Number Fifteen * April 1, 1997
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By Nancy Cameron Armstrong (and friends)
"An article on Quilting in Canada? Of course, pleased to be asked."
But, wait a minute ... as I turned this over, I realized that viewing the complexity of the quilting scene in the second largest country in the world, from the coast of the Pacific Ocean and east 3,223 miles, called for more than one reporter. My informants, to whom I am most grateful, are: Shirley Connolly - far northern BC; Jayne Willoughby Scott - Edmonton, Alberta; from Ontario- Ann Bird (Ottawa), Dorothy McMurdie (Windsor), and Isobelle Underwood (Southampton); Jocelyne Patenaude - Montreal, Quebec; Barbara Robson - Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Carol Pettigrew - Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
Let's start with a bit of history, geography, and statistics: The French pioneered Canadian settlement in the 17th century (Quebec City, 1608) and Britain acquired Nova Scotia in 1717. Both English and French are official languages and a tie still remains to the "British Empire" even though there has been no formal legislative link since 1982. The population of Canada (less than the state of California with only 6 people per square mile compared to California's 175+) is nearly 80% urban. There are 10 provinces and 2 territories (total area equals the 50 US states plus a second Texas!). Only five provinces have more than 1 million population: Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba. Over 1/3 of the population lives in Ontario, and all of the provinces but Ontario have only 1 or 2 "major" cities. Over 90% of the population and all but Edmonton of the major cities are within 100 miles of the Canada/US border, which means lots of empty spaces but also some quilters who live a long way from a quilt shop. Throughout this essay, I suggest keeping in mind the idea of a small population living in a very big country right next door to an entrepreneurial giant.
There is a minuscule bibliography for the history of quilting in Canada. In the 1970s, when the second 20th Century quilt revival was taking hold, both Mary Conroy (Three Hundred Years of Canada's Quilts: Toronto, Griffin House, 1976) and Ruth McKendry (Quilts and Other Bed Coverings in the Canadian Tradition: Toronto, Van Nostrand Rheinhold, 1979) carried out some early and limited research. However, the 1990s has seen a few exciting studies and publications that have looked carefully at the historical, geographical, and social factors that explain how Canadian quilting traditions have developed. Old Nova Scotian Quilts by Scott Robson and Sharon MacDonald and Patchwords 1992 & Patchwords 1994: Volumes I and 2 of the Research Papers of the Canadian Quilt Study Group edited by Nancy Cameron Armstrong were both published in 1995. The CQSG published papers include studies carried out in Ontario and Prince Edward Island. These studies are ongoing, as is a project in Nova Scotia. There are also groups in Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec who are looking carefully at Canadian quilt history and the CQSG provides a network for exchange of ideas and information with members in Canada and nine other countries world-wide.
The earliest pieced quilt in North America is in the collection of Montreal's McCord Museum. It is inscribed "1726" and is pieced from silk (including brocade and damask), velvet, linen and cotton. Research indicates that "The McCord Quilt" was made in 18th century England and may not have arrived in Canada until the 19th. Mary Conroy refers to several 18th century inventories, including a 1752 Quebec sales record of quilts very likely brought from France. So when did quiltmaking actually begin in Canada?
The earliest written reference Sharon MacDonald found in Nova Scotia was on the death in 1771 of Elinor Fallon, who left behind "one Quilt her own making." The oldest surviving examples of quilts in Nova Scotia date from about 1810 (a Four-patch made of homespun, handwoven woolen cloth, and an English-pieced hexagon of cottons imported from England) and the oldest in the PEI study is an 1810 frame, or medallion, scrap quilt of imported cottons with a wonderfully romantic and sad history of the maker "Miss Catherine Anderson of New London" whose betrothed "master of a sailing vessel" died at sea when she was only 18. She never married and died when she was 93. Although the tie to English quilting traditions remained quite strong in isolated Australia, the proximity to the US had a pronounced effect on Canadian quilters early on and the American pieced block quilt rapidly gained precedence over English paper piecing, framed medallions, and whole-cloth quilts.
