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Monday, December 10, 2012


The Dairy Barn, Athens, Ohio, home of the biennial
Quilt National competition.
A small segment of the art world seems to be having an identity crisis. A quite talented friend of mine, in returning from a convention of quilters call the Quilt National held biennially in Athens, Ohio, (not far from my home) reports that the hot topic of conversation at the conclave was the utilitarian association the general public seems to have with the generic name for their art--the very term quilt. I guess it's too close to sheets and pillow cases, blankets and bedspreads. It's a touchy subject. A few months ago, I was soundly chastised for even suggesting that her work might be displayed on a bed. It would seem that this national incarnation of the traditional quilting bee is desperately in search for a new terminology not so loaded with bedroom associations. Worse than that, they seem equally to eschew any term having the work "fabric" in it as well.

Crater, 2011, Bonnie Bucknam, Best of Show, 2011 Quilt National

Dandelion, 2011, Kate Themel,
People's Choice Award,
2011 Quilt National
The only other designation I've ever heard for the quilters art they'd not like any better. Instead of quilt of fabric art, some arts and crafts show have used the category of "soft crafts." I've used that designation in judging art shows to differentiate between (wood, ceramics, and glass) and anything involving woven, stitched, knitted, crocheted, batiqued, materials etc. In terms of a new term, one suggestion I might offer is to look to some foreign language for a quilting term that does not carry with it in English the utilitarian associations of bed covers. There might also be a way of modifying the term "tapestry" to indicate a sewn, filled, pieced-together work of art but right away you can see you'd end up with quite a list of adjectives in going that route. Perhaps the best solution might be to invent a word based upon the root word, quilt. "Quiltistry," maybe? Or how about "Quiltart?" "Softart?" "Quiltery?" "Fabrickery?" "Fabricary Art?"

Venetian Stone 2, 2011, Luanne Rimel,
Digital printing has invaded the medium.
While admitting there is an image problem associated with the modern-day quilter's art (as opposed to craft), my quilting friend also worried about appearing pretentious in jettisoning the term "quilt" in favor of something new. She's absolutely right, of course. However, let me point out that the "high art" world to which these creative fabric artist aspire is one absolutely full of pretension. And she's right about the pretension part too. Insisting on a new name would be pretentious, no doubt about that. But she needn't worry about how the art world would view such a move. They'd more than likely just shrug their shoulders, and say, "Allllright, sounds good to me," and go back for more wine and cheese. And the rest of the world? Well, first of all, it would be an uphill battle to educate the public sufficiently to recognize the new term. But in so doing, (and cutting through all pretension) the national art quilting community would have a magnificent opportunity to enlighten everyone as to the differences between that art which is displayed horizontally on padded sleeping surfaces and that which covers up cracks in the plaster.

Swimmers, 1999, Tim Harding,
People's Choice Award, Quilt National

The 2013 Quilt National is scheduled for May 24 thru September 2, 2013, the Dairy Barn, Athens, Ohio.


  1. Many of the more pretentious quilters, including myself, refer to The Craft as a branch of "The Fiber Arts."

  2. Yes, I've heard that annotation used as well.