Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Life is like being on a very slow time machine...

and reverse doesn't work.

Calendar pages fluttering off, one by one;  a mannequin in a store window zipping through a succession of costumes: typical views from a time machine.

In reality the only way you can go backwards is through memory.  Arriving at a "certain age" you look back and are surprised how far you've come, how much has changed.

Some of us oldtimers will hold you with a glittering eye and tell you things like "I can remember the first television set in our neighborhood. It was two inches across, and the picture was only black and white.".

When I look back and compare the quilts of my childhood to the quilts I see now I start to wonder "When did everything change?" This is what I found. (I had to look some things up.)

How Technology Changed Quilting: 

The first quilts I knew were handmade.  They might be pieced, appliqued, or embroidered. The fabric was cut with scissors, and usually hand-quilted.   Most quilt patterns were usually a combination of simple shapes, and were copied and acquired new names and variations as they were passed along. They were made to be placed on beds, not hung on the wall.

As I got older new techniques and new tools made quilt making easier. Sewing machines got more complicated.  In the 70's Eleanor Burns started showing us shortcuts so that we could make a quilt in a day.

Then in 1979 Mr. Yoshio Okada of Olfa invented the rotary cutter.  This marvelous invention allowed you to cut through multiple layers of fabric with less effort and more accuracy.

Die-cutting had been around for a long time, but around 1997 Stephen W. Nabity introduced the popular AccuQuilter for home use. This is a roller cutting machine with interchangeable dies which allows you to cut accurate and uniform fabric shapes.

Some sewing machines have automated a lot of hand processes and 'quilter's models' have specialized feet that can give you an accurate 1/4" seam,  machine quilt smaller quilts, or let you "stitch in the ditch". You can buy long-arm machines to machine quilt large quilts, and there are tabletop machines to do machine embroidery. You can even buy computer programs that will let you design and preview a virtual quilt.

What Changed in Our Idea of What A Quilt Is

While the technology for making traditional quilts evolved, so to did the technology for altering fabric in other ways. About forty years ago "art quilts" began to show up. These were quilts that did not fit the usual definition of "quilt" - i.e. "A traditional covering for a bed made of a layer of batting sandwiched between two pieces of cloth fabric and fastened with thread." "Art quilts" were being made of practically any kind of material and few of them were functional as bed coverings.  A lot of them were not even 'pretty'.

Some traditional quilters were not amused. In a documentary called Stitched one of them is interviewed about Randall Cook's quilt "I Remain". She protests "You can't wrap up a baby in that quilt."

These days art quilts are becoming more accepted.  At the recent Long Beach International Quilt Show they offered seventeen classes categorized as "Art Quilt" classes, and many of the quilts on display were non-traditional and incorporated things like photos on fabric, paint, and dyes that would not have been accepted twenty years ago.

An excellent overview and discussion of "art quilts" has been done by Jane Dunnewold at her blog Existential Neighborhood.

I can't wait to see what happens next.

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