By: Michele Aversa
Another successful AQS Quilt Week in Grand Rapids has come and gone. More than 10 thousand people attended the expo recently which had approximately 150 vendors on site and over 400 remarkable quilts on display.
The event involved four days of classes taught by internationally praised instructors, contests with total cash prizes of $50,750, sales of sewing and long-arm quilting machines, quilting kits, appraisals, fabric bolts and jelly rolls of the newest and most exciting patterns of the season.
For a beginning quilter like me, it was a lot to take in at one time: Every corner of DeVos Place Convention Center was packed with crisp fabrics stacked high – brick reds, deep blues, autumn oranges and sparkling yellows filled my vision. Women were everywhere, talking with excitement, planning new projects, watching demonstrations of the latest techniques and recording it all on camera phones.
Yes, women were everywhere. Only a few men were brave enough to dip their toes into this fabric frenzy! The ratio of women to men was approximately 100/1.
My first stop was the exhibit by the international non-profit organization Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) Masters II. Included in their collection were quilts from the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa and many other countries.
These were nothing like my grandmother’s quilts!
Where I was expecting blocks and triangles, I found fluid shapes and graceful contours. I presumed neon-bright colors would assault my eyes from every direction, and that dots and swirled patterns would plague the majority of designs. I learned quickly that it wasn’t the craft of quilting that was stuck in the dark ages – it was me!
Each quilt seemed to have been created using an artist’s brush, not fabric, needles and machines. The works were not bedspreads or blankets. They were extensions of their creator, the physical result born from a wisp of imagination.
Two in particular forever changed the way I think of quilting. The first, titled Woman with 2 Gents, by Leslie Gabriëlse– Rotterdam, Netherlands, at initial glance looked like a painting. I did a double-take. Dark blue and black plaid fabrics made up her long hair. Small scraps of textiles embroidered on her face became delicate shading details of her feminine features.
The second, titled Theatre, by Izabella Baykova – Saint Petersburg, Russia, also caught me off-guard. The work depicts 19 private boxes at a theatre, each containing different characters such as Dracula, 5 nuns, a mafia family and a bride. The intricate detail, impressive enough in a painting, is made all the more extraordinary knowing it is fabric and thread.
Another collection on display was a mix of heart and art. The traveling exhibit, “Quilted In Honor”, is a dedication to our servicemen and servicewomen. The pieces were created by celebrities in the quilting world to support Operation Homefront and The Wounded Warrier Project. The majority of the colors that were used were red, white and blue fabric. When the quilts finish their “tour of duty” in the spring of 2015, they will be auctioned off; the proceeds being donated to these two charities.
The pièce de résistance was the internationally known 120-foot long Quilt of Belonging. The project began in the fall of 1998 by Canadian artist Esther Bryan. Each of the 263 blocks is 11”. The purpose of “Canada’s most comprehensive textile art project” is to celebrate that every culture is unique and beautiful in its own way. Materials from the specific area were used in the designs for each regions’ blocks, from cotton to seal skin, the gossamer wings of butterflies to silk. Finished in 2005 by Ms. Bryan and a team of dedicated volunteers, this remarkable cultural statement began its global tour, starting in the Arctic! For more information, visit their website.
Intricate to festive, subtle shifts of color to explosions in every block, winning quilts were on display at every turn. Some depicted sites, such as Arch Rock on Mackinaw Island (by Dorothy Janose & Karen McClurkin of Hastings, MI), and some celebrated the tradition of hand-sewn creations, such as 1st place winner for Hand Quilting, My Version of a Persian, by Christine Wickert, Penfield NY).
“I’m on sensory overload,” said Mary King, first time Quilt Week attendee. “I couldn’t even do one square! It’s not just the design but all the work. It’s the execution, choosing the just the right fabrics and threads, and all the time it takes to put it together.”