All the way from Mississippi

Updated: 2013-04-05 07:46

By Mike Peters (China Daily)

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 All the way from Mississippi

Martha Ginn says making quilts is a nice diversion. Provided to China Daily

Quilter Martha Ginn has found enthusiastic audiences for her very American craft in China

Her art form has long been celebrated as distinctly American, but Mississippi quilter Martha Ginn found an eager audience for her craft when she arrived in China late last month.

There was a crowd to greet her at the Dalian Modern Museum, where her work was featured in a traveling quilt show sponsored by the US embassy. A week later she was speaking to groups at a Beijing fashion school and a museum, and presenting a workshop at Slow Life Patchwork, where about 20 quilters were eager to share techniques with her.

"They come to this craft center often," she says of the workshop group. "Some are beginners, and others are quite accomplished already."

After breakfast near the end of the week, Ginn is all smiles as she savors a cup of coffee and the warmth of her past week in China.

"Quilts as art, or as bed coverings, may not be a tradition here," she says, "but the craft is not alien." Quilting techniques have often been used in making clothing - especially formal dress, she notes - and that goes back to imperial times.

"Quilts were on every bed in our home and I naively assumed everyone had them," she says with a chuckle. "Both of my grandmothers quilted and sewed and crocheted. I enjoyed embroidery as a child, but I didn't try to make a quilt until about 30 years ago."

Ginn and her daughter Linda, a librarian who traveled to China with her mother, had been working from a cross-stitch book making quilt blocks, and a combination of pride in the current work and nostalgia for the past overtook her.

"I knew I had found my passion," she writes on her website. The blocks she and Linda had made "were so beautiful that they deserved a 'real quilter' to assemble and quilt them".

Since that first quilt came together in 1984, Ginn has been a "real quilter indeed," exhibiting her work in numerous shows and featuring as recently as January in American Quilter magazine. That story was about "ghost quilting," a technique she was teaching to the workshop group in Beijing.

It's one of Ginn's favorite tricks: mounting a piece of fabric with an interesting design onto a plain background, and then extending the design onto the background with crayon and then stitching. She calls the technique "ghost quilting" but insists she didn't invent it. "I just invented a cute name for it," she laughs.

"I didn't come from an art background," she says. "I learned everything from quilt books and classes. And now I've built up a quilt library of references that's very large withbooks, magazines and show programs, all that."

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