Friday, June 17, 2011

Waste not, want not: a quilting tradition

Once upon a time... there was a magical place, just at the edge of the Appalachian mountains. A place where lost things are found; the discarded made useful. In this place, in Eastern Kentucky, quilting has a rich history and tradition that thrives to this day. This is the home of quilter Bet Ison and the Ison family, and where we found Bet's magnificent quilts.

Ira's quilt, by Bet IsonHome for Wayward Babydolls

We've always been fascinated by mathematical quilts, along with quilts made from ties and reclaimed clothing. This amazing quilt was made with denim, velveteen, neckties, and brocade. The quilt uses the golden mean to make a spiral, which you may know as a Fibonacci spiral. Did you also know that the golden mean was a fundamental principle in Greek philosophy? The Greeks believed there to be three 'ingredients' to beauty: symmetry, proportion, and harmony. They were very much attuned to beauty as an object of love. You can see this principle at work in Bet Ison's quilts.

Key Quilt, by Bet Ison, Home for Wayward Babydolls

We're enthralled by the Key Quilt, which is Bet Ison's masterpiece.  It took 7 years to make  (other quilts were made during this time.)  The quilt is about the things for which we all search, and about the epiphanies we have - those moments when suddenly the path to our goal becomes clear.  The quilt has a continuous line of color transformation  -- mostly made with ties!  Bet used other materials (old shirt, coat lining, scrap velvet, etc) for the repeating solid colors. The quilt is full of little games, stories and jokes.  For instance the border is a celtic "key" design.  In the photo above, the photo is shown hanging in Bet's former studio, where you can also see rows of neckties on the wall.  If you view the large image on Flickr you can read and ponder the embroidered quotations (e.g., "Chance favors the prepared mind"). 

Last but not least, here is a story about Bet Ison and her quilts from the Foothills Quilt Project (November, 2010)....

Image credits and links: Images are shown with the generous permission of Bet Ison.  You can also see a live interview of Bet Ison at the Eastern Kentucky Arts Project. There are some beautiful photos of the Home for Wayward Babydolls on Flickr.


  1. Holy wow those quilts are amazing! I love making upcycled quilts with repurposed clothing, and I have recently started saving all my stringy scraps to make a super repurposed quilt. That spiral one is very inspiring, perhaps I will try my hand at something similar.

  2. Love the Spiral quilt. It is gorgeous!


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