Isobelle Underwood in her work with the quilts of Ontario's largely rural Bruce and Grey Counties has identified a significant genealogical source. "About 10 per cent of the quilts registered are Signature or Friendship quilts." In addition to the many hundreds of surnames in her study's family quilt histories, she has recorded approximately 22,000 surnames just on these quilts, a genre which generally include dates and a place name.
If a pre-contact art form, such as Pacific plaiting, is meant when we talk of "indigenous tradition," there is no "Native quilting tradition." However, there are in Canada, as in the United States, various indigenous textile traditions -- many of them still practiced, or being revived, within First Nations communities as they search for and reassert their heritage so long denigrated by the dominant population. For several years, Ann Bird has been studying "Non-native Quilts with Native Art Influences and Quilts Made by Native Women." She has attended Pow Wows across the country and interviewed and photographed quilters and their quilts. She observes, "there is little interaction between Native and non-native quilters. Native quilts are utilitarian except for Starblankets (Lone Star), which are often ceremonial and have been used to honor people since the late 1800s, mostly on the prairies."
There is only one national quilt guild, Canadian Quilter's Assoc./Assoc. canadienne da la courtepointe. Its Regional Representatives through their CQA/ACC Newsletter quarterly reports give a good insight into the prevalence of guilds across Canada. In the Summer 1996 issue Pat Menary says, "I am exhausted after reading over 100 guild newsletters." Her report includes a brief look at JUST the pro bono activities of only 20 of the Ontario guilds, the province with the largest population and most members in CQA/ACC. Awesome! This particular issue has 12 pages of reports from nine of the provinces and both territories. Just this one issue confirms Dorothy McMurdie's observation that, "after reading messages on the Internet about guilds I feel that the Canadian guilds are similar to those in other parts of the world."
Guilds vary greatly both in size and in structure. Mayflower Handquilters Society, Nova Scotia's provincial guild, has approximately 250 members and 7 chapters. Within the guild there are "bees," smaller groups of 6-10 quilters who meet regularly in each other's homes. Across the country (from sea-to-sea) the Fraser Valley Quilter's Guild with 480 members is the largest guild in BC. It has eight identified "satellite groups," and several smaller friendship groups who are not "on record." As late as 1988 there was only one guild in Greater Vancouver. As of 1997 there are five, and dozens of other groups (varying from 10 to 50) who do not identify themselves as guilds yet meet on a regular basis, do pro bono work, and may even have quilt shows and invited teachers. The groups that are perhaps the most appealling are those that Isobelle describes as meeting in member's homes, "much laughing and very relaxing. Membership by invitation, to keep numbers manageable." Perhaps akin to that search for a group with which one can bond, is the proliferation everywhere of two or three day "retreats" ... organized by local guilds and small groups and, where possible, kept very inexpensive by staying at a member's cottage.
Isobelle also thinks "that TV and advertisers consistently underestimate the quilting population." She cites Bruce County's Port Elgin (pop. 6,500) with 11 churches. Three she knows have fund raising quilt groups and suspects they all do. With 31 municipalities in Bruce "that is a lot of church quilting groups." She goes on to discuss the dozen agricultural fairs and the 41 Women's Institute branches ... all with raffle quilts, the two quilt guilds in the county, the many informal groups, and closes with the thought that "probably the greatest amount of quilting is done by individuals outside any group."
The Quebec provincial association Courtepointe-Quebec-Quilts is bi-lingual and Jocelyne Patenaude reports that "most of the Montreal francophones are plugged into the Canadian and American quilt networks. However, the majority of francophone quiltmakers are unknown to the association, instead belonging to the large number of Le Cercle des fermieres (comparable to the WI) of which there are maybe 30-40 groups. Most members are not farmers' wives but live in small towns and villages and quilting is only one of many hobbies. They are not bi-lingual and quilt for traditional reasons of community."
The question that caused the greatest variety of responses was "is there a particular style characteristic of Canadian quilting?" Isobelle points out that "Canada for the most part uses the same books and teachers, and watches the same TV programs as do American quilters." However, she believes "uniqueness comes from the special creativity that each quilter possesses ... influenced by her life experiences and geography [and even, as] in the past, by the fabric that was available to them." The several furniture factories resulted in finding, in her heritage search, turn of the century quilts made from heavy upholstery fabrics! Ann agrees, "styles seem quite regionally influenced," and adds that "generally Canadians use bolder color, less actual quilting, and are quite experimental and innovative."
