Friday, 15 March 2013

The group dynamic: a love-hate relationship.

Before I risk damaging irreparably several long-term friendships, I should make clear that these pictures are of group quilts that I love. And I don't really hate many - but being a journalist, I don't flinch from distorting the facts for the sake of a punchy headline. (That's a joke. Sort of.)

As well as making my own quilts, people sometimes ask me to use the Beast to do the quilting stitch on their own patchwork tops. And my current project is a very jolly strip-pieced group quilt. Why do I love it? Because as well as its bold design and colours, especially the unifying grid of red, it not only celebrates a joint effort but allows the personalities of the individual makers to shine through. I don't know all the makers who contributed, but I am having fun guessing which blocks my various friends have made.

The "rules" determined the basic design and size of each block, plus the use of the central red strip, but within this framework there is a joyful freedom: in some blocks the strips are narrow, arranged symmetrically and in relatively muted colours; in others the strips are almost randomly placed, their larger size allowing the frantic patterns and colours to shout. And it works! Not despite this variety but because of it.

To see how this was quilted, see later blog "The Beast is back" 

UPDATE, September 2015: Want to know where this quilt ended up - in The Guardian. Check out this link to see who owns it now!

I have a lovely quilt I bought, unfinished, in an American antique shop probably from the 1930s or 40s. This time the only clues to who made it are in the quilt itself. Again there is a common design, and obviously a collection of fabrics that was dipped into for all the blocks. But I can't believe it was made by just one person. Look at these two blocks:

Isn't that glorious? I hope they didn't give the maker of the top block a hard time. I like to think of her as a bit of a maverick, delighting in the crazy confluence of prints.

So, which group quilts bring me out in an allergic rash? The ones where the heavy hand of a (self-appointed?) organiser has stamped out all individuality, imposing such a strict design and choice of fabric that the separate makers can only be distinguished by the length of their stitches - or, even worse, where those whose stitches are not small enough have been "discouraged" from contributing.

It's a huge responsibility quilting such a lovely quilt - especially as so many makers have a stake in it. I am thinking of a design incorporating circles and squares. To use a cliche - and as a journalist I'm never afraid to - watch this space.

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