posted in: Art, Quilting 27
"Bachelorette" in process. Quilt + photo: Me.
“Bachelorette” in process. Quilt + photo: Me.


In my Quilt Scout column earlier this month I took on the “Are quilts art?” question. Being in art school, I’m approaching this question differently than I have in the past; turns out I still feel the way I did before but for better, sounder reasons.

The thing is, “Are quilts art?” might not even be the right question — but it’s true that quilts do occupy a funky place in the art/craft conversation and it’s more than worth turning over in your mind for awhile, especially if you have cookie bars and some binding to do at your next retreat.

Consider a Mariner’s Compass from 1890. Though beautiful and artful — impressive technique, intelligent color placement — it’s argued by some that it’s still just (!?) craft, because the Mariner’s Compass doesn’t have a deeper meaning behind it. There are no implications, no ironies, no symbolism. It’s a blanket. Sure, it’s a stunningly beautiful blanket, but but the woman who made the quilt wasn’t like, working out her grief about the death of her child through the patchwork in the quilt.

…Or was she?

That’s the trouble. The people who make determinations about what art is or is not are usually not the people making the quilts, recording the stories, or keeping the “blankets” safe. See what I mean?

Over the summer, I started making a quilt and with a deeper meaning behind it. Will someone know that in 100 years? Will someone keep the records? I can’t know. But I know that my quilt, “Bachelorette,” is a monochromatic Log Cabin I’m making using all my old sheets and pillowcases and my favorite white shirts from the past five years.

A lot has happened to me in the past five years. Divorce. Illness. Career stuff. Tens of thousands of words. So much love. Heartache. Moves. Moving back. So much travel. School. Change, change, change. And I was going to get rid of some old sheets in June and I was replacing some worn-out old white (and off-white) shirts in June and I stopped myself:

“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” I said (out loud, of course.) “Not so fast.”

It’s going to be a big quilt. The paper-pieced blocks you see finish 7”; I have made 64 of them. I have 26 left or something daunting like that. I’m stitching in labels from clothes that I wore during — well, I’ll write the whole story later. That’s part of this quilt: The story of it, on paper.

It’s white, like paper. It’s softer, though, and lived-in. And it’s definitely art.



27 Responses

  1. Jess
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  2. Melody A.
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    Absolutely they are art, how are they any different than someone deciding to paint a vase of flowers? We call that Art. I think all quilts from the simplest to the most spectacular is the method that is chosen and fabric is the wonderful medium!! Love the name you gave your quilt, ” Bachelorette” and love wha t you are using for the fabric. It will be lovely for sure and as you said “Definitely” ART!!!

  3. Dorothy
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    All quilts are art—because they all come from the heart and soul from each of us. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t go to “art school” or college/university. They come from us, they come from what we have lived, what we have survived, etc. I love you much Mary D

  4. J M
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    The best art starts with craft. And craft gets elevated into art. You see this in furniture making. It’s very rare to see any art for the sake of art that’s worth a damn. it rarely is. And quite frankly, i can’t think of any. There’s always a purpose behind real art, and by purpose I mean some sort of function – that could be keeping you warm at night or telling a story of some sort or furniture giving you a place to sit or something to look at. I could blather on but I guess what I’m saying is that the great artists always seemed to have started out as some sort of craftsmen. And an artist, who is of the ‘art for art’s sake’ type, is hardly ever decent enough to be a craftsmen. By that I mean a five year old’s finger painting is fun art but it’s not great art. but give that little finger painter a little bit of time you’ve got Picasso and you don’t get Cubism without the Blue Period first. And without all the Craft that came before you would never get Guernica. I often think – sometimes – technique and craft are the same thing. Sometimes I don’t. But a quilt is art no doubt. Have a good day my non-blonde friend and I’m glad your knees are o.k. good luck with the second opinion. Take care.

  5. Denise
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    Quilts are, and Quilting is ART! : )

  6. Virginia
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    Mary, way too philosophical reading material at 4am but, you are so right…. art is in the eye of the beholder and in the heart of the artist! Love your blocks! I have a large tubful of my mother and grandmother’s sheets waiting for such a project ! thank you for keeping up with your blog; I look forward to them.

  7. Karen Stuhlfeier
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    Quilts can definitely be art. Not all paintings are art.

    You’re right that only the artist/quilt maker knows the truth about their own work. Are they always being truthful when they talk about their work? A lot of “artist’s statements” are really kind of lame and the “artist” is just trying to make art out of something that really isn’t. A lot of quilt makers are definitely artists, but diminish their work and push aside the notion that it’s art.

    I just had the privilege of going to the new Museum of African American Art in Washington DC. It was heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. Some of the things made by slaves were definitely art hidden in the making of something like a piece of clothing. Art happens during extremely difficult times and happens in very non traditional ways.

    Thanks for blog posts that give me something to think about. I’m definitely both an artist and a quilt maker myself.

    Take care and keep showing us your work.

