To be a bit cliché, this shoemaker is a professional Web Developer and her child is this blog, but it was past time to launch what I have of a new design. All the content is still here, everything else is a work in progress (kind of like most of my sewing projects)!
When I dropped off my welcome blanket donation at MODA, I stopped in to see the current exhibit, “Making Change: The Art and Craft of Activism”. I’d heard about the exhibit in a post by Chawne Kimber, as her quilt “The One for Eric G” is in the show—in fact, it’s one of the first artworks you see. It was great to see her work up close (those incredibly consistent hand stitches! that precision piecing! the subtle movement and inclusion of color that just isn’t apparent in an online photo of the full quilt!), but my attention was grabbed by two other quilts in the show, and I kept walking back to them to study in depth.
From afar, the two quilts look incredibly different, but it was their commonalities that captured my attention, and have kept my mind coming back to them even now, a week later. The main commonality between the two is their use of antique quilts as a base for appliqué. And while they both had a message about war, destruction, and death, it wasn’t their political message that caused a visceral reaction for me. That reaction was caused by the potential destruction to the original quilts.
First was “Treaty With the Cherokee 1794” by Gina Adams, which is double-sided. I saw the front of the piece first, which is the back of the original quilt, so it wasn’t immediately obvious what the base medium was. In this artwork, the artist has appliquéd the words of a treaty onto an Irish Chain quilt with a solid backing fabric. On the spectrum of destroying the original quilt, this one is somewhat minimal. I don’t know whether Adams used an adhesive on her letters, but in theory, the stitching and appliqué pieces could be removed and the quilt would be returned to its unaltered format. If anything, the stitching might even have stabilized the quilt, as you can see a few places where there are holes through all the layers. My mind plays more with the “what ifs” on this on. What if Adams had used a quilt that was actually contemporary to the treaty instead of one that likely dates to the 1860s at the earliest (there are far fewer extant quilts from the 18th century)? What if she had used a quilt that was a less common pattern than an Irish Chain, used a pattern without as much representation in various antique collections? Would those cause more of a reaction on my part, making me mourn the loss of the original quilt? On the flip side, I think the piece would be even more impactful if Adams had used a quilt that was more befitting the style and tastes of 18th century than a design so timeless that it could have been made any time from the early-mid 19th century to now. What if she was able to use something more closely resembling a blanket that could have been traded between the parties involved in the treaty negotiations?
So I think that’s the core of it—I don’t mourn the loss of an antique quilt, in this case, but the opportunities left unaddressed.
“Dresden” by Maggy Rozycki Hiltner is my favorite piece in the exhibit from a graphic standpoint. But, it’s also the one that leaves me most torn based on the execution. The artist took a gifted Dresden Plate quilt (likely circa 1920-30), overdyed it with black dye, then appliquéd skeletal figures over the top. From afar, you don’t see the textures of the underlying dresden plate blocks. It’s only once you are close that you begin to see the variations in blacks as piecing, coupled with wear and tear on the antique quilt. I wondered if the woman who gifted Hiltner with the quilt knew its eventual fate, and if not, would she have done so with that knowledge? There’s no going back from the overdying process—the quilt as it once was can never again exist.
In contrast, I saw some of Kara Walker’s lithographs a few weeks ago at the High Museum of Art. Her works are also palimpsest-type pieces: reproduction lithographs from the American Civil War era coupled with cut paper silhouettes simultaneously enhancing, obscuring, and contextualizing a broader story to the original work. These works didn’t invoke the same visceral reaction as the two quilts, especially “Dresden”. Although it wasn’t 100% clear to me at the time, the lithographs are reproductions, not originals (although I made assumptions based on lack of discoloring and print quality). Perhaps it’s that paper prints are easily reproducible—even if you destroy one, there are surely other copies floating around. Perhaps it’s my lack of personal connection to the craft. Perhaps it was my subconscious making the call that the lithographs were clearly reproductions before my research verified it.
