The dictionary defines an innovator as a creator of new ideas, a pioneer who helps to open up a new line of research or technology or art. The art of quilting has always been full of innovators—highly creative people who envision a new design, draft a new pattern, see color in a different way, discover a better technique, invent a helpful tool, find a novel way of expressing a thought or emotion, and on and on. The art grows and evolves, advanced by those innovators’ energy, ideas, mastery, and determination.
Of course our early quilting innovators are no longer alive and—sadly—the bulk of them remain anonymous. Do we know the artist who first drafted and executed the Mariner’s Compass pattern (or any of our familiar traditional patterns for that matter)? Who appliquéd the first Baltimore Album quilt? Which Amish colorist first realized the impact of black against saturated hues? The list is virtuall endless. We simply don’t know who these individuals were. And yet, their skills and vision continue to provide a framework and a springboard for us all.
Having returned from the recent International Quilt Festival in Houston, I can tell you that innovation is alive and kicking among today’s quilters. What artists are doing with thread and fabric is simply jaw dropping. New techniques, new tools and products, different worldviews, and fresh approaches all combine to produce work that is not only challenging, exciting, and inspiring, but also that adds to the reservoir of knowledge which underpins the art form.
The Houston Quilt Festival is an important innovation in itself. Much of what we take for granted in the world of quilting today has been premiered and showcased there during its 35-year history,. Events such as Festival provide a forum and focus for the cutting edge as well as the tried-and-true, the vanguard along with the rearguard.
By bringing together so many people from all over the world with a shared interest, Festival serves as a giant stewpot, bubbling over with imagination and talent. Such gatherings allow us to appreciate what has gone before as well as marvel about what is to come and, importantly, they enable us to know and recognize the innovators in our midst.
This sort of recognition is taking place on a number of fronts, one of which is the Quilters’ S.O.S.—Save Our Stories oral history project of the Alliance for American Quilts. Quilters’ S.O.S. is dedicated to documenting as many quilters’ stories as possible. This effort should significantly reduce the risk that today’s quilting innovators’ contributions might be relegated to anonymity. Already, over 900 interviews have been archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
If that person who made the first Baltimore Album quilt were alive today, you can bet that she would be known and celebrated for her advancements. How lucky we are to live in a time when quilting is recognized as an art, quilters are accepted as artists, and the innovators among us are acknowledged as such.
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Column 78: Ollie Steele Burden’s Quilt Blocks
Column 77: Quilting with AMD
Column 76: Maverick Quilts and Cowgirls
Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
Column 74: The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas
Column 73: Maximum Security Quilts
Column 72: Author: Terri Thayer
Column 71: The Christmas Quilt
Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
Column 69: Scrub Quilts
Column 68: “Think Pink” Quilt Raises Funds for Rare Cancer Research
Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
Column 64: Capt. John Files Tom’s Family Tree
Column 63: The Fat Quarters
Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
Column 61: Louisiana Bicentennial Quilt
Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor
See other archived columns here