A Quilt Festival in Houston, and a proud American tradition

Whatever was going on at the George R Brown Convention Centre, I was probably not the target audience. Sure, political correctness tells us not the stereotype, but really you see a tall, young ethnic Chinese man and you know, he does not fit into a convention dominated by middle aged Caucasian women, it isn’t even a quarter challenging game of “Where’s Waldo?

But I had my luggage with me and I needed to store it, I was going to find that luggage storage by hook or by crook.

The service staff at the counter took a look at me, and did a double take, then went on to take my bag and give me a tag. She too knew instinctively that I was no where near the target audience of this conference. It was a quilting conference.

What’s a Quilt conference, I hear you ask.

I had the same question too, it was a conference of quilts, literally quilts. I seem to make light of quilts, but quilting and quilting actually has a very long and rich tradition especially in the United States.

Quilts are today considered non-utilitarian works of art, but until the 21st century quilts had an important commemorative function to mark important events in life, it also served a more functional purpose as a defensive armour (Gambeson). Quilting has a long tradition in the United States dating back to the early days of the then colonies. There was a need for warm bedding at night, but there was a shortage of fabric causing prices to rise drastically for such goods. It was the women of the colonies who came to the rescue, ingeniously scavenging anything they could find to create blocks on material that were used to keep people warm. Quilting seems to be a non-coastal American tradition though, and is one that is still preserved very much in non-coastal states.

The basic unit of a quilt is a block, and many blocks with various designs (fan, bears paw etc) make up a full quilt.

Quilting was considered, a female activity. Women and girls would sit communally to quilt, while there were stories of men joining in these were few and far between. Although it should be said that one of the most prolific quilt-makers in the history of the United States goes by the name of Ernest Haight.

Because it was considered a female activity, going back as recently as the 1800s, little was studied about the history of quilting (and no, no stupid joke about his-story, the word history comes from the greek word historia, for inquiry). That has obviously changed, with the Smithsonian containing a National Quilt Collection.

Wikipedia does a good job explaining the quilting tradition in the United States, “There are many traditions regarding the number of quilts a young woman (and her family) was expected to have made prior to her wedding, for the establishment of her new home. Given the demands on a new wife, and the learning curve in her new role, it was prudent to provide her some reserve time with quilts already completed. Specific wedding quilts continue to be made today. Wedding ring quilts, which have a patchwork design of interlocking rings, have been made since the 1930s. White wholecloth quilts with high-quality, elaborate quilting, and often trapunto decorations as well, are also traditional for weddings. It was considered bad luck to incorporate heart motifs in a wedding quilt (the couples’ hearts might be broken if such a design were included), so tulip motifs were often used to symbolize love in wedding quilts. Quilts were often made for other events as well, such as graduations, or when individuals left their homes for other communities. One example of this is the quilts made as farewell gifts for pastors; some of these gifts were subscription quilts. For a subscription quilt, community members would pay to have their names embroidered on the quilt top, and the proceeds would be given to the departing minister. Sometimes the quilts were auctioned off to raise additional money, and the quilt might be donated back to the minister by the winner. A logical extension of this tradition led quilts being made to raise money for other community projects, such as recovery from a flood or natural disaster, and later, for fundraising for war. Subscription quilts were made for all of America’s wars. In a new tradition, quilt makers across the United States have been making quilts for wounded veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.”

There is another aspect of quilting, the scientific and engineering aspect of what is essentially a scientific art form.

Seen in this light, a quilt conference is very much like the science conference I had just arrived from, it is a form of art and a science in itself won’t you say?

The quilters probably had way more aesthetic sense though…



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