The Future of Quilting, Part 1

Some recent events have me wondering about the future of quilting. I’ll get to those in the next post.

First I want to ask some questions: will you still be quilting in five years? Do you see your involvement as temporary, or as a permanent part of your life, until you’re truly unable to continue? And if you expect to still be quilting, how do you think your quilting life might change? Will the type of project change, perhaps from large quilts to smaller ones? From “traditional” to “modern” or “art”? Will your purchases change, to much less fabric or books or notions? Or perhaps to more? Or to more quilting services like someone to longarm for you? Or will you buy a dye cutter to reduce stress on arthritic parts?

Another question: do you actively help new quilters learn the craft? Do you teach, or donate fabric to 4H groups, or participate in other nurturing activities? Is that something you would do if presented with the opportunity?

Another: are there areas of quilting you’d like to learn? Are you interested in becoming an appraiser, or learning and/or teaching quilting history? Or are there particular skills you long to try?

One more: do you think that most “new” quilters (those who’ve been quilting less than five years, or have made fewer than five quilts) will still be quilting five years from now? Why or why not?

I’ll start, but please join in with comments. Don’t hesitate to respond to others’ comments, as well.

I expect I’ll still be quilting in five years. Truly I have no idea how many quilts I’ve made in the last decade, but surely it is well over 100. Likely it’s more than twice that, especially if you include all the quilts I’ve helped with but wasn’t the sole maker. So from the standpoint of production, I’m in this. It’s part of my life. On the other hand, it’s possible for me to imagine not quilting anymore. In particular, it’s imaginable that I stop quilting my own projects and pay someone else to longarm quilt for me.

I prefer making big quilts, or at least biggish. But we’ve discussed the issue of having a “market” or audience for our work, and mine is pretty depleted. It might be time to shift to smaller items. Though as I’ve said to someone else, my heart would die if I had to make coasters and pot holders. I did have a lot of fun making my Iowa In My Mind quilt. Perhaps other types of art or story quilts are in my future.

My purchases over the last couple of years have changed some. I am not a big fabric buyer. I never buy all new for a specific quilt, and I almost never buy even partially new before starting a specific quilt.  I prefer to work from stash, but that means having things that are interesting and useful. Recently the ratio of “interesting” to “useful” has increased. Even so, I fill in with tone-on-tones or blenders regularly.

I’ve kicked around the idea of becoming an appraiser, but in truth I don’t want to work that hard anymore. Between my college degrees and professional certification, I’ve taken all the tests I ever want to take. I do enjoy teaching and want to continue to find opportunities to do so.

As for newer quilters, most of the younger modern quilters probably won’t be quilting five years from now. There will be a core of those who’ve found their niche, but the rest will fall away with the busyness of their lives and other interests. Even so, the richness and enthusiasm they’ve added will help to enliven the craft for years to come.

Now it’s your turn. Thoughts to share? 


Iowa In My Mind

My local quilt guild has an annual challenge. At our July meeting, members bring their entries to share. This year’s challenge was to create a quilt inspired by Iowa. “What does Iowa mean to you? Corn and prairie grass? The Old Capitol Building? Family and friends? In 2016, Iowa will be 170 years old and we thought we should show everyone what Iowa means to us through our quilts. There is no size or technique limit to this quilt.”

I created the quilt below. You can click on it to open in a new tab and see the detail, including the words.


Iowa In My Mind. Approx 31.5″ x 20″. July 2016. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The quilt was inspired by Iowa, but also by my son and how he sees Iowa. As an Air Force pilot, early this year he flew across the state. Later while we instant-messaged, he described his view:

it was funny looking north across Iowa
I could see the thousands and thousands of straight lined fields
well, the roads around the fields
‪each field being exactly the same size‬
everything just in its perfect place
we spent a night in Maine
the people there reminded me of Iowans
so friendly
fairly chatty, but with nothing too significant to chat about
th‪e land is not like that everywhere,
and the people are not, either‬
but the Iowa in my mind is

I wanted my design to include his thoughts. In addition, I had already pieced the background fabric and thought it could be a good starting point for construction. When considering how to use that background fabric, I thought of creating a quilt in the shape of the state. I asked Jim if he could make an outline for me of the state, which I could use to shape my quilt. He did.

Though the words are the centerpiece of the quilt, I wanted to include more details that would be meaningful to Son and to others. The wind turbine refers to his work on wind energy while in college, and the fact that Iowa leads the nation in the percent of energy created by wind. The left and right bindings are blue to indicate the rivers bordering the state. The line dividing north and south is Interstate-80, created with a hand-stitched yellow dotted line, as well as machine-stitching for the outer lane markers and quilting. Other quilting includes both straight lines for the rows of crops planted in fields, and the curves of hills across large parts of the state.

Using a pieced background, including words (Sharpie marker), bias binding, painting, fused appliqué… Most of the elements of this quilt were new to me. While I had trouble figuring out how to execute many, I kept plugging away until it told me it was done.

And boy howdy, good thing it finally told me! I finished on Monday morning. My guild meeting was Monday evening.

With no size or technique limit, the challenge entries were varied and impressive. When the group spent time examining the quilts and artists’ statements, I simply felt pleased with what I’d accomplished.

And then the winners were announced. I won! I won the Viewers’ Choice award. Honestly I can’t tell you when I’ve been so pleased with anyone else’s assessment of my work. Until I shared the photo with Son. Son said, “That’s probably the coolest quilt I’ve ever seen!”:) And that was even better.


