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Crazy about quilting

Janet Roberts, of East Bremerton, checks designs on the backing of a first place quilt done by Patty Keith called ‘Blossoming in Tateyama.’  The quilt was hanging in the President’s Hall at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds last Friday at the West Sound Quilters 2002 show. - Photo by Rogerick Anas
Janet Roberts, of East Bremerton, checks designs on the backing of a first place quilt done by Patty Keith called ‘Blossoming in Tateyama.’ The quilt was hanging in the President’s Hall at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds last Friday at the West Sound Quilters 2002 show.
— image credit: Photo by Rogerick Anas

Quilts are coming into their own — again.

Ignored by the art establishment (both in academia and the avant-garde) for centuries, quilts are finally being seen as an art form; certainly a craft of the highest order.

Just look at auction prices for antique and historic quilts. Such prices can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

And quilt clubs, or “circles,” are more popular than ever — though modern quilts don’t sell as well as the antiques. They take so long to make, nobody makes any money off them, say quilters.

The West Sound Quilters 2002 show, “Carnival of Quilts,” drew thousands to President’s Hall at the Fairgrounds last weekend.

About 300 quilts — both traditional and modern in style — were on display. Most were done by women. Most of the attendees were women. This is why quilts have not been taken seriously in the past, as they are a fabric art practiced mostly by women.

Even the “Voting Ballot” for best quilt reflected this. It had three categories:

l Viewer’s Choice

l Children’s Choice

l Men’s Choice

There were a few men at the show. A few even entered quilts. But it was mostly an affair of the distaff side.

“I’m a fabri-holic,” admitted Pat Davidson, one of the show’s organizers. As she strolled through the aisles, she commented on quilting today.

“What is amazing ... is that the dyes and patterns are so superior to what we used to have — we can’t keep up.”

The show included many quilts with patriotic themes. A favorite was the “waving” American Flag, with red stripes undulating up and down the fabric, making the quilt look like it was “flying” from a flagpole even when pinned to the wall. There was Uncle Sam and other all-American subjects depicted.

It was notable that few quilts were for sale, and were just there for the competition.

“There’s so much labor involved,” she said. It amounts to less than minimum wage. “So we just do them because we love doing them, and give them to family and friends.”

Karen Vanos of Port Orchard was demonstrating the use of an 1895 “New Home” treadle machine.

“I feel the old machines are better,” she said, “nice and smooth.” She echoed what most quilters said about how long it took to make a quilt — “About a month.”

The sale of new quilts can top out in the high hundreds of dollars — but it’s never enough to make a business out of it. You’d be getting nickels and dimes per hour, said most quilters.

Davidson pointed out a few of the major types of quilts: the “applique” involves placing cut fabrics over the quilt’s surface or over each other in layers; the “whole-cloth” quilt is one piece of fabric, often white, with complex patterns stitched into it; then there’s “Celtic” styles, “Lone Star” patterns, “Log Cabin” quilts.

The last style stems from the Underground Railroad of the Antebellum South. Patterns in these quilts would contain a code for escaping slaves, such as “This house is safe for the night,” she said. Prior to the Civil War, such quilts would be hung out as if to dry, but would really be signs for those in-the-know.

“Many quilters in the past and today create “blocks” in the quilt depicting events in their lives or historical events of the times,” said Davidson.

For a while, over the past decade, the market was flooded with cheap, good-looking quilts (on American themes) from China. Trouble is, the materials weren’t stitched right, and the colors were not “fast” and ran when washed. After a while, these good-looking quits fell apart.

“To do it right, it takes time, quality material, and expertise,” Davidson said.

The show ran Friday-Sunday and hosted several hundred quilters and drew nearly 2,000 spectators, according to the co-chair of the event, Sandy VanDePutte.

Contact the West Sound Quilters at Post Office Box 842, Port Orchard, WA 98366.

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