Guest post by Jo Avery
Back in the 1990’s I was involved in the Green Quilt Movement. This was during the first serious wave of concern about our planet and climate change when the hole was discovered in the ozone layer and it was becoming more apparent that the earth was warming. I was one of the people that took this very seriously and was forever banging on about it to others and ‘getting on my soap box’ as it was aften described. This didn’t make me very popular and so I turned to my other great passion and tried communicating through my quilts instead.
I discovered the Green Quilt Movement when I attended an exhibition of Contemporary American Quilts at the Craft Council in London. I was very struck by a Susan Shie quilt which was described as a ‘Green Quilt’. Susan was one of the founders of the movement and I got in touch with her and volunteered to start a UK branch. We believed that we could help our planet by stitching love, healing and balancing energy into our quilts and by spreading the Green Movement message. Every quilt had a screen-printed label (which we purchased from Art Quilter, Robin Schwalb, in New York) with beautiful wording as shown below. I’ve always had hippy tendencies and I loved this idea, it just made sense to me in a very spiritual way, and it still does. A Green Quilt could be anything you wanted it to be, it only had to be named one. It didn’t need to include an actual written message, however I often tended to write on mine as I always have a lot to say!
As this was before the internet communicating with others to start a UK group was (it now seems to me) ridiculously difficult. To find like-minded people I wrote a letter for inclusion in The Quilter magazine asking for interested parties to contact me. Around twenty quilters wrote me letters and we communicated laboriously by post. I started producing a printed newsletter which I would send to our small band of supporters for a £1 fee which was collected through cheques, again sent in the post. Everything took so long! Thinking back, I realise how blessed we are now to live in this connected world where we can communicate important ideas with such ease!
Unfortunately, the movement was just a little too ahead of its time and it disbanded in 2004 before the online quilting community really got going and there is hardly any trace of it left now (see link below for original Statement of Purpose). The Green Quilts I made, such as Sun Wheel Mandala and Recycled Ballroom, are amongst my most treasured. Now seems like the perfect time to start making some new Green Quilts while also considering what it means to be a ‘Green Quilter’.
New Green Quilts
In 2019 our Edinburgh Modern Quilt Guild president Mags Scammell set our group a challenge to each make a message mini quilt about something we really believed in. I was very pleased to see how many of our members used this challenge to express their concerns for environmental issues. Cathlene Eland’s ‘Life Destroys Life’ depicts the Earth’s major landmasses in 2040, after an increase of global temperatures of 4 degrees C, which has resulted in the sea ice melting. Mags herself chose the problem of plastic for her protest quilt ‘Is This Fergus’s Future?’, which shows her grandson finding a pile of real plastic under a wave on the beach.
I took this opportunity to make my first new Green Quilt of the millennia, ‘Nature Needs Our Help’. I chose to depict leaves in distress, torn and disintegrating to represent Mother Nature in trouble. But these leaves are being sewn back together by quilters, stitching patchwork leaves with love and healing. I feel it’s very important that we retain hope for the future and a belief in our power to improve our world through small individual actions. After all there is much to be commended in our chosen pastime, we make things ourselves rather than just consuming them, and those things are useful and long lasting. I also hope that we can begin to reclaim the thrifty origins of our craft and start making quilts from recycled fabric again, which is obviously the ultimate Green Quilt!
Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to put changes in place so I can live and work more sustainably. One of the main things I decided was to stop flying for work as much as possible. QuiltCon 2020 was going to be my last one for a while and I was planning on taking trains rather than flying for domestic trips. But of course, these decisions were taken completely out of my hands due to the pandemic and I’ve not been flying at all!
Being able to transition from physical to virtual teaching has been one of the huge pluses to come out of the last year and I welcomed the virtual QuiltCon Together event for its low impact on the environment as well as increased accessibility. I do hope this virtual version of QuiltCon will continue in the future.
Cutting down on the amount of fabric I buy is another aim. However until last summer I owned my own fabric store so wanting to encourage less consumerism was problematic for me. Even now that I have sold the store, I still sell a few quilt kits through my website, and I spend a lot of time encouraging quilters to start new projects. If everyone stopped buying my products and booking my classes I would struggle to pay the bills. But that is nothing compared to workers in the third world who are completely dependent on jobs in the cotton industry. It provides income for more than 250 million people worldwide and employs almost 7% of all labour in developing countries. We do need to act as fast as possible to find greener alternatives, but this must be sustainably managed to protect life and livelihoods. It’s a fine balancing act and I can’t promise that I have all the answers.
One of the things I decided to do a few years ago was to change my design focus from quilting towards embroidery. I now design and make less quilts and design and make more embroideries. They take around the same amount of crafting hours to complete but embroidery uses far less of the Earth’s resources. Using wool thread rather than cotton also helps and I’ll be talking more about alternatives to cotton thread in a future blog post.
As well as using up fabric I already own and all those accumulated class samples and orphan blocks, I’ve also been attempting to slow down my creating by making quilts, and therefore quilt patterns, with more content and more hand stitching. I always say that quilting is as much about the journey as the destination and there is nothing wrong in taking a whole year to make a beautiful heirloom quilt rather than finishing something quick and easy in a weekend.
But recently I’ve realised I need to do even more and start using recycled fabrics in my quilts. I’ve been so inspired by the likes of Chris English and other makers highlighted by Create and Sustain. After a huge wardrobe clear out, I have vowed that my next art quilt project will be made entirely from old clothes. I’m also designing some new small projects made from recycled fabrics that can become new workshops and patterns. As a designer and an educator, I feel it’s my job to help and inspire others to do this too. I hope to have the first of these ready to share this weekend when I ‘takeover’ the Create and Sustain Instagram account.
But what about the New Green Quilt Movement? Maybe we should take a leaf out of our president Mag’s book and a host a Green Quilt Challenge? Or maybe it could be a swap? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and I hope it’s something I can help organise very soon. I think we all stitch love and healing into our quilts anyway but why not try aiming these specifically towards our precious planet for your next quilt.
I am so grateful to Patty, Jennifer and Kristi for getting this new Create and Sustain movement started. It takes a lot of energy to begin something like this but once the momentum gets going there should be no stopping us!
Jo Avery is a quilt and embroidery designer, teacher and entrepreneur. She is a regular contributor to a number of quilt and embroidery publications and the author of New Patchwork and Quilting Basics published by Stash Books.
As part of The Thread House she organises both physical and virtual quilting retreats and hosts an annual BOM club. Inspired by nature and our craft heritage her eclectic style perfectly blends modern and traditional aesthetics.
She is an Aurifilosopher with three Aurifil thread collections to her name. In 2021 she began a new adventure with a Handi Quilter Moxie Long-arm machine! Her next book Modern Crewel Embroidery will be published in October 2021.
There is a little bit about the Green Quilt Movement, it’s statement of purpose and reason for ending here
Robin Schwalb http://www.artofthequilt.com/schwalb.html
Susan Shie http://www.artofthequilt.com/shie.html