Geometry in Patchwork

Traditional quilts still turn the world on its ear!

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London recently launched an eagerly anticipated quilt show (Quilts: 1700-2010) including pieces from their famous archives, treasures we’ve seen in books and on postcards for years. Many of these quilts were originally exhibited in the 1960s and 70s. In 1964, shortly after I moved to Great Britain, the early quilts spoke to me long before I got the buzz about this world of patterned geometry and had a go at it myself. As a struggling painter, along with the decorative weaving from Norway and silk embroideries from Japan, the combination of colors and the sensuality of the fibers in these classic quilts made a deep impression on me. Always, the basic and visual poetry of the early patchworkers’ creations held and continues to hold my attention.

Most of the new wave of “art quilts,” with stories and graphic pictures fail to hold my interest. Lately, many quilt makers paint with dyes on cloth and quilt it all over, essentially creating mixed-media works that are gaining much applause, fascination, and big prizes at quilt shows. I see their allure but I can’t help feeling they are a separate form. I question bringing the art of drawing and painting to the wonderful world of geometry. In my opinion, that’s like adding a film, projected on a screen, to a great stage play with live actors. Both mediums have their place, both move us, but why combine them? Fine art and quilts do different tasks brilliantly. For me, the world of traditional quilts has proved to be such a vital form that it should be preserved by new makers to serve those coming along, generation after generation. I can still be stopped in my tracks by a particularly innovative arrangement of colors set in classic squares, triangles, diamonds, and more. Looking at these classic quilts I’m like a child at a magic show. At 72 I still can’t work out their tricks; the magic in their making still gives me deep shivers of delight each time I see them turning the world on its ear.