The quilts Jennifer Day makes don't belong on a bed. Her intricate quilt work would look much better in a frame.
In “Mmmm...Good,” her piece at the Omaha quilt exhibit “Sacred Threads,” she used more than 40 colors of thread to sew a stunningly realistic image of a young girl eating a banana in a shopping cart.
Day prints photos on a piece of fabric and then sews over them to sketch the image, using fine stitches to draw in hair and outline hands.
Day, from New Mexico, says her quilting tells a story with thread. In fact, she calls her technique “thread stories.”
The quilts in Sacred Threads aren't full of patchwork and patterns. The quilters in this show create art.
Though quilting has been around for centuries, the studio art quilt movement didn't kick off till the 1970s. Quilts quickly became a medium where artists could express themselves, much like painters or sculptors. They made the jump from the comfort of a bed to the hanging on a wall. Carolyn Ducey of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln says the only requirement for these pieces to be considered “quilts” is that they must have multiple layers of textiles.
The first Sacred Threads show was held in Ohio in 2001 by Vikki Pignatelli, a quilter who wanted a safe venue for quilts connected to religious, emotional or spiritual themes. The pieces are divided into six themes: joy, spirituality, inspiration, grief, healing and peace.
National Sacred Threads shows are held every other year. The most recent was in July just outside Washington, D.C., with about 230 quilts .
When Teri Quinn, one of the exhibit's curators, saw the Sacred Threads quilt exhibit online years ago, she knew she needed to get them to Omaha.
Quinn and co-chairwomen Anne Carter and Linda Thompson, all from Omaha, looked through pictures of hundreds of quilts on CD and picked 39 of their favorites. They are now hanging in the Sunderland Gallery in the Monsignor Graham Building behind St. Cecilia Cathedral.
An elaborately quilted portrait of two daughters hangs near a colorful, multitextured image of a woman with a computer hard drive stuck to her chest.
One quilt in the show, titled “There Are No Words,” was intentionally made crooked, a comment on the many who have died in national tragedies such as Sandy Hook and Columbine. Another is black and abstract, covered with beads, embellishment and layers of fabric so thick it looks like it may weigh too much to hang on the wall.
Each quilt has a story, one that Quinn and other docents want to share. One titled “Stairway to Heaven” shows a ladder leading out of a dark cave; the artist made it as a tribute to her friend who died in a cave-diving accident.
Quinn said it's fun to see how artists are combining painting and photo transfer and manipulating the fabric in so many ways.
“But it all still comes back to the cloth,” Quinn said. “It's always back to the fiber and the cloth and the feeling and the tactile nature of it.”
Debi Kibbee, founder and coordinator of the Midwest Fiber Art Alliance, has a piece in the local companion exhibit on view alongside Sacred Threads titled “Artistry in Nature.” She's been quilting for 16 years and started making patterned quilts. But she had difficulty doing the same blocks and patterns over and over. “My ADD kicks in,” she said. Art quilts were a more freeing form of expression. She said fabric is comforting to people; it brings back positive memories because everyone is involved with fabric somehow.
“I think everybody has a relationship with fabric from the time you're born with your blankies,” Kibbee said.
Quilts have been warming hearts and sparking imaginations for generations. And art quilts continue to go beyond what most people are familiar with.
“I think as in any art form, it's only limited by the artist's imagination now,” Ducey said.
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If you go
What: Sacred Threads 2013 National Art Quilt Exhibit
Where: Sunderland Gallery, 3900 Webster St., in the Monsignor Graham Building behind St. Cecilia Cathedral
When: Through Nov. 10. Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday