Just wanted to post a good clear description of a challenge that I am planning for the meeting this month. I (Andrea Vander Kooij) will be hosting the April Meeting, and I want to have a Sow’s Ear Swap/Challenge. I came up with the idea from looking at a lot of older quilts. I LOVE old quilts; their sense of design, the rhythm, the imperfections and inconsistencies which really show the evidence of the human hand in their making. One thing I noticed recently when looking at some old quilts was how much of the fabric was, well, kind of ugly. The Gees’ Bend quilts are a good example.
This one is by Sally Bennett Jones, and was made in 1966. Left over bits of this and that, dress making scraps of every possible hue and theme, with colours that may have been popular once but are cherished no longer. But despite the not-very-nice raw materials, it has all been put them together to make a thing of great beauty. (if you are not already familiar with the Quilts of Gees Bend, you can find more about them here)
How different it is from our current quilt making methods, where we go to a gorgeous little shop and buy an assortment of beautiful fabrics and then make a quilt. How can it not be beautiful when we’ve started with the “best ingredients” as any good foodie these days would.
Now don’t get me wrong and think I am knocking designer fabrics. I adore the contemporary fabrics available to quilters now, and buy a lot of it as my embarrassingly large stash would prove. We are very lucky in the sense that, when we decide to make a quilt there is no limit to the colours and patterns available to us.
But I’ve often found, as an artist, that I do my best work when there are some restrictions. I’ll often limit myself to a certain medium or category of material and really enjoy the way that limiting my options makes me push my creativity in a direction it might not have gone otherwise.
Anyhow, all this babbling is to say that I wanted to challenge the other members of my guild to make something beautiful out of something ugly. Or at least ugly-ish. A silk purse out of a sow’s ear as the saying goes. And also to take the control of fabric choice out of our own hands. I think it will also give us an interesting insight into the practical origins of quilting, when a scrappy quilt was literally made with, well, scraps.
So here’s the plan. I’m inviting anyone who belongs to our guild and can attend the meeting next month to join in the challenge. Here’s what you have to do:
1. Go to your local thrift store and buy three different things made of fabric. And you don’t have to buy yardage per se. You can buy old sheets, pillowcases, curtains or tablecloths. You could buy clothing items like men’s shirts or ladies skirts. Just keep a few criteria in mind. It should be a woven fabric, not a knit. (so no t-shirts or baby onesies etc.) Try to keep it cotton-ish. A lot of bed sheets are cotton-poly blends, but try to avoid silks, wool, crazy chemical blends fibres. Not that you couldn’t make quilts out of those, but lets stick with easy to cut, easy to iron fabrics. And try to go a bit off the beaten path in terms of what they look like. The don’t have to be hideously ugly (after all, that is very relative term) but try to choose at least one thing that is not too tasteful.
2. Then take those things home and wash them. I like to put my thrifted items, still in their plastic bag, into my freezer for 24 hours, and then wash them on warm/hot depending what I think the fibres/dyes can take, just to nuke any potential critters out of them. Just in case. Knock wood.
3. Bring those three items to our meeting next Sunday.
4. Then, we will throw all of them into a big ole’ garbage bag and shake it up. And each of us will pull out three items, (without looking – grab bag style) and use those items to piece and quilt something. We will each be allowed one “do over” grab, in case we get something we truly hate/can’t work with. And we will each be allowed to purchase (or use from our stash) one additional solid coloured, or mostly solid fabric. With those four fabrics we will make a pieced and quilted bag of some sort. Use whatever pattern you like or make it up as you go.
Sound good? I can’t wait to see what people bring! This is going to be so much fun…..