The quilters at Corn Wagon Quilt Company in Springville will be the first to tell you a quilt is not a blanket.
“I also won’t hem your pants or sew a button on,” said Shannon White, manager of the company’s retreat center.
“Asking a quilter to mend is like asking Picasso to paint your garage,” added Marsha Harward, the shop’s owner.
“There’s something really special about being able to hang the quilt on the wall like the works of art that they are, and I think that that’s something really unique that doesn’t happen in a lot of other places,” said Emily Larsen, a museum staff member who has worked on the quilt show for several years.
The juried exhibition is sponsored by the Corn Wagon Quilt Company and the Utah Valley Quilt Guild, which provides volunteers to help with every step of the show from bringing the quilts in to taking them down.
“It’s a really mutually beneficial relationship between us and the quilt guild because they want a really nice venue to show their quilts and show the work that they’ve been doing, and then we love showing the quilts and bringing in this new audience and bringing in people to see the quilts,” Larsen said.
Quilting as an art
One thing Larsen has learned from working on the show is “quilters are so laser focused on technique.”
“To the quilters, technique almost trumps anything else,” Larsen said. “If you have the most beautifully designed quilt, but the corners aren’t even or you can see the pencil marks that they left on the quilt, to the quilters, it takes the quilt down several notches.”
Quilting is unique for its functionality as an art form, according to Larsen.
“Quilts are a really functional object, so almost everyone has a quilt or a blanket of some sort at home,” Larsen said. “I think in that way, it makes quilts really an approachable art medium. I think people come and can really relate.”
Utah County, in particular, is home to many talented quilters. Some say pioneer heritage influences the number of quilters in the area.
“I think that it’s an art handed down from older women to younger women, whether they’re related or not, but just handed down through the years,” said Elise Larsen, Utah Valley Quilt Guild president.
The art form is also a creative outlet for quilters.
“I think there are people who are born with a need to create in some way or another,” said Maureen Tuttle, chair of the quilt show for the Utah Valley Quilt Guild. “There are the people who they just need to get outside and be in nature and biking or running, whatever, but I think people who need to create, it seems to me like it’s an inborn thing, and you just have this need to do something.”
Quilting as an art form is “so diverse,” according to Tuttle.
“You get to choose what you want to do,” Tuttle said. “You choose the colors, you choose the stitching, you choose how you finish the edges, and that’s up to you, and so that’s a very freeing craft to be a part of because you can just be free to create however your heart wants you to create.”
Marianne Michaels, Corn Wagon Quilt Company’s wool expert, said she has recently seen a shift from traditional quilting to “an explosion of modern techniques.”
“I really love that, that it’s not exactly the same,” Michaels said. “We have rotary cutters and we have rulers and we have quick ways of doing things, but it’s still that creative outlet for women, and I think it was the same for the women who were our pioneer ancestors. They were trying to put not only something together that was functional, but they were trying to do something beautiful.”
Passion for the craft
The best thing about quilters is their passion, according to Emily Larsen.
“They care so much,” she said. “They’re so dedicated, and they just love quilting so much, and they’re so proud of their artwork and their art form, which just makes me, as someone who didn’t know anything about quilting before I started working at the museum, just so excited about quilting too.”
Tuttle said she has noticed when she takes a break to do some sewing, she feels “right with the world again.”
“If I am stressed or I’m cranky or I’ve been busy or I’m having a bad day, if I can get down to my sewing machine, or for hand quilters, if I can sit down and do a little bit of stitching, it just kind of lowers my blood pressure,” Tuttle said. “It centers me a little bit more because I think I’ve taken a little bit of time for myself to do a craft that I love.”
Emily Herrick, a designer and long arm quilter at Corn Wagon Quilt Company, said her interest in quilting is driven by the motivation to finish a project.
“It’s so nice to put in that time and effort in each part and gain the joy from the creativity of each part of it, and then to have the finished project that you can be like, ‘Look, I finished something. I made that,’ ” Herrick said.
Many quilters also “want to make something for someone,” according to Herrick.
“A lot of it definitely has to do with the giving and sharing,” Herrick said.
Community of quilters
Jen Tanner, who runs Corn Wagon Quilt Company’s social media, said quilting is “easily as social as it is artful.”
“The women that get together, they want to sew with their friends,” Tanner said. “We’re always bouncing our ideas off of each other and supporting each other and cheering each other on, so it’s very, very social.”
Herrick said women used to sit around a large quilting frame and stitch quilts together.
“I’ve heard stories about little kids (who) would play underneath and stuff like that,” Herrick said. “Now, a lot of times, we get together and we’re working on our own projects, but then … we’ll do block swaps and things like that, where you’re still kind of working together on a common project.”
Elise Larsen said quilting “began as a necessity and as a social event.”
“I think it still is a social event. Maybe with all our warm, heated houses, it’s not such a necessity, but it is a necessity for women to create and make something beautiful,” she said. “Belonging to the guild and meeting new friends is just really rewarding, especially when you can combine it with something you love to do like quilting and sewing.”
Tuttle said quilters “can instantly make friends” and described the Utah Valley Quilt Guild as “a great community of cheerleaders” that has blessed her life “in a huge way.”
“We have lots of new quilters, and we love it,” Tuttle said. “We have show and tell, and everything is cheered for because if it’s the most simple quilt in the world and this is a new quilter and they’re just starting or this is where they’re at, we love it because that’s how we all started.”
Harward said she hopes people attend the Springville show and appreciate the quilts for what they are and what has gone into them.
“I would love people to come and have fun, engage with the quilts, and just marvel at the mastery of this quilting medium because these women and men who make the quilts in this show, they’re just incredible,” Emily Larsen said. “They make incredible works of art, and it’s so impressive to see.”