Thursday, January 21, 2010

It’s the same world, but it’s different

quilt_rackIn October I wrote about the “confused generation” and digging into the reasons we do and see things the way we do. I wrote about my taciturn relationship with quilting in that post and trying to decide whether I was a quilter who kept getting interrupted or if I was worried about being the one to drop the quilting needle.

Following that post I received several messages both in comments and privately about doing machine quilting to get these unfinished projects finished. I have to be honest that I was not open to those comments at the time. Every fiber of my being countered that it was “not real quilting.”

Then I came across the Zanders’ volume on The Art of Possibility that I mentioned recently. In chapter seven on “The Way Things Are” Rosamund tells a story about an experience she had with skiing. She was ready to quit because it wasn’t “real skiing” conditions when she realized that the conditions were common for the area and maybe the problem was her definition. Her point was that if a worldview is hindering instead of helping maybe the view is the problem.

But I didn’t make the quilt connection just yet. It wasn’t until I watched the DVD of the PBS program America Quilts and its bonus footage over the weekend which highlights two quilter organizations which have welcomed art quilters into their ranks. When I was hanging with quilters in the late 1970s and early 1980s this interaction between traditional and art quilters was hardly known and in some places not cordial.

While I was distracted from quilting the quilt world had gotten bigger on its own. That created a general world of quilting that now accepted hand and machine quilting in both traditional and art forms but on its own it did nothing about my own resistance to machine quilting. It took pulling out every quilt I own, finished and unfinished and regardless of its condition, and going over each one. What I came to see was that the machine-quilted quilts in my stash are not quality pieces at all; and not even the foundation blocks are well-made.

My ability to do something to which I had a strong connection was being hindered because the narrow view I defined was not practical. It is completely appropriate to not want my hard work to end up like these less than quality pieces or to even be considered such just because I might choose to quilt by machine rather than by hand. In my case the negative impression I had was not caused by poor machine quilting over beautiful pieced tops; rather the pieces from conception were just make-dos to be thrown together with the minimum of effort.

Still, I came away from the video with another revelation. While I love traditional quilt patterns, I have worked on enough of them to know that I do not want to just duplicate or reinvent the traditional patterns in order to be a quilter. Art quilts are now not just the abstract inventions of overactive imaginations. Several of the art quilt makers in the videos had reproduced landscapes and still lifes; and some took inspiration from photographs.

It was such a rush to see these expressions in fabric and thread. I want to explore these kinds of art quilts going forward. I have volumes of digital photos plus film negatives to scan. In fact I received some digital photo tools that can help in planning and pattern development. Perhaps converting some of my photographs to fabric is my quilting niche. I don’t know where this might go but the world just got bigger.


Melissa Donovan said...

Technology is always slow to take hold, and artists are often the most dedicated hold-outs. I remember when digital art first hit the scene. It wasn't "real art." And in some circles, I'm sure it's still not acceptable. This can be seen in music as well, where electronic music and synthesizers are considered "cheating." Personally, I think the end result is what matters. If you use machinery or technology to produce the desired results, all that matters are the results, i.e. a concept realized and manifested.

chelle said...

I find when I get really stubborn about technique or a particular way I am shutting too much of myself off.

I look forward to reading more about your explorations.

Deb said...

@Melissa - I remember the first Moog synthesizer; that was a strange piece of equipment. And now we have lightweight electric pianos that rarely need tuning. Who knew?

@Chelle - I know this has me stymied but it is so hard to move past.