At the Festival of Quilts in 2019, the most common question fielded at Contemporary Quilt’s stand was, ‘What is contemporary quilting?’.
It is easy enough to distinguish Traditional from Modern, but Modern from Contemporary? That question seems to have no simple answer so suffice it to say the definition for each individual member will be personal, depending on the direction of their quilting journey. Yet all are ‘working in textiles to create innovative and dynamic art’.
In 2002, this diverse group of Contemporary Quilt was born. Quilt Art, now international, had parted from The Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles. Annette Morgan, then Vice President, realised this split left no provision in the Guild for Art and Contemporary makers. She asked the Council if she could start a group for art quilters, planned to be supportive of like-minded people, providing workshops and talks. Annette organised an exploratory discussion in London. Full meetings followed, in Halifax and York, starting the tradition of inviting high calibre speakers. The name was decided collectively at that meeting in Halifax. Although ‘contemporary’ can have several meanings, it was deemed suitable, stressing that it be ‘Contemporary Quilt’, not ‘Contemporary Quilt Group’. In Halifax then were 30 attendees, 50% of the membership of Contemporary Quilt; today, a large venue indeed would be needed to accommodate 50% of today’s 700 plus. Through its strong spirit of camaraderie, Contemporary Quilt has flourished, becoming the largest of the largest of The Quilters’ Guild’s five Specialist Groups.
As numbers grew, so local groups began to spring up, currently nineteen confirmed regional ones in England and Wales plus several others throughout the UK. Their success lies in the enthusiasm and determination of their volunteer coordinators. It is impossible to outline the activities of each one, so the South Coast Contemporary Quilt Group who meet bi-monthly serves as an example.
‘We have an in-house workshop and a Show and Tell … The subject for recent sessions has been Colour and the Artist. Liz Smithbone led this lively presentation, ‘Wacky Weaving’, creatively linking the colours and artistic style of Kandinsky and Jackson Pollock … We also made reference to the recent Anni Albers exhibition at the Tate. Using our painted paper and fabrics, we created samples to inspire future pieces. We have already explored the work of Howard Hodgkin, Hokusai and had a workshop with batik artist Jill Kennedy, all biased towards fabric colouring and textural contemporary quilting.’
Jane Varrall, South Coast Contemporary Quilt Group
Fundamentally, Contemporary Quilt aims to disseminate ideas and information; our Newsletter appears quarterly. Facebook is the official platform, but better than on-line discussion is talking face-to-face. Firmly established is the Annual Meeting, the first in York, then ten in London. Now the plan is to locate in provincial metropoli; March 2018 saw it in Manchester, with Birmingham in 2019 and Newcastle in 2020.
Contemporary Quilt provides three opportunities for honing skills and displaying results in exhibitions both real and virtual. There are the annual Challenges. The first, Primary Colours, was exhibited in 2005. The intention is to showcase members’ work thus publicising The Guild. Entries are juried to maintain a high standard. 2018’s In Print is currently on tour and entries for 2019’s challenge are being submitted now, with inspiration derived from the Guild’s own Bloomfield Coverlet.
Secondly, we have the Suitcase Collection of 64 or so A3 quilts, which literally pack into a suitcase for groups to hire. This provides the perfect opportunity to examine and admire workmanship close up (white gloves provided). They certainly fuel discussion and often are a revelation to people specialist in more traditional fields. Here is a glimpse of the current My Favourite Artist collection.
Three previous collections each toured for three years but have now been retired; all contents are found here.
Finally, Journal Quilts are probably the most popular of all of Contemporary Quilt’s ventures. These originated from the American Journal Quilt Challenge to produce one A4 quilt per month. Helen Cowans thought this ideal for Contemporary Quilt, initiating the scheme in 2007. Each year, size and shape are varied, sometimes with additional rules, as with this year. Participants post monthly and images are collected into albums on Facebook. This is a closed group but anyone can enjoy the Journal Quilts section on Contemporary Quilt’s website and here, where eight members describe how they arrived at each one, its importance to them and the joy that a ‘like’ can bring. When exhibited at shows, Journal Quilts are a great advert for the Guild.
Summer Schools provide further networking and socialising opportunities. These started when there were few classes available teaching new techniques. 2006 saw three tutors in crowded wooden huts on the hottest weekend of the year at an agricultural college in Gloucestershire. However, it proved such a runaway success it is now an annual event.
Contemporary Quilt aims to encourage newer quilters to extend and develop their work. The annual Anne Tuck prize (in memory of a founder member of both The Guild and Contemporary Quilt) is awarded to a member of less than three years. 2017’s winner is a spectacular example. Artist Pascale Michalski had only discovered quilting two years before and the award formed a stepping stone to her subsequent success: witness her Hummingbird, Slo-Mo.
There can be no better tribute to Contemporary Quilt than this recent post by Liesbeth Williams:
‘I am so grateful to Contemporary Quilt for offering all the opportunities in the past of chances to exhibit, the Journal Quilt challenges, summer and winter schools and the Annual Meetings. Particularly our regional group with all the workshops and meetings … getting to know new people with similar interests. It certainly made going to The Festival of Quilts friendlier. Through all this I have gained the confidence to put some work in local Open Exhibitions, and, slowly, I have been asked to contribute to some small exhibitions in our local museums.’
No words adequately describe Contemporary Quilt’s innovative work so view the very best in the Galleries section of our website, here. These excitingly original pieces demonstrate imagination and ingenuity without limits, in short, at the cutting edge!
Find out more about Contemporary Quilt and how to join on The Guild’s website, here.
Newsletter Copy Editor, Contemporary Quilt
(Featured Image at top: Fresh a collaborative piece by Exe Valley Contemporary Quilt. Image credit: Delyse Upton)