Quilts in the Modern Age – Original Works of Textile Art

Treasured traditional quilt by Noni Fisher, courtesy artist and Quilt Study Group of Australia

Today Australia, just like America, has a sensational and very active quilt making tradition.

As an art form quilts really reached a pinnacle of achievement in both design and hand manufacture during the arts and crafts period in the English Victorian age, an influence that spread around the world. In our own age many quilters are challenging traditional patterns by producing exciting and innovative contemporary design and competition is indeed fierce.

Creativity is today an integral aspect of community life and an important political concept of the 21st century. In our contemporary world if we are to prosper surely it will happen best if our economy continues to be driven by innovation and invention, important and influential products of creativity.

Quilts are historically creative counterpanes of comfort and cultural significance; a sewn blanket made up pieced together from scraps of fabric in a patchwork pattern joined either by needle and thread or ties to make a useful basis for a new beginning.

The top layer covers a middle-insulating layer, which these days made of a combination of fibres.

They form a central padding. Finally there is a backing layer, made of a woven material that is strong and serviceable.

Treasured quilt by Noni Fisher, courtesy designer and Australian Quilt Study Group

The trio of textiles is then finally brought together using various different appliqué techniques, which when completed give the finished object great strength. This provides lightly the warmth and ‘cosiness’ aspect for which quilts have become renowned.

From the world of fashion to art and design, study groups globally are contributing to the growth and retention of knowledge by raising the profile of quilts as original works of textile art, fashioned by creative Quiltmakers.

That includes here in Australia where the Quilt Study Group of Australia (QSGA) is about to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of their founding with a Seminar, ‘promoting the study of the history, form and practice of quilt making’.

The seminar will provide insights and information about the lives and times of quilt makers past and present, seek to build networking and raise awareness of the quilting community, as well as help to connect new quilters with the heritage attached to quilts and their place in creative art.

Their presenters are an impressive group of ladies and include Margaret Rolfe, the original founder of the group, who will provide an overview of the group’s 20-year history.

As both a teacher and designer of quilt patterns with an historical emphasis, Nonie Fisher who will also give a presentation, has been a leader in developing patchwork and quilting in Australia.

Bricolage designed and worked by Jessica Wheelahan, courtesy Artist and Quilt Study Group of Australia

On day one other speakers include Di Ford (Vic), Chris Jones and Margie Creek (Qld), Gail Chalker (Qld), Jennifer Palmer (NSW), Michelle Watters (NSW) and Jessica Wheelahan (NSW).

They will all be giving lectures spreading knowledge about the considerable art of quilt making.

Designer Jessica Wheelahan will offer her view on aspects of Modern Quilt making. She has a different approach, wanting to show just ‘how the ideas and patterns from the past can be brought to life in a modern context’.

Jennifer Palmer will share her knowledge about cataloguing and caring for quilts, which includes how to store textiles, a vital aspect of their preservation. She has an impressive resume, having worked for cultural institutions in Australia and overseas including the Powerhouse Museum, Art Gallery of New South Wales, National Museum of Scotland, as well as not-for-profit organisations such as the National Trust of Australia NSW.

Frederica Josephson coverlet project, replica held in the National Turst's collection

When she was the collection manager at the National Trust of Australia (NSW), Jennifer provided guidance to the Quilt Study Group of NSW on the replica Frederica Josephson coverlet project. The replica, which is usually held in the National Trust’s collection at their Observatory Hill location, is currently on display at Old Government House at Parramatta.

Di Ford will be inspiring others with her insight into the world of antique quilts, which are a huge subject on their own. She’s going to focus on inspiration from nineteenth century quilts.

Gail Chalker will include information about ‘mourning Quilts’ from the Victorian era in England and explain how they inspired other quilt makers around the world to follow their theme.

She will also offer a special tribute to the Greenmount cemetery in Maryland USA, where many of the original Baltimore Album Quiltmakers are buried.

Baltimore women first perfected the art of appliqué and quilting during the 1840’s and gradually they developed designs and styles that are seen today as being indigenous to that area of the United States.

Detail historical Baltimore Album Quilt: The Alice A. Ryder Quilt, Baltimore Maryland, ca 1847, Appliqué and quilted cotton courtesy American Museum in Britain

The majority were signed and the complexity of the designs demonstrate both the skill and taste of the woman involved and many have been lovingly preserved in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art, which has a renowned collection of textiles including some fabulous quilts.

Baltimore Album quilts were made for, or by, someone living in Baltimore during the years from 1846 to 1852. Those made in the surrounding counties in Maryland are considered Baltimore Album style quilts.

The Alice A. Ryder Quilt, Baltimore Maryland, ca 1847, Appliqué and quilted cotton courtesy American Museum in Britain

The Alice A. Ryder quilt is a true Baltimore Album quilt and a number of the blocks have been signed. A poem has been inscribed on one in indelible ink with the signature ‘Alice A. Ryder, April 1st, 1847, Baltimore, Md.’

The past has always inspired the present and future. The more knowledge we open ourselves up to the more ways we have to dig deeper into our cultural creative past to explore new ideas and options for design and production today.

Day two has a totally different focus, uncovering quilts and telling their secrets.

Four women Trish Bloomfield, Melinda Smith, Carolyn Sullivan and Brigitte Giblin have all built considerable quilt collections.

They will provide a wonderful selection to run a sort of show and tell. Building momentum, they will gradually reveal each quilt by uncovering them and talk about their origin, design, their intrinsic value and how they were made.

It is all about the understanding, appreciation, and preservation of quilts as aesthetic objects and markers of cultural heritage.

Detail: Design for Quilt by Brigitte Giblin inspired by the Brereton hangings in the collection of Strangers Hall, Norwich, UK.

Designer and teacher Brigitte Giblin has been making quilts in the naïve, antique and traditional styles for over thirty years.

She has really made her by being inspired by French quilts. Brigitte was born in France, but raised here in Australia.

Brigitte returned to her homeland as a young woman to discover her heritage, which included stunning textiles. Since then what started as a passionate hobby has become integral to her life’s journey.

Today contemporary quilters do not hesitate to use innovative techniques for appliqué.

Modern quilt by Jessica Wheelahan, courtesy Artist and Quilt Study Group of Australia

Hand quilting is still very often practiced, but more and more contemporary quilters work with their sewing machines.

The are using free-motion techniques that “sculpt ” the surface of the quilt and every new technique is worth being studied, as many quilters are always in search for new ideas.

The history and development of quilting around the world is a fascinating subject. So if you are interested in having a place to make a start, or an active quilter seeking to expand and share knowledge, then this seminar in Sydney is the one for you.

Imagine they will be booked out! So be sure to Register NOW!

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014

20th Anniversary Seminar of the Quilt Study Group of Australia

6 – 7 July, 2014

Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney

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