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The Patchwork Planet: Quilting in France
On the World Wide Web, French quilters seem to be busting out all over. Several major new websites for French quilters have made debuts in the last several months, drawing our attention to the increasing importance of France in the international quilting community.
While the French quilting presence on the web is a relatively new phenomenon, quilting itself is quite well-established in France, and has its own traditions. The Quilt Expo in Lyon has become a quilting event of international importance (with large crowds to match!) and there is a growing number of other major shows and quilting publications sprouting up to serve the French quilter.
In preparing this profile, TVQ interviewed three French quilters, Cecile Yadro, who runs the prize-winning website Quilted Creations (http://www.quiltcreations.com), Odile Berget, webmistress of the site sponsored by the French National Guild (http://www.francepatchwork.com/, and Simone Struss, quilter, teacher, and creator of a delightful personal quilting website called "l'Atelier Patchwork de Simone" (http://www.sdv.fr/pages/struss/). While these three quilters agree on many things, they also display the diversity of point of view typical of a vibrant quilting community.
As in many places, the exact origins of French quilting are not fully known. Odile Berget points out that some fragments of patchwork from the 19th century exist in France, mostly in the form of "bedspreads with grandmother's flower garden blocks." Simone Struss points out that the Amish people originally came from France, and "since their art (the Amish quilt) has been recognized, every French quilter is claiming: at the beginning, quilting was French!!!"
Whatever its historical heritage, French quilting experienced a renaissance in the early 1970s: "The French people really discovered traditional American quilting in 1972," says Odile Berget, "with an important exhibition of Jonathan Holstein at the 'Musee des arts decoratifs' in Paris. For the first time, quilting was shown as a work of art."
In spite of being recognized as an art form, French quilting at the grass roots remains largely traditional. "Of course, there are some contemporary artists, but not many," says Cecile Yadro. "In guilds, lots of people are still using templates, and drawing the pieces to be cut, and cutting with scissors, and sewing by hand. Nothing against this, of course, but at the same time, they think that if it is not hand-made, then it is not real quilting! This drives me crazy. Happily, it seems now that quilters are getting younger and younger, and some want to use contemporary tools, like rulers, rotary cutters, and sewing machines. I heard two ladies looking at one of my quilts from far away: 'how gorgeous, what a delight...', and then going closer: 'but look, it's machine sewing! what a pity....' Just to give you an idea. . . ."
Simone Struss also points out the tendency of most quilters to copy the designs of others: "They are just copying the American style. In comparison with the Japanese who also copy the American style but bring their personal touch. We have two categories of quilters in France -- those who make traditional American quilts and those who are making 'Provencal' quilts. But if you look closely, you will see they are just doing American quilts and patches with Provencal fabric."
If traditional quilting has a strong hold in France, it's also true that contemporary quilting has a healthy presence. "Every exhibition lets us discover contemporary works and artists," Odile Berget says. Indeed, the magazine "Les Nouvelles de Patchwork," sponsored by the National Quilt Guild l'Association Francais du Patchwork, features the work of such art quilters as Anne-Marie Ollivier and Paulette Maisonnier among its many very interesting features. The Lyon Quilt Expo is known world-wide as a venue for the exhibition of creative quilting from all over Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
l'Association Francais du Patchwork is the larger of two national guilds, with some 15,000 members. Founded in 1984 to promote quilting in France, the organization is entirely voluntary, with 92 representatives from all regions of the country. It sponsors the quarterly full-color magazine as well as many local and national quilting gatherings.
In addition to the association's high quality magazine, there are three other quilting magazines published in France. The other national guild, Adepat, publishes a guild magazine, and out of Lyon a commercial endeavor, "Quiltmania!" has now published four issues. "Quiltmania!," in the words of Cecile, has "lots of patterns, but mainly copies of American articles." "Magic Patch," a magazine aimed mainly at beginners, bases each issue around a theme and features only patterns.
