If, when the word “quilt” is uttered, you still picture log cabin patterns and women with thimbles circling a swath of calico, it’s time to change your mind-set.
Scott Murkin is a doctor and hospice physician in Asheboro. He’s also a quilter. Murkin grew up in Illinois watching his grandmother and other relatives make quilts, helping to cut out patterns. As an adult, he says, “I was sad that my children wouldn’t have one of my grandmother’s quilts.” So he made one for his daughter, and one for his son, and some more for his relatives and friends. Then he began making quilts for display and, in 1997, joined the Randolph Quilters Guild. Displays led to exhibitions, and fairs led to competitions. Soon, Murkin became a sought-after judge for quilting shows.
Quilt competitions used to be won on fine workmanship, but these days, they’re weighted toward design. As a judge, Murkin takes workmanship into account, but he also looks at rhythm, balance, proportion, and scale. Today’s quilters create representational scenes or bold, abstract designs. The familiar folk-art designs are still there, but in “extraordinarily sophisticated quilts with an amazing variety of materials,” Murkin says. Quilters use fabric they’ve dyed, painted, or stenciled themselves. Colors are no longer gentle pastels, but, rather, scarlet, purple, peacock blue, black. Murkin has even seen quilts made with orange netting that wasn’t fabric at all, but the plastic fencing set up around open manholes. The crinkly, dully shining shapes were made from heated Tyvek, the plasticky material of new construction sheathing. Embellishments are big, too: It’s not unusual to find nuts and bolts where ribbons might have been used in another era.
He’s spent more time as a judge recently, but Murkin still makes quilts, which he sells at McCanless Pottery in Seagrove. As any needleworker knows, a project might be finished, but your hands and designing mind never truly are. Sooner or later, you have to feel the fabric in your fingers. Or fire up the oven to make the Tyvek crinkle just right.