Quilting Part 2: Cultivation & Domestic Aesthetic

In this post let us briefly step away from the world of quilts and into the broader world of everyday objects and aesthetic cultivation, which Beverley Gordon described in The Saturated World.  What does it mean to develop an aesthetic point of view in the arena of home arts?  We take pleasure in creating a pleasing environment in domestic spaces through selection and use of objects used in the home.  But beyond function, the process takes on a form of self-expression and imbues meaning in the objects we surround ourselves with. Everyday objects are especially suited to cultivating a specific aesthetic point of view because we keep them close. They become invisible through their utility and ubiquity and they become an extension of ourselves through their closeness to our lives and bodies. Thus, the collection and cultivation of bed linens, lamps, artworks, and trinkets that all fit into an individual’s style can bring joy and satisfaction into their lives. In this mindset, nothing is more satisfying than finding the perfect pale pink vase to play off the teal in your lampshade’s floral pattern.

 Charline Batalle, 2014, Montreal home.

Charline Batalle, 2014, Montreal home.

An excellent example of creating this domestic aesthetic is in artist Charline Bataille’s Montreal living space. What strikes me first about the space is her incredible use of color. The pale pink of the walls plays off the cushions on the sofa, the plush carpet, and the small bookcase in the corner. The green of the sofa brings out the subtler green of the plants, the other green nick-knacks throughout the room. Cultivation is present in the objects placed around the room. The ceramic cat, macramé plant hanger, the Bambi poster, and the sundry cups holding pens all speak to each other. Bataille chose to put them in her living space because she made an emotional or stylistic connection to the objects. This connection to objects is what allows their cultivation to become an extension of the cultivator.

Of course, the act of cultivation has historically been linked to gender. In our society, the academic, high-art, male notion of beauty is based in the intellect. Philosophers like Immanuel Kant assert that the determination of beauty is objective, or at the very least a rational, thought-based judgment. In order for the pursuit of beauty to be worthy, it must take place outside the physical body. Cultivation of a domestic aesthetic sits in opposition to this notion because home arts are sensory-based and center on bringing pleasure through a collected experience of creating and using an object.  Rather than selecting art to display on the wall or a pedestal for intellectual contemplation, domestic arts are focused on collecting objects that will surround the user.  In the home, these objects are interacted with daily and constantly touched and used.  They tend to be everyday objects that cannot be separated from the activities of home life. It is clear how this cultivated, domestic aesthetic is coded as feminine. Where the male notion of beauty is ephemeral, sublime, and takes place in the mind, the female notion of beauty is domestic, sensual, and takes place in the physical world.  Broadly, a cultivated aesthetic point of view is firmly held in the feminine sphere.  It is informed by the work involved in creating and using the object, which becomes the fundamental principle of the aesthetic point of view. The craft of quilting is one example of the ways domestic aesthetics are created.

Cultivation of aesthetics is relevant to quilts in several aspects. The functional, everyday quality of the quilt and its closeness to the body when in use makes it an ideal candidate for cultivation. Edward Hall describes how we act and interact with objects in relation to their distance to our bodies. These “distance zones” range from “public” to “intimate” and the closer we allow something, there is more potential for emotional attachment or meaning. When used as a blanket, the quilt falls into the “intimate” zone, where this emotional connection happens.  A quilt very literally brings warmth to a person and becomes associated with the memories and feelings of the warmth it imparts. Quilts can function as an embodiment of the maker and allows both the maker and the user to create meaning in the quilt. Its proximity to the body also allows for a deeper emotional connection. In addition to appreciating objects aesthetically, we invest emotional value in them, allowing them to bring us joy. Quilts are given emotional value both when they are created and when they are used, exhibiting the potential to bring joy through both cultivation and making.

Contemporary quilts exhibit a diverse and near-infinite number of quilting styles that are influenced by everything from traditional quilts to minimalist painting. From modern quilts that consist of solid colors or minimal prints in geometric shapes to art quilts that use imagery and hand painted-cloth, there may be few visual similarities, but they do share a strong sense of style that is rooted in the domestic aesthetic handed down through hundreds of years of quilting.  We can trace the style and diversity of contemporary quilts back hundreds of years to the methods, expressions, and milieu of our ancestors.

 Amanda Jennings, 2014, quilt in progress and “Maple Os.”

Amanda Jennings, 2014, quilt in progress and “Maple Os.”

The planning and preparation for quilting is quite similar to the act of collecting and cultivating objects in a certain style.  The hunting down of fabrics and careful consideration of color, pattern, and composition all create the same satisfaction, meaning, and purpose that the searching out of the perfect teapot instills in a teapot collector. For example, Figure 3 illustrates the planning process of quilter and blogger Amanda Jennings. Jennings considers many factors, including fabrics, colors and piecing patterns in relation to her theme of autumn and Thanksgiving for this quilt. The prints on the fabrics are incredibly important in some quilts, and some fabrics are highly coveted. The choice of fabric can determine the mood of the quilt. Is it a serious, modern autumnal quilt with solid color or geometric print fabric, or is it a Thanksgiving baby quilt, with playful turkey illustrated fabric? Jennings no doubt wants this quilt to fit into her quilting style and her larger body of work, which consists of quirky prints with simple or traditional piecing and a limited color palette, such as her quilt, Maple Os (Figure 4). To reflect her style in this quilt she has chosen a mix of whimsical fabrics. It is through these choices that we start to see the cultivation of materials and aesthetic that happens when creating a quilt.

 Resources for this post:

Images from Charline Bataille and Amanda Jennings.

The Saturated World: Aesthetic Meaning, Intimate Objects, Women’s Lives, 1890-1940, Beverly Gordon, 2006.

Kant’s Aesthetics and Teleology, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Hannah Ginsborg, 2013.

The Hidden Dimension, Edward T. Hall, 1966.