Sunday, November 13, 2011

Reflections on Fiber Art and Bead Art and Modern Life Inspired by a Quilt Show

Yesterday, I went to a huge quilt show which was SO different from the tiny quilt show I attended in mid-October.  Yesterday's quilt show had 475 quilts.  It was almost too much to take in.

My friend and I have been quilting for over 20 years.  I started my fascination with quilting in 1985 or so.  I was reading Alice Walker, and I was desperate to learn to quilt and to do other arts that had been traditionally disdained as women's spheres.  I asked my grandma to teach me, and she said, "Why would you want to waste your time doing that?  You can buy a perfectly good blanket at Wal-Mart for $6."

It would be years before I understood her view.  She had spent many winter nights piecing and sewing by hand, and she hated it.  Modern life meant she didn't have to do that torturous chore.

The world of quilting has changed enormously since she was quilting in the early days of the 20th century.  It's changed enormously since my friend and I began quilting in the 1980's.  Here are some things we noticed at yesterday's quilt show:

--Lots of unfinished edges.  Lots of ravels and threads.

--Lots and lots of different kinds of textures:  yarns and ribbons and threads and beads.  Often textures woven around other textures, like big buttons with beading attached to yarn which was woven around the button.

--More applique than we've ever seen before.

--Not much hand quilting.  Or hand work of any kind.  Yet the few quilts that were hand done were the most intricate things I've ever seen, and huge, huge quilts.  Amazing.

--An equal mix of art quilts and traditional approaches.

--More hand-dyed fabric than I've seen before.

--More quilts with political messages than I'm used to seeing.

--Lots of people taking pictures.  I didn't even take my camera, because at past quilt shows, photography was strictly prohibited.  Has the presence of cell phone cameras made that prohibition impossible to enforce?

My friend wondered if any sociologists had studied quilters as a group, as a society, in the way that sociologists would study them (as opposed to a study of them as artists, as females, as . . . ).

I also noticed how many techniques had begun to migrate over to the quilting world from other art forms.  There's the fairly standard painting on a quilt, of course.  But there were also a few quilts that took me back to my past.

We saw a quilt that had flowers that had been created by taking several layers of fabric, sewing them together, and cutting them to reveal layers underneath in interesting ways.  It reminded me of coloring or painting a layer, then painting or coloring a layer of black over the colored layer, then scratching or removing some of the black layer to reveal the color beneath.  Cool!

What was even cooler was the presence of fabric beads that reminded me of the beads that my grandmother used to make out of old church bulletins (go here for instructions).  I need to look through my collection of tiny scraps and give this a try!

I feel a bit of shame that I used to want my grandma to teach me to quilt, while I couldn't have cared less about her paper bead making.  She would make me necklaces, which I'd accept (please, let me have accepted them graciously!), but never wear.  I thought that paper bead making was a lesser art form, for one thing, and I hated the fact (irrationally, yes), that they were made out of church bulletins.

Now my ecological consciousness cheers the repurposing of church bulletins into beads.  Sadly, I was not that enlightened as a 19 year old.  My arrogant 19 year old self--how much she thought she knew, and how much she really had left to learn.

Now there are companies that support the work of African women towards self-support by selling beads like the kind my grandmother made (go here to see one website).  Beads as an emancipatory tool!  Hurrah.

My friend and I wandered through the marketplace yesterday before we left, where we saw no companies that support the efforts of 3rd world women.  Lots of wonderful, but very pricey stuff--like an iron that will steam your clothes or your dust ruffles without an ironing board or flat surface, and for the low price of $300.  Yikes.

There was a wonderful box of yarns, 12 balls, each the size of an egg.  Lots of textures, all in the same color family.  There were about 30 collections to choose from.  I thought, if these are $20-$30, I'll buy a box.  What fun I'll have with color, texture, and fiber.  What fun it would be!

I asked the price and the woman said, "One seventy five."

It took a minute for my brain to process that number and translate it into money.  I managed to refrain from blurting, "Dollars?  175 dollars?"

I immediately thought about the yarn section of Jo-Anns or Michaels--how many balls of yarn I could buy for that.  Sure, they're mass-produced and not hand-dyed.  But I can dye them, if I want.  Or simply buy the color I want.  Yikes.

So, this afternoon, I'll look through my cloth and yarn boxes to remember what I have exactly.  Maybe I'll experiment with making beads out of cloth.  Or maybe I'll try to make a cool scarf-like thing that I saw a woman wearing in September.  She was at Lutheridge for a conference on one of the oldest forms of rug hooking in North America, and I was there at a retreat to plan a retreat.  Her scarf was a combination of about 12 strands of thin cloth and yarn and fibrousy things, and a bead here and there.  It was so striking that I complimented her on it and asked if I could take a closer look.  She said she had crocheted the strands together.  Hmm.

If I play with fibers, I'll take pictures, and post a photo essay later.  If I put up my Christmas tree, I probably won't confess it here.  I know, you think I should wait until after Thanksgiving--but once we get past Thanksgiving, there's not much time.  Today we're only 6 weeks away from Christmas. 

No comments: