Monday, September 3, 2012

Why?

25-patch, c. 1965, Michigan
Yesterday, a reader asked me why I collect quilts made of double-knit polyester, saying, "I was so happy when most clothing polyester dbl knit went away that I can't imagine collecting quilts made of it. Why?" To which I replied "I collect them because they come from the period when I grew up; they are bright, colorful, and cheerful; the fabric is durable, fade resistant, and won't require much conservation, if any; they are experimental; they were made during a very interesting period in quilt history and American history; they directly preceded the art quilt movement; and they are terribly undervalued.

Then I thought, the best way to give people an idea about what I'm seeing is to post a group of quilts. All of these were collected during the last year, and all have double-knit fabrics. So, here goes!

Shadow Box Variation, c. 1970, Virginia
Bowties, c. 1970, California
Crazy, c. 1970,  Idaho
Grandmother's Fans, c. 1977, Texas
One Patch / Four Patch, c. 1970, Illinois
Nine Patch Variation on point, c. 1970, Texas
Snowball Variation, c. 1970, Ohio
Hexagon Diamonds, c. 1970, Oregon
One Patch (time span), 1970-2012, Oregon
Hexagon Flowers, c. 1970, United States
USA Map, c. 1970, Texas
Stacked Bars, c. 1965, Texas
Pinwheels, c. 1970, United States
Liberated Nine Patch, c. 1970, Washington
There's always a strong reaction when I talk about double-knit quilts. People tend to make funny faces, and jokes. But as I've said before, these quilts knock you over backwards with color and then lead you down the path toward a very interesting history lesson. The orange and blue one at the end is a great example of the visual impact, and how others find these quilts so surprising. I'd posted a picture of it on Facebook a while ago, and someone said they hated orange and they hated double-knit, but they LOVED the quilt. And I love being able to change people's opinions.

So, that's why!

33 comments:

  1. By the way, if anyone out there has better names for some of these patterns, please let me know! :)

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  2. I have never been a fan of double knit poly, but these quilts are incredible. So cool to see what quilters can work with and still come up with something amazingly beautiful!

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  3. When my parents died in 1989, I gave away half a bazillion yards of polyester double knit my mom had stashed away. After seeing photos of your beauties, I sure wish I'd saved it all.

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  4. Stunning! I don't really know what double knit polyester is. Do you have a close up photo of some fabric so I can see the weave?

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    1. It's a thick, scratchy synthetic knit fabric that melts when it's too close to a heat source or flame. Just google it and you'll see what I'm talking about. :) Perhaps I'll do a blog about it, too.

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    2. Thanks, I didn't think of googling it. Lot's of your quilts came up when I did:) Seeing the pictures I can sort of remember it. Horrible to wear, not very pleasant to sew I imagine, but wonderful quilts.

      I think my grandmother probably used these fabrics too. In photos she always has these wildly coulurful clothes. I can see the advantage in no unravelling and no ironing. Must have been liberating. My grandmother used her nylon stockings to stuff toys with:)

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  5. They will out live anything! ;-) beauties!!

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  6. If these are ever in an exhibition, they will have to issue sunglasses at the door! But seriously, seeing them all together like this is quite impressive. I can see why you like them. I like them. That fabric is better for quilts, though, than clothing. -- Mary Anne

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    1. They will be on display at the Oregon Historical Society in 2014. Still working on specific dates. When people walk by and see the gallery through the windows, I bet they'll go in and check it out. :)

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  7. I worked in a fabric store in the early 1970s and remember the polyester well. I remember folding it at the end of a long day after it had been gone through a thousand times by customers looking for the right colors, leaving the stacks in a mess. I remember all the bright flashy colors it came in, and how easy it was to coordinate an outfit from those stacks. We had a huge store, probably 5000 square feet, and 3/4 of it was polyester of some kind.

    I also started quilting back then, and never used the straight poly for a quilt, it was to “moveable” to work with. I preferred the poly/cotton blends that we had a small row of in the back of the store, I think most people used it as lining.

    There was also this small section of 36 inch wide cotton fabric that quickly became my favorite to work with, 100% cotton. They only had it in a few prints, maybe 10 or 12 bolts.

    Thanks for the memories!
    Marge

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  8. I completely understand why you collect these quilts. Bright and happy and they'll stay that way. And hey, some quilt makers of today would use this fabric - I know several who'd give it a try if a wonderful stash of double knit poly came into their possession.

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  9. why ?.....because I like them!

    the unknown is listed in Brackman as #4096...grandma's fan...
    progressive farmer/johnson 1977
    Very cool!

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  10. They remind me that trends set the tone of a period of time. Also, my Mother always wore these fabrics and sewed with them, so they will always have a place in my memory. I had a huge "free" box of these fabrics at the garage sale when I sold my mom's house in 2000. I never considered making a quilt out of them!

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  11. The only poly quilts I had seen before were crazys, not my favorites. You are correct, though, these will last forever and need little care. You have a terrific collection!

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  12. There are two quilters in my guild who started collecting poly quilts abut 8 years ago...you are not alone! I do love how the colors stay so bright!

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    1. I'd love to see what they have, but please share this blog with them, too. I think I found a lot of really great ones in a short period of time. I've got about 60 of them at this point, and really only started actively collecting them a year ago.

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  13. You failed to mention you can pick them up for a song. But not after you start singing their praises!
    I LOVE the last one, Liberated! Back then! Love it!

    Rondi

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  14. Thank you, Rondi. My original post got deleted, but it was in there. I had said that most of these quilts cost less than $50, many were under $25, and some were even under $10. That's what I meant when I said they are "terribly undervalued"...

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  15. I am happy I could give you a blog idea (I can always use those!), but you will never convince me of the worth of these quilts. Many of them are beautiful, but beauty is as beauty does. Perhaps my feelings come from having to wear this horrible fabric for years (and it never wore out!),plus bringer of skin rashes, anyplace the poly touched your skin. I get the creeps just thinking about it. I now use natural fibers and enjoy cotton, and wool the most.
    While I know many folks use just what they have to make quilts, I don't know anyone who thinks they are "undervalued".

    Can we just agree to disagree?

    Jo

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    1. Thank you for the blog idea, Jo. I think we all agree that the fabric is not at all what we'd like to wear, and your reaction is what I expected a majority of people to feel. There are some people who have nightmares about this scratchy, hot fabric. What I'm doing is providing a new context for these quilts - a museum exhibit, which will take place in 2014 at the Oregon Historical Society. By placing them in a museum setting, I hope the quilts will make believers out of people. If I asked a quiltmaker to make one of these quilts today, just the materials would cost more than what I'm paying for most of the quilts. Add labor, and potential for decor - I'm thinking mid-century homes - and that's why I feel they are undervalued. Some have said that I'm going to drive the price up with all of my activities, but I've already seen one double-knit quilt priced in the four figures, from a very well respected East Coast art and antiques dealer.

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  16. The question I ask myself is not "Why" but "Why not?"

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  17. I love these quilts! I was a young person when polyester came on the scene, but I didn't see it in quilts. My grandmother was a highly respected garment sewing teacher in Oregon. She spent her last years sewing with nothing but polyester. She loved it because 1) she didn't have to iron it, 2) the raw edges didn't need to be reinforced (it wouldn't ravel), 3) she didn't need to add facings, etc. She taught classes in sewing with polyester, and even wrote a book about it! There was a "stretch stitch" on the new machines for it. It was modern and it eliminated a lot of the work previously needed by woven fabrics. I wonder if this economy was on the minds of the polyester quilt makers too. Were they stylish and "liberated" women like my grandmother? I wonder if there is something written about polyester and women's lib. In my memory, polyester was all about getting women out from the chains of domestic life.

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    1. Well, judging by some of the quilts, I'd say there were a lot of stylish, liberated women making them. They eventually liberated themselves from wearing DK/poly, and put a lot of it in the quilts. I just love hearing about your grandmother teaching sewing with polyester. That's really awesome.

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  18. These are all fabulous.....but the last one knocks me out! I love it! Of course, I love anything orange.....and this one is so fabulous with the different blues thrown in! And wonky 9-patches......yummy! What's not to love!?! Thanks for sharing these!

    You know.....I see a lot of these are tied, which makes me think they might have been made as utility quilts.....just get something together so we can be warm tonight! I'm sure the choice of fabric was for the color, and ease of sewing it. And if they were for kids.....they'd want something that was going to wear like iron! I think the makers chose well!

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  19. I accidentally used a poly/cotton blend in a quilt, and it drove me crazy. That quilt is still a UFO.

    I just can't imagine doing one with all poly fabrics, but the colors sure are vibrant!

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    1. I've heard mixed reviews about the ease of working with dk-poly. Some say it's easy because it stretches. Others say it's hard because it stretches. It doesn't fray, so that's a plus. Difficult to hand quilt and better for tying, say others. Durable and resistant to fading, say I. :)

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  20. Dazzling! Your collection will be rare because everyone else dumped what they had for all the reasons mentioned above. These quilts have the DNA to outlive everything on the planet. They will live forever. Archival tricks not required.

    Keep at it, Bill. You know I'm cheering and applauding!
    Nyima

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    1. Hi Nyima! Hope you made it back home safely. I think you may be right, and I'd have to add: when you collect something that not many people are collecting, you get first dibs on pretty much everything that comes along. It doesn't hurt to have an eye for art when looking. :) xoxoxoxox

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  21. Seeing these quilts as they are with the dk-poly suggests the best use of that scratchy, non-breathable fabric. You reminded me of some of the clothes I sewed in the late 60s - stiff as boards. there were even patterns and cloth for making underwear and swimsuits if you so chose. i tried both. Wonder where they are now - probably in a dump where they will never decompose. Oh my!

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    1. Double-knit polyester underwear??? OMG, the idea made me squirm!

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