How Quilting Bridges the Generation Gap
Few things are as deeply rooted in tradition as the art of quilting. Throughout history, quilts have served as both functional and ornamental pieces, and they have become deeply symbolic. As is the case for anything that inspires nostalgia, quilting has the potential to be seen as a lost art—quilts as relics. Fortunately, that has not proven to be the case at all.
One need look no further than Lynchburg to see that quilting continues to thrive. Multiple quilting guilds and shops flourish here with diverse members and customers respectively, and there are several reasons why.
Artistically, quilting has remained relevant because quilters have embraced modern techniques that mark a diversion—but never a complete departure—from more traditional techniques.
Lynchburg’s first major foray into modern quilting was marked by the launch of a subgroup of longstanding quilt guild Patches ‘n Pieces in the early 2000s. This group, called LAFA (Lynchburg Area Fiber Arts), was founded due to the emergence of “art quilting,” which places emphasis on form over function.
“Blankets and baby quilts were and still are being made all the time, but now there was this explosion of creativity beyond those projects,” says Laurie Szczutkowski, member and former president of Patches ‘n Pieces. “A lot of quilts being made today are not your grandmother’s quilts!”
“Quilts are coming off beds and onto walls!” exclaims Barb Brummond, member of Patches ‘n Pieces.
An even more visible venture into modern quilting occurred when The Virginia Quilt museum featured an exhibit called “Heritage Redefined: A Modern Quilt Exhibit” in 2017.
“The term ‘heritage’ gives reference to the fact that even though quilting has changed, we have our roots in the tradition; we’re just taking it in different directions,” Brummond notes.
“Some of the things that define modern quilting are different layouts—a practice called alternate ‘gridwork’—as opposed to traditional patchwork; improv, where you’re not working with a pattern; and the use of negative space.”
In the summer of 2019, the Bower Center for the Arts in Bedford showed off numerous quilts at its National Juried Fiber Arts Exhibition. The contemporary quilts and other pieces were created as an artistic expression—not for everyday life. “With artistic quilts, you have some people who have come out of the traditional quilt field and want to expand their creativity in other ways,” said Jill Jensen, a juror and judge of the show.
“There are also artistic quilters who have come from the fine art field. … I started as a painter but I eventually came to textiles. It’s a way to combine all of my loves of color, bold imagery and texture all in one piece of art.”
The latest local development on the modern quilting front is the late November 2019 launch of a local chapter of The Modern Quilt Guild, an international organization founded on the West Coast 10 years ago. Meetings will be held at Threads Run Thru It, a quilt shop in Rustburg.
Efforts to offer quilting meetings and events at night and on weekends have also allowed for more participation from younger generations.
“The plan is to have [Modern Quilt Guild] meetings on weekends so that younger people can come and join the group,” Brummond says. “If we don’t have younger people, we’re not going to have much of a future for quilting! The modern quilt movement is attracting younger quilters, so we certainly want them to be able to attend meetings.”
Patches ‘n Pieces, a 40-year-old local guild that focuses primarily on traditional quilting techniques, saw a need to offer evening meetings; thus Seven Hills Quilt Guild was born in 2000.
“Seven Hills was established by members of Patches ‘n Pieces because they understood that there are people who work full time who also want to quilt and want an avenue to get together and create,” says Linda Black, member and former treasurer of Patches ‘n Pieces.
The Seven Hills Quilt Guild also embodies another reason that quilting has stood the test of time: its capacity to express support and concern for others.
“Quilters have the biggest hearts of any people you will ever meet, and quilting gives us an opportunity to serve those around us,” says Kim Payne, president of Seven Hills. “We feel that we can fill needs with fabric.”
The guild, which currently boasts about 35 members, produces a staggering number of quilts each year for various charities and causes both locally and throughout the East Coast.
Among these many quilts created annually are 50 baby quilts for the Blue Ridge Pregnancy Center, 25 quilts for the Salvation Army, a minimum of 25 quilts for women and 15 quilts for children at the Safe House for Abused and Battered Women, and one or two quilts for the Rainbow of Hope Quilt Auction for Centra Hospice. Additionally, the guild creates 10 to 15 quilts for Quilts of Valor for veterans, quilts for each of the beds and the sofa at the Desmond T. Doss Home for Homeless Veterans, 15 quilts for Hope for Appalachia (which aids special needs children in impoverished areas of Appalachia), and 16 quilts for beds at the Outdoor Education Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (which supports at-risk youth in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland).
The Queen Bees, another subgroup of Patches ‘n Pieces, also creates quilts for local organizations such as HumanKind, Miriam’s House, the Pearson Cancer Center, and Habitat for Humanity.
Unsurprisingly, the internet has also played a significant role in keeping quilting alive.
“The internet has made a huge difference,” Szczutkowski notes. “There are a myriad of permutations of how people have connected internationally over the last 15 to 20 years. That said, I don’t think meeting face-to-face will ever go out of style. The love of fabric is the common thread. There is something about being able to talk about that shared love in person that is very special.”
As it turns out, the cornerstone of quilting’s continued relevance and popularity is a quality it has always possessed: an innate ability to bring people from different backgrounds and of different ages together. As long as experienced quilters are willing to impart their knowledge and beginning quilters are willing to learn that knowledge, quilting will live on.
Luckily, experienced quilters assert that quilting isn’t as challenging as it seems. “Quilting is fun, and it’s not hard!” Payne exclaims. “If you can sew a quarter-inch seam, you’ve got it made.”
“The talent in this town is amazing,” says Szczutkowski. “I suspect that for beginners, it’s challenging to not feel intimidated by folks who have been quilting for a long time. We try to encourage our new members to be inspired rather than intimidated by more experienced members.”
Quilting, and in fact any creative endeavor, may seem especially intimidating to those who feel that they are too old to be considered beginners; that said, it is never too late to pursue a new hobby.
“When I was growing up, my mother didn’t like to sew because she had to sew our clothes, so I didn’t grow up loving to sew,” Black says. “I didn’t make my first quilt until my son was born
when I was 35, and I didn’t make another one until I was 41 or 42. It’s never too late to find your passion.”
Regardless of your chosen creative pursuit(s), the important thing is to never stop creating. “My personal belief is that every human has an urge to create, and we all find our way to do so in some form or another,” Szczutkowski says. “Creating feeds our souls and nurtures us in a way nothing else can.”
Photos by LAURA BETH DAVIDSON