Yes, there is an International Quilting Day. A day to celebrate the creativity and history of the art and craft of quilting. And on this day, in addition to sewing, and using my birthday gift card to the Fabric Store, I find myself ruminating on the developments of this craft form.
A few weeks ago I went to a quilting class, my first ever, and was struck by all the tools and supplies that exist to make quilting easier. Now I've had my rotary cutter (which looks like a pizza cutter), and my rubber mat (which has a grid), for many years, and they do indeed make it easier to cut straight lines and keep the pieces consistent. But at the class I learned about all sorts of other tools: fusible interfacing with a grid, for example. You iron it onto your fabric instead of marking your fabric, which helps you cut and sew straight lines. Gone are the days of laboriously cutting out each square on its own, or marking endless little triangles on the fabric.
In the "old days", as I imagine them, such luxuries did not exist. Quilters used the same tools they used for everything else. The scissors were the cutting tool, and the sewing machines had only one foot.
The feet. Oh the feet.
My new machine came with 4 specialty feet, in addition to the, now standard, feet most machines come with. Feet are attachments used for different types of sewing. The regular foot is only used for basic sewing. Then there's the zipper foot, the hemming foot, the buttonhole foot. the specialty ones include a walking foot, and a free motion foot.
The instructor of the class told me I simply couldn't quilt without the walking foot. I didn't have the heart to tell her I've been doing just that for going on 15 years. Now granted, the walking foot makes it easier in many ways (and the joys and thrills of the free motion quilt can be the subject of an entire post), but it IS possible to quilt without it. I've done it, and so have countless other quilters.
So the question here is, when does convenience become necessity? Is this really an evolution of the craft, or a marketing gimmick? Labor saving tools make things easier, but are they better? And necessary?
I guess it all depends on what you want from quilting. Do yo enjoy the product or the process more? How important is precision? How much time do you have, or want to spend, on the process?
Talking to quilters it becomes clear that we enjoy many different aspects of quilting. Some people really like the design while others enjoy experiencing it as it comes together, little bits of fabric forming a big piece. Some people like the actual quilting of it (connecting the different layers of the piece), while others can't stand this part and send it away for somebody else to do. Some design on graph paper while others use computer software programs to design for them. Finally, some hand quilt exclusively while others use the sewing machine.
The development of technology enables each quilter to focus on the part of the process most appealing to her/him. If the tools is affordable. And many of them are quite expensive. This all leads the craft to develop from an art based on necessity to an art based on leisure. The various revivals of "folk arts" all seem to follow this pattern. Something that was once considered folksy (read practical and money saving) is now moving to a hobby of leisure. In days when it is more expensive to buy the fabric and batting than a ready-made blanket, the money saving issue is gone.
I compare the fancy $2,500 sewing machines with the $100 ones, and the broad range of fabric prices and I'm reminded of the fabulous Gee's Bend quilters, who sewed amazing pieces out of whatever they had, on simple machines and I am awed. You can read about the Quilters of Gee's Bend, by the way, here: http://www.quiltsofgeesbend.com/history/
All that said, I recognize the value of innovation, and how much I, and others, benefit from it. I will use the fancy new feet, and enjoy the results. I just want to appreciate rather then need them.
And now, it's time to go do some sewing!
Happy International Quilting Day!