The quilts that grace the pages of Quilter’s Home’s March/April edition are probably not what your grandmother would have made. Their contemporary subject-matter and the direct approach of the quilting artists caused a stir with Jo-Ann Fabrics who refused to carry copies of this particular issue. It seems, however, that the magazine itself was instrumental in creating the stir: “Shocking Quilts: We Show You the Controversial Patchwork” scrolls across the issue’s cover, which is covered in plastic-wrap reminiscent of Hustler. We often hear about controversy over nude photography, political paintings or graphic sculptures, but quilts? Apparently today’s quilt artists are a new and boundary-pushing generation – rather than flower patterns we have fabric penises swimming in a sea of Viagra, a piece called Who Would Jesus Bomb?, and a newborn peering out from his mother’s vagina. Except, quilts have historically been a medium for social and political expression; for example, the Drunkard’s Path quilt from the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, quilts made in support of women’s suffrage, and even bright and flowery patterns illustrate the work and life of women, both slaves and housekeepers, on farms.
“Who would want to cuddle under such a thing?” says a letter protesting Gwen Magee’s When Hope Unborn Had Died where “a couple has bought a hog and toddler at auction. Its mother, screaming in anguish, runs desperately out of the fields.” According to Magee the contrast between her soft fabrics and her harsh social messages is exactly what makes her work effective. This isn’t really the kind of quilt you cuddle under – it is quilting as an art form. And like all art forms, they can serve multifarious purposes: to entertain or provoke and everything in between. Quilts are an inextricable part of many different heritages; they often contain messages of various kinds and comment on cultural issues. Many quilters tell family stories through their patchwork, which may include both the pleasant and disturbing, or even unusual, parts of their histories.
Just as John Cage shocked the symphony audience, Dadaists disrupted “Theatuh”, and spoken-word poetry subverted traditional verse, artists will, and should, be pushing the art forms. It’s too bad Quilter’s Home labeled these works “shocking” and wrapped up as smut what most would consider usual fare for an art magazine thus inviting distribution chains to think twice before carrying the magazine.