Weaving together history

Artists create traditional art with contemporary technique

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Powerful yellow rays emanate from an exploded universe of color. The rays burst past a checkered spiral of green, red and black into the star-speckled darkness as golden waves radiate in all directions.

Through the elaborate stitching of carefully chosen fabrics, patterns and threads, David Taylor had captured the Big Bang on an award-winning quilt.

Quilting and the woven arts have produced some of the more beautiful and time-honored specimens of functional artistry. The art is mentioned as far back as ancient Greek mythology. Assaulted and imprisoned with her tongue cut out by King Tereus, Philomela wove the tale of her suffering and had it delivered to the king's wife, her sister, Procne.

Bernice Archer tells of hundreds of women held in Singapore's Changi jail during World War II, communicating to their loved ones through quilts sent to other camps. Hidden in the floral patches and designs were landscapes of

prisoners' homelands and coastlines that the Japanese overlooked.

From July 23 to 29, the Delectable Mountain Quilters Guild will host four events that will put the art form as carried on by local artists on display.

Guild member Martia Spitelle said that there will be 50 quilts alone in the Downtown Quilt Walk with a similar number on display at the Depot.

Though not held yearly, the event again coincides with the Colorado Quilt Council's decision to meet in Steamboat Springs from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Steamboat Springs High School Auditorium.

The guild has close to 80 members and meets every third Monday of the month. Taylor, a graphic designer at the Steamboat Pilot & Today, is the sole male in the guild but is also one of its more talented members.

"We're all excited to have David with us," Spitelle said. "It's definitely a new concept in quilting and he brings his own spark of creativity."

Taylor's quilts have placed first and second in the last two "challenges" issued by Keepsake Quilter. These feats are even more amazing when one considers he has only been quilting for two years. Taylor, along with Madeleine Vail, also created "Rhythm of the Yampa Valley," for last summer's Strings in the Mountains fund-raiser. The 150-fabric, 1,100-applique piece quilt sold for $25,000. Most quilters agreed that there has been a shift from message-heavy quilts to more of a "contemporary art form with fabric," Spitelle said, although its traditional purposes have not been abandoned.

"I think that people are still conveying messages in quilts," Vail said. "It's a very personal thing why a quilt is made, whether for yourself, a family member, a friend or an occasion.

"People put themselves into their quilts so much by the colors they pick, the patterns they pick. And the thought that is put into it about the other person while the quilt is being made is very important."

Like a fingerprint, each quilt will be absolutely unique because of the individual's particular taste, even if several people are working from the same published pattern, said Vail, who has been quilting for 10 years.

Karen Hammond has been a quilter since she was 7. Her grandmother and a group of women met on a biweekly basis in rural southwestern Oklahoma. The group of 15 to 20 women created pieces from supplies sold at a discount by community stores and raised enough money to build a community center for the town.

Within the guild, said Hammond, are smaller groups called "bees," similar in size to her grandmother's group.

They have devoted time to provide quilts to ABC, a national group working with at-risk children, particularly children and infants with AIDS. This year's community project is the Morning Star agency, which provides a safe haven for women and children, as the guild decided to focus on the local community.

Additionally, Taylor has crafted "Wildflower Ballet," which has been on display at a silent auction and will open to a live auction Sept. 22 to raise funds for the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp at its sixth Annual Madness de Vine. There is a $5,000 minimum bid for the piece, which features a forest scene with flowers flocking playfully around an aspen tree. Dancing on the vibrant petals and aging branches are fairies born of flowers. Taylor, with the help of his computer, has also broken free from the triangle-and-square geometry of the more traditional quilts.

"It was like I woke up one day and realized I can do anything," Taylor said. "There are no rules."

"You can do anything graphic on the computer," Vail said. "Circles and ovals and you can combine that with your straight lines to create very dramatic pieces."

Computer design also helps with the mathematical aspect of quilting, Vail said, easing the process of breaking down the larger piece into smaller blocks. The old school worked from original ideas developed by hand on a piece of paper with a pencil and a ruler thus the straight lines and squares. The curved shapes of flowers, vines and leaves came later. It can be a complex hobby. Spitelle has had pieces featuring close to a hundred different pieces of fabric for a single block of work.

There is the vocabulary of fusible and freezer paper appliques, fussy cuts, English paper, crazy and freestyle no-template piecing.

"Take a class," said Hammonds, who works at Pieces of the Past, the only quilting supply shop in town. "There are a number of experts here and people are always willing to help. If you're brand new, a class is a good way to get started, learn the basics and meet other quilters."

"I would say that those of us that quilt have really found a wonderful creative outlet and also a wonderful basis for friendships," Vail said, "a camaraderie of quilters, you might say."

Sewing has become a lost art, she said, left behind by the public school system and the time constraints of busy lifestyles.

"There are still many people who do it and get a lot of personal satisfaction in doing it," Vail said. "It's a wonderful thing and a great way to spend time."

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