Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Beauty Secrets: No Mistake About It!

In 2005, I bought a quilt that would eventually change a lot of things for me - but I didn't realize it at the time. The quilt, a 1980s teal, red and white New York Beauty, was made in North Carolina and came from an eBay seller. When I bought it, I thought it was a lot older than it is, but then, I knew very little about dating fabrics and quilts at the time. I was still very much isolated in my quilt collecting hobby, and the only source of information was whatever I would hear along the way.

These days, it's hilarious to think I felt it was from the 1940s or 50s. Shortly after I received it, I brought it along to the Palmer Wirfs Antiques Show at the Portland Expo Center, where there is always a booth for identification and assessment of collectibles. It's a little like Antiques Roadshow. You wait in line, meet with an expert, and get a verbal assessment.

There was a lovely young lady from California named Erin who knew a lot about quilts and fabric dating, so I always waited to speak with her. When I told her what I thought I knew about the quilt, she quickly set me straight. I was a little embarrassed that it wasn't as old as I thought, but tried to look on the bright side and played it off as being my "youngest" quilt. Then I stashed it away, feeling a little foolish for having a 1980s quilt in a collection of much older quilts. It sat on a shelf for years, and nobody saw it - my mistake, my dirty little secret.

As I continued collecting, I gradually learned more about quilts and suspected this quilt was from a published pattern. I wasn't particularly thrilled about that because it pushed the quilt one step further away from being a one-of-a-kind original, but it was still a New York Beauty. Then one day something else dawned on me. In all my years of collecting, I hadn't seen any other New York Beauty quilts from that time period. That realization led to another: what I first thought of as a novice collector's mistake turned out to be quite rare and important in the context of my collection. From that point forward, I appreciated and embraced this quilt.

Earlier this year, when the photostreams from the Infinite Variety red and white quilt exhibition started to surface, I discovered another quilt made with what looks like exactly the same pattern. In my mind, it supported the idea that my quilt was made with a published pattern, but I still haven't found the source. So, if there's anyone out there who recognizes this pattern and may have leads to the source, I hope you'll let me know!

This quilt is currently on display at the Benton County Museum in Philomath, Oregon, as part of "Beauty Secrets: 150 Years of History in One Quilt Pattern" through October 1st. The exhibit is part of Quilt County, a biennial, countywide celebration of quilts. An 80-page, full-color printed catalog is available in limited numbers at the museum, and online through Blurb. To preview or purchase the catalog, click here.


  1. I like this story Bill. It demonstrates your transition from collecting because it's what you do, to appreciating what's in the collection. Nice.

  2. Thank you, Liz! For many years, the quilts functioned primarily as wall decor. My art collection, if you will. Only in the last couple years have I really started to assess and digest what was there, and only at that point was I really able to understand what my vision was as a collector.

  3. The blue/red quilt on the wall, bottom left, in the gallery shot -- must be the one Cindy Rennels called suspension bridge? We really do have a similar eye, I almost bought that from her in 2006 at the Denver Quilt show.
    Take care.

  4. Yes, the quilt on the wall came from Cindy. It has several names: Sunflower, Broken Circle, Suspension Bridge and others, mostly traceable to the early 20th century published patterns by pattern designers such as Carrie Hall. It is important in the context of my collection because it represents early 20th century assimilation.