But ... Jayne Willoughby Scott says she thinks "there is a particular style characteristic of Canadian quilting, though I have struggled over the past few years trying to identify it in words. I think there is more to the style than the subject matter (Northern Lights). In my observations, the designs and colors tend to be more subtle, which I think is reflective of the Canadian approach to things. I think we tend to be less 'in your face' with our messages and designs than,say, the Americans. I think there is also more a sense of 'community' and 'wilderness' in terms of subject matter, though I can't say this with any certainty. In terms of technique, many Canadian quiltmakers work in isolation because of the expanse and population of the country and I have seen and heard lately of fiber artists being 'discovered' in the middle of nowhere who have been doing fantastic innovative things with their quiltmaking. I think the isolation may bring about some very creative methods and artistic expressions, and that with the improved networking we are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg of what is really going on in terms of the creative uses of our medium."
Jocelyne thinks "the average Canadian is more individualistic in her approach to style. Even though the influences are evident, it seems more people are 'doing their own thing.' Our quilts are generally more subdued in both content and color. Whether by temperament or limited access to the tremendous variety of fabrics and threads available in the US? People are less influenced by workshop trends, fads, and pop culture in general, although that is changing with the widespread availability of all the new quilting books." Jocelyne -- as do Jayne, and Carol -- thinks "Canadians always refer to landscape and weather, somehow, which is a defining characteristic in [a] Canadian's self definition. It may not be readily apparent, but it is somehow always there."
Neither Dorothy nor Barbara gave replies to this question and that, in a way IS a reply. I find myself closer to Isobelle's perception of what is happening with the majority of quilters than to those whom I believe would identify themselves as "Art Quilters." Does the point of view explain the responses? Certainly identifying "what is a CANADIAN?" is a question that never goes away, and is frequently the subject of humorous skits and essays and also at the base of serious debates. We have only one trade, or commercial Canadian quilting periodical, Canada Quilts Magazine. It is published only five times a year, and the Editor and Publisher, Deb Sherman, works diligently to find interesting Canadian content to fill its pages. Gail Hunt, after trying unsuccessfully to find a publisher for her all Canadian content Quiltworks Across Canada: Eleven Contemporary Workshops (Pacific Quiltworks, Ltd 1996) self-published an outstanding and highly recommended title. Canadian content, Canadian publishing, Canadian ... anything! is regularly under threat. Rather like the third world countries inundated with advertising and product, and giving up on their own indigenous art forms, Canada has been a willing and equally unwilling partner in the continental economy and its pluses and minuses.
Jayne and Jocelyne are both multiple prize winners for there art quilts, although Jayne and all of the informants more or less agree, "the art quilt movement in Canada is really in its infancy." She says she thinks "because of the space between the artists in terms of geography, Canadians have not yet established an organization of art quilt makers, but this will happen -- hopefully in the near future. Dorothy points out that "Canada does not provide as much financial support for fibre artists, either from the Government or private enterprise as in the US, and Ann says that "of the few numbers, given our population, many are not actively associated with the quilt scene, rather the art scene." In Quebec Jocelyne knows "only a few other quiltmakers who would be part of an art quilt movement. Three want no part of the traditional quilt world, two of us are sort of straddling the different worlds, and a few others think of their quilts as art but have not made any moves toward the 'art' world."
As with all the other replies, numbers of quilt shops and availability of supplies varies greatly location to location. Where there is only one quilt shop in Windsor and two in the Halifax area, Vancouver has seven. As well, Vancouver has many other possibilities, most of which offer the same 10% discount to quilt guild members as the quilt shops and charge less for the same fabrics (e.g. Fabricland, Fanny's, Craft Canada, Wal-Mart, Zellers, and dozens of East Asian stores). The Canadian/US exchange rate has been fluctuating somewhere around $.72 to the $1.00. With the cost of transportation, import duty, provincial (PST) and federal (GST) sales taxes, and exchange rate, coupled with the fact that there is virtually no Canadian textile manufacturing, everyone is agreed ... Fabric is VERY expensive. In Vancouver, any fabric with even a touch of gold is $16.00 a meter. Typical prices for the major quilting lines are $14 to $16 at the quilt shops, and $12 to $14 elsewhere. The difficulty with fabrics, books, and fairly well all quilting supplies is not lack of availability or choice, but cost. Even books are subject to GST, so the $21.95 US book easily becomes $32.95.
