One of my favorite items in McCall’s Quilting magazine is the monthly Q&A column, where editors answer questions posed by readers. Since being a full-time grad student with multiple part-time jobs doesn’t leave a whole lot of extra time, it was only recently that I was catching up with the Nov/Dec issue, in which the question was “Why do you quilt?” Almost simultaneously, a “get your work out there” challenge I signed up for in a creative professionals’ group (hashtagged – is that even a word? – below) asked, on its first day, “Why do you create?” Given that there are no coincidences, it seems the universe really wants me to think about this question!
Growing up, I didn’t self-identify as “artistic”; while my early school years required everyone to take art classes, I never showed any particular aptitude for it, and so it might have ended were it not for a particularly obnoxious high school guidance counselor. Beginning in ninth grade, students were allowed to choose some elective classes, and so at the end of eighth grade we had class meetings about how to make our selections. The only thing I now remember about those sessions was the guidance counselor telling us that all the girls should take typing. Now, if he had said everyone should take typing, I might have thought “Good idea, it’s a useful skill”—but even in the mid-1970s I was a fire-breathing feminist; when he limited typing to a skill set that only girls needed to have, my response was to say “Um, no,” and sign up for art instead. So one of the first reasons I chose to make art was, I suppose, as an act of rebellion against a society that wanted to define my roles for me. (Turns out this is not an unusual motivation for people who make art, so I guess I ended up stereotyped after all. Alas.)
I came to quilting much later. While I did do various types of needlework in my early years, there was unfortunately no tradition of quilting in my family. I stumbled onto it during grad school (round one), and started collecting quilting magazines; I finally took my first class a few years later when I was stationed at Fort Dix, NJ (a couple of colleagues’ wives found out I was interested and signed me up for a local adult ed. class). The year was 1989, when the quilting world was scandalized by a machine-quilted AQS show winner, and our instructor was convinced that rotary cutters were just a fad that would never last. Almost thirty years later (yikes!) I’m still at it—which makes this the longest-lived of my artistic ventures.
Why have I stuck with quilting for so much longer than any other form of art? I think the answer is closely related to the rebellion that led me to take that high school elective. Quilting has allowed me a freedom of expression that no other needle art has. In that first quilting class, our final project was a four-block sampler, where the choice of blocks and colors was entirely up to each student—a far cry from my cross stitch and needlepoint patterns that made every design choice for me. Of course I sometimes use other people’s patterns, but early on I also fell in love with making up my own. Most of them are still fairly traditional, but the block and fabric choices are all up to me, and it’s impossible to get bored when the options are almost endless!
So there it is: it seems that rebellion and the pursuit of freedom turned me into the quilter that I am today. (And some people think quilters aren’t radical…)
See you at the meeting,