When deciding how I feel about a nineteenth or early twentieth century quilt, one of my tests is whether I would like to have lunch with the maker. If the workmanship is angel-perfect, a cup of coffee or a glass of water might be enough. Perfectionists are notoriously un-fun.
Other anonymous quilts from the past are so quirky and original I’ve wished for some kind of time-machine gizmo that would enable me to sit down with the maker over a giant chef salad and a nice chardonnay. I’d ask her what inspired her fabric choices, what other quilts she has made, what she plans to cut out next, and whether the Quilt Police existed in her era.
The current exhibit of quilts at the Iowa Quilt Museum in Winterset, Iowa, “Out of Control: Quilts that Break the Rules,” was curated by Barbara Brackman and Deb Rowden, fellow Kansans who are longtime fans of quirkiness. Believe me, there are no perfectionists in evidence in the IQM gallery at this time. It is a gallery of rogues.
For context, Brackman and Rowden tacked a list of judging guidelines put out by 4-H on the wall at the start of the exhibit, reasonable-sounding stuff like this:
Scale and proportion of pieces and shapes should relate to each other and to quilt size.
Several quilts in the exhibit make it clear their makers were not aware of this suggestion.
Signage beside each quilt offers a specific rule specifically broken by the adjacent quilt. “Fabric pattern should be secondary to patchwork pattern,” for example, is posted beside a quilt whose printed fabrics are so ultra-busy the pieced teacup design is completely lost. A caution about keeping sashing strips secondary to blocks is ignored by a quilt whose black sashing strips start, stop, and meander over the top, with impunity. One of my favorites is Sunflower. A handful of intricately pieced Sunflower blocks hang out together in the center area. The blocks that surround them are simple circles, the patchwork omitted, begging us not to notice. Who among us has not thought, after a brave start, “This is way too hard!” and relegated our fragment to the realm of the unfinished. Not this gal!
My first opportunity to view the new exhibit since it opened on July 7 was this past Sunday, when I was on duty in the gift shop. It’s a good thing I had my coronavirus face mask on as I gaped my way from quilt to quilt, scratching my head, wondering again and again, “What was she thinking?”
If we could bring the thirty or so quilters in the exhibit together for a banquet, mavericks though they be, I don’t see a food fight happening. I think they’d find themselves kindred spirits, hiccoughing their way from appetizer to dessert.
“Out of Control” is up through October 4. For museum hours and other information, visit the Iowa Quilt Museum website. For a wonderful preview written by Barbara, illustrated with more head-scratching visuals, click here.