Art-quilt trends at Quilt National ’13

By Martha Sielman, reprinted from the SAQA Journal Summer 2013

Fugitive Pieces 11, Elin Noble

Fugitive Pieces 11, Elin Noble

The combination of Quilt National ’13 and the SAQA Symposium, Making Connections, was  a wonderful weekend. Those attending were energized by two days to focus on art quilts, see the exhibition and network with other SAQA members. Prices of the 86 pieces in the exhibition ranged from $900 to $20,800, with an average price of slightly more than $5,000. Twelve pieces sold or were placed on purchase option by the end of the weekend. Most of the Quilt National ’13 exhibitors (81 percent) are SAQA members – a strong showing!
As I viewed the exhibition, I was struck by several trends. In 2011, I wrote an article for Quilt Trends magazine titled “Top 10 Trends in Art Quilts,” so I was interested to see how the trends I identified then held up when compared to this year’s Quilt National works. My top 10 trends were:
1. Longarm-machine quilting
This trend is hard to judge by looking at pieces unless artists identify it in their techniques. Two of the Quilt National ’13 artists, Cynthia Corbin and Elin Noble, did this, and increasing numbers of SAQA members note whether they’ve done their quilting
on a longarm or a domestic machine. It seems every time I’m with a group of art quilters, someone has either just purchased or is about to purchase a longarm machine, so this is clearly a growing trend.
2. Resurgence of hand stitching
While a majority of the Quilt National ’13 pieces were stitched by machine, almost 20 percent were quilted by hand. Art quilters are increasingly using visible hand stitches to create “mark-making” as a design element.
3. Dense machine embroidery/thread painting
This was not a strong trend at Quilt National ’13, though it remains strong in the art-quilt  world generally. A new trend that was visible at Quilt National ’13 was the use of machine-
stitched line as the primary or even sole design element. Artists are using the sewing machine as a drawing tool. Paula Kovarik’s Round and Round It Goes is an example of this.
4. More neutral palettes
At least 35 percent of the pieces in Quilt National ’13 were created in grays, black and white, or rusts and browns, and many of the colored pieces were made in muted tones.
This is a major change from the days of saturated, jewel-toned art. 5. Sheer fabrics
Many artists are using tulle and other sheer fabrics to create subtle color shifts in their work. Dianne Firth’s Storm is designed so the light passing through her sheer fabric creates
a secondary version of her design in shadows on the wall. The Dairy Barn installation crew did a fantastic job of positioning and lighting this piece. The shadow version on a wall about a foot behind the fabric version was crisp, clear and a wonderful blue color.
6. Recycled materials

Storm, Dianne Firth McCarthy Memorial Award

Storm, Dianne Firth
McCarthy Memorial Award

As we become more aware of the challenges faced by our environment, artists are  increasingly investigating the use of recycled fabrics and found materials in their art. Arlé
Sklar-Weinstein’s CREAM Award-winning piece, Truth or Consequences, is created completely from found objects — “Danger” tape, gum wrappers and other debris she collected on walks near her home.
7. Wholecloth quilts
When I show my books about art quilts to people not involved in the field, they flip through them and say, “These look like paintings.” And many of the art quilts pictured are
paintings. They just happen to be quilted and not necessarily stretched or framed. This is an ongoing trend that is alive and well.
8. Photo transfer
Photo transfer was used in more than 20 percent of the Quilt National ’13 pieces. Some artists are making photo transfers on their home printers; others are using commercial firms. When the artists spoke about their pieces, many mentioned using Spoonflower,
an online digital printing company that specializes in small-run printing on fabrics and paper. This led to a discussion at the SAQA Symposium about the appropriateness of men-
tioning brand or company names  as opposed to generic descriptions. SAQA is moving toward not listing brand and company names in its catalogs because the type of process is
more important than the name of the brand or company.
9. Embellishment
There seems to be a trend away from heavy embellishment. Brooke Atherton’s SpringField, which was awarded best of show, is one of the few pieces in Quilt National ’13
that includes embellishments. Her embellishments are fascinating—pottery shards decorated with printed text, paper maps, aluminum, glass and found objects — all of which  add to the sense of looking at an archaeological dig that unearthed memories of her youth.
10. Three-dimensionality
There were fewer 3-D pieces at this year’s Quilt National compared to previous years.  nevertheless, I believe three-dimensionality is a growing trend because so many SAQA  members are asking SAQA’s Exhibition Committee to find ways to accommodate 3-D work in traveling exhibitions. The new shipping guidelines and the creation of the Radical
Elements exhibition are first steps in SAQA becoming more open to work that comes off the wall.
Bonus Trend 11: Text
A new trend is the prevalence of text as a design element; 22 percent of Quilt National ’13
artists used text in their pieces. Some of the text is  designed to be read. It’s funny or poignant or political, and the meaning is an integral part of the art. Some text is illegible because it represents struggles to communicate. Some is used more for the beauty of the
typographical forms. SAQA’s new Text Messages exhibition is part of this growing trend.
As you look at art quilts online, in exhibitions and in the SAQA Journal , look for trends and see if you agree with me. People who have heard me lecture on the top 10 trends have told
me that knowing the trends changes how they view art quilts. If you spot other emerging trends, please be sure to let me know.

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