Category Archives: Quilt History & Politics

Thanks to the Cornerstone Quilt Guild

Yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity to present my “Quilts in U.S. History” lecture to the Cornerstone Quilt Guild in Charlton, Mass. Not only did I see some stunning quilts during Show and Tell but one guild member also brought a top from 1876 from her collection to share.

I mentioned a few things during my lecture that I wanted to follow up on and provide links for:

  • Nancy Kirk of The Quilt Collection is a tremendous resource to learn how to care for and restore antique quilts. Books and DVDs are available from her website:
  • Mood Fabrics in NYC is where I found cotton velvets to use in restoring crazy quilts – now available online!
  • A quick eBay search for feed sacks shows that they are bringing $10 – $20 apiece so using them to make something wouldn’t be crazy. I would still recommend trying to find a feed sack expert to take a look at the collection first just in case there’s a rare feed sack worth hundreds of dollars among them.

Thanks to the Quinobequin Quilters

Last night, I had the wonderful opportunity to deliver my “Quilts in U.S. History” lecture to the Quinobequin Quilters in Needham, MA.  The guild members asked some great questions and there were a few that I wasn’t able to fully answer in the moment that I wanted to follow up on:

  1. What led to the 1971 Whitney Museum quilt exhibit? 

Last night, I said that I thought Jonathan Holstein and Gail van der Hoof were driving forces behind the exhibit and, according to the International Quilt Study Center, that was indeed the case. They began to see the quilts in their collection as examples of abstract art. I also said that I thought there had been some earlier quilt exhibits that encouraged the Whitney to consider the “Abstract Design in American Quilts” show and that does seem to be the case as well. According to a post by the International Quilt Study Center, the changing perception of craft and ideas of what constituted art also set the groundwork for the Whitney to consider such an exhibit.

2. What innovations in the sewing machine were happening in Europe in the mid 1850s?

According to Wikipedia, there were numerous advances in sewing machine technology, starting with a patent awarded to a German man working in England in 1755. Also according to Wikipedia, the first modern sewing machine design that brought together the advances of the earlier models was invented by an Englishman in 1844, but the patent application was botched. American Elias Howe invented a similar machine in 1845, that Singer improved upon in 1851. Howe won the patent in 1846, according to this article from 1860 in The New York Times. 

It seems that the European companies of the quality sewing machines that we are enjoying today as quilters began in the following decades:

Pfaff – founded in Germany in 1862

Bernina – founded in Switzerland in 1893

Elna, a Swiss brand now owned by Janome, was founded much later in 1940.

There may have been other questions that I missed so if you were there last night and have further questions, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Thanks again to the Quinobequin Quilters.

Protest #6 – In Our Sights

I doubt this one needs a lot of explanation. It’s pages from The New York Times on October 3rd and 4th, 2017, overlaid with a gray sheer and quilted with black thread in concentric circles. The green gun sight image is appliqued on top.

I used actual newspapers, knowing that this piece will wear over time. I expect the pages to yellow and tear to show the passage of time. I hope that the time that passes will bring change in the use of guns in the U.S., but I fear that time will pass with little change at all.

art quilt of newspaper headlines from Las Vegas Shooting, overlaid with green gun sight image

In Our Sights, 2017. 36″ x 32″

In Our Sights

I started a new quilt this week. I’m still reeling from this week’s news of yet another mass shooting, the most deadly of all, and I am not yet ready to start typing the names of victims to add them to the Victims Quilt. But, I still found myself sick over the shooting and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I went to bed the other night drawing gun sight patterns. I originally thought that I would create a block that looked like gun sights to create a traditional quilt, in the style of the Double T block used by the Temperance movement. When I awoke in the morning, however, this is the quilt that I had in mind:

Threads of Resistance

Today, I finally had the chance to view the Threads of Resistance exhibit at the New England Quilt Museum. I was at the museum when it opened so for a while, I had the room to myself. Soon however, I was joined by a group tour. Rather than detracting from my experience, viewing the exhibit  with a racially diverse group of young women and men from UTEC who found pieces that spoke to them increased the power of the exhibit. Hearing one young woman say “This is me” about a piece depicting Justice carrying a sword with the phrase “Come At Me Bro” on it, well, that’s the point, right? That’s exactly why we as artists created these statements in cloth, to convey our feelings through our art and to have them resonate with others.

The Threads of Resistance organizers had a flood of entries from which to select the exhibit pieces (including a few from me). Each one they selected is powerful on its own, but to be in the room with all of the pieces together is almost overwhelming. I highly encourage you to see it if it travels near you. And, if you can get to Lowell tomorrow, one of the curators Sue Bleiweiss will be presenting a gallery talk at 11 AM.