Stats Canada recently published latest national figures (Household Facilities and Equipment, 1996) on the percentage of households with personal computers, modems, and internet connections. Which country in the world do you imagine has "the highest rate of computer ownership," which ranks second, and which third? I was surprised; will you be? Canada with 31.6 per cent (almost one family in three, but concentrated primarily in three provinces) is FIRST (followed by US, then Japan). Per cent breakdown by province (PCS first and Internet connections 2nd): Alberta 37.9/10, British Columbia 37.7/10.4, Oontario 36/8.6, Saskatchewan is "distant fourth," followed by Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick.
Everyone seems in agreement that "Canadian web sites are quite good but few in number." Gisele Fortin has designed an excellent Home Page for CQA/ACC (www.nt.net/~giself/cqaacc1.htm) which she updates and adds new features to regularly. One page is E-mail addresses of members, and listings of E-mail addresses and web sites are becoming standard features in many guild newsletters. CQSG includes both of these in their Membership Roster; just recently CQA/ACC added a line for E-mail addresses to their Membership Forms. The Canadian Quilter's Ring (anyone with a Canadian, quilt/related URL may be included) will soon have a new member; Gisele is designing yet another Home Page, this one for the Canadian Quilt Study Group.
Although interest in E-mail and internet usage in a large country with a dispersed population is spreading and taking hold rapidly, computer quilt design programs have not become popular. Explanations? Cost may be a factor. (BlockBase at a reasonable $69.95 US translates to a pricey $110 CAN.) However, recognizing where the future lies, the biennial national conference Quilt Canada 98 to be held in Vancouver, BC at the University of British Columbia (May 25 - 31) will include three full days of computer classes offering a comparative look at all the relevant software, including general and quilt-specific design programs. Also recognizing INTERNATIONAL as the future of quilting this conference for 400 full-time and 120 part-time delegates will include 1 Australian, 1 Japanese, 1 New Zealand, 4 American, and 26 Canadian teachers, and ... one or more quilt shows from each of these 4 Pacific Rim countries. As well, the National Juried Show 98 will be traveling to International Quilt Week Yokohama 98 "in exchange" for the Japanese show coming to Vancouver.
Nancy Cameron Armstrong, one of only three named from Canada for inclusion in 88 Leaders of Today's Quilt World (Nihon Vogue, 1995), is Chairperson for the Canadian Quilt Study Group. She dedicates considerable time and effort to this locally-based organization with members in 11 countries. A quilt researcher and retired library science professor, she curated the respected exhibit of Gulf War quilts, "Women in the Eye of the Storm," which appeared at 1992 IQF (Houston) and 1995 MAQF (Williamsburg). She lives two miles from the US/Canada border, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Mini Dust-it! Genuine sheepskin duster on a 6" stick that is perfect for picking up dust and lint from your sewing machine and serger. Soft, beautiful sheepskin won't scratch polished surfaces. Picks up the lint and tiny threads; doesn't spread them around. Prevents lint build-up. Inexpensive way to protect expensive sewing machines and sergers.
SPECIAL! I sell these Mini Dust-Its to sewing notion catalogs, and my standards for the quality of each one is very high. So when I come across one that is a bit too thin, or the stick has a nick in it, or some other flaw, I set them aside and do not sell them. Therefore I have a large supply of slightly imperfect Mini Dust-Its that work perfectly well. I am offering these for $1 each (normally $3.50) INCLUDING mailing. Those interested should e-mail me at Sheep50@aol.com or send $1.00 for each to: Silver Dollar Sheep Station, 5020 Winding Way, Sacramento, CA 95841.
your internet mail order quilt store!
