Tomorrow is the opening of the DC Modern Quilt Guild's very first gallery show, called Stitched DC, at the Anacostia Arts Center in Washington DC.
Which doesn't sound all that remarkable on the surface (unless you're a quilter and geek out over these types of things like I do), but it really is.
Quilt guilds today are funny places. Groups of ladies, usually connected by a church group, who get together to work on communal quilts (often gifted to church members) aren't all that common anymore. While quilting bees still do exist today, they're mostly online. Over the internet, one person leads the organizing of the making of a quilt, bee members make their blocks at home and mail them to the organizer who then completes the quilt. Many of these quilts are then donated to charity once the results are photographed and posted online.
And interestingly enough, it's the internet that's credited with the widespread development of the modern quilting movement. Of course women (and some men too, but mostly women) were developing modern designs all along, but there wasn't widespread attention on the changing aesthetic of quilting until Flickr became popular in the early 2000's, allowing quilters to widely share their work with others.
As Flickr usage and blogging boomed, so did the modern quilting movement, and the national Modern Quilt Guild was officially formed in 2009.
Today Flickr remains a source of quilting inspiration, but Instagram has taken over in popularity by connecting quilters with each other across the world, allowing designers to share their work instantly but maybe more significantly, share ideas and feedback instantly as well. When posting photos of work in progress, a quilter is just as likely to get feedback from fellow sewers in the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia or Brazil as they are from sewers in the United States. Quilters are in every way a tightly bound global community.
A new chapter in quilting history is being written.
The quilting art form is no longer a reflection of small regional groups (quilting bees and guilds) or widespread trends spawned from books or magazines (with the inherent delay in traditional publishing) but rather quilting has become a responsive form of expression, influenced less by the "industry" and much more heavily by peer feedback in real time via social media.
Even the DC Modern Quilt Guild, a group that convenes once a month for presentations and sewing days and the traditional rounds of show-and-tell, is more active over social media, with posts and questions and feedback and ideas flying all over blogs, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram daily (more like hourly!). And although we're an actual group that meets and sews together, we're most tightly connected through our virtual relationships, both inside the guild and across the world, and this has a profound effect on our work.
The moment our quilts are finished, their images fly across the world in the form of pixels. There is no delay whatsoever. So the fact that this weekend marks the opening of our very first real-life, in-person and physical show is monumental, given the digital lives we lead and how we've come to rely on the internet to fuel our sewing passions and creative muses.
Our actual quilts are hanging in a downtown gallery for all to see in full, 3-dimensional view and for once there's more to take in than a screen view while absentmindedly scrolling by. There's an opening reception where we'll socialize and laugh and eat and drink and cheer each other on. We'll meet spouses and pat each other on the back in a way that doesn't seem to happen very often anymore.
Work that undoubtedly started under digital influence is now taking life in the presence of living, breathing artists, just as quilting started hundreds of years ago. The results might be the same - a finished quilt meant to be beautiful and functional - but how these quilts came to be is a whole shift in history.
Or more accurately, herstory.