The spectral spread also is the product of a controversy that has split the quilting world, according to Martha Maley of Mineral, who has a number of entries in this year’s show.
“Now, before you start,” she admonishes, “the story here is about all the women who have done the quilting, not just me.”
She then proceeds to explain quilting, one stitch at a time.
“It has changed with the time,” she says. “Today it is more an avocation than a vocation. Quilting as a need is gone away. As an art form, it will stay — but it has to be reinvented all the time.”
Back in the days when quilting was a need, mostly for warmth, they were done entirely by hand. Sewing a full-sized quilt could take up to a year, or more.
Today, quilters often use a $30,000 machine, called a “Longarm,” to complete their designs.
“There still are a few purists who think a quilt only should be hand done,” Maley says. “But I’ve seen quilts dating back to the Civil War that were stitched with a sewing machine.”
Quilting, she says, always has adopted new technology.
No handmade quilts were entered in this year’s contest.
At 70, Maley well knows the value of technology.
“Arthritis could mean a person would have to quit if they were doing everything by hand. The machines allow them to continue.”
The technology, which first appeared about a decade ago, also represents a significant savings in speed.
A project that used to take Maley half-an-hour to finish now can be done in five minutes.
Not every quilter can afford a $30,000 Longarm.
Fortunately, the technology associated with the machines is an industry.
Quilting shops in larger cities are equipped by computer-controlled Longarm machines and either rent them to the quilter or contract to do the work for them.
In the same shops — or online — are hundreds of patterns and designs quilters can purchase.
“Those who work in advertising will know what I mean when I say they are just like clip books.”
But the creativity remains. Maley says the designs are merely templates. What kinds of fabric used still is up to the quilter, along with what style, what borders, batting and the back.
Maley walks among the quilts on the display. In one quick appraisal, she can spot good or passable bindings (the sewn border), the workmanship, how the quilt was constructed and what tools were used.
Some have single sides; some double.
“Some of these are hung on the walls as artwork,” Maley says. “Some go on the bed.”
One technique, which she calls “stack and whack,” involves cutting many layers of fabric used in the design simultaneously. “If the wind caught all that and blew them around the room, you cry a lot.”
That some projects are completed in their own time, rather than the artist, is exemplified by a small lap throw.
“This only took 42 years to complete,” Maley says, laughing.
When she was 23, she and her mother decided to quilt a baby blanket.
“I cut some of the pieces wrong,” Maley remembers. “My mother got mad at me, then I got mad at her. We just walked away from it.”
But her mother kept the pieces.
Nearly two decades later, Maley found the cuttings and took them home.
“By then, I had learned a lot more about quilting. It took me only a day or so to finish it.”
Sadly, her mother died before she could show it to her.
But it served as a lesson: “In my home, I have a closet that is about six feet by 10. I have 18 bins of different kinds and shapes of fabric. I never throw anything away.”
They’re not scraps; just the building blocks of designs, patiently waiting to be transformed by artistry into quilts.