“Why?” is such an underappreciated question. While “what?” and “how?” get all the attention, it seems to me that “why” has long been the bedrock of the quilting tradition, and is now the question that is truly bringing modern quilting to prominence. Every aesthetic choice can be related to a historical precedent; all of our techniques are based on and extend the quilting tradition. The thing is that when we reduce quilting to the what and how, we miss the essence of quilting itself.
For me the question of why is about revelation, a means to understanding the depths of things and uncovering their stories. This is true of both the general and the specific, with regard both to quilting and to any particular quilt. One of the questions I find most compelling is why is there a modern quilt movement at all? Why are thousands of people, like myself, coming to quilting now? These are not people who learned from parents or grandparents; they were not drawn in by a local shop. There is a new generation of people making quilts, and while the emergence of more modern fabrics has had some effect, attributing the growth of this new audience to fabric design seems to be putting the cart in front of the horse. There would be no modern fabric if there weren’t a market for it.
So, why? Quilts have always been made for a variety of reasons: for practical needs, to mark occasions, as a hobby and many more. It seems to me that the driving force behind this new wave of quilters is the desire to have a meaningful relationship to the things that are a part of our lives.
If one just wanted modern bedcovers, Ikea makes it easy to obtain one; the idea that modern quilting simply fulfills an aesthetic need does not stand up. There is a cultural impulse at work, one that is mirrored in the knitting and broader sewing communities, the slow-food movement and elsewhere. The underlying current behind modern quilting is the proposition that making matters, that what we choose to possess can make a difference; it is an explicit step away from the disposable and replaceable in favor of resonant relationships.
If the what and how no longer take priority in discussion of modern quilting, we can bypass territorial disputes and false dichotomies between past and present, tradition and exploration. Modern quilting easily takes its place as another iteration of the quilting tradition even as we recognize another set of concerns and questions. In seeing modern quilting as a reflection of and reaction to this time’s unique set of cultural realities, we find the importance inherent to this new generation of quilters without in any way opposing it to quilting tradition. Examining the depths of the practice of quilting, our similarities and differences may coexist without contradiction; in the conversations surrounding why, genuine communities are formed.
But the question of why is not solely a means to understanding the big picture; it is the first question I ask when I approach a quilt. The what and the how are the means for deciphering the why, to understand it as well as appreciate it. This is why I think Quilt Alliance’s Quilters’ Save Our Stories project is so important, as it records not just what was made, but the reasons behind any quilter’s practice.
I was lucky enough to attend The Modern Quilt Guild’s QuiltCon in Austin, Texas, where I saw Victoria Findlay Wolfe’s extraordinary Double Edged Love in person. This is the epitome of a quilt that reveals itself when we keep asking the questions, when we view the material and aesthetic decisions not just as formal choices, but as the manifestation of genuine consideration. Why make a double wedding ring quilt? Why piece a quilt top and then cut it up to make another? Why break up the rings only to have them rejoin in new, unexpected ways? Why have the quilting (by Lisa Sipes) move over and through the piecing rather than follow it? Why add bits of hand quilting? Why those stray bits of red and lavender, especially that segment of red in the binding?
These are just a sampling of the questions I asked myself as I looked at this quilt, and as I did so I found myself not simply enjoying it as an aesthetic and technical object, but as a story, a reflection of meaningful issues and ideas, and an entryway into the mind and process of the maker. It speaks of a wedding of past and present, both personal and cultural. It is an admixture of the urban and the pastoral, the frenetic and the simple, though the quilt itself belies the idea of simplicity, revealing complex depths beneath the surface of seemingly simple choices. This quilt reads not as a fracturing of the double wedding ring, but a reorientation; it provides endless layers and paths for reforming the relationships between all of the elements. Awkward moments become essential parts of larger truths; the ebbing and flowing of rhythms both emphasize and subsume the individual moments.
While Victoria’s quilt may be an extraordinary example of where the question of why can lead us, I believe that this is true of every quilt that gets made. Even the simplest decisions we make have their causes: we start each quilt for some reason, and even just passing the time reflects a particular relationship to one’s life and practice. In asking why, we learn about our relationships to what we make, to our fabric choices and techniques. It is in the inquiry that the material intersects with the meaningful. As such, modern quilting is as much an investment in the depth of the quilting tradition as it is a transformation of the aesthetic landscape. In exploring why, we tap into the essential nature of quilts, and into our own resonant selves.
** Originally published in Quilters Newsletter in 2013
A couple of people out there asked me if there was a pattern for a quilt I made with my Wanderlust fabric…
Well, I whipped up a quick how-to for ya…
For this example I used 8 strips cut to 8.5″ x 2.5″. For the Wanderlust lap quilt the strips were cut to 20.5″ x 5.5″.
Sew your two sets of stripes together and lay them faces together turned perpendicular to each other.
Carefully draw your sewing lines .25″ on each side of the center diagonal.
Your prepared sub-blocks should look like this with two sewing lines drawn diagonally. Carefully sew along the lines and cut the two triangles apart along the center diagonal axis (between the sewing lines). Fold them out and press.
The result of those first two sub-blocks should look like this. Repeat this process for the top half of the block. Your top-left and bottom-right sub-blocks should be horizontal and the top-right and bottom-left sub-blocks should be vertical. Just sew them all together and you are done.
My favorite part of the block is the offset along the diagonal of each sub-block; I find it so much more visually interesting than if they were lines up.
So… I can’t tell you anything about the book, or when it will come out, or what might be in it, but there is going to be a book. I’m really excited and I’ve been making so many quilts for it, so get ready for a vast quantity of new work, should you be inclined to get the book (when it comes out that is).
But now I am staring at the hard part: the first sentence, page one. Well, actually page one is about page 8 or something, but you know what I mean. And perhaps page eight isn’t so scary, but page ten definitely is; that’s when the writing really begins.
I am currently available for virtual workshops, lectures, and trunk shows. At this time I am offering several workshops ranging from the technical to the highly conceptual. I can be booked for one-day or weekend workshops as fits your needs. I am amenable to both online and in-person events.
For more information, please send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org