photo of Baltimore Squared quilt detail

The Delight is in the Details

Leslie Van Patter
Autumn 2018

One of the many things you really must do at least once (if not every year) is go see the quilts in the National Juried Show (NJS) at Quilt Canada. What struck me most, the first time I went, is how much is missed if you only see the quilts in a catalogue. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but when it comes to Canada’s best quilting artworks, that number is woefully inadequate.

I signed up for the NJS tour and met my group at the appointed time. Our guide highlighted several remarkable works and focused on the attributes judges look for when reviewing submissions. These include expected things like the originality of the design, but also take in details, such as even stitches, straight binding, tidy reverse sides, etc. As the group moved from quilt to quilt, I lagged behind to take a closer look. I follow the same routine in art galleries: give each painting a cursory glance; walk right up to it to examine brush strokes, textures and clever tricks of the trade; read any descriptive text or artist notes provided; then, stand back for a moment to take in the whole piece. Knowing what kinds of details went into inspiring and creating the overall impression is a vital part of the experience for me.

Later, I toured the NJS show with Marcy Horswill, editor of Canadian Quilter, who answered my single question, repeated over and over, “How did they do that?” Marcy explained several techniques that help quilters do amazing things, such as using fibres and raw-edge appliqué to make tree bark look like tree bark, or combining hand-dyed fabric with embroidery to “paint” a picture. Even modern quilts, which are often admired for their bold simplicity, reveal hidden depths upon close examination; they remind me of the inventive patterns created by whole cloth quilters.

When I got home, I realized that of all the pictures I took, only one showed an entire quilt. All the others photos were close-ups of the details, which clearly mesmerized me. Careful workmanship, innovative techniques and unique combinations of colours, fibres and textiles – these things tell the story of the quilt and give us insight into the personality of the quilter. The detail photographs shared here are all from quilts you can find in the 2018 NJS catalogue, which is inserted in this autumn issue of Canadian Quilter. Honestly, if I had my way, the NJS catalogue would include large, close-up images of every quilt. But, nobody wants a 400-page coffee table book for a catalogue – or do they?

Instead, it would save more trees if you attended the NJS (or any other exhibit of exceptional quilting art). That way you could take a magnifying glass to every quilt: examine the tiny stitches, the subtle thread play, the ingenious inventions, the perfect little embellishments – then stand back, take in the whole quilt, and marvel at how it all works together. Here are a few details that caught my eye:

photo of Aleppo Pine quilt detail

Art | Landscapes, Still Life | Wall Quilts
Aleppo Pine by Susan Clark
Speaking of making tree bark look like tree bark, there are three wonderful examples in this category (the others are Mossy Knots and Grand Fir, also by Susan Clark). Aleppo Pine is remarkable for its hand embroidery, which creates amazing textures and contrasts to build a surprisingly realistic depiction.

photo of Beachboy quilt detail by Alice Swan

Art | Portrait | Wall Quilts
Beachboy by Alice Swan
One of the many things I love about this quilt is the ingenious use of tulle and cheesecloth to create the textures for water, foam and sand. Cheesecloth can be found in several of the 2018 NJS quilts.

photo of Streamside Stillness quilt detail by Karen Johnson

Art | Abstract | Wall Quilts
Streamside Stillness by Karen Johnson
Another inventive use of cheesecloth, hand-dyed and used to frame the rectangular images. I also love the use of different thread colours and thread types for the quilting.

photo of Pineapple Rings quilt detail

Pineapple Rings by Thelma Robbins
This quilt may not seem like a difficult pattern upon first glance, but keep in mind it is 15 inches tall, which means each of the pineapple blocks is only about 2.5″ in diameter! That makes this detail image more than twice the actual size. By my count, there over well over 100 pieces of fabric in each block!

photo of Baltimore Squared quilt detail

Quilts from Patterns, Books, Workshops | Wall and Bed Quilts
Baltimore Squared by Kerry Burke
Hand appliqué – I’m intrigued by the technique because I’ll never be able to do it, at least not appliqué by hand. While I am personally attracted to more abstract and modern designs, I have so much admiration for quilters who create these incredibly lovely pieces using appliqué.

photo of Pop Stars quilt detail

Traditional | Wall and Bed Quilts
La Porte d’un Jardin de Colibri by Elizabeth Janzen
This quilt won the Award of Excellence for a First-time Exhibitor in the NJS. It is hand embroidered and appliquéd using a technique called Boutis and then machine quilted. It is a good example of a beautifully-quilted piece that cannot be done justice by a small photograph.

Modern | Wall and Bed Quilts
Pop Stars by Krista Hennebury
A perfect example of how intricate a modern quilt is once you get up close. A simple, yet powerful image that induces delight once you get a close look at the amazing variety of quilting patterns used in this longarm piece.

Quilt Canada July 19-22, 2023

Quilt Canada July 19-22, 2023

Quilt Canada July 19-22, 2023 in Edmonton, Alberta