Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Yo-yo dress update

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the best in show winner at Form, Not Function: Quilt Art at the Carnegie.  It was a dress made of yo-yos, whose train merged into a rectangular yo-yo quilt, made by Marty Ornish.

I wondered in my blog post whether the yo-yos were recycled from old quilts or newly made from old fabrics or what.  This morning I was happy to find that Marty left a comment on my post that explains all.  She writes:

"These two circa WW2 quilts were made by three women.  The youngest, Joan Crone, is now 86, and she sewed these yo-yos 'to help pass the time during the war' and created the quilt with her mother and grandmother.  Her own grandchildren didn't want these quilts, and after she saw my other work at my solo show at Visions's Art Museum, she gifted the yo-yo quilts to me with the explicit wish that I would incorporate them into my art, and she is thrilled with the response.

"Many of the yo-yos had to be repaired, and I deconstructed one of the quilts to create the dress.

"Regarding the issue you raised as to whether or not the yo-yo quilt meets the strict definition of a 'quilt,' while, as you know, a traditional quilt has three layers stitched together, with the advent of art quilts many textile museums now accept two layers of a textile held together by stitching as qualifying as a quilt."

What a good story, especially the part about how the grandchildren didn't want the quilts (boo, hiss) but they were recycled into a lovely art installation.  Marty does this all the time, and is happy to receive donations of unwanted textiles to use in art.  Those of you whose children or grandchildren are as unappreciative as Mrs. Crone's might want to make note of Marty's address [ ] so your beloved stuff could also find a new home with someone who will treat it very well.

Here's an excellent interview in a San Diego paper in which Marty tells how she got into wearables and other fiber art. 

Regarding Marty's comment about the definition of a quilt, she's right that the art quilt world has generally discarded the requirement of three layers.  As one of the founders of the FNF exhibit, I was proudly responsible for writing its definition -- "layers held together by stitching" -- and participated in several discussions, both as juror and as installer, about whether a given entry met the test.

Once we received a quilt that had been accepted, but when we unwrapped it the lack of any stitching-through-layers was obvious.  We loved the piece and tried and tried to find a single stitch anywhere that went through.  Fortunately the artist had sent in her entry well before the deadline, and we decided to send it back to her and ask her to put in at least two or three stitches that would be clearly visible.  She did, without noticeably changing anything about the piece, and the quilt went on the wall and looked great in the show.

We accepted more than one entry over the year from a well-known fiber artist who did intricate hand-stitching.  It was obvious that the stitches went through multiple layers, because we could see that the back and front were different fabrics and the stitches went all the way through, so it clearly met the FNF definition -- even though the artist's website made a point of saying that she does NOT consider her work to be quilts.

I still think yo-yos are pushing the definition, because the stitching mainly goes between one yo-yo and another rather than holding the two layers of the yo-yo together, but faced with a beautiful piece like Marty's dress, you look for a reason to define it in rather than a reason to define it out.


  1. This 'dress/quilt' is absolutely glorious!

  2. At one time Quilt National stated that quilts with yo-yos or puffs would not be accepted. Some artists took this as a challenge and created works with one or the other, or both. QN accepted Ruth B. McDowell's piece and hung it in a remote dark corner. Now there is an artist who does large portraits using yo-yos which have appeared several times at QN and other exhibits. Life is change despite the quilt police.