I recently read a brief, but interesting essay about the reluctance of artists to commodify their art, specifically in the quilting tradition. A good part of the essay focuses on gift-giving to organizations, for fundraising, to people going through some kind of hardship, etc.. Gifting quilts is as much a part of the quilting culture as needle and thread, but why? Why do we spend so much time and thought and effort on creating something to give away? I mean sure, sometimes we need a reason to make another quilt and god knows we can't claim to need one to go on the bed when we already have two for each season and a few more for whenever the whim hits us, and creating a quilt to give away is a great excuse to play with our fabric. But is that it? Or do we also feel that we are making an important contribution? And what do we expect from the people who receive it? Do we expect them to be thrilled? To recognize and appreciate what we put into it? To treat it lovingly and tenderly? How would you feel if you made a baby quilt for someone and next time you went to their home, the dog was lying on it? Or what if you just never saw them use it, if it just disappeared? (Check out this link to "Ugly Quilts").
Since my return to quilting I have made and given away two things - both to my father. One is a bed quilt based on two quilts his grandmother made, and most recently, a tablecloth (click here for the block pattern on the Quilters' Cache).
Here's one of the two bed quilts upon which mine is based.
I cannot remember a time that we didn't have the two twin sized quilts, but I imagine we inherited them when my grandmother died and I was a teenager. They were simple and not perfect - some of the patches didn't match up. The pieces were stitched together by hand and the blocks were assemble by machine. They were mostly hand-quilted, but the basket handles were machine appliqued - quite a feat for back then no doubt. Unfortunately, we sorely lacked in the appreciation department when it came to these quilts. They hung around the house for years, then when my parents bought some land and built a small stacked-log out-building that we ended up staying in for awhile (not this exact building but the method of construction is the same), we thumb-tacked (yes, thumb-tacked) one of the quilts to a wall as insulation and somehow the other ended up just rotting outside.
I began to notice the quilt. I began looking at the piecing, the hand and machine quilting, and I began to wonder about the maker. Who was she, why did she make them, how long did it take her? The more I wondered, the more I thought about making one myself, in part to connect with her, to have some continuity between my ancestors and myself. So this quilt, now so stained, torn, and battered, was my reason for taking up quilting back then, and it was the inspiration for getting me back into quilting now.
Did my great-grandmother have any inkling of the effect her work would have? She never knew me, she died long before I came along, yet in her making these two simple quilts she gave me a wonderful gift that continues to inspire me and that makes me wonder if any of my quilts will inspire some as-yet unknown descendant of mine, or perhaps a stranger, to take up the craft/art of quilting. As my father points out, you just never know what effect you have on others, and anything you do or make may one day be a gift of great importance to someone. Perhaps you will never know what happens to your gifted quilt, perhaps it will go to the dogs, or to a drawer, or never serve the purpose for which you made it. But maybe, it will serve a greater purpose, one that you can't even imagine.
Keep your foot on the dogs.