Too Much

I don’t post political stuff here as a rule. “Politics” and current events can feel both very removed from and very intrusive in our daily lives. I know many quilters and crafters use their projects to escape the everyday, or to provide meditative time for processing events both worldly and close to home.

We have reached the point, are past the point, of too much. Yet I fear that it is still not enough, enough to break the hatred and fear rather than feed it. We (as a society, not necessarily you individually) feed hatred and fear when we escalate our language online, when we treat each other with less respect, when we reject common courtesies in favor of our own momentary needs.

What do we need, so DAMN urgently, on the phone, that we can’t leave it alone while driving? Think about how you used your phone ten years ago. Ten years ago did you need to have it against your ear as you made a sharp left turn? As you drove down the highway? As you backed out of a parking space? I’ll bet not. This is one trivial example of selfish concerns, of choosing our own needs over that of our fellow drivers. Now take this out another level. Ten years ago did we need to put in writing, with disrespectful language, how very very wrong a family member or friend or total stranger was? And if we did, did we publish that so anyone could see it? When did our need to express disapproval or disrespect become so important, more important than the other person involved?

And every little disrespect paid chips away at our common fabric, our community. It allows the fear and hatred to grow. After all, if people in your family, in your community, treat you so badly, so cavalierly, why should you trust them? Even more, why should you trust the “other,” the “foreigner,” the stranger, the refugee, the person of a different color or religion or occupation?

It is too much. I am tired and I feel helpless. I do not fear the “other.” I fear us. I cannot make this better by myself. While I have tried with great effort to become more respectful in my communication, I often fail. But I try. I need other people to try, too. I fear what will happen if we do not.


Collection of the American Folk Art Museum

Made by Jessie Telfair of Georgia in 1983, this quilt embodies our collective political voice. From the American Folk Art Museum,

This is one of several freedom quilts that Jessie Telfair made as a response to losing her job after she attempted to register to vote. It evokes the civil rights era through the powerful invocation of one word, “freedom,” formed from bold block letters along a horizontal axis. Mimicking the stripes of the American flag, it is unclear whether the use of red, white, and blue is ironic or patriotic, or both.

Let freedom ring. Here is the Air Force Concert Band playing “America”.

Voting rights, women’s rights, minority rights, health care access, environment… Jessie Telfair made a quilt after getting fired for attempting to register to vote. It is not over. Our freedom depends on us. To maintain your freedom and our freedom, educate yourself on the issues, contact your elected officials to share your opinions, and VOTE.

Progress on All Those Projects

All of ’em! Yes, four projects actively in process, at least two more than I usually have, and I’m making progress on all fronts. Here’s where we started the other day:

    1. Untied. I’ve been hand-quilting this with a hoop for the center, and no hoop for the rest, which I can reach more easily. It’s been on hold for a couple of weeks, but the center is almost done and soon I’ll move to the outer borders. They should go a little more quickly. Update: the center is done and I’m working on outer borders. 20160328_092719
    2. Moonlight Waltz. The top is beautiful. I loaded it onto the frame with a back and wool batting. My longarm machine has had unreliable tension, but after testing extensively, I plunged ahead. It was awful. Rather than baby the project along, a few inches at a time, I stopped. I took my machine to the factory. Last week I picked it up. They installed a new tension assembly and a new shaft for the bobbin assembly. The price of repairs was very modest. Jim re-installed the machine. I removed the whole project from the frame and picked out the quilting I’d done. I’ll need to add a big test strip to the back before loading it on the frame again. Update: It’s back on the frame. I switched to a polyester batting, and I’ve completed one pass of quilting. So far so good… 20160701_092747
    3. Diamonds. I don’t have a good name for this yet, but it’s my most recent start. The top is done and the back is ready. I need to cut batting and make a binding. I will quilt this one before getting back to Moonlight Waltz. Update: it’s DONE! Quilted and bound, though I’ll admit, not labeled. (Ugh, the colors are so strong, I cannot get them to show right in photos! This looks really dull compared to the real thing.) OH! And the name — “More Precious Than Diamonds.”2016_0630Diamond (1)
    4. Testing. This actually is my highest current priority, and it is what I’m working on today. I put plain muslin on as backing and top fabric and used a scrap of polyester batting between. To evaluate the tension, I am using a different color of thread in the bobbin than on the top. I think it’s adjusted pretty well now, but the batting scrap is a different loft than I usually use. After a few more squiggles, I’ll switch to my usual brand and test some more. Update: testing went fine. I’ll continue to create test strips before starting quilts. But I’m hopeful now that my tension problems are much improved. 
    5. Local guild challenge. This year’s guild challenge is to create a quilt inspired by Iowa. “What does Iowa mean to you? Corn and prairie grass? The Old Capitol Building? Family and friends? In 2016, Iowa will be 170 years old and we thought we should show everyone what Iowa means to us through our quilts. There is no size or technique limit to this quilt.” This is a hard project for me because I can’t easily distill my thoughts and emotions into a design concept. However, while instant-chatting with my son one evening, he described the Iowa in his mind as he flew over early this year. I’m still working on how to incorporate his words. The challenge meeting is in July, so time is running out! Update: my concept is developing. I’ve chosen words, roughed out a wind turbine, stitched highway I-80 across the state, and determined how to paint fields. It’s moving along. 20160621_115949

While I’m not sure of timeline on all this, I’m making good progress and feeling like it WILL all get done!:)