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The Patchwork Planet: Quilting in Israel

Keeping the flame of quilting burning in Israel is no easy task but it is undertaken with enthusiasm and imagination by the small community of quilters there. Quilters in Israel live in isolation from such institutions as quilt shops, large national shows like those at Houston and Paducah, and even the availability of such staples as plain cotton fabric.

As Israeli quilters Debbie Markowitz and Rachel Roggel demonstrate, though, these "deprivations" simply induce them to dig deeper into their own creativity to make quilting in their country not only a popular craft but an international presence.

"There are about 250-300 members in the 'Israel Quilters Association'(IQA)," says Debbie, who lives in Jerusalem. "But I know for a fact that there are many more quilters out there who are not members."

The Israel Quilters Association has no actual headquarters, though most of its board members live in the Tel Aviv area. The organization forms the center of gravity for the quilting community in Israel and has many local chapters. "Throughout the year we meet in small local groups," Debbie says. "My Jerusalem group has about 15 members who meet in different homes twice a month, once in the morning and once in the evening.

"Once a year there is a National meeting with a lecture and an update on what is going on. Once or twice a year there is a weekend retreat type thing with lectures and a show- and-tell. In the summer there is a 3-day workshop vacation with show-and-tell and a few vendors come to sell things. Twice a year we have a countrywide 'English speakers' meeting. This is usually attended by about 30 women from the various Anglo-Saxon countries." Local meetings are often also attended by non-members of the guild, including the wives of diplomats from various countries or from large corporations, and even by some Arab women.

The IQA also links its members through the publication of newsletters in both Hebrew and English. These publications contain news of member activities, shows, and other items of interest. The most recent English-language version had a few articles in it on the internet, but Debbie says few quilters in Israel have e-mail or other internet access.

Rachel provides more detail on computer and internet use there, and on her own and others' efforts to increase it: "Computer use in Israel is widespread and the Internet [enjoys] high momentum but very few Israeli and European quilters belong to on-line quilting groups. In order to encourage them to join, Lis Faurholt (editor of the Danish Quilters' Magazine) and I decided to publish an article about the advantages of the Internet for quilters. We then asked Marina Salume from the USA to contribute to this effort and she gladly agreed. It was already published in the first English edition of the Israeli magazine. It will be published in the Europe guilds' magazines." Rachel is an active member of Quiltnet and of NOTRAD, a small, by-invitation-only internet maillist.

As for the tradition of quilting in Israel, it is not unlike that in other countries, where it is nourished in local communities. "Quilting in Israel is considered to be a craft form - not art," says Rachel Roggel, who herself belies this characterization as she creates and shows art quilts in the international community. "Since we don't have a heritage of quilting, it's not as appreciated/exhibited as in the U.S. Most quilters learn to quilt in community centers. The quilts created are mostly with traditional design."

Debbie sees the situation slightly differently: "Every type of quilt is done here -- traditional, contemporary, art quilts, landscapes, etc. There are no quilt books published here so all our info and ideas come from books from English speaking countries. The furthest that anyone ever ventures away from regular quilting fabric is I've seen occasionally someone will make a wallhanging or garment and stick in scraps of Bedouin embroidery or something like that."

If there are not large numbers of quilters in Israel, Israelis seem to appreciate quilts when they get an opportunity to view them. "The Jerusalem quilters had a show at the Jerusalem Theater in 1994," Rachel points out. It had 40,000 visitors and "Good Morning Israel," a television program, had a 5-minute segment on "Quilting in Israel" for the first time. Filmed at Rachel Roggel's house, the exposure increased the size of the Israeli Guild by 30%.

Despite this clear appeal to the public, there are no regular national shows in Israel. This leads those quilters serious about showing their work to international shows in Europe and elsewhere, a direction in which Rachel has moved to gain exposure for her work.

In an area of the world as culturally diverse as the middle east, one would expect cross-cultural influences to affect the flavor of local quilting. Rachel says such influences do exist and are being encouraged by some quilters: "Linda Bar-On (the Israeli chairman) works using middle eastern technique, colors and symbols which she develops and innovates. She takes traditional local customs as a starting point.

"I use thousands of buttons in my quilts as Arabs and Bedouins use in their customs."

As for the hardships of living so far from the quilting "mainstream," both women seem to take them in stride. Debbie describes one solution to the fabric problem: " You asked about any difficulties!! There is one big main one. The small availability of quilting fabrics and supplies. There is a store is Rechovot that is a hobby store and they have a selection of quilting fabrics and supplies, but nothing like the typical quilting store in the US. I get most of my stuff from catalogues and trips abroad."

Rachel suggests another approach: "I use sweatshirt *knit* from clothing factories (no wonder I wrote a book about recycling ;-)) This is the only material available in (cold) Jerusalem. Though it's a stretchy material, I like working with it since it doesn't wrinkle -- when not heavily quilted, nor will it fray and the most important thing for me is that it holds buttons very nicely.

"I think one should work with what is available in her country. This way we can enrich the quilting world."

Looking through the eyes of these two Israeli quilters it is clear that they are doing their part, each in her own way, to enrich both Israeli quilting and quilting worldwide.

 

 

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