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Rooster Blues by Deobrah Osborne

I don’t know about you, but when I think of a quilt I think of a very cozy bedcover, perhaps blocks of colored fabric stitched together and then attached to a bottom with some fluffy  filling between.  I think of cups of hot chocolate and snuggling on cold nights. I think of a bed.  I think wrong.

Havasu Stitchers Truck Quilt, 2003

A couple of weeks ago my friend Mrs. S, about whom you’ve read in these pages, and her friend M invited me to accompany them to a quilt show.  Not just any show, this was the annual exhibit of the Arizona Quilters Guild, this year titled “Our Heritage 2012: Copper, Cotton and Culture.”  I learned more about quilting and quilters in one day than I had in my entire previous life; and I learned that what I learned  is but a drop in the bucket of what there is to know.

My notion that quilting was a crafty sometimes occupation, something to while away a snowy afternoon, for instance, was laid to rest in the parking lot, before we ever went into the show itself.

These ladies are serious; and yes, they are mostly ladies.  I did see one gentleman at the exhibit:

My gut instinct is that he was not a quilter himself.

Anyway, the exhibit took up several very large rooms of the Mesa Convention Center.  Three hundred and twenty quilts were exhibited in seventeen different categories and thirty-five vendors were eager to sell  us  items from  $  .10 to $10,000.  Actually I didn’t see anything for $.10, but there must have been something.  A short length of thread, perhaps.

In my innocent universe, quilts are made by people with some leftover fabric, batting for the filling, and a needle and thread.  In essence this is still true, but of the quilts we saw, only thirty-seven were hand-quilted.  Most quilting is done by machine these days, either by an item that looks like a home sewing machine and will sit comfortably on your home work-table , or by what’s called a long-arm machine, which will set you back a minimum of $7,000 and requires  about fifteen feet of arm room:

These computer-driven machines can take a particular quilting stitch design and scale it up or down to fit the specific quilt’s spacing, and they can do quilting that would give the hand-quilter nightmares.

Look at the density of stitches in this close-up:

Jerome I by Margot McDonnell

The hand-quilted pieces look different; to my eye they are gentler and softer, a bit plumper.  But the quilting is every bit as complex and dense as some of the machine work.  The difference is how long it takes to do it by hand – several years compared to several days or weeks.  Here are two quilts that are hand-stitched:

Opus Tulipa: Consummatum est, Deo Gratia! (Tulip Opus: It's Finished, Thank God!) by Maggie Keller

The World is More than Just Black and White, by Julianne Dodds

This one took Julianne Dodds more than four years to make.  I’m surprised it took less than forty.

So much more than mere stitchery goes into making a quilt.  Each begins with the design or concept which will dictate the fabric chosen.  Nowadays quilts are not cloth alone; buttons, sequins and all manner of things are added.

Cedar Forest by Trudy Cowan

Trudy Cowan used applique, thread painting, free-motion lacework, fabric-wrapped wire, heat-melted felt and fusibles to create her Cedar Forest. (I can’t even tell you what some of those things are!)

There were two ‘challenges’ that really illustrated for me the amount of creativity that goes into modern quilt-making.  One challenge was called Quilting  Makes the Quilt; entrants had to make the same quilt from the same fabric. The creativity came only through how they quilted it.

American Eagle, by Amy Monahan

Can you see the eagle in the center of the quilt above?

Quilting Makes the Quilt - Susie, by Susie Seckel

They look quite different, considering they’re made from the same cloth and are pieced into the same design.

In another challenge, which I particularly liked, the quilters were given the same fabric and could make whatever they wished.  Here are a few of the results:

Venus Fly Traps by Janet Grant

Life is a Beach, by Fran Pritzl

O, Peacock Brilliant, by Lynnita Knoch

Hard to imagine curling up with a cup of tea and a good mystery with this last one, but isn’t it fun??!

There were so many quilts I fell in love with, I can’t possibly show them all to you.  There were four that especially caught my imagination, though.    The first I liked because the sentiment is so dear.  Danielle Mariani transferred photographs and hand-written messages from paper to fabric (the magic of technology!) and pieced a memory quilt for her father’s 60th birthday.

Linda Marley used a bunch of her son’s old tee-shirts to make him an amusing  quilt:

His Early Years by Linda Marley

I loved the tranquility of the egret, and the way the colors moved from one to another. There are also some other fun pond animals to be found in the details here.

Sanctuary by Dennie Sullivan

Arizona celebrated her centennial this year, and this did not go unnoticed by the state’s quilters, many of whom paid tribute to the youngest continental state in the union.

Arizona Valentine by Vicki Bohnhoff

This amusing quilt features Betty Boop driving across the Arizona map.  There are quilted flaps that lift up with information about the location underneath.

All Roads Lead to a Quilt Show, by Alicia French

There are some more photos of quilts in this web-album (but I promise, all three hundred and twenty are not there).

The exhibit opened my eyes to modern quilt-making – it is definitely not what it used to be.  It also made me realize that I will never, ever, in a million years have the patience to be any kind of quilter. My non-quilted hat is off to the ladies who are.