Collectors and curators can’t save every piece of art or craft. Part of collecting is making decisions on what to purge from a collection if you’ve procured a similar piece that is a better representation of the collection’s aim. In that mindset, not every antique quilt is worth saving, and given the prolific creation of both Irish Chain and Dresden Plate quilts, it’s unlikely that either of these originals was collection-worthy as is. Yet, could the same message have been achieved with a reproduction created specifically for the project, like with Walker’s lithographs?
In the end, this is why quilts are art. We ask these questions. We search for meaning. We may read more meaning into a piece than the artist intended. And to answer my own question, maybe it’s okay that both of these pieces used antique quilts. In “Treaty,” an otherwise non-special quilt is elevated in a way that neither fully obscures the original workmanship, and potentially preserves the stability of it. In “Dresden,” the dye obscures the one attribute of the quilt that might have set it apart from others—the printed fabric—but that destruction in itself echoes the destruction of countless other quilts buried by the rubble of Dresden’s bombing.
And maybe you’ll answer that question differently, or have never asked it at all.
Those of you who have been following me for a while know that I’m not a big fan of the tension between traditional and modern quilting. I’ve made traditional. I’ve made modern. I’ve made modern with traditional. I’ve made a lot of things that are just quilts. I spend more time with a modern guild and modern quilters, but it’s not at the expense of respecting and learning from traditional sources. I think that we as quilters and people are better for acknowledging that both sides (and everything in between) have much to bring to our craft and art.
In my Web wanderings recently, I came across a digitized collection of early 20th century quilt design paintings. The 419 watercolor paintings were done by Virginia Beauchamp around 1919-1923, but many depict quilts from the previous century. What drew me into the collection was how her framing and cropping of the quilt down to the desired design motif is incredibly similar to how we often make modern traditional quilts.
Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a traditional quilt design and making it in solids.
Other times, we take a single block and make it very large.
Some of the paintings go beyond depicting what we call modern traditional and straight into modern.
We break the grid.
We decompose the design in places.
We use negative space to great effect.
This collection has left me inspired with ideas of quilts to make for years to come. I hope you find similar inspiration.
It’s been three years since I finished the War of 1812 challenge quilt, and it’s still traveling around as part of the Great Lakes Seaway Trail 1812 Quilt Challenge traveling show! This winter, it spent time in Baton Rouge, and is now on display in the Classroom Gallery at the New England Quilt Museum through June 28.
I never would have guessed I’d be saying “one of my quilts is hanging at NEQM!” when I first started working on this one in 2011.
It’s been a while since we’ve been in Lowell, but if we make it back there to see the 1812 quilts hanging, I hope to stop at the American Textile History Museum as well. I visited Shelburne Museum multiple times when it was hosting the ATHM’s traveling Homefront & Battlefield exhibit. I don’t buy a lot of quilting books, because I rarely want to make the patterns they contain (although inspiration is nice), but Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War made it into my library because of the history.
The book is dense but interesting, and has highlighted a few other museums I’d like to visit due to objects from their collection being involved in the show, including the Rokeby Museum that is just down the road from home. While the quilts in the show were wonderful to see, I was facinated by a shaker-style dress that belonged to Rachel Rokeby. The construction details were very interesting, including the obvious use of selvage along the skirt side seams (and pocket openings), and a very-tightly blanket-stitched hem.
We spent 10 days in April traveling from VT down to SC and back, with a chunk of time in Virginia. Between stops at Ashlawn-Highland, Montecello, and Colonial Williamsburg, I think I’m inspired to make another more traditional quilt in the coming months. I was focused more on experiences than photographs, but even floor-coverings were inspiring.
For now, though, I have a few more modern projects to muddle through. I haven’t sewn much this year, but I managed to put a dent in my current work in progress at the guild’s sew-in this weekend!
The Museum of the City of New York has an absolutely wonderful exhibit online at the moment: Worth & Mainbocher, featuring photos and information on many garments by these two master couture houses.
