What Kind of Quilter Are You? Part 2: Defining Art vs. Craft

“Craft” is not a dirty word and using patterns and instructions from books is a great way to learn quilting techniques and hone our skills. But as long as there are quilt shows, quilting magazines, and online quilting communities, we will be discussing how to categorize the work that we make and show, and we are still forming the nomenclature to use. Quilts can be stylized in many different ways and a comparison of quilts can help us see those varieties. However, what one person might call traditional, another might call contemporary.

It’s always been easy for me to call myself an artist because with only a few exceptions, in fact two out of hundreds, I’ve always designed my own, original work. That being said, some of my older work like the quilts being shown here fall in to the traditional and contemporary categories rather than the art quilting category. And though I am an artist who makes quilts, I don’t call myself an art quilter. I am simply an artist whose base medium is fabric.

Picture5 This quilt is a table runner (utilitarian) that I designed for a magazine many years ago. Though it is made from hand dyed fabrics, it has a rather formal, traditional looking aesthetic. It uses half square triangles as the base of its pieced design. The triangles are set radially to form a square then background was added to each end to make room for the appliqued floral motifs. The simple pieced border frames everything nicely and finishes the piece well.

Though the composition is unique and original to me the maker, the design elements are well known to most quilters and are traditional as is the quilt’s aesthetic. Because the design is original to me, my quilt could be considered art. However, if you made the quilt using my pattern that was published in the magazine then your version of it would be considered craft. But either way it is a traditionally.

Picture6 The quilt pictured here is one of the more than 100 quilts that I designed and published a pattern for. I call it “Gala Garden.” It is a very large throw size, and is utilitarian. It features some recognizable, traditional blocks, namely the quarter square triangle blocks in the center of each large block, and the square in a square blocks used as the corner stones. However, that is where the tradition ends. Most quilters would describe this quilt as contemporary. It utilizes a modern aesthetic with its bold black and white prints and bright colors, funky free-flowing flowers, herky-jerky stitching around the applique, and wonky pieced sashing. These descriptors, “corner stones,” “quarter square triangle,” “square in a square,” “herky jerky,” and “wonky piecing” are parts of the quilting nomenclature that most non-quilters would not understand. It can be the techniques we utilize in addition to the color schemes we use and the motifs and stylization of the fabrics we select that make the difference between a quilt being categorized as contemporary versus traditional. This quilt, were it made in reproduction fabrics with hand applique, may very well be seen as traditional to most viewers.

The terms “art quilt” or “art quilter” are very ambiguous to say the least. The most common attributes to art quilts is that they are made to be viewed as art and are not utilitarian and with few exceptions their designs are unique to the maker. Commonly art quilts use asymmetry as a design element working off of an offset focal point with counter points used to balance it or they use crystallographic balance with all of the design elements looking as though they have been thrown about the surface willy-nilly, but equally, with no focal point. Of course you can find art quilts that use symmetrical or radial balance in their designs, but that is not the norm.

Picture7 - resized This quilt, Sculpted Quilt #6, is an art quilt. The center, red portion is made using a base of canvas topped with various textural papers and fabrics held together with matte medium. Once dry, it is then painted and finger-painted. Then it is set on a silk background, batting and backing is added, and it is heavily quilted. I’ve made more than 30 quilts using this technique and they sell very well. Though each piece has at least two layers and stitch which is the current definition of a quilt, they are gallery mounted on stretcher bars with a hanging apparatus and are made for the wall only. They are art quilts.

Continue reading…

More in this Series:

What Kind of Quilter Are You? Part 1: Understanding How We Categorize Quilts

What Kind of Quilter Are You? Part 3: Sticking to Our Roots

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5 Responses to “What Kind of Quilter Are You? Part 2: Defining Art vs. Craft”

  1. MONA

    I was taught hand quilting by a professional hand quilter. Hand quilting the entire thing is considered a true art form. I'm very disappointed to see these fast machine quilting ideas. It's good for something fast but it will be highly unlikely to be on display in a museum. This is my personal opinion. I was taught to view quilting differently and am very appreciative of my instructor

  2. Elaine

    I would love the pattern to your triangle/flower table runner if available

  3. Sandy Rader

    Is there a pattern for the half square triangle table runner?

  4. Trisha

    I was a lifelong sewer and quilter before going to art college as a mature student; I subsequently told textiles (fiber art) on a degree course. It was very much drummed into me that art has to be about ideas, not just be pretty or useful, or even original. I do think that a lot of so called quilt art is wonderfully executed but limited in interllectual and emotional content and so much is highly derivative of others, well known artists styles. I wouldn't even call my own work art these days, as it is such a hard thing to strive for and I just enjoy colour, texture, shape and above all, fabric and my sewing machine!

  5. Margaret A Moe

    I really like your triangle and flower table runner. Is there a pattern available? Thank you.