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Quilt like an Artist

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Quilts are generally classified as material culture, objects made by people to suit their physical needs, rather than fine art, which is defined as creative art whose products are to be appreciated primarily for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content. While a quilt can be a useful item, the design of a quilt is all art, in my opinion.

Often, when I am teaching workshops, I hear students say that they will only make quilts of a certain size because they need to be big enough for a particular bed. Or they have chosen fabrics that a certain individual will like so that they can gift the finished project. The list of limitations goes on and on! The quilt must match a room’s wall color. The style must suit the age and interior design of someone’s house. These limitations are all based on the usefulness of the finished product. Sometimes, I love limitations because they can be a challenge and define the parameters of my project, but most often, I find them stifling.

When I gave up the notion that my finished product had to be useful or had to have an intended purpose, I found more satisfaction in the design process and more delight in the finished product too. I was creating a quilt like an artist. I was choosing the size based on scale and what looked right to my eye. I was choosing colors that suited my design rather than my interior decorating. I created more modern designs that might never look right in my 1830s Colonial home. In this way, my artistic passion has been satisfied by quilting in a way that it never could be if I always quilted for a purpose.

Caged, 2016. This quilt is far more modern than my décor but one of my all time favorite creations.

And no, of course I am not saying that we should never quilt for a purpose. We all have houses with beds and gifts to make, etc. But when you find yourself at a workshop, exploring a new technique, don’t limit your creativity with boundaries! When you feel moved to make something but aren’t sure what you are going to do with it; make it anyway!

Crazy Eights, 2015. The design for this quilt was sparked by my desire to create a dynamic design with stripes. I am glad that I allowed myself that freedom to experiment!

I often mention, while speaking to guilds, that I love to quilt in colors that I can’t wear! All shades of yellow and citron and lime greens look horrible on me with my fair skin and blonde hair. But I can quilt with them and simply enjoy the color.

Negativity, 2017. This quilt is a prime example of the kind of color I can’t wear but can enjoy sewing with!

In the same vein, you all know the quote “Dance like no one is watching.” What if we quilt like no one is judging? If you forget all the preconceived notions that your quilt has to be useful, it’s a little scary, right? No longer can you blame your cousin’s décor on your fabric selection. You are exposing yourself as an artist. Try not to care. I know it is hard but when you take art classes, your art work is critiqued by your class and it gives you a thick skin. Every time I share something on social media, I know that a lot of people won’t understand it or won’t care for it. But it always surprises me how many people do like it too! At the end of the day, it only matters that you like it and that your inner artist feels fulfilled. So go ahead, experiment! And through these quilting experiments, your creativity will really blossom. 

Hayloft Door, 2013. I think that this quilt was the first time I created a quilt without giving thought to the intended purpose but created purely as a creative expression.