The statistical data available for the US is a study carried out by TNS Global Inc, on behalf of the Creative Arts Group in 2010, this indicates that there are 27,000,000 quilters in the US, about 1.2% of the population, spending $3.5 billion on specialist supplies, magazines, courses, quilt cruises etc. Even allowing for massage of the figures, this is a substantial number, if the data were extrapolated for the UK, 1% of the population would be 700,000 approximately, this number though large, is born out by attendances at the several national quilt shows, the hundreds of local quilt shows advertised, and the number of shops, on line retailers, quilt groups, and quilt blogs.
In her book, Quilting; the fabric of everyday life, Marybeth Stalp uses grounded and feminist theory to examine the lives of “average” quilters (according to the study above, average, would be female, aged between 50-70, educated, white and middle-class, with amateur status.) In using the findings of this book to interview women in Bath who quilt, I have discovered that Marybeth Stalp’s findings apply equally in the UK as they resonate with all the women I interviewed including myself.
Quilters belong to a hidden social world, not necessarily visible to outsiders,
Their lives contain conflict and tension as time and space has to be negotiated and balanced against family concerns, they often experience guilt taking time from their families (Lippard 2010) though I would like to point out that unlike many other women, quilters do find the time, space and money to spend on their passion.
These women tend to start quilting once their children have left home, hence their age at commencing to quilt, they join classes, then quilt groups to further their knowledge and skill, and for the mutual support.
They quilt for themselves, for their own enjoyment yet they also use quilts as a means of expressing their care for others, by giving completed quilts to friends and family, as a way of marking special occasions in a personal way, the gift expressing a whole families love for the recipient. And also a way of leaving something for posterity. Many quilters make a significant amount for charity, fundraising quilts for breast cancer and quilts for project Linus.
These women also share similarities in that they collect vast quantities of fabric, more than they could ever use, some also hide their quilting identity “hoarding fabric becomes symbolic of woman’s attempts to carve out time and space for themselves, amidst the multiple demands placed on them by families and paid work” Stalp 2007:25
The time spent on each quilt is of little or no interest to quilters, for most of whom the “process” is the most important part. Spending many hours before cutting a piece contemplating the colours that will be used.
“ I get me a piece of cloth and put it on the bed
and decide in my mind, the way I want that
quilt, when I decide the way I want it , I can
make it. You can do things out your head”
( Creola Pettway The Quilts of Gees Bend 2002:344)
Having said that, the product is also important, but in a different way, generally women want their quilts to be used appropriately and respected and cared for, my neighbour J.B. an experienced quilter, who was part of the group I talked with about Marybeth Stalp’s book explained that she would never give her second daughter another quilt after finding the latest one in the dogs bed! To me this indicates a healthy sense of self worth if the quilt is viewed as an extension of the self.