definition of a quilt

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Ronni4 wrote
on 4 Aug 2009 12:53 PM

I was just reading the entry requirements for the 2011 Quilting Arts Calender contest and it got me to wondering..... how exactly is a quilt defined?  For example, does a quilt require fabric to be called a quilt?  Does it require some kind of  "sandwich"?  Stitching?  What would make a mixed media quilt a quilt as opposed to some other kind of wall hanging?  Does anyone else have any thoughts on this subject?


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on 5 Aug 2009 7:42 AM

Being a non quilter I've always wondered this too.  Particularly when an official bod answered my query with "the usual two layers" - errrrrrm I thought "the usual" was THREE layers.  Then someone went to a show and came back and told me there was a piece made up of broken china, but because it had the china, then a transfer print, then additional painting, it was classed as 3 layers.  I just became mega confused.

I make pieces which have multiple layers, ie lots hidden in the middle of the sandwich, its all held together, but not every stitch goes through every layer, and its not decorative stitching in the same way as quilting.

The only definition I know for sure is that between a hanging and a panel, I had to make one of each for City & Guilds P1 Embroidery studies, and how I've always thought of it.  A Hanging is soft, and a Panel is hard, ie the latter is mounted in a frame, artist canvas, similar, its rigid on final presentation.


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on 5 Aug 2009 11:04 AM


“The definition of a quilt is constantly expanding,” says Sarah Henrich, the museum’s former executive director. “The only real requirement is that it must have three layers of material.”

(Museum of the American Quilter’s Society (MAQS) in Paducah, Ky.)



This is probably still true as far as the 'quilting' community is concerned, but I think the expanding part has gone on in a geometric progression since 2003.  My husband balk entirely at some metal quilts that we saw in a gallery, although they were layered and had stitching.  I think it depends on the situation, the beholder and the artist. 

And, with art quilts, have we abandoned the synonymous relationship between bed cover and quilt? 





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pandabolt wrote
on 5 Aug 2009 6:34 PM

I'm no authority, but for me, it has to be three layers: a top, a filler, and a back;  and it has to be fabric based.  Other, non-traditional layers can be added, but it has to start with the "traditional" understanding of what defines a quilt.  In my mind, quilts are not just bed coverings anymore, but as long as it is fabric-based and has those three layers joined together with stitching of some kind, then  it is a quilt.

The truth is, that as we push the envelope of our inclusion of non-traditional materials, then the definition will probably be in flux. 

Regarding Ms Henrich's definition, when she says "material" does she include all materials? i.e. metals, paper, fabrics, found objects?  In my definition, fabric is one of many materials one may use.  If, however, by material she really means fabric, then that changes what she was trying to say.  Just a carryover from the days when fabric was called material, I guess.  But really, fabric is just one of the many materials that can be used.

Don't you just love our language.  "Fabric" can also be confusing, because we are all aware of the "fabric" that is layered under pavement!   So is fabric anything that is woven? It just gets more confusing, doesn't it?

So there you go. LOL!

Peggy Holt

Missoula, Montana


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Ronni4 wrote
on 6 Aug 2009 6:20 AM

Thanks to everyone who chimed in on this question.  It seems to me like something could be called a quilt if it has at least three layers stitched together, but even that could be questioned.  After all, wouldn't something be considered quilted if there was one layer of fabric stitched to a felt base, for a total of only two layers?  LOL.  Also, hasn't Quilting Arts magazine done articles about quilts that were all paper?  This question is of interest to me because I am doing mixed media work with fabric and paper and I've wondered what to call it.  So far I'm working on a fabric and felt base and stitching and gluing paper and embellishments to it.  Quilts have certainly deviated far from the traditional bed covering.  This question of defining a quilt fits in well with the ever changing definitions of "art" and "craft".  As an artist I suppose you have to decide if you art fits in to a particular venue or not, and if that venue suits the way you want to represent yourself and your art.  I appreciate everyones thoughts about this.


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