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 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
See other archived columns here