12 Quilt Japan exhibit opens at the National Quilt Museum

My Baltimore Album IV, Quilt Japan, Miki Yakita, The National Quilt Museum,
My Baltimore Album IV, by Miki Yakita
Photo courtesy of the National Quilt Museum, Paducah, KY

The 12th Quilt Japan exhibit featuring award winning quilts, opened at the National Quilt Museum last month. The competition sponsored by the Japan Handicraft Instructors Association is open to quilters around the world, but the traveling exhibition features 32 quilts made exclusively by Japanese artists.

The quilts traveling to U.S. Quilt Museums were curated by Pam Weeks, the Binney Family Curator at the New England Quilt Museum.

“She wanted to emphasize the Japan-ness of this contest,” said Judy Schwender, curator at the National Quilt Museum. “I think you get a good sense of what’s going on aesthetically over there.”

One thing Schwender said the Japanese quilt artists featured in the 12th Quilt Japan exhibit do well is know how to embellish without going too far.

“If they can do a border, they will do a fussy-cut border that’s appliqued on, and then it’s embroidered around,” Schwender said. “How do you take this and keep going and going and going, but somehow they know when to stop, and I can’t stress that enough.”

There’s applique, embroidery on the binding, mixing of fabrics and textures. All the quilts feature sophisticated designs that include intricate details that catch the viewer’s interest from afar and then keep giving the eye something to discover as they get closer to see the finer details.

“There’s this one quilt that is really fun, and it has this completely irregular edge,” said Schwender describing one quilt filled with details that keep you interested “From the front side you look at it and you think, ‘Huh.’ And then you go around to the back, and I hung it free not expecting this to happen, and then you go, ‘Oh, there are these big ovals on it.’ Then you go back to the front and go there they are.

“It’s almost like hide and seek with this quilt, and I love it. It really engages people. It grabs the, and a lot of the times I think ‘Did they plan it that way?’ Just the same with Jack Sparrow in ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean.’ Does he plan this, or does he make it up as he goes.”

One reason why the Japaneses quilts have such a different aesthetic from quilts by American quilt artists is the way quilting is taught in Japan. Unlike in the United States where different teachers have different favorite ways of doing things, in Japan quilters learn from quilting schools in a very formal way under strict guidelines.

“It is very structured,” said Schwender. “And if a teacher tells you to do this, then by goodness, you better do that. And of course in the U.S. we don’t do that. We just take it willy-nilly whatever you know.”

The 12th Quilt Japan Exhibition will be at the National Quilt Museum until August 9, 2016. Then it moves onto the following locations.

The Wisconsin Museum of Quilt and Fiber Arts
Cedarburg, Wisconsin
August 18 through November 13, 2016

International Quilt Study Center and Museum
Lincoln, Nebraska
January 10 through March 4, 2017

Want to know more about the 12th Quilt Japan? Click here to listen to Episode 1 of Sit & Sew Radio, a Quilt Addicts Anonymous podcast to hear Judy Schwender, the curator of The National Quilt Museum talk about the quilts in the exhibit.

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