At quilt shows it’s the big quilts that get all the attention and often times for a good reason. A large quilt can take years of painstaking work and they are visible from a great distance; one walks into the show, spots a breathtaking quilt across the room and makes a beeline to look at it up close. Many viewers will marvel at the quilt and think – “I would NEVER be able to do this” and so we are impressed by the big splashy work. But what about the small gems? They can be every bit as gorgeous but are often overlooked because of their small size.
The Journal Quilt Project – A Page from My Book, was started in 2002 by Karey Patterson Bresenhan as a challenge to quilters to make small quilts measuring 8″ x 10″ on a weekly/monthly basis as a chronicle of their lives – their hopes, dreams and fears, a sort of visual diary. These quilts were displayed in a group showing at the Houston International Quilt Show.
I was a latecomer to the project, it was already in full bloom by then and I was never much one for delving into online challenges with routine obligations, too structured for my life, but I did see some practical applications for the process. Most artists need to make some kind of thumbnail sketches before tackling a mural and so this became my approach to Journal Quilting. In some cases, I used the small scale quilts to express myself: my frustrations at all the climbers who perished on Mt. Hood leaving grieving families who will carry that grief every time they spend a holiday without their loved one. A few of my Journal quilts are dedicated to my childhood ‘sanctuaries’ where I spent time daydreaming or licking my wounds when my sister was mean to me, and one series was born of a project suggested by one of my students who wanted to exchange brown paper lunch sacks with all sorts of bits and pieces – fabrics, embellishments, fancy threads… and we each had to make a small quilt that included everything in the bag. I got the bag with the penguin fabric and lots of bits of broken jewelry. Now what can you do with a penguin and bits of jewelry? Why – a penguin out on an ice field ‘all dressed up and nowhere to go’ – that’s what. But I had penguins left over and so began my goal of making a series of quilts featuring penguins in unexpected situations; penguins in Alice’s Wonderland or tasting their first beak-full of salsa… But mostly, I use this format to test out new techniques in a small, realistic and less expensive form.
Years ago, I wanted to try out a needle-lace technique on my sewing machine. I drew up a design, sacrificed a last piece of out-of-print fabric, layered it with a water soluble stabilizer and bought two spools of variegated embroidery thread (to the tune of $12 each). Shortly into the project, I discovered I should have used two layers of stabilizer and ‘hooped’ the work but it was too late to take what I’d done out. Then as luck would have it, I finished off the first spool of thread which yielded only about a 7″ x 7″ area of stitching; the whole project was destined to be about 18″ x 36″. Let’s see… a 7″ square at $12 per spool – well, you do the math. I wasn’t about to spend another $150 for thread for a project I wasn’t even pleased with. How I wish I had made a small sample instead just to test out the technique and perfect the process before taking on a larger project or decide it wasn’t my cup of tea.
I started my Journal Quilt classes in the Portland (Oregon) area about six years ago and have several small groups that come monthly to learn a new technique and try it out on that same small sized format. Some create miniature masterpieces or apply the methods to larger works and some just come to learn something new. For me, this also serves as a testing ground to work out the logistics of offering a specific project as a standalone class, how long the class show be realistically and whether it should be a technique or design class. You can see more about my classes and quilts on my ‘classes and lectures’ and ‘class schedule’ pages
Over the years, I have amassed quite a collection of these small wonders and I am scheduled to give two trunk shows this coming week at Northwest Quilters annual quilt show at the Expo Center in Portland Oregon. One trunk show is on Friday May 11th and the second is on Saturday May 12th. Both trunk shows start at 11 am. The presentation will be free with paid entry to the quilt show. Learn more at https://www.northwestquilters.org/shows/2018/2018.php