It’s a dangerous time-sink, with the ability to do some very super zooming on many of the garments—you can really see the details. Some even include shots of the interior. I love it. The interface is a bit clunky and slow otherwise, but don’t let that deter you.
I have no doubt that if you’ve seen a Worth gown (I’m not as familiar with Mainbocher), you’ve wanted to see how it was constructed—this gives you the opportunity to get up close. They even have the famous “Electric Light” fancy dress gown worn by Mrs. Vanderbilt II (complete with photos of the inner bodice).
I wish I’d learned about this before our trip to MO, because we could have swung through Chicago, but for those of you who can get to Chicago before April 16, 2012, there is a fabulous exhibition of couture fashion by Charles James at the Chicago History Museum.
Now, while I love looking at designer clothing, gowns alone won’t usually inspire me to want to trek halfway across the country for an exhibit, but this is more than just a show of his designs. The curating team used advanced imaging techniques and intense study of the construction of three iconic dresses in order to show visitors how the gowns are structured—and James’ designs are often very complex in structure. There are also touchable displays—the team painstakingly created prototypes of different aspects of the construction.
But, that doesn’t keep me from being intrigued by the Great Lakes Seaway call for 1812 reproduction “cot to coffin” quilts for a show in March 2012. I have a feeling I’ll be trying to make room for this in my schedule of projects soon. I have a few ideas hopping about it my head. I especially like some of the extant quilts in the V&A collection and this one from the Smithsonian:
FIT in NYC had an interesting exhibit last year called Eco-Fashion: Going Green that explored fashion from various centuries (with extant examples dating from the 18th century through today) and its effect on the environment. From the poisonous Aniline dyes of the 19th Century, to faux-fur and its extensive, polluting manufacturing process, the exhibit makes you think about aspects of fashion and textile creation you may not have considered before.
There’s now an online exhibit with photos of some of the garments along with some of the text explaining the environmental concerns or improvements. The gallery page is a bit confusing—some of the images and descriptions popup in a new window, while some open in a frame on the original page—but it’s definitely worth a look (just not on a mobile).
Here‘s a promo video about it. (Turn up your speakers, the woman is very hard to hear.)
What eco-concerns do you have about fashion and textiles?
The exhibit is a collection of textile scraps left in the Foundling Hospital’s 18th century records about the abandoned children in their care.
In the cases of more than 4,000 babies left between 1741 and 1760, a small object or token, usually a piece of fabric, was kept as an identifying record. The fabric was either provided by the mother or cut from the child’s clothing by the hospital’s nurses. Attached to registration forms and bound up into ledgers, these pieces of fabric form the largest collection of everyday textiles surviving in Britain from the 18th Century. Read more about the exhibit
If you’re in, or visiting, London, the show is open until March 6, 2011.
Three centuries of historic threads help illuminate the lives of the men and women who once wore the clothing in this exhibition. From attending formal balls to getting dressed for bed, the antique clothing in the collections of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg tells the story of daily life. Clothing that once hung in wardrobes and lay piled in trunks is on display here for the eyes of a new century.
They haven’t yet launched the full exhibit; only formal clothing and accessories are currently available, but even that is quite interesting. The online exhibit is part of Fashion Accessories from Head to Toe: 1600 to 1840, which runs in Colonial Williamsburg January 28, 2011–December 31, 2012.
It just closed at the Cincinnati Art Museum, which owns most of the pieces in the show.
If you can’t wait for June—or don’t live near Utica—a book of the same title is available. The book is authored by Cynthia Amneus, the associate curator of costume and textiles at the Cincinnati Art Museum; Sara Long Butler, Professor of Costume Studies at Miami University in Ohio; and Katherine Jellison, Associate Professor of History at Ohio University. It’s on my wishlist, but I haven’t yet looked through a printed copy.
If you happen to know if it’s opening at another museum in between Cincinnati and MWPAI, let us know in the comments.