No matter their country of origin, all quilters share certain traits. Without dedication, patience, and attention to detail, an aspiring quilter won’t make it far.
But just as two artists can make vastly different works from the same thread and fabric, separate cultures offer distinct approaches to the art of quilting.
The selection of 33 quilts from the 11th Quilt Japan exhibit now on display at the National Quilt Museum gives viewers a sampling of the world of quilting outside the United States, and offers a glimpse into Japanese culture through the lens of the quilting world.
In the United States, a quilter doesn’t necessarily have to receive a degree in fine arts to become an instructor or master quilter. It takes years of diligent practice, but quilters learn their craft here through social networks of family and friends, National Quilt Museum curator and registrar Judy Schwender said.
It’s a different story in Japan, where becoming a master quilter requires certification in quiltmaking through the Japanese Handicraft Instructors’ Association, or JHIA.
“In Japan, (quilting’s) so much more regulated and structured. The JHIA has set up classes to teach the art of quilting,” Schwender said. “You have to go through their programs to become a teacher.”
Schwender believes that demonstrates an emphasis on structure and discipline that’s a little different from the do-it-yourself attitude in the states. And that same sense of discipline shines through in the quilts.
Schwender noted a patience for repetitive patterns and an attention to detail that gives the Japanese quilts a distinct aesthetic. She added that the fabrics — particularly the vintage silks — as well as the quilts’ colors and patterns are unlike those seen in American quilting.
Contemporary quilting first came to Japan in the 1970s, she said, and was dependent then upon the American model of the craft. But over the past few decades, Japanese quilters have made the art their own.
“The prints and the dyes are completely different from what we would see over here. Starting from the cloth and working out, they have the sensibilities of Japan,” she said.
In addition to the Japanese work represented in the exhibit, artists from eight other countries — including one from the United States — have their quilts on display in this selection from 11th Quilt Japan.
National Quilt Museum CEO Frank Bennett said it’s a testament to the museum’s standing in the quilt world that the popular show has made a stop in Paducah. The museum is one of three in the United States that will be showing the exhibit.
“We’re fortunate we have the significance in the quilting community where they want to come here. Otherwise, they could easily fill their whole schedule with dates in the Asian countries,” he said.
As a non-quilter, he said, this exhibit stands out to him for its use of contrasting colors and highly detailed stitching. He said photographs don’t do justice to the quilts on display, and encouraged members of the public to see the work for themselves.
“I love to get exhibits like this because, while we have appreciation for all quilts all the time, they have a unique thing going on and people should experience that and see them,” he said.
The exhibit will run through Sept. 9. The National Quilt Museum, 215 Jefferson, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission costs $11 for adults, $10 for seniors 60 and older, and $5 for students. Children 12 and younger are free when accompanied by an adult.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641 or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.