Quilts Have Become An Art Form
BY HANNAH SHARPE
Evenings grow cooler as autumn breezes in under nightfall, despite the relentless heat of the days in the Sandhills.
Soon enough quilts tucked away in closets and wood chests will emerge to provide extra warmth on household beds for another season.
For the ladies of the Sandhills Quilters Guild, a quilt is more than just that additional layer of comfort on a cold night.
As the guild opens its fourth "Quilting in the Pines" quilt show and fiber art exhibit at the Pinehurst Fair Barn today (Friday, Sept. 24), its members hope to demonstrate quilting's unlimited potential as a medium for creative and functional innovation.
The show featuring roughly 180 pieces from local quilters opens at 10 a.m. and lasts until 5 p.m. today and Saturday. Admission is $5 for adults, and children 12 years old or younger get in free.
This year's judges are Kathlyn F. Sullivan and Lorraine Covington, both certified by the American Quilters Association.
"It runs the gamut from the old fashioned to the art world," says Pat Kern, one of 118 members of the Sandhills Quilters Guild.
The guild began in 1982 when a group of women began meeting at Campbell House in downtown Southern Pines to share project ideas about quilting, and the group has been making quilts, sharing ideas and blanketing the community ever since.
The guild meets on the third Tuesday of every month at the Moore County Senior Enrichment Center. Guild events include guest speakers from the quilting community, workshops featuring new techniques and show-and-tell sessions in which members present pieces they have completed.
Smaller groups have formed "bees" within the guild and meet once a week to sew together, much like the quilting bees of long ago when women met to quilt and socialize.
Judy Petersen says her group likes to solve the world's problems one stitch at a time.
"You get so close when you're all sitting around," she says. "It's easier sometimes to say things while you're sewing."
Though quilting has exploded as a new medium for artistic creation, the craft itself is still a utilitarian source of comfort.
Judy Petersen says quilting helps her clear her head when she is stressed out.
"You start working on a quilt, and you forget everything that's going on around you," Petersen says. "When you're done, you've got something."
June Pernice says the ultimate reward is the process of making quilts for other people.
"I think that is the best part is getting to give them away," she says. "You would think about that person, and then you would find the right fabric and the right pattern."
Guild members often make quilts for friends and family members, sometimes to mark special occasions, but members also actively donate quilts to various organizations, including the Sandhills Children's Center, FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, Habitat for Humanity of the N.C. Sandhills and Friend to Friend.
"There's a whole lot of love that goes into it," Pat Kern says.
The guild also donates to service projects that help provide equipment and educational resources to help women in developing countries support themselves and their families through quilting.
Locally, the guild awards education grants to schools so that students can learn about geometry, design and history through making quilts.
One of the guild's most poignant projects is the "Quilts of Valor" project, which provides quilts to local soldiers wounded in combat.
"Even my husband quilts," Linda James says. "Because he wants to thank the troops."
The guild also makes "love quilts" - gifts of comfort - for members who are either sick or are going through a tough time in their lives.
Guild president Joan DeBruin remembers when the guild sent a love quilt to a member mourning the unexpected death of her son.
"She wrapped it around her, and it just made all the difference," DeBruin says. "And it made all the difference in the world to the ladies in the guild. They understood why we do those quilts, and I don't think any of us will ever forget that."
Quilts embody elements that the world of fine art has historically rejected - functionality, femininity and domesticity - but the perception of quilting has evolved into a new artistic medium over time.
Quilts once considered utilitarian necessities now hang in museums as artwork for their representations of aesthetic design, cultural groups and historical periods.
"It was women's work," DeBruin says. "It just wasn't valued, but now we know that was wrong. We know better now."
Modern quilts push the envelope further with a break from traditional patterns, subject matter and fabric choice - a definition determined by their creators.
Sometimes the perspective between modern and traditional depends on how a person approaches quilting.
Some women learned the craft passed down through generations of women in their families, while others simply decided they wanted to try it.
"[Quilting is] a very personal thing," says Liz Earley. "You do what you love. You'll have people who get very artistic to people who stick with traditional, and then a lot of us just blend them."
Mary Abbott Williams says she learned to hand-stitch quilts from her family's housekeeper when she was 4 years old.
Though she enjoys sticking with older quilt-making techniques, she appreciates the guild's diverse styles.
"I keep making these traditional quilts because that's what makes my heart sing, but I've really grown to appreciate a lot wider range of things than I ever used to," she says. "I never would have considered making a modern quilt. I appreciate, and I marvel at the things that these other ladies do."
Like many guild members, Linda James says the sky is the limit for design and creation with a modern quilt.
"[I'll make a quilt that] might be on our bed and adorn our home,"she says. "And then the next thing that I do might be on a wall, and it will be a piece of art. It may involve paint and fuzzy fibers and glitter or beading. It's usable art."
Though members still gather to sew, James says that globalization has propelled the social and creative aspects of quilting beyond geographical limits.
Through Web forums and blogging, James enjoys connecting with quilters all over the world.
"I have gotten to know Kay in Scotland, who is quilting, and she is showing me her quilts, and I see some of her life," James says. "Then she looks at my blog and sees my quilts and my life. It's become a global thing."
James says the exposure to what quilters are doing around the world has influenced her aesthetic perspective. She credits Japanese quilters, who have their own traditional approaches.
The globalization of quilting has further propelled the craft as an art form accessible to anyone who is willing to sew pieces of fabric together.
"It's not just Moore County," James says. "It's the state of North Carolina. It's the entire country. Did you know that we spend $2.5 billion each year?"
The "we" James refers to constitutes 21.3 million quilters in the U.S., according to the Quilting in America 2010 report from the Creative Crafts Group.
Companies market to younger generations by selling modern fabrics and accessories that complement high-tech sewing machines. Novice quilters even have the option of purchasing pre-cut patterns.
Joan DeBruin doesn't worry about the perpetuation of quilting for younger generations for both women and men (The guild is still holding out for its first male member.)
"Once you get bit by the bug, you've got it," DeBruin says. "Your bank account will never be the same."
For more information about quilting or the Sandhills Quilters Guild, visit www.sandhillsquilters.org or take a trip over to the Pinehurst Fair Barn to see the various works on display.
Contact Hannah Sharpe by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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