  8. Karen Stuhlfeier
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  9. Janice LeBlanc-Sitts
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    good morning…I just read your blog – firstly so sorry to hear that you have had such life challenges in you recent years.

    The result of your hardship is going to be beautiful … what a fantabulous idea; in a way, you are the woman sitting in that chair doing something with meaning, that should be remembered for years to come…My wish is that your heirloom of memories will be passed on down your family line for years/generations for the many years to come.

    I LOVE IT.
    can’t wait to see the finished product — thanks for sharing!

  10. Elita @ BusyNeedleQuilting
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    I think what I love the most about those blocks are those little labels and the odd strip of a different fabric, all little signs of something different. It’s like we’re all on the same road but the signs will be different. Those signify that this road is YOURS. It makes it unique, in a sea of white. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Looking forward to seeing your story develop.

  11. Carol
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    Love this!

  12. Patti-Ann Kubacki
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    Mariner’s Compass from 1890 were, I think, made by women who were grieving for me that had gone to sea and would in all likelihood never return and whose death would remain partially a mystery always. They were, at the very least, saying good bye to a person, husband, father, brother, fiancee, for years not days, weeks or even months and in whose return they were certainly terribly unsure. Knowing full well that they were walking into danger and the women who were left behind had a very heavy burden to carry while they were gone as well.

  13. Jean Morton
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    what a lovely idea! And can your white quilt be an example of “the art of making do” ??

  14. Cheryl England
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    I agree Mary. Who’s to say what constitutes “Art”? We all know Picasso was am accomplished representational artist, but when he advanced to abstract work, many didn’t see the wonder in his work any more. All quilts are the makers attempts at art, and all quilters are artists! Your new white art quilt sounds very special.

  15. Laurie walt
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    Love this idea!

  16. Ellen C
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    Inspired. Personal. Art.

  17. Jackie Roisler
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    Yes! Love your Quilt + Me story.

  18. Rhonda Mossner
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    To Quilt Or Not To Quilt? That is always my question. Whether I am creating a seasonal wall hanging or a heirloom wedding quilt I always consider it to be ART. It’s a piece of my personal creativity that I am choosing to share with the world at the time. As artists we all may choose different mediums and methods but our desire is the same. We want to CREATE. We want to SHARE and we want to LOVE. As a quilter, I choose fabric to express these emotions.
    To me, it’s always LOVE first, then ART.
    Quilt ON, Fellow Artists!!

  19. Deb KimballS H5
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    A quilt is much more than a blanket. The tactile quality alone. Add to that the merging of texture with color, the joy of assembly, the peace generated while “crafting”, and of course the pleasure when you are wrapped in its soothing warmth, or the visual joy seeing it hanging in a special place. That’s art. That what I do.

  20. Susan Michael
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    Art vs. Craft vs Fine Craft vs Contemporary Fine Craft vs Marketable vs Heirloom…..?
    Love your blocks.

  21. diana
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    Put a label on it with the story on the back? THIS WORK OF ART REPRESENTS:
    I feel quilts are art because there is design involved, even if it’s just choosing the fabrics!
    Thanks for sharing~everything 🙂

  22. Sarah
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    Great idea! What in your life represents the color of “hope”? I would love for you to put one small square of that color somewhere into your white quilt. ‘Nuff said.

  23. Joan
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    Being from a different generation than you, I love your blog but sometimes just don’t understand your writing. I have heard your mom comment many times something to the effect (or is it affect – I have teachers watching here) that she and you Mary don’t always like the same kind of quilts, fabrics etc., however, you admire each others quilts and work. I feel the same way and it is this thinking that makes the quilting world so unique and diversified and interesting.. She must be bursting with pride with you and your ideas and, this quilt and the story that will come from this..I know I will look forward to hearing and seeing the “rest of the story”. How about a novel with the quilt on the cover…..PAGES FROM A QUILTERS LIFE…OR….MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE? Count me in for a signed copy. By the way, love the quilt and idea. Definitely Art.

  24. Rebecca Christie
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    who says crafts are not art? and, there’s a reason the woman chose the mariner’s compass to make- why would there not be a reason? Good for you making something out of the sheets and shirts etc. Wow, an all white log cabin quilt, of course there’s a story there… as there is a story behind every quilt made. I say phooey on those who say otherwise.

  25. Lori Escher (Iowa City)
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    Art, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. That’s all that really matters.

  26. Anita
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    I love your use of your old shirts and sheets which hold meaning and memories. Such memory quilts are only those projects that really interest me. For me, new fabric has its role in the binding, trim and backing.
    My favorite old quilts from my husband’s great grandmothers were often made from random old clothes and fabric.
    I have saved special and favorite clothing items from those in my family who have passed on. My goal is to make several quilt squares from the favorite clothing items of my parents – framing and presenting one square to each of my siblings.

  27. Mary Ann
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    Oh I so love this quilt Mary. I struggle to see my quilts as more than lovingly made crafts. But I can surely see how Bachelorette has a much deeper meaning and is transformed to art. And thank you for making time in your so busy life to keep up with this blog.

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