What is quilting in the late twentieth century

Late Twentieth Century Quilting

What is quilting in the late twentieth century. Quilt making experienced a period of decline after World War II. The economic situation that allowed women to purchase whatever goods were needed, baby boom and women joining the workforce, relegated quilting to a craft for few, mainly quilters who had learned to quilt during the depression and continued the tradition of making quilts. Quilting during those two decades was considered dowdy and mainly associated with elderly ladies who maintained the craft alive. The patterns they used were the same that had been popular during the early twentieth century, but they were made with the fabrics available at the time, in brighter colors and often times incorporated the new man made fabrics, such as polyester. quilting
However, during this time, one form of quilts did maintain a certain degree of popularity: embroidered quilts. They were available as pre-printed kits and because women had continued to embroider, they turned to make this type of quilt.

During the late sixties, the counterculture movement that advocated interest in antiques and relics of the past revived interest in quilting as a craft. The “back to the land” movement gave importance to making items, instead of purchasing them from large corporations. They sought to connect with a simpler lifestyle. Quilts became interesting objects of the past, and the views on quilting changed. Cooperatives, mainly in rural areas were formed to make and sell hand made quilts, capitalizing on the demand for these items.

Another influence that brought quilting back to fashion was the feminist movement. Women began to study and appreciate, feel pride and a connection with women’s history, and so they began to appreciate and value traditional activities such as quilting.

An event in 1971 gave a final push to bringing quilts to the public as not only useful domestic objects, but also as a personal expression of art was the exhibition “Abstract Design in American Quilts” held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

By then, the field was ready for more commercial ventures related to quilting. As it became more and more popular, women realized the difficulties in finding fabric, patterns and supplies necessary for making quilts. Small shops owned by quilters and the publication of magazines exclusively related to the craft, such as Quilters’ Newsletter in 1969, started an industry that today nets over three billion dollars a year. Other magazines followed, such as Lady’s Circle Patchwork and Quilt World. Quilt books soon followed, not just reprints of old books from the 30’s and 40’s, but new publications. Beth Gutcheon pioneered with her Perfect Patchwork Primer in 1973. From then, magazines, books, quilt shows and television programs started to spread patterns, techniques and quilt history in the USA and worldwide.

Fairs had been the only place for women to show their quilts for many years. The Bicentennial celebrations spurned the creation of quilt guilds that started local quilt shows in which quilters could display their creations. The National Quilting Association, formed in 1970 sponsored a Bicentennial Contest. Quilting became more and more popular as it became recognized as an authentic colonial art.

And as much as the sewing machine had revolutionized quilting in the nineteenth century, the invention of the rotary Quilting Rotary Cuttercutter in 1979 revolutionized the craft during the twentieth century. Invented by Yoshio Okada, it allowed quilters to cut fabric in a faster and more accurate way than ever possible.

In 1981, as quilting continued its raise in popularity, the Kentucky Quilt Project was the first of several documentation programs in most all the states. Quilt owners brought quilts to be photographed and their details recorded. By 1995 forty-seven states had their own quilt projects and more than 150.000 quilts had been documented.

During the decade of the eighties, another nationwide project was started: the AIDS Memorial Quilt. It was conceived by Cleve Jones in 1985 as a way to remember and honor friends and family members that had died from the disease. The concept was to make a panel in remembrance of a loved one. For two years, panels were made and sent to be put together and in 1987 the quilt was on display for the first time in the National Mall in Washington DC.Quilting
It stretched over an area larger than a football field. It continues growing, as panels are still being made and portions of it are displayed worldwide. It was nominated for a Nobel Peace Price in 1989 and to date, it remains the largest community art project in the world.

Quilting has spread worldwide during the nineties and the beginning of the twenty-first century. Internet access has allowed quilters worldwide to share their ideas, patterns, and lives at large. It is estimated than there are over twenty one million quilters worldwide and nationally, one in fourteen households have an active quilter.

From being a utilitarian craft to provide warmth, it has become a true art in its own right and a way for women to express their creativity and a way for women to connect with their past.

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