Swine Flu Garden - by Carol Ann Waugh

Why Quilts Matter –
Question & Answer with Carol Ann Waugh

Carol Ann Waugh

Carol Ann Waugh

Some of the more popular and contentious questions from the Why Quilts Matter Discussion Guide have to do with the use of digital technology and machine quilting. Should those quilts be judged separately or differently in competitions? Have the new technologies helped or harmed the craft? Who better to give us a long-range look at the impact of technology on quilting than thirty-year fiber artist, published author, teacher and lecturer Carol Ann Waugh. Carol uses a wide variety of techniques in her work and shares her views on the subject.

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? Why, or why not?

I think technology can expand the creativity of quilt design. When I started designing my own quilts in the 1970’s, I resorted to using graph paper and colored pencils. It took a long time and I quickly lost interest. With today’s software programs you can see thousands of different designs and color ways in a few hours rather than months. To me, creativity comes from making lots of art – some good and some not so good – but the very quantity can lead to innovation and finding new ways of doing things. It’s hard today to create something that has never been created before but I think the application of technology can lead to breaking barriers and getting us to think in new and different ways.

Tribal Dance - by Carol Ann Waugh

Tribal Dance – by Carol Ann Waugh

I love the application of the artist’s hand. To me, that means hand embroidery. While that might be designed by machine, it is stitched by hand. I think it adds that uniqueness to my art that a machine will never duplicate.

When thinking about the computer generated long-arm methods of “stitching” a quilt, I would agree that these quilts should be looked at differently than those quilts that are stitched by the artist actually moving the quilt under the machine or long-arm quilters who are creating their own designs without a computer’s help. In my opinion, it is the artist’s hand and eye that is the important part of creation.

As to “judging”, I’m of the opinion that the only judge is the viewer!

When it comes to quilts in the art world, they carry domestic historical baggage. What do you think this statement suggests?

Personally, my view on this subject is that American quilts started out as a household utility — making blankets out of old clothing — to use on a bed to keep people warm at night. Because I believe women are naturally creative and wanted something “pretty” rather than totally “useful”, they started making specific and recognizable designs for these blankets so quilts fell into the decorative arts category. And then, because the male-dominated art world didn’t value women as legitimate artists, their handiwork became categorized as “craft.”

Six Degrees of Separation - by Carol Ann Waugh

Six Degrees of Separation – by Carol Ann Waugh

I also think that even today, traditional quilts focus on perfecting techniques rather than creating contemporary design and composition. The “fiber art” community has been pushing the boundaries of design and materials but this media is very “young” in the art quilting world and has only been around for the last 30 years or so. We have a long way to go to raise the image of quilts as “art.”

Circular Thinking - by Carol Ann Waugh

Circular Thinking – by Carol Ann Waugh

Celebrate Diversity - by Carol Ann Waugh

Celebrate Diversity – by Carol Ann Waugh

What is next for you?

I  have just opened a contemporary art gallery, called aBuzz Gallery , located in the new River North Art District  (RiNo) in Denver, Colorado. I am continuing to teach my methods in my Stitch and Slash class on Craftsy and love having more than 20,000 students from every country in the world – at least those with an Internet access! I travel at least once a month to teach in person and lecture to quilt guilds, and I am continuing to create commission work for hospitals and hotels. Making sure fiber art is part of major corporate collections is an important goal for me!

More About Carol

Self Portrait - by Carol Ann Waugh

Self Portrait – by Carol Ann Waugh

Carol’s book, Stupendous Stitching, is currently in its third printing. Her next book on hand embroidery is scheduled for publication in 2014. Read Carol’s blog, sign up for her newsletter and see more of her work at Carol Ann Waugh Fiber Artist.





Top image: “Swine Flu Garden,” by Carol Ann Waugh.

Photo courtesy of Carol Ann Waugh.



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