Quilting: A Contemporary and Global Art

Posted on February 5, 2021 by Erin Veneziale

If the rich history of quilting hasn’t convinced you to give it a go, remember that quilting’s relevance hasn’t gone away. In the 21st century, quilting has developed in style, shape, and material. While the 19th and 20th centuries saw quilting done primarily in the US, it has expanded to be a global craft, with many different cultures adopting and contributing to quilting, even as they continue ancient traditions of their own.

There are an estimated 30 million quilters across the world, with more starting every day. 

Quilting guilds remain active across the globe, particularly in the US and England, and many host quilt shows for quilters to display, sell, and win awards for their work— a continuation of a tradition started in the Great Exhibition of 1851. Entire museums are now dedicated to quilting, including The Museum of the American Quilter in Paducah, Kentucky. 

Quilting has flourished in Japan, often incorporating sashiko stitching, a form of functional embroidery or decorative mending adapted to hold together the layers of a quilt. 

Indigenous Hawaiian people developed their own patterns of quilts, adapting western quilting practices into their culture. Similarly, Polynesian people developed a traditional form of quilting called Tivaevae, which are used on special occasions as gifts and displays, in many ways taking on the traditional functions and nature of barkcloth. 

Quilters across nearly every continent (the jury’s still out on Antarctica) have also both copied and collected American-style quilts and incorporated quilting into their traditional decorative arts. 

Modern quilts run the gamut from art quilts that escape the constraints of practicality and feature materials that go well beyond the usual—evolving almost into collage works—to the exceedingly classic, featuring

blocks that have been produced since the 1800s and earlier, including log cabin, flying geese, and four patch. There are innumerable books about quilting available, in addition to many periodicals on quilting and an embrace of newer media with blogs and YouTube channels on the subject. 

Quilting finds a home in fashion and clothing, too: you can’t forget about the timelessness of a quilted coat, whether it’s puffy for warmth or more densely quilted for textural detail. Recent trends show the explosive popularity of patchwork designs that create bold mixes of prints and colors.

In today’s eco-conscious world, the use of patchwork techniques in clothing production also allows for the conservation of material by preventing the excess fabric from ending up in a landfill. 

But what does all this mean for you? From considerations of sustainability to an exploration of the cultures of the world, quilting is a craft that both stands on its own and blends seamlessly into fashion, sewing, and interior design. Whether you’re looking for a long-term skill set or something to pass the time when you can’t go out (Thanks, COVID!), quilting has you covered.

There’s no time like the present to dive into learning a new skill, so why not give quilting a try?

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