Friday, April 28, 2017

from bargain bin to museum walls

1970s polyeter quilt from Georgia
Today, polyester quilts from the 1970s are generally accepted as part of quilt history. They represent a period worthy of serious academic study, but only a few years ago people were not as open to that idea.
1860s pieced quilt from Kentucky
When I first started getting excited about polyester quilts, some folks gave me a really hard time. I was mostly known as the collector with all the New York Beauties-- high-end antique quilts. Polyester quilts were "less than", and I must have completely lost my mind to be interested in them.

2015 exhibition at Benton County Museum, Oregon
Polyester quilts were unworthy and unwanted, but it paid off to collect them and explore the period. Today, all roads lead back to the 1970s, the most relevant period of 20th century American quiltmaking, and the decade that led the quilt industry to where it is today.

International Quilt Study Center & Museum
Some people still make the dookie face and joke around when I start talking about quilts made of polyester double knit material. Silencing them with the news of my upcoming exhibition of polyester quilts at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum never gets old. The exhibition opens in less than a month. For more information, click here.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Hawaiian Love

I loved Hawaii long before having the chance to visit. When I was about five years old, I would see Hawaii on TV and ask Mom when we could go. She would always say, "some day..."

I was so fixated on Hawaii as a child, I told the Sunday School teacher our family was going there even though we weren't really. So embarrassing, I distinctly remember being caught fibbing, and I had to hide behind Mom's leg in shame when the teacher asked when we were going. That was around 1970 or 1971.

Hawaii seemed like the most exotic, faraway place. It was kind of like Florida, but better. The Brady Bunch went there on vacation. It looked like Gilligan's Island, but visitors weren't stranded. There were surfers and hula girls in grass skirts, coconuts, tikis and leis. All Florida had was Disney World, Lion Country Safari and Grandma & Grandpa's place in Palm Beach. Been there, done that. I never stopped dreaming of Hawaii.

In 2002, I finally got to go to Hawaii, but it was for a swimming competition. For several days we sat around the pool in wet lycra waiting to race, then collected our medallions before going back to the hotel and doing very little else. I decided to return to Hawaii some day, but not for a swim meet.

A lot of things happened in the 15 years I waited to return to Hawaii. Over the last couple years my interest in Hawaiian fabrics developed as I unearthed examples of scrap quilts representing a distinct but undocumented tradition of quiltmaking in Hawaii.

This scrap quilt came from a seller in Eugene, Oregon, and it is part of the tradition. It includes many wonderful fabrics with lots of fish, such as the humuhumunukunukuapua'a, otherwise known as the reef triggerfish, the official state fish of Hawaii.

The scrap quilt, which could also be called a patchwork blanket, was made like many of the others; lightweight and decorative, featuring crazy patchwork combined with an underlying, geometric structure. Foundation pieced on cloth with backing and edge finish but no batting or quilting, it is 54" x 66" and appears to have been made some time in the 1960s or 1970s with earlier fabrics.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Show & Tell

April Show & Tell, Portland Modern Quilt Guild
Show & Tell was always one of my favorite things in school, and now it's one of my favorite things about going to quilt guild meetings. Lately I haven't been to as many meetings as usual, but last week I made it to the Portland Modern Quilt Guild meeting where I showed Barbara McKie's "Interacting Pyramids" quilt.

I did not do the best job speaking about the quilt during Show & Tell, but was able to get out a few relevant details. If you would like to learn more about the quilt, please read these two blog posts from March 10th and March 15th.

Whenever I bring vintage quilts to Portland Modern Quilt Guild, I like to show works with aspects of modernism. This quilt is a bona fide modern quilt, only it was made 43 years ago. I wonder if anyone will try to make one now that they've seen it. The guild's April Meeting Recap is now available online, click here; and there is a Flickr page with photos, click here.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

the source of scraps

Hawaiian scrap quilt, c. 1970, 54" x 66"
This Hawaiian scrap quilt is coming soon from an Etsy seller in Eugene, Oregon. It is very much like a lot of the examples I have found so far, but the fabrics are slightly older than most. Does that mean it is an older quilt? Not necessarily.

