TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Value of Quilt Shows by Donna Hussain

Star Spangles by Donna Hussain
A quilt based on an Islamic design.

Many women remember snuggling in bed on cold winter nights under quilts made by their moms or grandmothers. They become quilters because they want to give similar gifts of love and comfort to their families and friends. While making their first quilt they learn basic sewing skills. Other quilters have a lifetime of experience at the sewing machine. In all likelihood they sew clothing, Halloween costumes, doll wardrobes, band uniforms, and prom dresses in addition to quilts. In quilt competitions this group of quilters has a decided advantage over sewing novices because judges grade both the construction skill of the quilt maker and her artistry. The winners of major quilt shows are talented artists who have mastered sewing techniques for quilt construction and choose fabric as their medium of expression.

Featured artist gets premium space at a quilt show.

These artists deserve the prizes. (The awards advertised for the Pacific International Quilt Festival in October, 2009 is $18,000 in cash and prizes.) At shows all quilters flock to the winning quilts to study their construction techniques, their use of color, and their embellishments, their thread play and quilting patterns, the design of their borders, they way they portray their theme in abstraction or minute detail, a view from afar or through magnification. There is much to learn by the study of displayed quilts. In the process we less talented quilters harvest ideas for future quilts of our own.

Quilts displayed at a show inspire
other quilters with color, technique and design.

To be juried into a major quilt show like the American Quilters Society spring show in Paducah, or the International Quilters Association’s fall show in Houston is an honor for the average quilter. We don’t expect to win, but are thrilled that other quilters will view, and hopefully admire, our work. Acceptance into the show is a way of validating the growth of our creativity and the improvement of our quilting skills.

Most quilt guilds sponsor an annual local show for the display of their members’ quilts. The show is usually the highlight of the guild’s calendar year and its major fundraiser. Space is rented to vendors to sell fabric, books, and quilt supplies. Sometimes judges are hired; sometimes not. Judges usually give two encouraging comments and two suggestions for improvement on the judging sheet for each quilt. The advice can be very helpful even though I tend to scoff upon receiving a comment like “Quilting corners need improvement” telling myself that there is nothing wrong with my corners. But you can be sure that I pay close attention thereafter to corners when sewing my quilts.

Quilt shows are a lot of work!
Here the quilt frames are being raised.

Other advantages of guild quilt shows include giving members a deadline to finish quilts in progress and a place to display their talent. The show certainly promotes quilting to the local community. A guild is usually energized by a show because it requires so much work, so much involvement of its members. New friendships are made and bonds between members are strengthened.

Guild members develop friendships while
they take a break in preparation for a quilt show.

I recommend that all quilters join a local quilt guild. Novice quilters are always welcome. They are usually surprised at the support they receive from more experienced members. The sew and show portion of monthly guild meetings helps beginners decide which style of quilting they favor and which color combinations they like. Most guilds offer inexpensive quilt classes that help beginners master quilting skills. In quilt shows most guilds include a category called “First Quilts” to encourage novice quilters to display their quilts.

Quilts hung in a show might be in many categories,
giving both the novice and the expert chances at recognition.

Although my quilts have been juried into a number of national quilt shows I have never won a large financial prize. My only claim to fame was becoming a finalist in the contest Reflections on Heritage sponsored by Quilters Newsletter Magazine in 2002. The quilts of the forty finalists traveled together as an exhibit to Quilt Expo VIII in Barcelona, Spain in April, 2002, then on to the Houston show in the fall on that year.

When I first read about the contest I speculated that my quilt, Star Spangles, which coincidentally had recently been completed, would be the only entry representing a Muslim heritage. Since I was sure the contest organizers wanted a balanced representation of cultures, I figured my quilt would be a shoo-in. Allowed seventy-five words in the application I wrote:

My husband was born in India and raised in the Islamic faith, while I come from an American Christian family. I try to represent our mixed family heritage in quilts for our home. The pattern for this quilt was taken from a tastir panel (a line pattern, a geometrical motif) that is typical of the beauty of Islamic ornamentation. But the creation of this quilt required the inspiration of my two Kansas grandmothers who passed on their love of quilting to me.

Husbands offer both labor and support,
"Your quilt is going to Barcelona?"

How excited I was to receive official news that I was selected as a finalist. I told my husband that I wanted to travel to Barcelona to stand behind my quilt to hear the comments of viewers. “What?” he said. “Why would you want to do that? You don’t even speak Spanish.”

California quilter, Donna Hussain, has exhibited in major quilt shows around the country, authored books, and is a regular contributor to Fiber Focus. Click on her name to see all of her past articles.

The photo shows Donna with her husband, Pascha.


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