Explaining the “Art” quilt


Being a “art quilter” is a tricky business because art quilters are creative pioneers exploring new territory in the arts. 

“As a crafts person, I am obligated to be the last in the line of makers who carry my craft forward. I am the lineage. As an artist, I am the frontier of my craft, the first in line, and therefore, obligated to move my tradition, my craft, into new territory.” Maria Shell

Although art quilters use many of the tools that traditional quilters use, the objective is make a aesthetic item that does not serve a functional purpose . An art quilt  is a aesthetic not functional item. The art quilt is most often layered and stitched using needle and thread. however an art quilter is free to stitch together layers with anything from wire to bag ties. It is freedom to explore that makes an art quilter a creative pioneer who has left familiar quilt territory far behind.

Detail from art quilt paper, ink, fabric, dyes and painted batting


A quilt is a functional item with a rich tradition. It is a craft.  Many people who make quilts gather together in guilds where they share their passion. Guilds are places where both the novice and the expert are welcomed. One of the functions of the art guild is to promote and maintain the standards of their craft. Guilds provide a valuable resource within the quilt community by keeping the craft tradition alive.

Often, guilds are not places where the creative pioneer is embraced. That is why creative explorers seek out groups like SAQA, SDA or form critique groups where they can find fellow travelers.

Photo from Life Magazine 1950 Quilt Guild.

Photo from Life Magazine
1950 Quilt Guild.

Most art quilters began their journey in a traditional guild. They learned the craft of putting together cotton cloth using a pattern to make a layered and stitched quilt. At some point they may have wandered off into making a picture using these same techniques or they may have thrown the pattern away to make a abstract pattern. What ever happened the art quilter moves from the craft territory into the art world.

There are some clear cut differences in the cultures of the art quilter and the traditional quilter. For me the difference is most clear at a quilt show. I have written about this in a previous post called “Here Comes the Judge” and “I am not a quilter-really!” At the time I wrote those posts I was unhappy with the display at that venue and I was in a rookie stage of being an art quilter.

At a quilt show the quilt is judged by expert in field.  There are prizes awarded for 1st place, best in a category  and best in show. Many quilt shows are put on by guilds which allow every member to enter a quilt.  The judge uses a set of standards and benchmarks that reward superior craftsmanship. Next the judge considers the aesthetic choices the quilter made like the color pallette and the pattern.

Art quilters enter the majority of  shows by submitting images. Often these shows have a central theme or idea. Prizes are not awarded. In my SAQA regional show “Above and Beyond” the theme is vast area of creative possibilities open to the art quilter and fiber artist. The judges look through digital images  and then select art quilts that best reflect the theme and will make a cohesive and pleasing display for the audience.

Revolutions Quilt National Dairy Barn

I am a creative pioneer and an art quilter so I can keep exploring.

Until next time…..