I was lucky enough to be able to travel to Austin, Texas, for five days to hang with the Modern Quilting world at their (now) annual convention called QuiltCon. I had wanted to go to their first version of this event back in 2013, but I was in the throes of birthing A Gathering of Stitches, so it just wasn't realistic. When the event came back around, this time I made it a priority to go. Austin in the end of February is never a bad idea. Certainly not compared to Maine. My motivation was much deeper than that however. I wanted the injection of energy and inspiration that looking at creative work gives me (see an earlier post). I also needed to be in the company of a community that believes in sewing as a normal part of life.
QuiltCon, for the uninitiated, is a four day event comprised of workshops, lectures, demonstrations, a marketplace, and a quilt show. It is presented by The Modern Quilt Guild, an organization that has grown exponentially in it's short history since founding in 2009. I do not know what the attendance numbers were, but I do know that at least 1500 people registered for workshops during that four day period. Compared to the traditional quilting world, Modern quilters are a small group, but they are dedicated and committed and they make some truly astoundingly beautiful work. I had four workshops, two full day and two half day, so that only left me with one full day for looking at the whole quilt show. It was not enough time! I could have spent two days and still not had enough time to absorb all the creativity on display. After about two hours cruising around, my brain was already sparking from all the stimulation.
I am including a very small selection of quilts from the show. I made the mistake of not photographing all the names of all the quilts I shot, and I don't want to post without attribution. Where you see a quilter's name it is a link to their website. Go learn more about them! As I learn the names of more makers I hope to post more of what I shot. But for now I needed to get some thoughts out before they get sucked into daily life.
The expression of creativity through the use and practice of hand crafts like quilting, sewing, knitting, embroidery and more, keeps me flowing forward. I don't know whether it is my New York City upbringing, my natural skepticism, too much science fiction reading, or what, but I am not entirely optimistic about where humanity is headed. I rely as much as the next person on my technology, but also feel that it has taken the place of so much of our natural connections to one another as a society. Just look at how many heads are bowed to their hand held devices the next time you're in a public place.... I'm not going to dwell on it here, this is not the forum for that. [Grab me for a glass of wine if you want that conversation] But being in that convention hall this weekend gave me such motivation, such inspiration, such hope, such sheer joy in the beauty and the creativity represented in those quilts. The sheer volume of work brought to life through the manipulation of fabric and three was staggering. Hallelujah! It's there if we look for it, our humanity, our connection. It is often found at the end of a piece of thread.
Quilting doesn't really make anyone any money. It's fame is only within the community. The rest of the world still looks at it as a domestic pursuit, something that Grandmothers used to do, still do. (This is not an ageist statement- I have achieved grandmother age, if not the actual title- but more a cultural reference) This group of people who populated the Austin Convention Center for the last five days, pursue this practice for more ephemeral reasons. This fabric and thread obsession, this desire to cut up color and put it back together with design and pattern and texture and movement, this is a strange and singular pursuit. Well, perhaps not singular. Those who paint, draw and collage works in similar manners. I think the biggest difference is that quilts get used, they get thrown in the washing machine, and slept under. Quilts get dragged out into the sun for picnics, and erected into forts, and used to comfort small humans, and treasured pets, alike. And yet they are beautiful. They are designed. They invoke tradition and innovation. They echo classic artists and beloved relatives. Quilts have heart and soul, and great beauty all wrapped up. Making these creations gives the makers so much happiness and satisfaction, shores them up for the less pleasurable parts of their days, their lives. This making we do gives us a community, gives us private solace, gives us something we can claim as completely ours in an ever shrinking world.
I was a 'frustrated' artist for many years. Frustrated mostly because I had no skill for representational imagery. I can not draw, or paint. But I SO wanted to. It struck me as the ultimate form of Art (I know, don't beat on me, what can I say, I was deluded), and I was useless at it. By 'it' I mean painting and drawing and sculpture. I slowly got over that preoccupation through the practice of photography over about a decade. A few years ago when I discovered the world of Modern Quilting, oh my.... Mind blown. Here was something I could actually do, that I had the skills for, that allowed me to play with color and pattern and design and make something original and beautiful. What a relief, and a revelation! I now find myself obsessing, truly, over things like stitches and thread and the hand of fabric. I sometimes keep myself awake at night thinking about projects I want to make. I am a fabric nerd. (thank you Gotham Quilts!)
I have had people ask me how long this process takes- making a quilt, a skirt, a pair of socks. The implication being that time is better spent elsewhere, doing otherwise. My answer is that I love doing this stuff and the time I spend is intimately pleasurable (does that sound dirty?) and so I can rarely think of anything I would rather be doing. In fact, often, while doing other things like making dinner or driving or doing the laundry, I will daydream about sewing, or knitting or some form of stitching. How lucky am I that I have found something legal, relatively inexpensive (!?) and easily sourced that gives me such pleasure?
This blog post started as something different, and has morphed... I think I have more to say about QuiltCon, but for now this is what I was thinking.