Anna Hergert, Art & Design

Traditional Quilts and Mixed Media

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Shirley R. from Calgary posted the following comment this week: My question deals with traditional quilting and functionality, is there a place to put artistic design and new mediums into traditional quilting? Would it look tacky? It would be nice to have some ideas. Thanks in advance for your response.

Thank you for posting your question, Shirley. In the CQA Quilt Judge Certification Program we teach that Form follows Function. What does that mean exactly? The end purpose (function) of the quilted item determines the construction and any possible embellishments (form).

Let us assume we are creating a bed quilt. I would ask myself these questions:¬† Will it be used daily? Will it be folded every night? Will it require frequent washing or dry cleaning? Even if the quilt is deemed for the guestroom and won’t be handled every day, the questions must be considered.

The answers to all my questions will be yes. With this in mind I will go about selecting a pattern or block design that excites me and will hold my interest. I have the option of selecting a traditional block, which may be constructed by hand or machine with reproduction fabrics or batiks. Using contemporary fabrics will lend the finished quilt a current look. Machine or hand-quilting will complete the quilt. Once the binding is safely attached I consider this quilt finished.

Why will I not add embellishments in the form of buttons, needle felting or heavy embroidery? First, they add undue weight; second, they may catch on each other and pull off; and third, they are not supporting the functionality of the quilt.

I would like to elaborate on a past experience which will highlight how difficult it judging can be. Several years ago I was in the process of judging numerous categories (well over 200 entries) at a large regional quilt show. The entries up next were lap quilts. On top of the quilt stack I spotted the most exquisite crazy quilt. The piecing was flawless, the rich embroidery was skillfully executed, the embellishments were carefully selected and securely attached. Based on the rules of the show I had to disqualify the entry, which rendered it ineligible for any prize. Unfair? Yes and no. (Personal note: I was devastated about the decision!)

Had the crazy quilt been entered into the wall quilt section (with a temporary hanging sleeve attached to the back) it would most likely have received a high ranking award. Crazy quilts (a popular patchwork technique during the late 19th century) were never meant to be functional. The fabrics were collected over time, carefully stitched to a foundation fabric and richly embroidered, names and dates added, and sometimes charms were attached for additional embellishment. The quilt became a way of keeping family records, it was a journal of sorts, passed from generation to generation.

I can hear the question now: Why are you telling us this? Can you add innovative embellishments to functional quilts? The short answer is no. Buttons add undue weight, recycled and re-purposed materials (Tyvek, recycled dryer sheets) disintegrate with repeated handling, and foiled highlights tend to rub off with every day use just to name a few.

If you are looking to add a more innovative and contemporary feel to your quilts opt for hand-dyed, batik, or brightly colored fabrics. Are you growing tired of traditional blocks and patchwork patterns? Reach for some graph paper and distort a simple patchwork block. Color the blocks and see how interesting a set of blocks becomes. Are you feeling motivated? Try to design your very own block…

I hope today’s post offers some answers and insights. It’s time for you, the reader, to weigh in with comments and additional suggestions.

This entry was published on April 11, 2013 at 7:26 am. It’s filed under Creativity Update, Design, Special Project, Studio / Workshop / Creative Space Challenge and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

8 thoughts on “Traditional Quilts and Mixed Media

  1. Shirley Ryning on said:

    Thank you Anna, you have answered a lot of my questions and put the joy back into quilting for me. I have always thought that I am being as creative as the rules allow so I will continue to follow my intuition and quilt away in peace. Also, thank you for sharing the gorgeous quilt in the slide show. Beautiful!!


  2. Thank you Anna, a great lesson! Looking forward to seeing you whenever spring decides to come!


    • Looks like spring is a long ways off – more snow in the forecast for Saturday through Monday. I am off to Santa Fe the last week of April – looking forward to a snow free environment!


  3. Excellent post. It’s as difficult judging a situation like that as commenting on a selection of badly made quilts, none of which justify a prize.


    • I find it more difficult to critique a well made and superbly executed quilt – formulating helpful critiques to quilters seeking feedback is a challenge I embrace. I always feel that I am teaching those who enter judged quilt shows. Entrants generally are looking for input and suggestions for improvement.


  4. Hmmm… my childhood ‘winter’ quilt was a crazy quilt made from lightweight wools and suiting fabric with decorative stitching….functional but decorative at the same time.


    • Diane, I am sure the wool suiting with the lightweight wool was made for functionality. I was referring to the satin and silk crazy quilts from the 19th century. They were laden with not only stitching but charms and other trinkets. Such items are just not suitable for every-day use.


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