Happy National Quilting Day! (belated)

March 22, 2010 at 9:05 am Leave a comment

March 20th was National Quilting Day, which I observed in two distinct and quilt-y ways.

First, I volunteered to help with a quilt documentation at the local historical society.  It was insanely gorgeous out, sunny and 72 degrees, which made me initially regret having signed up to spend the day inside.  However, once the quilts started arriving, all regrets were forgotten.  My one concession to the weather:  I rode my bicycle to and from the documentation.  That way, I could pretend my decision was all about civic responsibility and not wanting to take up a parking space in the tiny lot, but it was really a chance to play outside on the first day of Spring!

Documentation Day is exhausting.  It’s that “good kind of tired” that people talk about, but it’s a long, busy day.  I worked in the photography area, helping to display each quilt on a flannel-covered frame so that pictures could be taken.  Each quilt is photographed in full, and then closeups are taken of quilting designs, interesting fabrics, embellishments, etc.  While it is physically tiring to keep taking that frame up and down, what I like most about that job is that I get to see every single quilt that gets documented.  This does lead to the predictable type of teasing I tend to be subject to anytime I’m confronted by a wealth of textile beauty, when I keep saying, “This one’s my favorite!”  several times in succession.

Schoolhouse top

One of my favorites from last year's documentation, pictured here at a guild meeting. Quilt top owned by Cindy Hodge.

There weren’t as many quilts this year as last, but there definitely were still some standouts.  There were a couple of impressive double wedding rings, and some lovely traditional applique.  One quilt had blocks that were all dark-on-white/cream, except for  two identical black-on-navy blocks that were so close in value they looked to be solid squares from a distance.  I’m not usually much one for crazy quilts, but there were several stellar examples, most notably a rich, lavish silk piece covered with elaborate embroidery including a swan, a spider, and a garden’s worth of flowers.  One very old quilt had square cutouts for the posts of a four-poster bed in the bottom corners; the sashing between the large blocks of beautiful florals was intricately pieced with two different solids, but one of the fabrics had faded so dramatically that there was now almost no distinguishing the two.

Several quilt tops were brought in, including a few absolutely reeking of mothballs, which made no sense, as they’re cotton.  From a fabric historian standpoint, these tops are important because the fabric is frequently very well preserved and we can easily see both sides.  From a UFO-blogger standpoint, it’s great to see that I’m far from being the only one with unfinished projects!  And, as with anyone else’s collection of UFOs, some of the tops told their own stories as to why they hadn’t been quilted.  There was a matched set of double-nine-patch tops where one had four borders and the other only had one:  did she run out of fabric, I wonder?  There was one with a pretty red border that ruffled so badly it could have been worn on “Dancing with the Stars.” And there was my favorite in this category — the maternity quilt.  I had to call it that after we despaired of getting it to lie flat on the photography frame.  It was painstakingly hand-pieced out of hexagons roughly the size of a quarter, but there was an absolute dome, probably 18″ across, of extra fabric in the center of the top when the edges were laid out flat, as if it needed a pregnant belly to support it.  The documentarians later pointed out to me that the center was pieced of larger hexagons than the outer areas, possibly even by a different quilter, creating an impossible discrepancy.  No wonder she never quilted it.

My takeaway lessons from the documentation are these:  1) Forget perfection.  These old quilts are stunningly beautiful, yet they’re far from perfect.  2) Try unexpected color combinations.  One of the most striking quilts I saw all day was rust and lavender, if you can imagine.  3) Keep it simple.  Several of the most beautiful quilts were nine-patches, four-patches, broken dishes, easy stuff.  You don’t need to set the world on fire with complex piecing to create a thing of enduring beauty.  4) Label your quilts with as much information as possible.  It was wonderful to see the (sadly, few) quilts that bore the quilter’s name.  5) Use something pretty on the back.  The quilt with yards and yards of the huge Centennial print of Lady Liberty with ears of corn and beehives all over the back was a sight to behold.  6) Giving quilts away to people we love is one of the few little glimmers of immortality we can reach for in this life.

After my long day of documentation, I lacked the physical or intellectual energy to enter the studio, much less accomplish anything there.  I was therefore more than happy to kick off my shoes and spend a few happy hours with the second phase of my National Quilting Day, watching episodes of The Quilt Show.  TQS had announced that on 3/20, all the online shows would be available to watch for free.  I have access to the first season and from episode 406 to the present, but I had let my membership lapse during seasons 2 & 3 and hadn’t gotten around to paying for access to them.  So during my free evening, I watched #203, Ribbon Winning Applique with Suzanne Marshall; #210, New Twist on Applique with Beth Ferrier; #310, Needlework at its Finest with Liuxin Newman; and #402, Quilting to Perfection with Sue Nickels.  It was hard to choose which ones to watch, as there were so many quilters I wanted to spend time with (Jane Sassaman!  Sue Patten!  Joanna Figueroa!  Elly Sienkiewicz!) but I suppose that’s just my motivation to bite the bullet and buy those past seasons.  It’s just as well I had structured plans and had to sleep, or else I might have tried to get way too much use out of those 24 hours.  The video stream was uncharacteristically jumpy, but I imagine the server was strained to the limit with tens of thousands of TQS members from all over the world doing the exact same thing I was; it’s usually clearer than cable.

Hopefully this coming week will see me putting some of this newfound inspiration and motivation to use in finishing Convergence Birds and getting Ruby Wedding basted, but I’m white gloving at the AQS show in Lancaster on Wednesday, and Diane arrives on Friday, so we’ll see.  This quilting-intensive lifestyle isn’t leaving me much time for quilting!

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