Recently my husband and I decided to attend a quilt show. On a sleepy Saturday after the farmers’ market we drive past the convention center and noticed a big sign for the show and saw lots of people going inside. We had no plans for the day so we decided to pay the entrance fee and spend an hour or two looking at the quilts. In my pre-weaving days I dabbled in quilting here and there, but as much as I wanted to be the sort of person who would make wonderful quilts from bits of fabric I just was not Quilter Material.
Walking through the quilt show almost made me change my mind, however. The quilts ranged from traditional motifs such as Sunbonnet Sue to thoroughly modern designs. There were dinosaurs, flowers, geometric patterning, and so much more. Some quilts used impossibly small bits of fabric to create detailed designs while others relied on elaborate embroidery and quilting more so than the patchwork to create an image. They were all wonderful.
The quilt that pleased me the most, though, was one I recognized as being by a woman who volunteered at the museum where I used to work. One day a week she would bring in her beautiful wedding ring quilt and work on it in front of the big fireplace in the lobby. Each bit of patterned cloth was different, and each had meaning. There were the cowboy pajamas from when her son was a little boy. The skunk-patterned fabric that reminded her of the time a skunk took up residence under her porch. The western motifs to represent the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. There were hundreds of different bits of fabric and stories behind just about all of them. When we’d have school tours, the students would gather around and listen to her tell the stories about the fabric and watch her carefully handsew stitch after stitch. Seeing the quilt finished and proudly hanging on display warmed my heart and brought back so many good memories of my work at the museum.
I left the show feeling inspired. Not, perhaps, to attempt quilting once again (I know myself well enough to know I am not A Quilter), but rather to try to recreate the joy and the artistry I found in those quilts in my own weaving. I’m not the first weaver to be so inspired by quilting, either. Sarah H. Jackson, for example, designed the set of towels seen on the cover of the March/April 2016 issue after being inspired by a Gee’s Bend Quilt. Marty Benson, Janet Giardina, and other members of the Northwest Arkansas Handweavers Guild wove a variety of towels based on the handwoven fabrics found in several quilts in the collections of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History. Guild members carefully analyzed and recreated the patterns found in the fabric scraps, most of which were probably around 200 years old.
Probably as long as folks have been weaving, weavers have found inspiration in the cloth of others. Textiles are a universal language that spans countries, continents, and even time. As weavers, we can look at fabrics that are centuries or even millennia old and read and understand them. It really is a marvelous thing.