Wednesday December 30th 2015

Is everything old is new again?

I loved Alex’s article about that in the April TQL. She talks about how wonderfully inspiring antique quilts are for her – especially that charming quirkiness so many of them had. Four different borders on one quilt, or maybe just three borders (why go to all that work for the side of the quilt that will be behind the bed?) There are vines that unapologetically run off the ends of the borders rather than curving gracefully and smoothly around the corners. I love to speculate about what life was like for the women who made those quilts. Were they making conscious design decisions, or were they saying “It’s good enough – I have to go churn butter”?
For one reason or another, few of us make quilts like that these days. Alex says she wonders if we haven’t “quilt policed” ourselves to death.
A friend of mine is a quilt historian, and she makes lovely, correct reproductions of early 19th-century quilts. One of her quilts was hanging in a show, and she recalls eavesdropping on pair of women who were looking it. “She obviously doesn’t know how to miter her borders,” sniffed one of the observers. Well, my friend can miter borders with the best of them–borders just weren’t made that way in 1830. Even on the fanciest, Sunday-best, most perfectly elaborate applique quilts, the borders were butted.
Do you think it’s all the big contests we have now? Each year the winners raise the bar higher and higher. I think of those winning quilts as marathon runners. In comparison, my quilts jog around the block. I like my quilts, and I make them for me, and I think some of them are really pretty good. But will they stand the test of time? A hundred years from now, will someone come across one of my quilts and say, “She obviously didn’t know what a quilt block is supposed to look like”? Do you think her friend will say, “Sure she did, but she must have had to go jogging”?
Jan Magee, The Quilt Life

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2 Comments for “Is everything old is new again?”

  • Willy Wonky says:

    A simple solution for the situation at the quilt show would be to include a more detailed explanation about the rudimentary construction, such as: “In the 1830s, they didn’t use mitered borders…” When I lecture to groups about quilts from the late 1700s, I point out the knife-edge bindings and those rolled from front to back. Quiltmakers who do reproductions often want more information about how it would’ve been done, so I give it to them. :)

  • Cheri says:

    I love what you wrote! If somebody tells me what pattern I need to make and which fabrics to use, it takes all the fun out of quilting.

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