PIECE BY PIECE
There was still clothesline tied to the old laundry poles in the sideyard of the Bakke Farm house, so I hung up my new quilt for a view, an art piece in an artistic setting. Quarter square triangle blocks, a standard in quilt piecing design, make up this subdued and yet vibrant piece, and I am looking forward to hanging it on the Cozy Chair, when winter rolls in.
This quilt is beautiful, therefore a treasure, and it was a gift, which compounds its value many fold. A beautiful warm and cozy gift from Sandra Snyder, my sister-in-law, who sent it to me at a time of mourning and remembering at the passing of a male elder in the family.
Artist Sandra Snyder has applied her talents in many of her life realms. A wife and mother, a teacher, a potter, a gardener, interior designer and condominium manager, she directs her attention to living environments – to the house, the garden, the church, – and makes her contribution thinking of others, aiming at health and balance and beauty.
Sandra paints, on paper, canvas and on walls themselves, bringing landscape into the living space, and she considers color harmony and uses stenciling to enhance room decoration.
But lately, quilting seems to have caught her artistic imagination, painting and pots put aside for the moment.
A gracious hostess, Sandra maintains a house large enough to welcome guests, and on beds in the guest rooms, Sandra spreads quilts. Many of them are the work of her grandmother, Rosa Smiley.
Quilts hang on display racks in Sandra Snyder’s home, and over backs of chairs, and they hang on the walls in her home studio.
The fiber studio at the Snyder house started as a quilting table in the basement and now is a large room, lined with shelves, tables and display space; well lit and completely full and vibrant with quilt projects in various states. Some are ideas, sketches pinned up or lying at the edge of a table, and some are finished pieces on display.
The room has shelf after shelf of fabric, neatly organized and stored. Some of the cloth has already been assigned a project, some is waiting for Sandra to need a specific color, weight or texture for a new quilt. There are still a few shelves of pottery on display, but fabric rules. And all around the room are stacks and stacks of quilt pieces, some just parts, others completed blocks waiting to be sewn together and quilted.
Sandra laughs. Her enthusiasm for design and fabric keep her way ahead of her completed quilt production, and she shakes her head wondering when she’ll find the time to finish all those quilts.
How many quilts has she finished? That’s an unanswerable question, but the answer would be a very large number. Sandra gives away her many of her finished pieces, and others she moves in and out of shows and the studio, sharing with friends, inspiring further work.
Sandra is a member of the midwest quilting group The River City Quilt Guild, one of hundreds of quilting guilds and circles across the country.
Quilting guilds encourage and inspire members who exchange ideas, participate in challenge projects, and organize venues for showing their art. Often, quilting guild members make and donate quilts to charitable organizations.
Sandra showed me pictures of several quilts that had been made by the Cincinnati River City Quilt Guild for the Ronald McDonald House, a charitable organization serving families with children with medical emergencies.
Another project of the River City Quilt Guild was the river cooperative quilt built with blocks by made by individual members, each block including a blue stream with set edges so that it could connect with other squares to make an interesting and unified piece.
Members also make squares for one another as birthday gifts, and they work on challenge quilts where certain fabrics are given to all participants, often with an indicated theme.
One of the ongoing projects of the River City Quilt Guild is the creation of fabric copies of paintings of regional artist Charley Harper. A West Virginia native born in 1922, Harper was a Cincinnati based artist who worked in a graphic style of whimsical simplicity that is possible to reproduce in fabric.
Quilt making involves the design and execution of a quilt top, often a large fabric of sewn together pieces, sewed to a usually plain colored quilt back, with an insulating layer (often a wool bat) sandwiched between.
Quilts make a warm and interesting covering, and they have a long history worldwide. There are styles of quilting and fads in quilting, and applications of quilts as armor in fighting and as a warming blanket in war and peace around the world.
The United States has enjoyed a vibrant quilting history, mixing traditions brought by European settlers to the American continent where quilts were made of scraps out of frugality, because fabric was scarce. As the commercial mill industry developed, quilt tops were often made out of new fabric, the quilting stitches providing the design, enhanced with applique.
In pre-industrial times, the quilting, stitching together the fabrics of top, filling, and back, was accomplished entirely by hand. Large quilts were fastened to frames for quilting, and a quilting bee was often called, a gathering of many sewers to visit with one another while they sewed around the frame.
In 1840’s America the textile industry had grown big enough that people had wide access to commercial fabric, and by the 1870’s many American families had sewing machines. As machines entered the household, sewing quilts by machine became a common practice.
Quilts seem to call for a social aspect in their construction, and the modern quilting guild meetings, gatherings of people who enjoy and practice quilting, have replaced the quilting bee, the sewing machine having changed the need for hand sewing.
Each quilt tells a story – sometimes with the fabrics, sometimes with the design. The qualities of the work are part of the story – hand sewn? machine sewn? carefully? slapdashed? Between pieced and full fabric quilting are many – innumerable – variations, and each individual quilt is an expression of the quilt maker.