Making a quilt together seemed to be the logical way for the New Image quilting group to commemorate its 20th anniversary. But what group member Patricia Autenrieth envisioned for the anniversary project would be more than a folk-craft product used to throw over a bed or the back of a sofa.
Her idea led to the Hive Project, a quilt of 768 squares measuring 98 feet by 8 feet that was made by the 12 group members from Virginia and Maryland. The quilt is on display at the McLean Community Center through Feb. 15.
"It breaks some nice new ground for the quilting field," Autenrieth said of the exhibit, adding that quilting is an insular field in which the end product generally is not seen by purveyors of fine art. "I knew it had to be big and that it had to be in 12-inch sections because that referenced a lot of things made in fine artwork."
Each of the 768 individual squares is hung separately, allowing the quilt to wrap around corners and break apart for window and door openings. It takes about 1,600 nails to hang the entire quilt.
Autenrieth, of Hyattsville, said she asked each artist to design and sew 64 12-inch squares that would demonstrate her method of working. The outer columns of each person's grouping of squares is designed to lead into the next grouping of squares.
In this way, the quilt can be displayed in an infinite variety of patterns and designs, although there are three "official" display variations.
"The flow between the different sections creates a conversation between the artists," said Deborah McLeod, director of exhibitions and curator for the McLean Project for the Arts, which is sponsoring the exhibit.
Describing each person's life is as much a part of the quilt as the fabric itself, Autenrieth said, "Michele Duell [of Springfield] grew up in Pittsburgh with the steel mills, and everything was covered in rust. She used red in her design to depict that. Dorothy Holden [of Charlottesville] used the letters in her name in her design, and [Fairfax's] Lesly-Claire Greenberg's plaid turned out to be a repeating motif."
Autenrieth said that some members used a repeated block approach to their section, some used household textiles such as lace and dish towels and others used hand-dyed fabrics, a collage method and both raw and finished edges.
"It is important that people have a personal connection to quilts, but it is also important to look beyond what their grandmothers used to [make quilts] and see them reach a broader audience," Autenrieth said.
The group was formed to try to expand the concept of quilting as a fine art medium, Autenrieth said. The other women in the group are Jeanne Benson of Columbia, Ardyth Davis of Whitestone, Va., Amanda Ford of Cabin John, Catherine Kleeman of Ruxton, Md., Dominie Nash of Bethesda, Sue Pierce of Rockville, Linda Tilton of Richmond and Michele Vernon of Falls Church.
The project was displayed at the Maryland Art Place last summer and is scheduled to travel to the Southwest School of Art and Craft in San Antonio in September and on to the Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland next year.
The McLean Community Center is at 1234 Ingleside Ave. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday.