My travels this month put me in touch with a circle of knitters, and a viewing of the national competition known as Quilt National in Athens, Ohio. Such a combination of events led me to muse on the connections we have with at least one other group of hand craftsmen, and how our feelings about competition sometimes affect strongly our progress in our chosen craft.
Though I have departed from many needlework techniques I once did avidly (needlepoint, thread count cross stitch, garment making), I still love to knit, and do it from time to time as the urge happens. There is a deep contentment in the rhythmical, repetitive motion of knitting, it is the same peace we feel when hand quilting or hand stitching. It is every bit as comforting as rocking a baby, giving a friend a long hug during times of trouble, or swinging in a park swing or a front porch rocker. Like quilting, knitting is considered a “humble craft”—yet it is powerful. Just as quilters have many charitable projects that affect many people’s lives, knitters make chemo caps and prayer shawls and baby blankets for children or young mothers in need. Knitters, like quilters, gather to share much more than tips and techniques; they share compassion and understanding for one another, comfort in distressing times, and hope for the future when the world feels like a crazy place.
The knitter who crossed my path this trip was my “classroom angel” Dawn Thierry in Cookeville, Tennessee. She wore a different beautiful shawl or sweater every day to class, and even took me to have lunch with her small group who meet to knit one morning a week at a local café, and then eat lunch together there. What a joy to go and sit among her knitting friends, and feel right at home, as we quilters do when we gather! Familiar was the sharing of tips and techniques, news of other knitters and new products and new shops opening or closing, etc. etc. etc. We stopped by a new knit shop en route back to class, and helped the shop owner and a customer figure out a brand new stitch from a new knitting magazine…It all felt so familiar…and the connection I felt instantly among these women who otherwise were perfect strangers, felt equally as good.
My next teaching stop was the NQA Show in Columbus Ohio; how thrilled I was to be able to take a bus trip to visit Quilt National at The Dairy Barn in Athens the day before my teaching began! I haven’t visited this impressive exhibit since the late 1980s, and I was eager to see this year’s collection of cutting edge quilts. Since I was last there, The Dairy Barn has been expanded to include a gift shop, and classrooms and offices upstairs; but the chance to view what is purported to be the finest contemporary work in the country is still the heart of this experience for me.
The Dairy Barn, Athens Ohio. Location of the annual Quilt National juried and judged quilt exhibition, as well as other annual art exhibits. A picturesque location in southeastern Ohio to experience the glorious color and technique of contemporary quilts.
As I walked around the show of contemporary quilted works, having just come from the good feelings generated by connecting with the Cookeville knitters, and the camaraderie of the bus trip with quilters to Athens, I was reminded of one of the curious repercussions of growing in one’s art and craft. There is considerable irony in that we quilters often bond with each other on so many levels; we freely share tips and techniques, patterns and ideas, and help in time of trouble. And yet, the prospect of sharing our work in public exhibitions, and the competition of judged shows, can make some of us shake in our shoes. How easily we can be overwhelmed by other quilters’ work, especially in huge shows like the AQS Show in Paducah, Kentucky or Houston’s Quilt Festival. How quickly we can feel overshadowed by someone else’s expertise, craftsmanship, or use of color. Each quilt seems more magnificent than the last, with such unbelievable craftsmanship or use of color that you wonder if you will ever grow to that level, considering whatever quilts you are making at the time. It is so easy to come dazed and then discouraged, especially if you are a fairly new quiltmaker.
A few years ago I solved this dilemma for myself; instead feeling badly about how my skills stacked up against those of the quiltmakers in the show, I decided to salute that quiltmaker—and this dissipated any negative feelings of discouragement that otherwise arose in such circumstances. Instead of feeling envious of her skill, I felt grateful for the opportunity to view something of such great beauty and/or technical expertise; grateful for the joy of seeing the colors or the pattern or the new twist on some aspect of our long quilting tradition.
Now, attending such shows sends me home with fresh verve to make discoveries in my own studio. Though I still occasionally succumb to feelings of inferiority in the face of someone else’s artistic output, talent, business acumen or computer savvy, I’m getting better at focusing on making the best of the talents I have, on pursuing the goals I’ve set for myself, and on attaining more balance in my life in the process.
Below, a glimpse at what has come off the design wall or back from the quilter this month! Til next month, Keep Stitching, and Enjoy the Summer!
These are the last two of four quilts commissioned by Alex Anderson of Livermore, California and “Simply Quilts” television fame. Each of these quilts contains blocks made by the “stars” appearing on a single season of the Simply Quilts television show. Alex wanted each of the quilts to look very distinct from each other. The first quilt can be seen in the background on current episodes of Simply Quilts. All four will be exhibited at the Outdoor Quilt Show in Sisters Oregon this summer.
The directions for this quilt will be found in the first Starter Kit of AnglePlay™ templates. This kit will feature patterns for 20 blocks and three quilts, all of which are made from only four AnglePlay™ templates, A, B, C, and D (all triangles with a 2″ base). Watch this website for more information!