think why enter when they cannot compete against them in the eye of the judges. It woudl be wonderful if judges could tell us why they choose the winning quilts and what makes them winners. Similarly, maybe the categories need to be changed around to encourage more people to enter their work.

Anonymous said...

I know I haven't seen the same shows as you, but the shows I have seen, big and even the very small, all leave me wondering what has happened to good design, with the piecing, applique, embellishements and quilting all working together as oart of the whole, regardless of how many people worked on it.

Judy B

Karen said...

Quilting has gone some what commercial. Kits and sending quilts out to be quilted have changed the quilting world dramatically. I admit that I have done both. I am not anti-kit or sending out to complete the quilting, we all need to start somewhere. I believe that I have matured as a quilt artist and I love the entire process from picking out fabric to quilting to binding. Design is important and needs to be practiced. Many quilters have spent too much time creating others' designs and have forgotten to practice their own design. The more we practice the elements of design, the more we become invested in what we are doing, and add our heart and create better quilts.

Rachel said...

Yes, I've been baffled by some of those "unfortunates"--award winning quilts where some of the competition in that category outshines the piece in both design and workmanship. Can't explain it!! but appreciate your call to excellence. As far as educating ourselves and the next generation to aim high in all aspects . . . Check the classes offered at most quilt shows. How many focus on design principles? It's not a marketable subject as far as ancillary sales. It takes personal determination to seek out inspiration and information on design. There are some great books on the subject. Not having an art background this is an area in which I constantly need input and critique. Thanks for a stimulating discussion topic. said...

What an interesting blog! Although I love the quilting part of the project the most, I still struggle to use quilting that compliments the piecing/design/etc. When I finish a project, I love it. I enjoy just looking at it as do others; then I know that I may not be a "winner"; but I'm on the right track.

annieQ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

This really doesn't have anything to do with quilt shows, but I think it does apply. A friend of mine, who does not quilt, won a quilt in a raffle at her child's school. It was a pretty, blended 9-patch that had been quilted on a long arm. This quilt was very heavily quilted, and as a result it was stiff. I am sure the batting played a roll. So, my friend was frustrated that it was not something she could snuggle under on the couch. This really made me think about how I quilt, and how the quilt will be used. If I make a quilt to be used, then it needs to have enough quilting to hold it together, but not so much that it's stiff and not snuggly. If it is for the wall or the quilt "tells" me that it needs something else, then I do my best to listen. I just need my skills to catch up to what is in my head. This is a great topic, and I am so glad you posted it.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

I think the problem stems from two words prevalent in our world and easy.

Dinners, diets and data are all fast and easy. Most of you carry a cellphone, or rather, glorified mini personal computer, in your a mere few keystrokes away.

Advertisers have conditioned us to believe 'fast and easy' means 'best'.

And it applies to quilting.

Pick up any quilting magazine. You'll find those words sprinkled throughout the pages.

Go to any quilt store and they are touting 'fast and easy'. From the BOM, to the kits, to the classes. They have to in order to stay in business. With rent at a couple thousand a month, they need to sell a minimum of 500 yards of fabric (...and a lot of that goes a 1/4 at a time) just to unlock the store door. Then they need to buy stock, pay employees, insurance, heating/cooling, create the samples to sell the fabric...all before they take anything home for themselves.

More advanced classes are harder to fill...the quilters don't have the time or don't want to take the time. So more fast and easy classes are offered. And they fill. So more are is a vicious cycle.

With this always in your face, this attitude, this convention, it's bound to spill over into the quilts entered into shows to some extent.

If you hesitate during the process of making a quilt, then it's not fast and easy, and therefore, something MUST be wrong with YOU.

Does it take too much time to assemble a palette of fabrics? Don't worry, just buy a fat quarter bundle from a new collection.

Or better yet, buy a kit so you can make the exact quilt hanging on the store wall. Then you needn't spend anytime worrying about design and color placement.

Can't figure out how to quilt it? There are long arm quilters for that. Just tell them to do whatever they think is best.

I don't mean to say that there isn't a place for these activities. None are bad, and in fact, can be very helpful. Sometimes you just need to sit and stitch. Take that mental vacation that quilting affords, enjoy the process.

The problem is quilters miss practicing and developing their quilting skill sets when they use 'fast and easy'.

So how do we, as quilters who love our craft, change things?

One quilter at a time.

There's nothing as infectious as a quilter who just made a skill her own. "I quilted this!" "I designed this!", she exclaims proudly at her guild's Show and Tell. The oh's and ah's spur her on. The individuals in the audience see themselves...because 'she' IS 'me'. And they try something new.

Touch one quilter in your class, in your guild, by accident at the quilt store, and she will pass it on.

As for the 'fast and easy' folks, I'm grateful to them. We have more quilt fabric, stores, classes, notions and opportunities because they have expanded the quilt market. The quilt I take a year or two to create will not keep my local quilt store in business. And yet they are just as happy to see me when I walk in with a Show and Tell.

So what's my point. I understand your feelings, Anne, I really do. I'd like nothing better than EVERY SINGLE QUILT in a show is a "knock your socks off". But that won't happen. The world conspires against it.

But it does make those amazing few all the more precious.

Cowtown Quilts said...

Thank you, Ann, for sharing your feelings on this. I totally agree with you. You put into words what has been in my head. Thank you!