Few art forms are so widely practiced as quilting. According to a survey conducted by Quilting in America, there are 16 million active quilters in the U.S. who spend a total of $3.76 billion per year on the craft. To put it in perspective, one in every 20 Americans quilts!
Meredith Miller, a quilter from Scandinavia, possesses an infectious enthusiasm for the craft that will soon have you reaching for needle and thread. A relative newcomer, she didn’t start quilting because it was passed down in her family. Miller started because of a book.“In March 2009, I got started through a children’s picture book,” Miller said. “It’s called the Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau, and it’s a beautifully illustrated story about a woman who lives alone up on a mountain and comes into town to give her quilts to the poor who need them. The greedy King demands that she make him a quilt, but she refuses. Eventually, he learns the real value of giving. It’s a beautiful story, and it had these amazing quilt blocks. Each one had a name that pertained to what was happening on that page.
“The artist did a book of quilts based on the blocks in this book, Quilts of the Quiltmaker’s Gift. It has instructions and is a good introduction to how to make a quilt. I liked it so much that I found the book in the library in March, and in April and May I taught myself how to quilt. I learned enough and enjoyed it enough that I decided to use those basic techniques in my library programming in June and July.”
Part of the attraction to quilting is the staggering variety of styles, types and forms of expression possible through the creative manipulation of fabric. While some people are pulled into it because they had quilters in their families, others are attracted to the mathematics of assembling the geometric patterns.“It’s a really diverse craft,” Miller said. “The 1893 Columbian Exposition was the birth of crazy quilting, which combines quilting with embroidery. Those quilts were used for decoration and a way for a woman to show off her creativity. In the 1930s feed-sack quilts were popular. Women saved the sturdy sacks and did patchwork quilts. Some people only make scrap quilts — you can get material cheap. T-shirt quilts are really popular today. Modern quilting in the last 10 years speaks to modern aesthetics, which include geometric designs and polka dots. Quilts have really come into focus in the art world. These were never designed to go on a bed and are for display only. I’ve seen art quilts hanging up in a hospital.
“Mini quilts are very popular. Mini quilts are normally smaller than 24” x 24”. They may be made from one large quilt block or from many blocks that are reduced in size to fit the smaller scale of the mini quilt. Mini quilts can be finished in much less time than a full-size bed quilt and are a favorite of quilters who don’t have much time to enjoy their hobby and those who want to experiment with a new technique or pattern.”
Tips and techniques are readily shared by quilters. There are an abundance of books, magazines, online courses and websites devoted to the craft. But perhaps the best instruction occurs in person. Many quilters join clubs — called guilds — and gain valuable advice while enjoying the company of other quilters. Miller is a member of the Norske Needlers in Iola, and she values the input she receives from other members.“The best things about learning in person are those little things you didn’t know, small details and helpful tips that make the big difference as you learn,” Miller said. “Quilters remember what it’s like to be the beginner and the hurdles they had to overcome. There is a lot to think about before you ever take your first pattern or cut your first piece of fabric. You learn a lot about color theory and value as different parts of the pattern bring out the different values of the colors. If you want to see the patterns, you have to use something not busy because the quilting doesn’t show up very much. Tone down the top and you can let the quilting pop out.
“Quilting retreats are another great way to work on quilting skills. Hosted by shops, guilds and small groups of quilters, retreats often take place over the course of several days. They usually feature special teachers or workshops to learn new techniques, and, of course, plenty of un-distracted time in which to sew!
“Beginners are always welcome. Passing on what you know is a great aspect of the guild. It becomes a passion, and sharing that enthusiasm is always a good thing. It’s very encouraging to have the support of those people.”
Karen O’Brien is a freelance writer and percussionist.
The Norske Needlers