Early in my search, I saw signs of the early mid-century in Hawaiian scrap quilts, particularly the fabrics. My idea about the period of scrap quiltmaking in Hawaii originally included the 1940s and 50s, but up to this point I have not collected any examples from those decades.

My search turned up quilts with fabrics from the 40s and 50s, but their construction pointed more to the 60s and 70s. One of the big differences between the fabrics of the 1940s and 50s and those of the 60s and 70s is the inclusion of DayGlo in the later period.

The garment industry in Hawaii took a big hit in the 1970s as a result of the decline in tourism. As factories closed, scraps were liquidated. When I first learned about the Hawaiian garment industry and its role in the scrap quiltmaking tradition, it explained a lot. It all boiled down to the source of scraps.

1960s and 70s fabrics glowed a bit more than the earlier fabrics
Only a couple years ago, there was practically no information about scrap quilts in Hawaii. At the time, I read a blog written by a collector of vintage Hawaiian shirts who was very alarmed about Hawaiians cutting up valuable vintage shirts for quilts.

In 2016, I published research and debuted the exhibition
"Kalakoa, Discovering the Hawaiian Scrap Quilt"
Fortunately, it is much more likely the quiltmakers got their scraps from the factories. In fact, if you travel to Hawaii today, you can find bags of Hawaiian scraps at many of the fabric shops.

Saturday, April 22, 2017


In 1976, it seemed like everyone was into arts and crafts. Quilts were not part of my family's arts and crafts repertoire, but I feel strongly connected to the quilts of the 1970s, especially the Bicentennial quilts.

This Bicentennial quilt is coming from an eBay seller in Connecticut. It was made by a junior high school student, or students, in 1976. It has the look of a group quilt.

There is a label on the back, but it's not 100% clear from the photo what the label says. Looks like the name of the school. I'll have to report back when it arrives.

The guy with the top hat cracks me up. I wonder if it's supposed to be Uncle Sam...

The backing fabric also looks very interesting. It appears to be a patriotic print, and a nice, large piece of it!

The white felt stars are coming apart in places, an easy fix. Otherwise the quilt appears to be in good condition.

As Bicentennial quilts begin to surface in the quilt marketplace, I am following along with great interest. I'm intrigued with the primitive looking design work, so reminiscent of my childhood experience with arts and crafts, and hallmark of a new generation of quiltmakers.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Bicentennial Quilt by Barb McKie

Bicentennial quilt, 61" x 73" by Barbara McKie, Lyme, Connecticut
This superb Bicentennial quilt by Barbara McKie arrived yesterday. If the name Barb McKie sounds familiar, it's because she made the wonderfully modern black and white "Interacting Pyramids" quilt, the one I found in the antiques shop in Aurora a few weeks ago.

I shared that quilt during show and tell last night at the Portland Modern Quilt Guild meeting. It was by far the oldest quilt there, made in 1974, and in my opinion it was the most modern. There were wide eyes, mouths agape and audible gasps, my three favorite things when sharing an old quilt with a large audience like that.

screen shot from Barb's web site showing one of her photographic textile works
Barb's name is familiar in art quilting circles. When I found the black and white quilt, people asked if it was the same Barb McKie they knew through SAQA. Her most recent work involves photography and quilting, beautiful although a departure from her early work. A well-rounded artist, she works in a variety of media and makes jewelry and wearable art as well as quilts. Her husband Jim is a sculptor.

As a collector of old quilts, I have a soft spot in my heart for the early works, and now I'm lucky enough to have two of them, both from my favorite decade, the 1970s!

The Bicentennial quilt includes a variety of fabrics and techniques. It is machine pieced and hand and machine appliquéd and has cottons, velvets and some felted wools.

The design features a map of the continental United States in silhouette in the center, filled with an American flag, and sections of flags from various countries including Russia radiating from the US map. I was pretty speechless when I first saw it. Many thanks to Barbara for offering me the quilt. I hope people around the world will now see it and enjoy it as much as I do.