History of Quilting in America – Crazy Quilts, 1890 – 1920

Crazy Quilts, 1890-1920

The Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 and interest in Japanese art sparked the Crazy Quilt.  It was fashionable for genteel upper-class ladies to use needlework as a proper use of leisure time. They had servants to do the mundane work. In the rapid changes in the world, like industrialization, the women wanted to make something beautiful.

Crazy Quilts had geometric shaped fabrics in an abstract arrangement. The quilts were used mostly as a decorative pieces, made with expensive fabrics, velvet, silk, brocade, and satin. They were embellished with buttons, lace, ribbons and decorative embroidery stitches on each seam.


For our show, we had two examples of crazy quilting: a Christmas stocking from Rita Alesi and framed piece of an antique crazy quilt from Bethany Viens.  Crazy quilting is something that I have tried a few times myself, one of which was perhaps my first “crazy mom” moment.  I stayed up until 11:30  on Christmas Eve of my daughter’s first Christmas finishing her stocking. She was 7 months old so I don’t think that it made any difference to her if she had a stocking, but I COULD NOT REST until her stocking was hung.


I also made a crazy quilted wall hanging for my mother and my sister for Christmas one year. (I started one for myself, which is still in the UFO drawer.) I called it “Crazy Family.” I made that one before I learned the value of a good stabilizer.

Crazy Fam 2

History of Quilting in America – Westward Expansion, 1840s – 1860s

Westward Expansion, 1840s – 1860s

In the mid-1800s, Americans turned their eyes west. The first wagon trains left Missouri for the territories in 1843, and hundreds of thousands of settlers followed over the next few decades, bringing their quilts with them.  Family and friends of settlers sent their loved ones with mementos of home in the form of signature and friendship quilts. Then, once the wagon stopped moving, settlers began making quilts of their own, some from the clothes they had worn and worn out during their trips. Common patterns include Friendship Star, Road to California, Wandering Foot and others that reflect this era of leaving friends behind and moving west.

Grandmothers Signature Quilt, 2007.

Grandmothers Signature Quilt, 2007.

Farewell, NJ, 2011

Farewell, NJ, 2011. Friends of mine in the Garden State Quilters in NJ made this for me when we moved back to Mass.

History of Quilting in America – Rise of American Patchwork, 1825 – 1860

This is the second installment from the History of American Quilting special exhibit at the Rising Star Quilters 2015 show.  The sample quilts included here were not in the exhibit, but are quilts that I have made in recent years.

Rise of American Patchwork, 1825 – 1860

By 1825, conditions were ripe in the United States for the development of a distinctly American style of patchwork.  The Lowell mills opened in 1823, and were amply supplied by cotton grown in the U.S. south, largely through slave labor. American quilters now had access to a wider variety and quantity of domestically-produced fabrics. With industrialization and an improved economy, many urban women also had more time to devote to quilting. The whole-cloth and mosaic style quilts of the previous era gave way to pieced blocks (4 Patch, 9 Patch, LeMoyne and Ohio Stars, Log Cabin) and whole-top pieced patchwork, like the Star of Bethlehem pattern. American patchwork was born.

Log Cabin, 2009

Log Cabin, 2009

Ohio Star, 2008

Ohio Star, 2008




History of Quilting in America – The Colonial Period and the Early 1800s

From the special exhibit at the Rising Star Quilt Guild quilt show, October 2-3, 2015.

The Colonial Period and the Early 1800’s

As English settlers crossed the ocean to the American colonies, they brought their quilts and their quilting traditions with them. Whole cloth and mosaic-style paper pieced quilts were the most common styles among the first generations of quilters in America.

King Arthur's Crown template from The Stencil Co.

Hand Quilted Whole Cloth Quilt Sample (or, as my daughter called it “the quilt with nothing on it”)- King Arthur’s Crown template from The Stencil Co.

In the early 1800’s in America, paper was hard to come by, so pioneer women used letters, catalogue pages, sheet music, and newsprint as templates for their quilts. Sometimes they left the paper templates in the quilt as added insulation and giving us a glimpse into their lives. The template was used to stabilize pieces of fabric that were hand stitched together. To make a paper pieced quilt, the template was placed on the back of the fabric, fabric edges folded over the template, and basted in place from the back.  The patches were then sewn together giving the blocks sharp points and perfectly matched intersections.

Mosaic Sample, hand pieced and hand quilted

Mosaic Sample, hand pieced and hand quilted

Quilt Show

Quilters are such nice people.  I can’t even tell you how many people stopped me at the show over the weekend and told me how much they liked my “Authentic Self” quilt.  It was a quilt that I made just for myself with no thoughts about winning any ribbons and having people go out of their way to say positive things about the quilt was so much more meaningful to me than any ribbon could have been.

I also want to thank the people who came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed the special exhibit that I put together with several of my guild colleagues.  The exhibit was entitled “History of Quilting in America” and it described the state of quilting during several historical periods from the colonial era to the modern age with quilt samples from each period.   In case you missed the show, I’ll post some of it here over the next few weeks.