Bill Volckening - Quilt Blocks

Why Quilts Matter –
Question & Answer with Bill Volckening

Bill Volckening

Bill Volckening

Regular readers of the Why Quilts Matter blog will already be familiar with recurring contributor, Bill Volckening. His background as a student of the Rhode Island School of Design, School of Visual Arts, New York University, and the International Center of Photography all worked together to create the foundation for a Bill’s appreciation of quilts. He humorously refers to himself as a “quilt magnet”!

Bill has been collecting, studying and appraising quilts for more than twenty years. When responding to an earlier Q&A with Kate Spain, Bill expressed a wish for continuing the conversation on how technology has impacted the world of quilts. We wasted no time sitting down with him to discuss that very subject.

To what do you attribute the quilt makers’ embrace of technology over the past twenty years?

Quiltmakers have embraced technology in a lot of ways. Most familiar is the use of technology to create quilts, such as long-arm quilting machines. Beyond making quilts, technology has influenced the whole way information about quilts is communicated. We used to rely on books and classes, now we have web tutorials and blogs. We used to go to antique shops, shows and auctions to buy quilts, but now we can do that online. There is much more information available at our fingertips than ever before. From a collector’s perspective, technology allows me to see many more quilts than before. But with so much information available, it’s always necessary to assess the credibility of the information.

In what ways can extensive use of technology overshadow the creative aspect of quilt design? Should quilts that fall into this category be judged differently from those made by hand?

Extensive use of technology in quiltmaking can sometimes strip the soul away from a quilt, but I think today’s judging categories are fine. These categories vary by show, and are easily adapted to reflect what’s being done. There are even categories to differentiate between hand-guided and machine-guided long-arm quilting. If you go to the shows today, you may see a decline in the number of quilts pieced, appliquรฉd and quilted by hand. In my opinion, having handmade and machine-made quilts in separate categories does not put one above the other. There is just as much artistry and skill involved with the best machine work of today than with handwork. As a collector, I look for artistry and skill, no matter how a quilt was made.

Is there a balance when it comes to technology and quilting? Can you have too much technology in the quilt making process?

The balance is different for every quiltmaker and every quilt, but I do think there can be too much technology in the quiltmaking process, particularly when it comes to perfection. If a quilt is too perfect, it doesn’t look like a human made it. As a collector, there can never be too much technology – the more, the better. Digital photography, Photoshop, print-on-demand self-publishing and the Internet all enhance what I’ve been able to do as a collector.

How do you think digital technology will impact quilting in the future?

I feel like the future is now, and we’re paving the way. Quiltmakers are constantly coming up with new ideas and methods, and the industry is responding with new technology. We’re just beginning to see what creative, media-savvy people can do. As a collector, doing everything in house is a huge advantage. Over the last few years, I’ve done approximately $50,000 worth of photography work in house, just on my own collection. If I had to pay someone else to do it, it would never be done. Same thing with exhibition catalogues. If I had to go through a publisher, it would never be done. In that regard, digital technology allows me to work independently and be in control of the quality. You could say the same thing for today’s most talented and prolific quiltmakers.

What is next for you?

I’ve had a lot of great opportunities lately, and all of them fell into my lap in response to my activities on the internet- blogging, social media, etc. My exhibit at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles will be on display from July 31st to October 27, 2013. I’ll be working on some articles and a book with Quiltmania, to be followed by an exhibition in 2015 in France. None of these things would be happening without digital technology and the Internet.

Quilt from the Bill Volckening New York Beauty Quilt Collection

Quilt from the Bill Volckening New York Beauty Quilt Collection

More About Bill

Lulu the Cat - Bill's mischievous companion

Lulu the Cat – Bill’s mischievous companion in writing and quilting

Bill is a member of the American Quilt Study Group (AQSG), Alliance for American Quilts, Columbia-Willamette Quilt Study Group (CWQSG), International Quilt Study Center Museum (IQSCM), Northwest Quilters, Portland Modern Quilt Guild, and is a Lifetime Member of the Latimer Quilt & Textile Center. Examples from The Volckening Collection have been exhibited from New York to Tokyo, and appeared in various publications worldwide.

For more on Bill, visit his Willy Wonky Quilts blog, follow him on Twitter, and gaze at the stunningly beautiful quilts in The Volckening Collection. For a copy of the Collecting New York Beauty Quilts exhibition catalog, or for other books by Bill, visit the Bill Volckening Bookstore.

Photos by Bill Volckening