In Mary Elizabeth Kinch’s article ‘Why You Need to Copy an Antique Quilt Like an “Old Masters” Forger!’ she discusses the value of reproducing antique quilts.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” -Oscar Wilde
For thousands of years, aspiring artists (and the occasional conman) have made ‘forgeries’ of humankind’s most beautiful art. As they say, good artists borrow; great artists steal.
Many of the great art galleries offer copyist programs to give aspiring artists the unique opportunity to study the techniques of the old masters. Permits are issued and artists are given times to set up in the gallery and recreate specific works of art. Not only does it allow artists to learn from the masters, but it makes great works of art available to be enjoyed beyond the walls of the museums.
This applies to quilting no less than other mediums. Kinch says about old quilts that the “old ones are filled with all sorts of quirks and interesting bits that make them endlessly fascinating.” When proper credit is given to the maker and quilt that inspired your quilt it is a way to honor, acknowledge, and celebrate their work. In this sense, the spirit and life of the original maker live on through the reproduction of their work and builds on the foundation of previous generations of quilters.
Kinch is full of great suggestions to become a quilt “forger”: Be intentional and deliberate. Pay attention to detail. Intensely study the quilt you want to recreate. Put yourself in the maker’s position by observing their color and fabric choices, block designs, construction and layout, proportion, substitutions, scale, technique, value, and the hundred other decisions that the original maker implemented.
One of the reoccurring debates of the modern quilting community is about original, inspired by, and derivative work. The definition of what is truly original design and artwork versus what is inspired by someone else’s work can be incredibly murky. Kinch doesn’t mean that forging a quilt is meant to allow a quilter to profit off of another maker. Rather, it is an exercise in learning from another artist, from their choices and their creative energy. Learning from them can become a profound and personal experience.
“The goal is not to try to pass off our copies as originals for money, but we will profit nonetheless,” says Kinch. “This exercise in deep examination, comprehension, and execution is invaluable. It will expand your repertoire of techniques, reveal elements of design you didn’t even know to consider, and change you creatively, deeply informing your own work going forward.”
Each quilt we choose to make, whether we reproduce an antique quilt, make a quilt from a purchased pattern or quilt kit, or creatively wander into new and uncharted territories of original work, the act of creation is how we grow. We end up with something tangible to show for the time and effort we’ve put into making the quilt. And someday someone may see what we’ve made and be inspired to make their own version, to add their voice to the narrative that the quilts around us tell.
Mary Elizabeth Kinch is an author, teacher, designer, and liberated quiltmaker. Mary is passionate about the antique quilts she collects and studies and uses the myriad of lessons they have taught her to inform her work. She believes wholeheartedly in the motto, “Quilting With Abandon.” Her recent work interprets traditional quilt designs through sewn sketches using “gestured” appliqued lines and the quilting stitch. She can be found online at www.maryelizabethkinch.com and on Instagram at @maryelizabethkinch
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