Friday, 21 August 2009

The Birmingham Quilt Show

I spent yesterday at the Quilt Show in Birmingham. It was a great day out! I don't know if I am allowed to post pictures of the show, but I have scoured their catalogue and website and can't find any advice. Hence, they are here for now...

(From Russia with Love by Christine Russell, in the contemporary quilts category. The catalogue says that it was inspires by the floor in the Summer Palace, St. Petersburg. My in-laws were there a few months ago and I asked for a copy of the picture of that same floor because it was so awesome!)

The Quilts by Hand Yahoo group that I subscribe to recently had a debate about art quilts vs. traditional quilts in shows, so I was especially interested in the comparison in this show.

(New York Beauty by Menal Bridge, in the traditional category)

The definitions of the different quilt categories are
Art Quilts:
"Quilts for walls, where the emphasis includes original design concepts, ideas or emotions balanced by quality of execution and visual impact."
Contemporary Quilts: "For quilts made from ideas derived from the traditions of quilt-making, but given a new approach. Use of original designs and contemporary fabrics, using any technique or combination of techniques, to include quilting (hand, machine or combination)."
Traditional Quilts: "For quilts using a traditional design or pattern. Quilts may be wholecloth, pieced and quilted, appliqué and quilted, or a combination of piecing, qpplique and quilting. Quilting may be hand, machine or a combination."
(from the 2010 application form)

(Bushfire Sunset, by Lisa Walton and Nic Bridges, Group Quilt Category)

The discussion on the Yahoo group (if I may summarize), was that quilt shows seem to have a lot of "art" quilts (especially paintings that have been quilted, or excessive use to bondaweb and then quilted). Many of the art quilts have poor technique, or can barely be called quilts at all. As one person put it, "We don't need the fine art world's rejects".

Birmingham had about 2:2:1 Art:Contemporary:Traditional. The traditional quilts were all very well done. The contemporary quilts were generally pretty good, although there were one or two disappointments (great impact from a distance, but when you look at how they were done, it was all cheating). The art quilts had about 15% real disappointment - quilting threads not even tied off, too much bondaweb, etc.

(Hastings by C. June Barnes, Art Quilts category)

However, I found the contemporary and art quilts more interesting. In the art quilts section I encountered a quilt that I had to turn to the woman standing next to me and ask, "How is that done?"

This lead to a great discussion of the technique amongst several people, and the very high recommendation of "Stitching to Dye in Quilt Art" by Barnes. If a piece can create so much engagement, shouldn't it be in the show?

It turned out that Barnes was sharing a gallery with some others, so I got the chance to see some more of her work. It is fantastic! Completely different from what I do, but I can't wait to try it out! Of course, I did buy the book, and read it on the way back.

All of this feeds back into a long-term discussion I have had with my mother. My mother loves art, and has dabbled in it for years. However, she has never found quilting interesting. As the discussion has gone, Mom is interested in the "overall impression" of a piece, where quilting (and I) are more focussed on fine details and how to build up a pattern.

(Stars in the Universe, by Averil Menzies, Contemporary Quilts category). When I showed my husband pictures last night, this one was his favourite. He went on and on about how cool it is. I said, but the technique isn't very interesting - I have the book (One Block Wonders by Maxine Rosenthal) and it is really easy to achieve this effect. Kevin responded, so what? the composition is really good and the impact is really amazing.

I must admit, on numerous occasions I almost walked by a quilt because the overall impression wasn't very interesting, but then some detail caught my eye and I realized the quilt was much more subtle.

I think that the traditional quilters need the art quilts, because there is so much to learn from them about impression. Similarly, there is so much to learn about core technique from the traditional quilts. There will always be entries that do not meet the standard in terms of technique or impression - however, these will not win!

To conclude, a great day out, and I have left the show with ideas for at least 3 new quilts that I want to start now, now, now! Things that I need to improve:
- Technique. Man, quilting is difficult.
- Colours. There were so many interesting combinations!
- Overall impression to fine detail ratio. I need to chose the balance that works best for me.
- Trying out new & crazy techniques. I can't let myself get into a rut!



  1. I'm a great fan of C June Barnes as well, did you see herhanging vertical blind, very very cool

  2. Oh yes, it is awesome!!! I took a couple of pictures of it, but none could really convey how cool it is! Her work is such a fantastic combination of texture and colour!

  3. Hi Kirsten,
    Thanks for posting the photos. (Since the photos are yours & the quilts were displayed in a public venue, you should be OK.)

    Thumbs up to Birmingham for having 3 major classifications & thank you for relaying them. Now I have a definition for the class of quilts that most appeals to me. Contemporary.

    For me the ideal quilt has great impact and more than a wink to the quiltmaking tradition. I enjoy seeing what can be done while remaining well within the discipline. So I love the Summer Palace floor quilt & Stars in the Universe. (I think those are something like the names.)

    You're correct, of course, that quilts with sloppy technique don't win. My issue is that for juried shows, these works shouldn't be hung.

    I can't wait to see what you come up with next.


  4. I'm with your hubby... the impact of the Stars in the Universe quilt is great!!! Technique isn't everything... but when it's used right it IS everything. lol