When is a Quilt an Art Quilt?

According to one writer on the Quiltart list this week, art quilts are “Stuff That Hangs on The Wall and Never Gets Washed”.
The discussion topic centred about what batting/filling people preferred to use in their quiltmaking, and her comment inferred that lightness and warmth were irrelevant for those who made art quilts, ie that these were too small to be of body warming use, anyway, since they hang on walls, see above, and, ergo, are small.

Does this mean only art quilts are small? Does this mean that art quilts cannot be large? Or does it mean that no art quilts are large, ergo, sufficient to be placed on beds as either docorator covers or warmth pieces? Someone else on the Quiltart list today even asked if anyone could give her a list of the dimensions that are usually required for entries into art quilt exhibitions ….. my only thought was ” how long is a piece of string?” there is no answer – anything goes, usually.

The term ” Art Quilt” is a vexed one. It has come to be a generally accepted but often confusing and criticised term describing those quilted textiles which are far removed from the domestically crafted work that we know and understand to be ‘traditional quilts’, and yet which at the same time by virtue of construction similarity (2 or more likely 3 layers,, quilted together as one) are clearly derived from the traditional. The differences between the two focus on their implied purposes (bed coverings versus decorator, wall-art functions) and the manner of the decorative patterns on the quilt top/front. In general terms, the majority of traditional quilts involve patterns of either intricately pieced geometric patterns (sewn together by hand or machine) or pictorial designs (either pieced or appliqued) After the surface design or patterning, the top is layered with batting and backing, and the whole quilted, with often very elaborate quilting stitchery forming another surface pattern. In the constantly evolving world of art quilt design, almost anything goes, from digitally enhanced photographic images, applied with stencil, screen or by hand, paints or dyes, inkjet and various other means of print and other transfer processes, fabrics bonded with adhesive film, and in addition various modern uses of the older traditional technqiues. Piecing and applique techniques still abound, but I noticed that in this year’s Quilt National exhibition, that something less than 25% of exhibited pieces relied for surface design on the ‘ old’ techniques of hand or machine piecing and applique – all others have some blend of paint, dye and computer aided digital something or other, and often quite a few different surface design techniques were used in the one piece. This is not a criticism – just a sign of how rapidly and how far things are changing in the world of Art Quilting. Some prefer the term Studio Quilts, by the way, and yet to me this implies something a bit aloof , elitist perhaps… so I don’t feel really comfortable with it, either.

Since everything I make is of my own design, regardless of size or intended function, I claim that everything I do is an art quilt. Modern quilted textiles, IMHO, defy categorisation in any meaningful way other than to say they are all ‘quilts’. The pic above shows “Tara and Ivan’s Quilt”, a very large king size bed cover intended for their 4-poster as a modern day ‘wedding quilt’. Two friends, Robin and Vance, pictured with me in front of this very large art quilt, were attending the opening of my most recent solo exhibition in Washington DC at the Aus Embassy, in 2005.

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