If you are a quilter, you have likely heard of “Stitched,” a recently-released documentary that chronicles three quilting hopefuls leading up to the International Quilt Show in Houston. It is informative, interesting, but what is most compelling is that it succeeds in capturing the essence of “quilting culture.”
You may assume that the director, Jenalia Moreno, is a seasoned quilter who has attended the famous IQS show numerous times, spends her weekends building up a delicious fabric stash, trying new techniques or even sitting up at night browsing quilt images on flickr.com. (Oh, wait, that last one was just me.) Regardless, you would be wrong.
Surprisingly, Jenalia is neither a quilter nor a fiber artist. A long-time reporter for the Houston Chronicle newspaper, Jen got drawn into this subject matter quite by accident. She and her husband, director of photography and editor, Tom Gandy, had been considering a film project together for awhile, but hadn’t found the right fit. At last they stumbled across quilting, right in their own neighborhood.
In Jena’s words, “We decided on this project because it was literally in our backyard. I live and work within two miles of the convention center where the International Quilt Show is held. I thought it would make a good subject for a documentary because I could tell quilters were really dedicated to their craft. Ironically, we thought we would end up featuring Texas quilters, but we didn't. We followed the compelling stories, which went in another direction.”
Jena and Tom followed three well-known characters in today’s quilting landscape; Caryl Bryer Fallert, Randall Cook and Hollis Chatelin. Through the film, we learn their personal story, how it intertwines with quilt making and then track their preparations up to the IQS show. Just to give you a sense of scale, the IQS exhibition location occupies 11 football fields of quilts and quilt-related classes, products, and performances. Whether you are a diehard traditional hand-quilter or you find yourself tying doll heads to your wall quilts, the Houston show is the Quilt Center of the Universe.
One surprising element in this movie is the humor that bubbles to the surface. Jena interspersed the (sometimes horrified) sentiments of a traditional hand quilting group regarding the rise of the art quilt movement. These scenes were priceless. For example, the story of Randall Cook’s first entry in the show, which featured a nude figure scandalized the quilting world and, if mentioned today, still causes uncomfortable chair shifting. The staunch traditionalists in Stitched practically feigned averting their eyes, even when just talking about Randall’s revolutionary quilt!
Here’s Jena’s take on the spontaneous humor: “I didn't know it would be funny. I figured it would be a little quirky because every subculture has its quirkiness and characters. There was some truly hysterical footage, too. Our first edit was four hours long. For example, one of the funniest scenes was when Randy recorded his acceptance and rejection letters. It gets so many laughs, because of his expressions. Tom, the crew and I found the whole movie hilarious at times and I was overjoyed when people in the theatre laughed, too. It’s been really satisfying to realize that it wasn’t just a reflection on our exhaustion in the editing room! This movie really strikes a genuine and comic tone with everyone who sees it.”
Jena and her crew originally met the quilters at the 2009 IQS show, and subsequently did photo shoots in their studios, met them at the Paducah quilt show and also sent them each a flip camera in hopes that they would each capture part of their quilting life in a casual, authentic setting. And what did Jena expect when she sent out those flip cams? "I didn't know what to expect, but the results were amazing. In all, we had 250 hours of footage when we began the editing process!”
The thread that connects the three featured quilters in Stitched is that they all mentor the other. Caryl taught Hollis. Hollis teaches Randall. This trifecta creates another compelling sub-story to the film.
And last words from Jena? “What surprised me most was that I thought I would find bed quilts, elderly women, very patriotic quilts, and the like. I had all the same preconceptions that most people have. I was surprised that I was so “wowed” by the artwork. Moreover, the quilters are so sweet. When you go to their’ houses, they make you cookies, tell you anything you want to know, and are so warm. I was really happy with how nice everyone is, and how supportive they are, even when competing with each other.”
What’s next for the Stitched crew? Jena and Tom are planning to start a movie on mariachi bands next year. Meanwhile, they’ll be speaking to quilters across the US, and selling the DVD at quilt shows. Luckily, you don’t have to attend a particular event to get your hands on your own copy. Simply go to stitchedfilm.com and you can have it in your hands within a few days!