LS: Art of Quilting Column March 08, 2009

Others are whimsical. Consider “Helping Hands,” a Charlottesville quilter’s ode to Viagra. The work was inspired by a present from a friend: “A fat quarter of fabrics with all these itty-bitty penises and sperm,” says Mary Beth Bellah, describing the pile of remnants with delight.

The plastic wrap was Lipinski’s effort to do his best to protect the unwary public from the adults-only images inside (but you buy it for the articles).

The precautions were fruitless.

Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts, the sewing and scrapbooking mega-chain, opted not to carry the sordid edition — a little “too hot” for Jo-Ann is what Lipinski says his distributor told him. Phone calls to Darrell Webb, chief executive of Jo-Ann, and Lisa Greb, public relations director, were not returned.

“Good grief! What year is this???” writes a poster identified as “Sara Volk” in response to the news on Lipinski’s blog. “Since when did JoAnn Fabrics become the arbiter of MY morals? I’ll go to church for that ... and when I want styrofoam chickens I’ll go to JoAnn’s.”

Lipinski, who takes pride in his magazine in showing the “irreverent” side of quilting (see: the feature on “Quiltzillas” or the regular column Cocktails With Mark), says he fully supports Jo-Ann’s right not to carry the issue — especially as the magazine is available at Barnes & Noble and Sam’s Club.

And he has 35,000 subscribers. Jo-Ann stores usually sell about 7,000 copies per issue.

Lipinski says, however: Jo-Ann “might be out of touch with their customer base. ... When you consider that a 70-year-old could have been dancing naked at Woodstock and a 50-year-old could have been smoking pot in high school — sometimes you have to change your marketing.”
Dude. What kind of quilts we talking about here?

And, how much of this “controversy” can be traced back to Lipinski’s own flair for dramatics?

Pre-Quilter’s Home, Lipinski was a talk show producer. He must know that scandal sells.

Bellah’s finished Viagra product is asymmetrical and somewhat abstract: dozens of little blue pills spiraling out from a central hand.

It’s nothing like what you could buy in Amish country, although it does seem appropriate as a wedding quilt. Bellah considers herself an artist and has displayed her quilts in private shows.

At a recent show in a hospital, “Helping Hands” ended up stashed in a closet after a few complaints.

This, participants say, is the crux of the quilting kerfuffle. Not whether the buck-naked-man quilt depicted on Page 28 is too salacious but whether it should be placed in the same category as the carefully patterned Sunbonnet Sue quilts that have defined the genre and the community.

It’s the needle-and-thread medium that makes the Quilter’s Home creations anything close to “shocking.”

The same images on canvas or cardstock would not receive the scarlet stamp of salaciousness.

But Bellah’s medium is fabric, not acrylic or oil paints.

“People respond to quilts like nothing else,” Bellah says. “There’s a familiarity — you’re
surrounded by fabric your whole life. ... There’s not this pretentiousness to it. I love that people can’t resist touching my quilts.”

Even the naughty bits.

Quilter Gwen Magee says that the contrast between her soft fabrics and her harsh social messages is exactly what makes her work effective.

She did see a letter from one guy protesting her quilts, asking, “Who would want to cuddle under such a thing?”

“He had no concept that this wasn’t that kind of quilt,” Magee says.

Lipinski has received no such complaints from overly shocked readers.

“I did get a letter complaining that the issue was in a bag, though,” Lipinski offers. “She thought that I should be more concerned about the environment.”


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