Although when you first think of women (and men) huddled in their homes, working away on their sewing machine, you would think that quilting today is quite a solitary activity, you would be wrong. It can be that, but there are so many ways today to make it a group activity that it boggles the mind.
Just think of the past – of how ladies – mostly working by hand, would sit together with their needlework – be it embroidery, mending, knitting or piecing, all the while visiting and encouraging one another. Think of the quilting bees, where many women would work together, hand quilting tops that one lady had pieced together. There were societies where it was unthinkable for a young woman to be married without having pieced 13 quilt tops. Before her wedding, the women would get together and quilt all 13 tops. That is a LOT of stitches.
As our culture today has shifted away from living with many generations together in one house, so too the practicality of family members sitting and stitching away the afternoons has lost its place. With both husbands and wives away at work all day, there is little time for most of us to sit and visit with a needle in our hand. Those of us who can are the lucky ones. But there are so many things fighting to distract us that it doesn’t happen as often as we would wish.
I have been very fortunate to be a part of various quilting groups during my time as a quilter. When I first started, it was through an invitation from a friend who I didn’t even know was a quilter. “A few of us are starting a quilting group, and I wondered if you would like to join” she said. I had been sewing all my life, but had never thought of quilting. “Why not, I’ve never tried that.” said I – never dreaming what an addiction it could become, and what an incredible key to friendship around the world she had offered me.
And so I began in our weekly meetings, piecing, learning about squaring blocks (you mean you don’t just sew it together and go with it?), and putting the final quilt on a frame and hand quilting it. I learned about using cotton versus synthetic fabrics, scant 1/4″ seams…….. rotary cutters and mats and special rulers…. double fold bindings and labels. And I had a community of women to work and visit with.
All too soon, life changed, and I was looking at moving again and finding new friends. The first thing I looked for was a quilting group. And again I found friends and learned so much more about what could and was being done in the world of quilting. One lady had just purchased a Gammel long arm – what a monster – what an exciting new development.
Another move – this time overseas to Kuwait. What was my first thought – “Are there quilters there?” You bet! I made contact with them, and 5 days after I landed in Kuwait City, I was at my first meeting.
Kuwait and the Kuwait Textile Arts Association marked the turning part in my life as a quilter. With an overwhelming abundance of high quality quilting fabrics at very low cost, and a lot of women who had worked in their home countries but couldn’t do so in Kuwait, quilting was a major activity among Expat women. With around 60 quilt group members coming from 20 or more different countries, the opportunity for learning something new was incredible. New techniques, new colour combinations, innovative challenges, like this strip challenge, where everyone had the same set of fabric strips, and we had to design our own quilt.
lots of classes and many, many quilters who were eager to teach and mentor a beginning quilter. We had fun and informative meetings, went on fabric shopping expeditions together……. and many life-long friendships were formed.
Kuwait was such an active quilting environment, that I found myself busy with new projects, and not able to finish old ones – that’s what happened to that mystery quilt, for example……. and a few other’s I won’t mention here.
With an annual textile arts exhibition, there was the opportunity to learn how to show a quilt, and the chance to have the courage to do. This was my very first attempt at an art quilt – I had no idea what I was doing – but…..
Dubai inaugurated its International Quilt Show, and I entered a quilt – just because there I had the opportunity to do so. I couldn’t see myself ever entering a quilt in Houston or the like……. but this was at my doorstep.
Six months after arriving in Kuwait, I, who liked to work behind the scenes and NEVER in the spotlight, was thrown into a leadership role with the quilt group. Quite a learning experience, for sure. I also had the opportunity to teach there as well – something I didn’t think I would ever enjoy, but did immensely. I have come to believe that you never really know a subject or understand its possibilities until you teach it to someone.
Moving is an Expat’s life. On we went to Oman, where the first person I met was Alice, a quilter who had left Kuwait just as I arrived. Soon I was surrounded with a wonderful group of quilters, and all living close enough to get together to sew. A dear friend and accomplished quilter and teacher, Paramjeet Bawa, moved also from Kuwait. In Muscat, she gathered us around her and taught us new skills. She also fed us some of the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted.
Norway was difficult – the first place I really understood how difficult a language barrier can be. I also understood what an unspoken bond there can be between quilters. I went to local group meetings, not understanding much of what was being said, but reveling in the atmosphere that comes of having 60 like-minded ladies in one place. I showed some of the quilts I had made previously, and took a class in free motion quilting from a very creative and energetic lady, Nina-Lise Moen.
I did find two kindred spirits, but, alas, moved again before we had the chance to sit and sew together very often. Hanne and Tone, I think of you often.
And now to Russia. To my knowledge, there is one other avid quilter here. Lydia is also very excited to have someone else who understands the fascination of cutting perfectly good fabric into tiny pieces and then sewing it back together. I understand that there may be some who are keen to learn, so who knows, we may just have something going on in Yuzhno too, before we leave.