No mad cow in this quilt, just polar opposites

“Crazy Cow Polarity” won first place in the 2009 Crazy for Quilts contest, sponsored by the Alliance for American Quilts. The prize went to Kathryn Wagar Wright of Highlands Ranch.




1. The Quilt Index,, online database of records with detailed information and images from museums, guilds and private collections.

2. Quilters’ S.O.S. — Save Our Stories, oral history project preserving stories of today’s quilt makers throughout the nation and abroad.

3. Quilt Treasures, multimedia portraits of key quilt revival pioneers.

4. Boxes Under the Bed, rescue and recovery efforts to save quilt ephemera, preserving items families and collectors find in boxes of quilts.

When I was a kid, we played pranks on our friends by sending them out in the country to hunt snipes. These days, the prank is more likely to be of a cow-tipping nature.

Whether cow tipping is pure myth or if cows indeed are pushovers may be subject to debate, but some scientists are convinced that the bovine species knows which direction its nose is pointing.

Kathryn Wagar Wright of Highlands Ranch based one of her quilt designs on a fairly new study showing that cows grazing or resting in the pasture align themselves according to the earth’s magnetic field — it’s called polarity.

German scientists arrived at this conclusion after analyzing satellite photos of 8,000 cows in 308 different locations. They discovered that the cattle tended to point their bodies in a north-south position.

Fascinated with this finding, Wright decided to design a quilt that illustrated the concept, and she used crazy quilting techniques to render her final piece, titled “Crazy Cow Polarity.”

The small quilt, 16 inches square, won first place in a crazy quilt contest sponsored last year by the Alliance for American Quilts.

In constructing her cow quilt, Wright — also the art director for Quilters Newsletter magazine — used an array of fabrics in machine and foundation piecing methods. She incorporated voile, rayon, velvets, a vintage feed sack and printed and batik cottons.

Applique and embroidery work she did by hand, then embellished it all with beads and plastic charms.

A large black and white cow’s head dominates the quilt foreground, with a line of cows in the background moving north and south around a Mariner’s Compass block.

Wright says her day-to-day work in graphic design and illustration translates into the visual interpretation of messages or concepts, and it also informs her decisions about making her own art quilts.

When she heard the theory about cows facing the magnetic poles, that “gave me my ‘crazy’ concept to illustrate,” Wright says.

She also likes the idea of supporting the Alliance for American Quilts, based in Asheville, N.C., which used the contest as a fundraiser for its documentation and preservation work, including oral histories of quilt makers from professionals to hobbyists.

This year, the Alliance is sponsoring its fourth annual contest and invited quilters everywhere to enter under the theme “New from Old.”

“Quiltmaking in America continues to incorporate all the new technologies and materials available in the 21st century, but every quilt, no matter the style, carries forward visual traditions and patterns from the craft’s long, rich history,” says Meg Cox, Alliance president.

Again, the format of each quilt should be 16 inches by 16 inches, with a 4-inch hanging sleeve and a label on the back. A $25 entry fee is required, $5 for Alliance members.

The Alliance describes the “New from Old” theme as an opportunity to celebrate the past in the frame of the present.

Inspiration might come from antique blocks, fabrics, trims, color palettes or stitches.

Perhaps art quilters might recycle an old idea or have a more personal interpretation.

Entries are due by May 31 and will tour such venues as the National Quilting Association’s annual show June 17–19 in Columbus, Ohio, and the American Quilter’s Society show July 14–17 in Knoxville, Tenn.

All entries will be permanently displayed on the Quilt Index through the Alliance Web site,

The contest also is a fundraiser, and all quilts become a donation to the nonprofit organization and will be auctioned on eBay in November.

Prizes will be awarded, and a lucky grand prize winner will receive a Handi Quilter HQ Sixteen Quilting Machine for Sit-Down Use valued at $5,000.

All the rules, plus an entry form, are at http://www.Alliancefor

While you’re there, you may find some creative ideas by browsing through four centuries of quilts documented by the Alliance.


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