Stitched and Bound: Back to the Razor's Edge

Members of The West Australian Quilters’ Association Inc.

5 July to 10 August 2014

‘Stitched and Bound 2014: Back to The Razor’s Edge’ is the tenth in an ongoing series of contemporary quilt exhibitions, presented by The West Australian Quilters’ Association Inc. (WAQA). This makes it timely to review the changes and development in contemporary quilt making over the past 20 years.


In 1976 when WAQA was established, early influences were mainly from British and American quilting, but progressively a number of pioneering sprits wanted to see more Australian content in quilt making, and started using their own designs. Initially quilts were made by hand with whatever materials were available, making each unique. In the 1980’s visiting contemporary tutors from overseas encouraged quilt makers to develop their own ways of working. With WAQA holding biennial general exhibitions of members’ quilts in Perth by the mid 1990’s, a decision was made to hold biennial exhibitions of contemporary quilts in art galleries.

Summary of past exhibitions

From the first contemporary exhibition, ‘The Razor’s Edge’, in 1995, the two main aims have been to increase the appreciation of contemporary quilts as an art form[1], and to encourage people to explore the potential of quilt making as a medium for original creative expression.

To reach a wide audience, the exhibitions have been shown at New Collectables Gallery, East Fremantle (1995); Artshouse, Northbridge (1997); CRAFTWEST Gallery, Perth (1999); Mundaring Arts Centre, Mundaring (2001, 2008); Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle (2003, 2006); Heathcote Museum and Gallery, Applecross (2010, 2012, 2014). With a name change to ‘stitched and bound’ in 1999, a tour of Western Australia (WA) was coordinated by ART ON THE MOVE, showing at 10 regional venues.

For each exhibition, a panel of three independent jurors selected works from entries received. Over the 10 exhibitions, the 30 jurors have been drawn from curators, gallery directors, quilt makers, artists, designers and educators, giving each exhibition its own distinct cohesive collection of works.

The colour catalogue produced for each exhibition, with full-page images of each quilt, has provided a record of growth and diversity in the contemporary quilt field in WA. Attracting individuals who do not usually work in the medium of quilts, has seen ideas and concepts represented in the quilts, that have been as varied as the quilt makers.

Personal philosophy, political statements, humour, history, memory, experience of the natural world, and exploring pattern and the materiality of cloth have all been the basis for quilts in the exhibitions. Customising fabric for individual requirements has covered a wide range of surface design techniques, such as dyeing, printing, painting, as well as using knitting, crochet, and felt making. Quilts have been made using materials such as natural and synthetic fabric, paper, flywire, plastic, and sometimes embellished with found objects.

Changes influencing the evolution of quilt making

Undoubtedly, digital technology has had the greatest influence in recent years. Digital communication through web sites, internet discussion groups, networks and blog sites allows instant global transmission of images, techniques and information. Digital cameras facilitate the incorporation of photographic imagery in quilts, while computer software provides tools for manipulating images, or creating designs for representing on cloth.

With the proliferation of books and magazines devoted to quilt making, and textiles in general, a larger audience has been reached. Greater educational opportunities exist through courses, conferences and workshops. The decrease in relative cost of air travel makes interstate and overseas venues more accessible for WA residents, and also more cost effective to bring tutors to WA. There is the availability of online workshops, self-publication of books by artists and teachers, and newer electronic sewing machines and quilting machines, to aid workmanship.

Fabrics may be sourced globally from online suppliers. With the worldwide quilting industry producing new ranges of fabrics at regular intervals, even traditional quilting designs look contemporary when interpreted with modern fabrics, blurring the perceived division between traditional and contemporary quilts. Working women have less time for quilt making, and have embraced modern technology for a more efficient way of networking and producing quilts.

Within WAQA, the Contemporary Quilt subgroup was formed in 2001 to cater for people interested in a less traditional quilt format. More touring exhibitions are brought to WA annually. Nationally and internationally, more contemporary quilt exhibitions and competitions are providing opportunities for quilt makers, with online catalogue images readily available to WA viewers.

The future

Over the past 20 years all of these influences have contributed to the quilt scene. For the quilts in the WAQA contemporary exhibitions, whether the desire of the quilt-maker is to express a personal viewpoint, or to explore the materiality of the cloth, each comes across as a creative expression of the individual maker.

As with any skill, the more it is practised, the more it will improve. But mastering technique and design is only the beginning. It is not until quilt-makers have applied themselves to their craft and mastered the medium, by exploring its possibilities, that they will develop their own distinctive style of creative expression.  This will be as unique as their handwriting or personality, and will continue to evolve throughout their lifetimes.

Why does a person make a contemporary quilt? Is it a conscious decision? Does it arise out of an interest to stretch oneself to try something new or even overcome the challenge of creating an original quilt for an exhibition? That there are so many different approaches to quilt making attests to contemporary thinking and consequently new ways of creating quilts. It doesn't matter how one becomes a contemporary quilter, the on-going stimulation experienced through creating original work augers well for the future prospects for contemporary quilting.

In the 2014 exhibition, the exciting work of new faces and past participants continues to challenge the accepted quilt format, with some three-dimensional pieces. Materials and techniques not normally associated with quilt making are featured, together with expressive hand stitching.

Congratulations to The West Australian Quilters’ Association for its continuing commitment to encouraging the creative development of contemporary quilt making through this ongoing series of biennial exhibitions.

Cherry Johnston

[1] WAQA, The Razor’s Edge, catalogue, 1995