Quirky Quilts

"Glazovo" by Adinka Tellegen.
The other day, I had a half hour to spare and decided to pop in at the art gallery in the Culture House. I was in luck (I´m afraid I don´t keep up with all the new exhibitions) as they are presently hosting the 5th European Quilt Triennial 2012. There were 211 entries from 22 European countries and we get to see 44. This event has evolved from the German Quilt Biennial, which in 2000 was extended to cover all of Europe.

According to Professor Dr Frieder Hepp of the Kurpfälzisches Museum der Stadt Heidelberg (one of the organizers of this exhibition) in the foreword to the exhibition catalogue, an appearance at the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham has led to an increase of English quilter participation. And many of the quilts that got my attention were indeed British. Britain has also contributed with the only male participant, which is attributed by Hepp to William Morris´ legacy. I suppose the average German male finds quilting a bit girly...

In the foreground, "Home Sweet Home" by Birgitte Kopp.
Detail from "Cloud Computing": plastic, string, pen.
I love textile art, and I´m not the only one. For those of us who practice ourselves, it is hard to resist not touching and exploring the techniques used, and there are several signs requesting that visitors keep their hands to themselves. Many of the quilts are - as you would expect in a traditional quilt - very sturdy and made to last for centuries, basically, but some are not traditional at all, rather artful installations based on the idea of what a quilt is. My grandmother would not have been impressed with loose threads and un-finished edges, but I think she would have been inspired by the variation of motifs.

"Cloud Computing" by Allie Kay, in its entirety.

I actually fell hard for the most quintessential English quilt, by sole male participant and Brit, James Fox. It is a traditional quilt with a mix of classic English symbols: a football, teacups, Victorian sentimental images of doves and burning hearts. The name of the quilt is "I know there´s many things I´ve never seen..." and the title is also embroidered around the football in the center of the quilt. I suppose I have to call it camp, and actually, in retrospect, it was more fun up close than from a distance. The idea of its Britishness endeared it to me at first sight.

Another English participant, Alicia Merrett, has noticed the likeness between a quilt and a city map, and has made a very handsome quilt based on what London looks like from above. She calls it "Mayfair 1761", and I suppose that´s exactly what this is.

It´s also hard for me to resist quilts that are made of all those kinds of things that sewers, knitters and embroiderers tend to collect: old buttons, tiny scraps of beautiful fabrics, zippers, thread, a meter or two of yarn, pearls, and so on. Vera Shcherbakova´s "Chrismas time" is a glam-fest, it even has bits of mirror sewn onto it. And fur, which feels very Russian, somehow; it makes me think of bitter-cold steppes.

There were also entries that were political, like Jutta Kohlbeck´s "Surveillance State" - a piece with a current topic, as it happens. Not that it´s really new; I understand that George Orwells "1984" rose precipitously on amazon´s bestseller-list after the Snowden incident. Kohlbeck has made a quilt with many, many eyes and some of them hang loosely attached to the quilt itself.

On second thought, I wonder if Merrett´s "Mayfair" may also have a political dimension to it. She has, after all, chosen the part of London where probably the most powerful people of the British Empire lived - and still lives. The British Empire may not be any more, but to the rich and powerful of this world, I don´t suppose that matters very much; the arenas change, but the players remain the same. Or perhaps she just liked the way the streets curved.

The one piece that really would have made my grandma snort, would have been Ulrike Lindner´s "Colours in the wilderness". This is not handicraft as much as art, a play with the concept of quilting. It has a wonderful 3D quality to it.

Very similar - and yet very different - is Monique Dumont-Simone´s "Day after day", which is as delicious as a wedding cake and very girly with its transparent patches of pastel-coloured fabric. There are also unexpected scraps of paper in there, all held together by strategically placed knots. This is a quilt for etheral princesses, who dream lovely dreams on fluffy, pea-free, mattresses.

Dumont-Simone says in the catalogue that this is a textile diary for summer and autumn of 2011: every square represents a day. Can´t find anything about her on the net, so perhaps she does live in a fairy tale castle.

In the middle of the room: "At the same time", Gabi Mett.
There is also an exhibition of quilts at our regional museum, one I have been meaning to see, but they have such lousy opening hours (close at 16) and I never seem to manage to get there in time. A few years back they had a great show with both new and really old quilts, that I saw with mum-in-law (while she still had her eye-sight). We still talk about that sometimes, particularly one was memorable, where the quilter year after year had made her guests sign patches of black felt with white chalk. She had then embroidered their signatures and made a huge (she must have been a great hostess) quilt of it, and on the border she had embroidered some bible verses refering to hospitality. Amazing. Another quilt impressed me for another reason: it was made of old men´s suits, worn shiny but still good enough for a duvet. It was a poignant and very physical reminder of the poverty and scarcity of all things out in the forest villages in the 19th century.

There were, of course, so many more quilts to see, all equally fantastic. I have been trying to find a website for the Quilt Triennial, but there doesn´t seem to be one. If it comes to your town, I recommend a visit, even if you´re not that into handicraft. This goes way beyond that.

"The difference" by Cecília Gonzáles-Desedamas.


  1. I love this post, thank you for so richly sharing the exhibit! James Fox's work reminds me of Miriam Shapiro, who was an American quilter in the Pattern and Decoration Movement in the 1960's-1980's. I love art quilts and went through a time when I feverishly made little things and experimented with design and fabric. Yes, the compulsion to touch is part of the fun! (By the way, I finally subscribed to your blog. Not sure what took me so long...)

    1. Glad you liked it! Yes, I remember quilting being quite a thing when I was in Iowa as an exchange student in the early 80´s. And thanks for the tip, I will check out Shapiro´s work.