Friday, August 31, 2012

Celebrating Handmade Quilts

If I hadn't met a handmade quilt long ago, I probably wouldn't be a quilter today. As a very young woman, I was a cash-strapped college student and had no extra cash for something as expensive as a sewing machine. While visiting a yard sale, I found a battered handmade quilt, paid $1 for it, and thus a lifelong love affair began. I examined the old quilt closely and found every stitch was made by hand--the piecing, the quilting, and even the binding. That discovery cheered me immensely and gave me hope. I thought: "If this whole quilt was made by hand, no machine needed, then maybe I might learn to do this..."

Don't get me wrong--I love my sewing machine and use her almost every day. Her name is Jessica. She's a 1951 Singer Featherweight,  named after my grandmother who gave her to me. But I still enjoy doing handwork and belong to a group on Facebook that promotes hand quilting.

When the Colonial Needle Company started to award the prize for the prestigious Handmade Quilt category at the International Quilt Festival, held once a year in Houston,Texas,  I knew I'd hooked up with the right folks. By recognizing excellence in handwork, Colonial actively supports the craft while awarding a handwork artist.

This year, the awards ceremony, called The Winners Circle, is Tuesday evening, October 30, the night before International Quilt Festival opens. The event is a Very Big Deal and lots of people dress up and show up. It's probably the only Quilt Festival event where high heels are normal footwear! A number of prizes in twenty different categories are awarded that night and vary from art quilts to miniatures to digital imagery to traditional to handmade and of course Best of Show.

With great fanfare and a beautiful bouquet, Terry Collingham of the Colonial Needle Company will present a prize check of $1,000 to the quilter whose quilt is the best handmade quilt. Here is a beaming Michiyo Yamamoto from Chicago and Terry standing in front of Michiyo's gorgeous quilt Spring Full Bloom, the 2010 handmade category winner.

At the awards ceremony, no one knows they've won until her/his name is called.  You can cut the tension in the room with a knife. The show starts with an emcee (Stevii Graves, the president of IQA, will host the event), a draped stage, spotlights a la Hollywood, and even mood music. Here's a shot from the 2011 ceremony where, as the outgoing president of IQA, I got to do the honors. However, I did not wear heels! Seeing the audience from the stage was a wonderful experience. You could track the yelps of surprise and ripples of laughter in the crowd as one by one, as each prize quilt is announced, the quilt is revealed as a golden curtain rises. The crowd gasps, then applauds and a stunned quiltmaker makes her way to the stage and stutters a few words as photographers take pictures. The Winners Circle ceremony is indeed the Oscars of the quilt world.

To enter a quilt, the quiltmaker must be a member of the International Quilting Association (that costs $25) and make out the entry forms, pay a $20 show entry fee, and provide digital photos for the jurors. But if you win, it's well worth it. Winning a top IQA prize is like adding PhD in Quilting to your resume.

Just what is defined as 'handmade quilt'? Here, quoting from the IQA Entry Form:
Quilts in this category must be sewn by hand with the exception of the first stage of the binding and the
backing seams. Quilts may be any style except wholecloth, which must be entered in Merit Quilting. Quilts
in this category may be any size within the rules except miniature. 

You'll be able to download the rest of the form in mid-January since of course, the quilts for 2012 have already been juried into the show. Here's the link to the International Quilt Association website: . Shortly (in September)  four judges will gather to award all the prizes and ribbons for 2012. This is done in Houston at the IQA/Quilts Inc. offices and is top-secret. The volunteers who help are sworn to silence thus adding to the mystery and tension of the upcoming event.

Here are photos of the Handmade Quilt category winners from 2010 and 2011. (photos by Jim Lincoln.)


Spring Full Bloom by Michiyo Yamamoto              Tenderly Embraced by Mieko Kotaki