If the French feel a lack in their quilting publications, it's in the area of quilting books. "The trouble is not much about fabric, because you can buy cotton almost everywhere, but more for tools, patterns, and BOOKS!" Cecile says. "We have the problem of English books. As quilters are mainly old ladies (about 60) they don't speak English, and want French books. But in French, we only have beginners' books. So when you want a special book and you don't have the internet, the only way is the English Bookstore in Paris, Brentano's. Happily, they have a huge selection of quilt books, and they have booths at fairs, and a mail order catalog."
Cecile estimates there about 100 quilt stores in France, with about another 200 fabric stores with quilting sections. "Quilt stores are very different from each other," she says. "In my town, we have one real one, and it has only Jinny Beyer fabrics, but we have a fabric store with 500+ different quilt fabrics."
Quilt Expo in Lyon is the French equivalent of Paducah, in more ways than one: "They had to close the doors because it was overcrowded," Cecile says. "Merchants sold TONS of supplies. I even saw a booth that had sold everything at the end of the FIRST day!!! It was really something to see, all those quilters running here and there, with bags, cameras, exhausted, and soooooo happy."
Other major shows are also getting established around the country. "A new fair appeared last summer, which will be held every two years, in Saint Jean de Luz, next to Biarritz. It's in July, when people are supposed to be on holidays there. I worked in a booth there. All I can tell is that there were not many people, about 5,000 in four days. We had time to sew in the booth! Otherwise, you have another fair in Sainte Marie aux Mines, in September, this year will be the fourth one (or fifth maybe?). Last year, 10,000+ people came. And since last year, you have Simolia in Paris, which is a craft fair, with a quilt part, very attractive to quilters."
As for internet use, this is still in its infancy in France, but the quilting contingent is beginning to become visible, particularly among the younger generation. Cecile Yadro writes: "Just yesterday, I heard on TV that 15% of the French have computers, and that 2.5% are connected to internet, of which 2/3 are connected at work. Soooo... If you think that for internet you need to speak English, to have a computer, to be connected, and to want it... and that quilters are quite old ladies, non-English-speaking and without computers... Personally, I've 'met' exactly 12 French quilters on the internet, some on lists, some on my website. What I could tell you is my visitors counter: 3800 in English, and 263 in French! It just gives a good idea of the problem!
"The French government is really aware of it, and is trying to expand internet use in France. I'm proud to say that I've been selected as one of the best personal websites in France. I'm one of the five best, and have to go to Paris next Wednesday to talk about my website in front of the jury."
Whatever limitations French quilters see in their quilting culture, or in their use of the internet, it is clear that they have created one of the most vital, eclectic, and sophisticated quilting milieus of any culture in the world. Fortunately for the rest of us, they are beginning to share it with the world through the magic of the web.
POSTSCRIPT: Cecile Yadro, who contributed so much to this article, did indeed go to Paris on March 20 to compete further for recognition of her website. And out of the five finalists, she was the winner! Here is her description of the event:
"It was very official, with lots of people from internet world. The sponsors were here, of course: Netscape, Sun Microsystems, France Telecom, Internet Professionnel (an internet magazine), Club-Internet (French provider), Intershop. They all offered something to the winners, one in 'company,' and me in 'individual.' Francis Lorentz (former President of Bull) and author of a book to the Prime Minister about e-business in France, was the President of the Jury.
"They wanted a website that had created a job, was opened on the world, had a very precise type of clients, had a new product, and was attractive. They thought I had all this!!! I still don't believe it! I had an interview on National TV, not yet on the TV, in two weeks, and an article in the newspaper, and on the radio. That's it!!!
"I won lots of things, and most of all, I'm really happy that some professionals recognized my work, it's important to me.
"In France the internet is really beginning, and it's a good publicity for me. Although I don't expect to sell more patterns in France with this, but who knows?" For more information about Cecile's accomplishment, go to http://www.quiltcreations.com/press.htm.
TVQ * Planet Patchwork