Lots of people say a picture is worth 1,000 words; fewer acknowledge the value of 1,000 stitches.
Wisconsin’s first poet laureate was among the exceptions. Ellen Kort of Appleton, who died recently, noted this in her preface to the 2008 book “Wisconsin Quilts: History in the Stitches” (Krause Publications, $34.95):
“There is something powerful about making a quilt. If it were possible to unlock the thoughts and feelings of a mother or great-grandmother as she placed each precise stitch into fabric, it would become storytelling pure and simple. … Quilters do not always know beforehand precisely what it is a quilt may have to say. But they do recognize the need to cut and match and sew, and the pleasure and pain of the process itself.”
One benefit is the finished project. Another is stress relief: Repetitive motion – sewing, knitting, jogging, swimming, chopping vegetables – helps us relax. As breathing slows, medical experts say the mind focuses and heart rate lowers.
Establishment of the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Textiles, Cedarburg, in a 1850s barn began as a way to preserve quilt history. Now is it one destination on a new Fiber Arts Trail that is a testament to our respect for the artists, stories, meaning and heritage that are an intrinsic part of hand-stitched, woven and crafted items.
Also on the self-guided trail are these other Cedarburg enterprises: The Cooperage Punch Needle Design Studio, Cedarburg Woolen Mill and Shops, The Pink Llama Art Gallery, Ye Olde Schoolhouse Quilt Shop and Material Matters Quilt Shop. A short drive north, in Grafton, are Grafton Arts Mill and Grafton Yarn Store. Individual fiber artists who do not have traditional storefronts also are trail participants and open their studios for special events.
This Cedarburg spur is part of the Midwest Fiber Arts Trails under development by Minnesota publisher Jennifer Wilder, founder of the Fiber Art Almanac. midwestfiberartstrails.org, 612-961-1601; wiquiltmuseum.com, 262-546-0300
Sievers School of Fiber Arts, on Door County’s remote Washington Island, is one of the best destinations in Wisconsin for working on a quilt or other fiber arts project in a retreat-like setting. Multi-day classes in basketry to beading, quilting to weaving often accommodate all levels of experience.
On the rural campus are roomy group work areas and dorm-style housing in a smartly converted barn. Class size is kept small on purpose. The cost starts at $230 for a two-day class, plus $100 for lodging.
The Sievers Shop, in a restored one-room schoolhouse, sells materials and equipment for several types of fiber art projects, books and magazines that contain project instructions and students’ finished projects: a mix of decorative, useful and wearable items. sieversschool.com, 920-847-2264
Check out these upcoming events for fiber art enthusiasts.
Door County Shepherds Market, May 16-17, Woodwalk Gallery, Egg Harbor, sells yarns, sweaters and other products made with the wool of sheep, goats, alpacas and llamas. dcshepherdsmarket.com, woodwalkgallery.com, 920-868-2912
Driftless Area Fibre Arts Faire, May 30-31, Pendarvis State Historic Site, Mineral Point, includes a sheep-to-shawl demonstration. pendarvis.wisconsinhistory.org, 608-987-2122
Fiber on the Farm Festival, June 13-14, Silver Creek Farm, Watertown, is a family-friendly event with classes in spinning, crocheting, knitting, felting, dyeing and weaving. fiberonthefarm.net, 920-210-0226
Quilt Expo, Sept. 10-12, Alliant Energy Center, Madison, is big enough to attract group bus tours because of the dozens of speakers, vendors and other diversions. wiquiltexpo.com, 866-297-6545
Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival, Sept. 11-13, Jefferson Fair Park, Jefferson, is designed to interest farmers to crafters. wisconsinsheepandwoolfestival.com, 608-868-2505
One last thought about pictures and fibers vs. words. Especially when a camera isn’t at arm’s length, it sure is comforting to have carefully crafted verbal imagery to preserve and deepen memories. Ellen Kort used poetry to help people understand themselves, just as it helped her. She aimed to take her poetry to as many people and places as possible, and that included Japan.
When we shared a bus seat in Japan and saw a vibrant red field of poppies, my camera was tucked away and I presumed this was a brilliant image that escaped me. Months later, Ellen’s lovely poetry about that moment would fortify my own ability to remember.
Ten of us represented Wisconsin during this 2003 goodwill trip to our sister state of Chiba, and a highlight was being dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos. Although two or more attendants fussed over each of us, the smoothing, tucking and tightening of gorgeous fabrics took almost one-half hour.
Most of us were amused or amazed by the process. Ellen cried, and this piece of her poetry would later explain why:
It is a gift this offering of the kimono
Three women spinning and turning me
swaddling and binding me
cocoon-like in cloth I breathe quietly
honoring the moment Their hands
fluttering tucking and smoothing
And now the presentation of heavy silk
spread out for me to admire
hand-painted long-necked cranes lifting
their wings of fire Gold-edged peonies
Chrysanthemums The women smile
You like? You like?
I cannot speak I have no words
in their language for silk the precise color
of an Iris unfolding its translucent purple
to the sun I touch the fabric
trace the stitches the flight of the crane
remembering my mother’s hands fastening
the tiny buttons smoothing out
the long silken train of my wedding dress
The women clap their hands and bow
when tears spill down my face They wipe them
away with their fingers I raise my arms
welcome the wide-sleeved wings of the kimono
hold my breath as the obi is sashed
and fastened in a nest-like bow in the back