Quilting Motifs -Inspiration Is Everywhere

Top photo: one of many ceilings we saw in ancient temples and tombs in Upper Egypt, decorated with a pattern of long-armed, five-pointed stars. The stars appear on on ceilings to ensure they will be present in the Afterlife of the pharoah for whom the tomb or temple was built.
Lower photo: a free machine quilted motif of that star pattern on a recent quilt made of sheer fabrics, which I hope to have selected into SAQA Icons and Imagery Transformations ’08.
For several years I have occasionally taught a quilting class, “Quilting With Attitude” , for hand and machine quilters, the core point of the class being that inspiration for the quilting on a quilt can come from many sources. Quilting of course is the functional constructional element that holds the layers together in a quilt designed principally to warm a body on the bed. Traditionally the quilting pattern is dominated by the shapes on the top which it tends to echo or follow, and large open shapes are then filled with decorative motifs, feathers, flowers and other linear shapes. The rise of free machine quilting in the 1980’s was popularised by several teachers and writers including Harriet Hargreaves, perhaps best known of these. Using the machine in with a traditional quilt design, the aim is often to try to replicate the traditional quilting patterns. Despite the claim by some that this saves a lot of time, it has never appeared to me that the equation is equal – if the time is saved technical excellence has always appeared to have been compromised. If the impeccable technical standards that characterise most traditional quilts is achieved, it really does take about the same amount of time to include in the process properly fastened off and hidden quilting threads, anchored so that they will not unravel or pop as the quilt is used. This does not apply to decorative wall quilts of course. This need to rush quilting (‘saving time’ by machine quilting, or make a quilt in a is a day classes) is sadly a product of the fast-paced lives many Westerners lead today.
There’s a lot more to think about too, as many ‘art quilt makers’ or quilted textile artists, (myself included) produce smaller sized works for wall decoration. Despite using modern materials, dyes, printing inks and digital printing processes, and this smaller decorative format, they aren’t necessarily ‘Art’.
IMHO, a well chosen quilting motif or pattern adds another design element to a quilt and can enhance the value of the overall design; and just as easily a meaningless pattern with no connection to the quilt or one that looks merely routine, easy, a no brainer, can reduce the impact of the whole piece. One of the most popular no brainer quilting patterns around these days is the meandering or stippling, where the quilted line wanders like a little maze, or like electronic circuitry over the surface of the quilt. Now, this could also be totally appropriate to the underlying design, but as generally used, isn’t. Dijanne Cevaal recently published a book of all-over machine quilting patterns she has come up with, “Seventy Two Ways Not to Meander or Stipple – Ideas for Free Machine Quilting”, now available in english and french, in book form and cd: for ordering information follow the link on this page to her blog (Musings of a Textile Itinerant) posted October 6, 2006. A great starting point for opening the mind to the potential for machine quilting. Well, you could also do some of them by hand, too…. let’s be open minded about all this.
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5 Responses to “Quilting Motifs -Inspiration Is Everywhere”

  1. Feather on a Wire says:

    I’m so glad someone has told the truth, good machine quilting is not necessarily much faster.
    Though it is faster than very good hand quilting I admit, but then not many people do that these days either.
    I think the modern bats which enable quilting to be up to 8″ apart is taken as quilting only needs to be 8″ apart.

  2. margaret says:

    Following on from what you said on Quiltart list recently – three cheers for low tech. As Prokofiev said, “There is so much beautiful music still to be written in the key of C” — so much can be done with “simple” tools and techniques. As someone else said, “Perfection exists not when nothing more can be added, but when nothing more can be taken away.”

  3. PaMdora says:

    It’s funny, I’ve never really considered quilting by hand. I guess I came into the game so late, it didn’t even seem a option to me. Anyway, there’s no way I could sew through all the layers of fabric I use by hand. Thanks for an interesting post.

  4. Therese May says:

    Hi, Alison,

    What a great blog! About machine quilting….I am so “greatful” to be able to play with my sewing machine and to enrich my quilts with stitching lines and texture with the different threads and to do it fast. I get a feeling of freedom in not having to make it perfect and to accept my primitive method. I hope to see you again sometime!
    Therese May

  5. Alison Schwabe says:

    What a fabulous musical quote, Margaret.
    Pamdora – there is so much more to hand quilting than just fine little tiny stitches, the more-to-the-inch-the-better sort of thing – although I admire lovely stuff like that, it is to contemporary quilting what counted thread work is to modern embroidery – and actually, creative interpretive embroidery is the path that led me to quilting, and so I will considier quilting with anything that can be stitched with, from string on down. I wish more would. Also,lumpy much thicker threads acn be couched, by hand mor machine – if a quilt requires it. There is just so much expressive potential in hand stitchery. But then I also love free machine embroidery and therefore love free machine quilting.

    And, Therese, thanks for your nice comment. I too hope we connect again some time.

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