Joe The Quilter

A couple of weekends ago, our area’s local quilt guild had its annual quilt show. Hundreds of amazing quilts were on display and it was so inpiring to be there amongst them. I enjoyed seeing both traditional work and of course all the quilts that were off the beaten path, so to speak.

For me, the absolute highlight (besides having a booth and meeting lots of fun quilting people) was meeting and chatting with Joe Cunningham, AKA Joe the Quilter. I was aware of Joe in all of my looking at contemporary quilters, but hearing him lecture, and discussing his approach to modern quilting one of one with him is something I’ll always remember.

First, I love a man who enjoys looking at and discussing fabric. He bought yardage of some beauitful traditional Japanese fabric.

I have to tell you about Joe. From the first moment of talking with him, he is so fun to talk with. In our little booth of fabrics, he started pointing out what he liked and why, talked about color, and being interested in solids, how he had just given away lots of fabric, why he loves the particular hand quilting thread that he uses, and all of the things quilters talk about. But, as an added treat for me, we walked over to where his quilts were being shown before the lecture he was giving. He showed me his bold and graphic quilts and we stood in front of this…

He talked about how he had gone from traditional quilts, to modern quilts with prints, and then solids, and now he’s so interested in working in black and white. This quilt is quite breathtaking, and you cannot see unless you are up close, but there is free motion quilting at the tips of some of these little lines. His design work is very organic, and my favorite line from the whole weekend was “I start sewing it together to see how it’s going to look” He talked about hand quilting and how as quilters, we need not fear how long it will take us to do it. He has begun timing himself to see how long it takes to hand quilt a whole quilt. I think he said that it was around 40 hours. Now, certainly that is much longer than if you machine quilted your quilt, but it would be 40 less hours of sitting with a quilt in your lap, perhaps in your hoop, relaxed in a way that we are not when we are sitting at our machines, with our shoulders exhausted. It gave me pause to consider doing much more hand-quilting. There is both charm and a modern sensibility that comes in hand stitching.

I came away inspired to really think about what it is that makes me want to cut up fabric, and sew it back together. What do I want it to look like? What is more important to me? Is it color? Texture? Do I want to convey a message? Do I have to have it all planned out before I start? Can I truly just do what I want, even if I don’t know what it is? To the last question, Joe says yes, but warns, “You can do exactly whatever you want, but it has to come from here.” and he places his hand over his heart.

Joe, it was such a pleasure to meet you, and I hope our paths cross again someday.