Studio Archeology 1

Tucked away in a long forgotten photo file I came across this and a couple of other gems this morning. A small piece, maybe 30″ x 30″ (it’s in storage, I can’t check) it’s the result of one of the projects I undertook as a member of a group of experimental quilt makers while I was living in SE Denver CO., back in the late 80s early 90s.

Not having a work visa but having a strong interest in fibre arts, in addition to joining the Embroiderers’ Guild of America, I turned my attention to the craft of traditional American patchwork and quilting. In a deliberate move to learn more about the world of quiltmaking, I joined a local quilting guild, Arapahoe County Quilters, in 1988, and though that group joined a quilting bee, then called the Friday Block Party. We met every friday morning and quilted and gossiped together until lunch time – and sometimes took ourselves out to lunch after that. It was great fun, and that group was one of the hardest I have ever had to leave, anywhere.

When I joined this lively group of keen, very skilled quilters, everyone was making traditional bed quilts and wall quilts; and our group projects were traditional mostly, too. At this time, the late 80s, several Colorado artists working in the quilted textile medium were becoming prominent on the national non-traditional or Art Quilt scene. In addition to the high level of creativity in Colorado, several major travelling exhibitions appeared. Piecemakers, a very experimental group started up in Boulder, and the Front Range Quilters formed around this time, too. Art quilts were attracting a lot of attention, and some of us in The Friday Block Party became keen to develop our own designs and learn some of the non-traditional surface design techniques that we could see others were acquiring and teaching.

A small group of us formed and experimental group to share and learn. We met monthly, and called ourselves Quilt Explorations. Each month we had an assignment of a design idea or concept to explore and if possible make something out of that idea, and when we met the following month we discussed and critiqued each other’s efforts.

Which brings me to this little piece. I really can’t remember what I titled it, though by this time I was an experienced exhibitor of mixed media art, and routinely named my fibre art works. But I can tell you a few things about this project. We were to develop an original design based on something from traditional quiltmaking. I took two traditional patterns, the Diamond In A Square, and Amish Bars, which seemed a good idea at the time! The bright bars were made of an Australian fabric designed by the late indigenous artist, Jimmy Pike. It was hand quilted in bright orange-red thread, and now that I look at it, it’s barely ‘innovative’ at all, though perhaps thirty years ago it was a reasonable leap from ‘traditional’

An early art quilt project done while I was a member of Quilt Explorations group, Denver CO. Untitled, c.1990 Approx 30″ x 30″
Detail of hand quilting patterns definitely inspired by traditional N.American quilt design.

I can’t say this quilt ‘led’ me anywhere on a creative path, but it represents a stage of breaking out of the traditional mould, ‘in transition’, you might say, and therefore important. Though I had actually only made one traditional quilt, a Flying Geese wall quilt and some patchwork blocks. The Friday Block Party had a scheme that each member in turn would ask for a particular block from the other members. and a month later we’d hand them all over to her. When my turn came around, I requested Dresden Plate, and still have the blocks I’ve never put together- and my excuse is they’re in storage, though I’d like to at least get them out. Over the next few years the whole bee became more original design focused, some of its members going on to be art quilt makers, others finding niches in teaching, writing and fabric dyeing. By 1992 we’d changed our name to “Over The Edge Quilters” which was a lot closer to the mark of describing our group’s character.

I will write again soon on very early pieces in the next of what will be an occasional series.

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