This month's Stash Builder's Special is in fresh, clear colors of spring: yellow, pink and blue. Fabrics are by Moda, Rose & Hubble, Jinny Beyer, and Norcott Silk. 9 FQ's for $15.75 plus shipping. Come see the fabric at my web site: http://www.az.com/~karenm/thread.htm or e-mail email@example.com for more information.
Labels designed with quilters in mind!
Web site: <http://www.FrontNet.com/labels.html> FREE Thangles sample by e-mail request (write in subject line: Thangles): firstname.lastname@example.org Buy one of each size of Thangles (3 packages total) and you will be eligible to purchase the "Scrappy Plaid Stars" Block-of-the-Month Club '97 Quilt Program, designed by Mary B. Hayes.
We have two new Care labels that are NOT up on the web site, yet. One is the revised "mini" Care generic washing/care label, and another new label is the "Fragile" Care label for older quilts. E-mail for free sample and information sheet showing what they look like. Write "Care" in the subject line: email@example.com
FREE MOUSE PAD of your choice WITH prepaid order of $25. or more! This offer has been extended through the end of May, 1997. DESIGN PLUS will pay postage within the USA on all prepaid orders!
UNIQUE GIFT -- FANNY PURSE, WHEELCHAIR BAG, WALKER BAG OR QUILTED TOTE! One of a kind, 100% cotton, machine- pieced, quilted, fully lined with inside pocket . . . bold, bright, vibrant, quilt designer fabric used.
TIES BY JERRY are HAND-STITCHED, 100% designer cotton, bias-cut, with satin linings. Premium tie interfacing (NOT IRON-ON) used throughout. COMPLETELY SLIPSTITCHED with matching keeper.
Does your husband admire the fabrics in your quilts? You can have a special hand-made tie from your fabric! TIES MADE WITH YOUR 1/2 YARD OF 100% COTTON FABRIC $15.00 PLUS SHIPPING.
FOR DETAILS on ties or bags, e-mail Millie Becker at ENRG18A@PRODIGY.COM.
Have you had your "goose" today? If not, you should e-mail Schoolhouse Enterprises (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your "snail mail" address for your FREE CATALOG and Sample of Gridded Geese(c)! Gridded Geese(c) is a unique paper foundation method for mass-producing Flying Geese units up to 24 at once (similar to the half-square triangle papers, which, BTW, are included in their catalog).
The Schoolhouse Enterprises catalog offers lots of Other Fun Stuff, too, like mini Kaleidoscope Pendants, Hearts-a-Ticking Pin Kits, adorable Post-It(r) Note Cubes, hand painted "Button-Buttons," "No Whining" pins, plus Feed Sack Gift Bags to "wrap" them in!
No time for "snail mail" catalogs? Then visit the Schoolhouse Enterprises web site (http://quilt.com/GG)!
Perfect Square is a reusable iron on grid transfer used to make half square triangles quickly, easily and accurately. Each sheet can be used at least 10 times, usually more. For more information, e-mail email@example.com or check out my web site. At the moment, it is under construction and will improve over the next week or so. The address is http://www.webworldinc.com/perfectsquare. Let me know what you think.
ARTFABR!K now carries a Color Card for their extraordinary hand-dyed perle cotton threads available in sizes 3, 5, 8 and the finest, size 12. Please send $7 plus $1 for shipping to ARTFABR!K, Laura Wasilowski, 324 Vincent Place, Elgin, IL 60123. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or see our web site at http://www.qcx.com/fabrik/artfab.html
JAYDEE DESIGNS Beautiful hand Dyed Fabric perfect for piecing, applique and pictorial quilts. Colors range from a sunrise spectrum of mauves, pinks, and golds to deep purples, blues and teals. Available in the following convenient packages:
|8 step color progression-||fat eighth cuts-||1 yard||$25.00|
|12 step color wheel-||6"x22"cuts||1 yard||$25.00|
|24 step color wheel-||6"x22" cuts||2 yards||$45.00|
|10" squares||1.5 yards||$35.00|
Send a self addressed, stamped envelope for free samples and full price list or to order send check or money order to:
Jay Dee Designs 18640 South Lowrie Loop Eagle River, Alaska 99577
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