The Hoffman Challenge is an annual quilting contest for both amateurs and more experienced quilters. Anyone can enter but there are a lot of rules to follow. Each quilter who enters must use certain fabrics in her work.
Each year, a fabric is selected which becomes the “main fabric” (2011 sample to left) and a “recognizable amount” of it must be used. Probably more is better but I can’t say that for sure. A number of complimenting fabrics is also suggested, and the entrants purchase the main fabric and any other fabrics of their choice.
There are seven categories, including dolls, clothing, youth and accessories as well as three categories of quilts. I wouldn’t know the difference between quilt styles, not being a quilter, but the three categories are pieced and appliquéd and a combination of the two. The quilts are the only part of the collection I viewed.
Once the winners are selected (there are eight awards for each of the three categories), the winning quilts travel all over the United States and are shown in various libraries and museums for one year. I found these beautiful quilts in Zanesville, Ohio, which I found surprising. Why Zanesville? I think it is a matter of an organization specifically requesting to be included, and Zanesville Library did that and so was part of the travelling show.
When I was invited to go along to see the quilts, I didn’t expect too much and wasn’t all that interested, nevertheless it seemed like a nice outing with my friend and so I decided to spend some time doing a day trip with her instead of staying back and writing. It’s okay to get away from it once in a while, good for creativity or good for the soul or maybe it’s just fun to get out of the house and do something different.
When I saw the quilts though, I was very glad I’d come. I had no idea. I’d had a preconceived notion about quilts, of geometric patterns and designs made with complimentary fabrics. But as in everything, there are quilters and Quilters Extraordinaire. The items displayed were not quilts so much as works of art. The designs were intricate, artistic and original. None of them would be placed on a bed, but would be displayed as a wall hanging. I didn’t know such things were possible to do with bits of fabric.
Viewers of the quilts were asked to don a pair of little white gloves (like we used to wear in the fifties) if you intended to examine the backs of the quilts so my friend and I, since we were there anyway, wanted to do it all. Clad in our gloves, we checked out everything.
The intricacy of the stitching is what impressed me. It must take special machines and infinite patience since some of the works contain the tiniest bits of fabric. Stitching it down must be very tedious in some cases.
It became a challenge for us to look for the main fabric and also the others that had been selected to compliment it. We circled the room several times and chose our favorites. It was impossible to select just one, but pictured below are a sampling of quilts I found particularly beautiful, or different, or interesting. (Disclaimer: The photography isn’t the best, taken with my phone camera, so your tolerance will be greatly appreciated.)
What I took away from the experience was that all of the women — the preceding being a gross generalization that only women are quilters, which is probably not true, but seemed to be the case with this collection — started out with the same fabric, the main fabric, and built from that point. The variety of work created from a starting point of this one fabric was as diverse as if ten chefs had been given one ingredient and told to add as many more as they needed to whip up something delicious.
I thought about how quilting and writing might be similar.
Just as the quilters had their personal preferences, and made certain choices about theme and size and design and color, so it is with anything else we choose to do in order to express our unique selves. We develop very individual personalities, goals and ideals and prejudices and beliefs, based on our age, our genetic makeup, our geography, our families, our friends, our experiences, our preferences. Disabilities and limitations and gifts have profound effects on the end result composition of any individual. No two persons are exactly alike, not even identical twins will have had exactly the same set of experiences though they may share many of the basic attributes.
It was uplifting to realize it, and the quilts made me see this phenomenon in a new light.
The quilts themes might be considered their “genre”: Oriental, floral, geometric, homespun, etc. And within each of these themes, the artist expresses herself as only she can do.
It’s the same with writing. No one has the exact same set of attributes so no one can write — no one craft the plot or choose the words or express the thoughts or describe the scene or write the dialogue — in exactly the same way as anyone else.
We’re lumped into categories for purposes of marketing and actuary and voting, just to name a few slots so it’s hard to feel we are in any way remarkable. We might be average-sized, average-intelligent, average-looking, middle-class and it might be difficult to find much that separates us from the next person.
But each one of us is different, from each of every other one of us. Each of us is one person, an individual, with his or her own unique point of view of the world.
Odd that I hadn’t thought of it quite that way, until the day I saw the quilts.