By: Kristin Miller
The distinctive quilts made cooperatively by a group of women living on an island in coastal British Columbia offer a fresh perspective on the development of the art form. An inventive, resourceful, and non-dogmatic approach to quiltmaking reflects the demand, of the quilters’ rugged lifestyle and the qualities valued in their close-knit communities. In fourteen years, they’ve made twenty-eight quilts together, with little input from conventional quilting sources. Their elegantly eccentric quilts feature three-dimensional embellishments, non-conventional fabric sources, spontaneous free-form quilting, and embroidery stitched through all three layers of the quilt. Medallion quilts are passed from one woman to another, with each person adding a border concentrically, and block friendship quilts are not pre-planned.
The author surveyed the quilters to pinpoint how they learned to quilt, the influences that affected them, their sources of inspiration, and their methods of working together. Quilters and non-quilters on the island were questioned to elicit qualities and traits common to the island women which might also be related to regional isolation and to quiltmaking. The author combined the results of the surveys with her own knowledge from eleven years of participation in the quilting circle. This paper describes the quilters and their maritime environment; and discusses techniques, work standards, fabric choice, quilting methods, and three-dimensional embellishment. Lifestyle, isolation, and the lack of outside influences are related to the emergence of a regional style, and common island traits (cooperation, independence, resourcefulness, and frugality) are linked to the quiltmaking process. Quotations from the quilters help answer the question: Why do women make quilts together?