Quilt art is rooted in traditional quilt making, a practice that were once very common in Kansas. Today, some quilt artists make items where you can clearly see the utilitarian roots, while others explore non-utilitarian aspects of quilting. Many quilted works of art are meant to be hung like paintings, but some are not – e.g. free-standing quilted sculptures. During the second half of the 20th century, many quilt artists experimented with combination art, where quilted art was combined with other techniques, such as collage making or painting, or where unorthodox materials were incorporated into the quilts.
During quilting, two or more layers of fabric are sewn together to make a thicker padded material. A very common configuration is the three-layer quilt:
- A top fabric (also known as quilt top)
- Padding/batting to provide insulation
- A backing material
During quilting, the needle and thread will pass through all layers.
The whole process of creating a quilt involves many steps, including designing, cutting, piecing, and sewing together.
The oldest known quilted items that have survived into our time are some carpets found in Siberia, dated to the first century BCE.
Even though quilting is, and have been, an important cultural expression in Wichita and the rest of Kansas, there is no museum here dedicated purely to quilts yet. Such museums do exist in other parts of the United States, such as the The Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum in Golden, Colorado, National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky and The International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
Examples of museums known to have excellent quilt are exhibitions are The Mint Museum of Craft & Design in Charlotte, North Carolina, The Missoula Museum of the Art in Montana, The Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney, Nebraska, and The Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin.
Examples of well-renowned contemporary quilt artists:
- Dorothy Caldwell
- Velda Newman
- Diana Harrison
- Linda MacDonald
- Anna von Mertens
- Mimi Chiquet
- Ai Kijima
- Joe Budd
- Tracey Emin
- Ursula Rauch
- Susan Shie
- Jean Ray Laury
- Terrie Mangat
- Clare Pug
- Michael Cummings
- Lynn Setterington
During the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of traditionally feminine crafts, including quilting, caught the attention of contemporary artists who began incorporating them into their art. Also, many people who had formerly not regarded their craft as an art started experimenting and seeing their creations from an artistic perspective.
One of the driving forces during this epoch was Dr. Mimi Chiquet in Virginia, United States, a member of the quilting group The Fabric of Friendship. Through her art and her academic research, Dr. Chiquet put quilting in the spotlight. She is especially known for the quilt art she made featuring unusual Scandinavian blue hues.
Another notable quilt artist of this era was Jean Ray Laury, an artist who created her own quilt patterns instead of sticking to the traditional ones, and encouraged other quilters to invent their own patterns too.
In 1973, the book “The Perfect Patchwork Primer” by Beth Gutcheon was published, and it came to have a huge influence on the resurgence of quilting in the United States. Another example of an influential book is “The Quiltmaker’s Handbook: A Guide to Design and Construct” by Michael James, published in 1978.