On this episode of the Craft Industry Alliance podcast I’ve asked award-winning quilter Thomas Knauer to talk about the state of the quilting industry.
Thomas describes himself as both an artist and a geek. He has an art degree from Kenyon College and two MFAs, one from Cranbrook Academy of Art and another from Ohio University. He taught design at Drake University before moving to upstate New York to start a family. Shortly thereafter he fell ill with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. He began sewing for his daughter and instantly fell in love with the practice and launched a career in quilting.
Thomas has designed textiles for Andover and Kokka. He wrote a feature column for Quilter’s Newsletter for three years. He’s the author of two quilting books, had a show in QNNTV, and has exhibited his quilts at esteemed venues such as AQS Quilt Week, QuiltCon, and the International Quilt Study Center.
In Defense of Handmade (90″x90″) by Thomas Knauer
In piecing a precise replica of the barcode of a mass-produced Martha Stewart quilt for Macy’s, this quilt is a critique of the ways in which individually made objects have been re-envisioned as a mass-market aesthetic, with the outward appearance of craft being sold as a signifier of authenticity.
A few months ago I was working on an article about Quilts Inc.’s decision to name a seating area at International Quilt Festival the Husband’s Lounge. My friend, book agent Kate McKean, suggested I reach out to Thomas for comment saying, “Call Thomas. He’s got something to say about this.” So I did. And he did.
In fact, while we were talking it became clear to me that Thomas has some perspectives on the quilting industry that are unusual and rarely talked about. I asked if he’d be on the podcast to explore those ideas further and you agreed.
In stitching a patchwork Pride Flag with the traditional quilting for a Double Wedding Ring quilt. Made as a gift for my aunt and her partner, this piece subtly demonstrates the natural union of same-sex marriages, the fact that same-sex relationships are first and foremost loving relationships born of comfort and communion.
We talk about:
- The relationship between quilting and the quest for perfection and how this interplay drives constant consumerism.
- The idea that “the quilting industry has nothing to do with quilts,” a provocative statement that Thomas has made and that I ask him to unpack for us.
- The future of local quilt shops and a new idea for how they might function (hint: no more bolt fabric).
This quilt utilizes a geometric progression of colored squares (2,4,8,16,32…) to represent the biological process of cellular mitosis. It was made as my wife and I were using IUI to have our second child, a choice made to avoid knowingly passing on my rare illnesses. Beyond representing the process, this quilt is a promise to my resulting son that he was always already my child regardless of the biological reality.
And, of course, I ask Thomas to recommend great stuff he’s enjoying right now. Thomas recommends:
- playing vinyl records
I talk to quite a few people about the quilting industry on a regular basis and I can honestly say that Thomas’ ideas are novel and worthy of consideration. I hope you’ll give this show a listen and let both of us know what you think. Is he right? Do you have more to add to the conversation? I’d love to hear how these ideas resonate with you.
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