I am very fortunate to live in Boulder, Colorado. It’s a fabulous place—hippie paradise, really—but I had no idea when I moved here eighteen months ago just how much of a quilting and sewing hub it is. There are four modern quilting guilds (not even counting all the traditional, contemporary, and art guilds) within an hour’s drive, and the region is home to such industry folks as Craftsy, IndieSew, Fabricate, Fancy Tiger Crafts, Mama Said Sew, Interweave Press, and Bloc-Loc rulers. WHEW!
It’s no wonder, then, that we can also boast the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, which features quarterly exhibits displaying a wide range of quiltmaking techniques and themes. Their current exhibit, “Wishes Through Our Hands,” is a collection of quilts made by three prominent Japanese quilters and their students in response to the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami. But rather than focusing on the tragedy of the event, these quilters intended their work to inspire and reassure survivors; the exhibit, then, is a celebration of the traditions and natural beauty of Japan.
Quilting is a relatively new practice in Japan; an American quilting exhibition toured Tokyo and Kyoto in 1975 and was, for many, the first exposure to quilting techniques. From there, Japanese quilters introduced their own elements into traditional American patterns. I had previously drooled over some of the Japanese quilts at Quilt Market, but my visit to the RMQM let me take some time and examine their techniques and fabrics up close. The quilters use silks and yukata cottons, which are traditional kimono fabrics, and some of the fabrics—particularly those in portrait quilts—were painted as well as embroidered. Attention to detail was impeccable. The subjects ranged from graphic (origami- and lightning-themed quilts with tons of appliqué) to abstract and quite modern. Many of the quilts were completely done by hand, including all piecing. Sashiko stitching was common, but I also saw a lot of traditional hand-stitching in the ditch to highlight the appliqué.
What struck me the most about this exhibit is that so many of these quilts refused to be pigeonholed. They might have used traditional techniques, but the bright, bold kimono fabrics made them feel incredibly modern at times. Or even some of the painted silks might have felt dated if they had been used in a traditional quilt, but when incorporated into improvisational and/or graphic styles, they’re breathtaking. This exhibit was a good reminder for me, a self-professed “modern” quilter, that sometimes quilting isn’t modern or traditional or contemporary: it’s just art. I was able to enjoy the quilts, appreciate their techniques and substrates and elements, and respect their messages of strength and survival. Totally worth the price of admission.
Do you have a quilt museum nearby? Quilters Resources has a handy guide to museums in the U.S. and Canada. Show your local museums a little love!