Gathering of Quilters in Uruguay

On saturday last I went to what was billed as the first national gathering of quilters in Uruguay. Now there aren’t a lot of us/them and two, Graciela and Soledad, have been in contact with everyone most of us know of; several came in from places several hours away from Montevideo but we still numbered only about 10 with several apologies – there’s a lot of ‘grippe’ ie coughs and colds, around in this freezing weather. I am the only non traditional quilter among them, no surprise there. But from discussions during the day it is clear that several of the quilters would like to learn some of what experimental quilters everywhere else are learning.

I went along wanting to initiate discussion about something I have noticed about all the work I have seen so far in Uruguay, from all the quilters I have met over the past few years – it’s more properly described as an actual lack of quilting. Apart from traditional geometric patterns, and they do tend to be the less complex ones at that, the one thing that has always struck me is that here the quilting is structural, minimal, period. None of that quilting-as-an-additional-surface-design-element so evident in some of the quilting done in many other countries. And in many art quilters’ works just now there is a huge range of minimal up to quilted-to-death, but overall traditional quilters generally add at least a moderate amount of quilting, but not here, and I’ve been wondering why. So, I took along Dijanne Cevaal’s machine quilting book, the latest QN catalogue, several recent quilt magazines from various countries, and one of my own quilts with a lot of close free machine quilting, and raised the question. Even the arrival of Polly whom I’d not met before, bringing several large bed quilts with lots of quilting, didn’t really defuse my questions. Polly lived in Canada for a few years and got totally hooked on P&Q there. And she was well taught.

We had a long discussion on this, with one comment being that Uruguay has no cultural background of quilting and even further, that there is very little societal value placed on technical excellence, key word excellence, in hand made things, which is interesting, and on reflection is at least partly true. A lot of beautiful things are hand made here, but often lack the highest levels of technical excellence reached elsewhere by many artisans in most media, and although this has been addressed by organisations such as Manos del Uruguay and the Hecho Aca’s shops and annual expositions, it is still evident.

Those present marvelled at free machine quilting as per Dijanne’s examples, and since I myself have done quilte a bit of fmq and non-tradiitonal hand quilting, I can see some demos and learning sessions coming up. Another general comment was agreed, that it’s only because no one knows how to do that nor been able to show them.

One girl, Susana blew me away with the very fine and very even quilting she was doing through much of the day – I kid you not, the needle was barely one inch long with an eye there is no way I could get a thread through, and she had the rocking-the needle-motion thing going, would get a few stitches on the needle, and then use a little non-slip grabber thingy to pull the needle through, rather slow and quite painstaking with amazingly long fingernails. Athough I could never work that way, and I’m quite jealous of those fingernails, she says that’s the way she likes to work and there’s no way I would try to persuade her otherwise: people quilt the way they do for all kinds of reasons, and I respect that. It will be interesting if she or some of the others ever become interested in experimenting.

Suitable cotton fabrics are difficult to find here in uruguay, even and perhaps especially plain colours. But it seems there is a great store over in Buenos Aires, and there was clearly quite a bit of fabric coming in from travels and some mail order. One quilter, Ines, is really interested in dyeing about which I know little or nothing – and she’s considering getting dyes down from the US, and buying a bolt of two of fabric from BA, and possibly sharing it with some others. she still needs some good quality tuition, though. I know I heard of someone doing shibori dyeing here, and will ask around to find that person and see if she can help – Uruguay is an amazing place, there is always someone working quietly in some corner that you rarely hear about.

After a lot of show and tell, I did another demo of freehand rotary cutting and piecing for those who hadn’t seen it and experimented at last year’s workshop… see next post.

Soledad revealed that Mosca, the large stationers in several places around the city including a branch out near us, told her they are no longer stocking rotary cutters and blades – she bought the rest of their stock, probably enough to last a lifetime – about 15 cutters and God knows how many 5-packs of blades, priced at about $1 and 50c respectively – no those are not typos. I’m off down to Mosca in the morning myself….but it might only be the store in her area, of course.

So, in many ways it was rather like a gathering of quilters anywhere else I’ve been to – so small it was more like a bee. Towards the end of the afternoon it was suggested that a group project would be fun – which I will do my best to avoid being caught up in! But it all depends, time will tell whether it ever gets off the ground, or indeed, what kind of idea is proposed. Although I don’t want the group to become a set of classes with me being the teacher and expected to come along each time with something new to teach, I am prepared to demo and show stuff that I know in small and relevant doses. I noticed for example that good quality neat, flat, square bindings were not much in evidence. That can easily be refined, and so I will do up a set of samples of my favourite french binding that I learned years ago from the Mimi Deitrich book, “Happy Endings” and take them along next time.

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