Saturday, October 14, 2017

new quilt, rebooted body and thoughts on butter

There was a shirtless selfie circulating last week.

"Wow, I'm thin now."

It was a random slice of life, a shot grabbed in a goofy moment. I was holding up a recently acquired Hawaiian scrap quilt, and my new body was showing. It was there in the mirror each day, but looking at a photo was something else. I thought, "Wow, I'm thin now."


The quilt is made out of Hawaiian fabrics, using an interlocking design that seems to be a variation of the pinwheel block. It is 44" x 54" and came from an eBay seller in Eureka, California. There is no batting or quilting, but it is backed, and the backing material is brought to the front for binding.

Lovely as it is, it will always be the quilt in the shirtless selfie, the end of a long journey, the rebooted body. If you want to lose a lot of weight, it makes a difference to pay attention to what you eat. Butter, for example. I love butter as much as anyone else, but it was probably a good idea to stop snacking on whole sticks of it in the form of shortbread and cheese straws.

Last night was a rare butter treat, garlic bread! It went well with the tomato based shrimp and scallop creole, insted of the usual white rice. Mom's garlic bread recipe is a compound butter. It has room-temperature butter, garlic, parmesan and parsley. I like to add other herbs, last night it was oregano and thyme. After unexpectedly dipping under my goal weight last week, it was nice to indulge is a hot, hearty meal. Wish I could eat like that every day, but at the same time, I'm glad I can't.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

a little more velvet


Velvet turns me on. It's not so much the way it feels, but the way it looks. I love how it catches the light. A few years ago I noticed a velvet dress made by Gretchen Jones on Project Runway, and the way it looked in the light made me sit up and take notice. It shimmered, but not like silk or satin.

The velvet dress by Gretchen Jones caught my attention on Project Runway.

Velvet quilts are not the easiest things to find, but I find them intriguing as Jones' orange velvet dress. Part of my process as a collector is to photograph acquisitions and share them. I can always depend on a velvet quilt to look good in a photograph.



This quilt, pictured at top, is all velvet including the backing. It is dated 1932, and there is also the letter "M" next to the date. It is unclear what the letter means. It could be anything from the initial of the quilt's owner to the letter of the month is was done, but these ideas are really just speculation. The embroidered date is done by hand in chain stitch.

The ring shapes - what are they all about?

Looking at other examples of velvet quilts including one in my collection, I notice there are often partial or full ring shapes in these quilts. If the rings were from garment scraps, what garments could've produced them? Perhaps collar cutaways?

One of my Facebook friends suggested the rings could be from hat making, and I liked the idea, but later thought they looked more like the brims than the cutaways. The storyteller in me would love to make up a tale about a secret society of velvet quiltmakers who used rings as a secret code, but there's already enough romanticism in quilt history. I'm happier just wondering.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Green Velvet

Crazy Quilt, velvets, unknown maker, Indiana, c. 1950, 66" x 79"

I love shiny things. When I saw this crazy quilt, it really caught my eye. The top was made with only one fabric, large patches of luminous green velvet. The patches were randomly pieced to create simple geometric designs within three columns. The velvet is embossed with a repeat wave design, and the patches are outlined with yellow hand stitching along each seam.



It appears to be from the mid-century period, c. 1950, and came from an eBay seller in Bedford, Indiana. There was no additional information with it, but it is 66" x 79", with no batting or quilting, and it is backed with coarsely woven green cotton fabric, brought from back to front for binding. The velvet gives it a hint of luxury even though the piece is kind of kitcshy. A cool find, and green is one of my favorite colors.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The stuff of legends, part 10: why make things up about quilts?

Do myths come from a lack of education?
Or are we really just avoiding the truth?
Why do people make up so many stories about quilts? Some experts say it is that quilts are so intriguing, there must be more to them. Others say it is due to a general lack of education in quilt history, a relatively new field. Both explanations seem plausible, but maybe there is another. Maybe it has something to do with topics we avoid in polite conversation. People's made-up stories about quilts -- the stuff of legends!


During the month of September, I celebrated back-to-school by posting this series of blogs about legends, myths, romantism and hoaxes in quilt history. It was gratifying to exchange messages with readers who already knew about the debunking of these tall tales. At the same time, it was sad to discover how many people did not know, and how willing they were to dismiss historical facts in favor of what they wanted to be true. I guess we need a little more time to spread the word.

"...people have sex on quilts!"

The other day I attended a quilt show and was chatting with a friend on my way out. During the conversation, something dawned on me.


"You know why people make up so many stories about quilts?" I asked, and she shrugged. "It's because people have sex on quilts!" She laughed. "No, seriously! People make things up to avoid talking about the real stories."


Obviously, the real stories behind the quilts are not always the stories we can tell. Myths about quilts do come from a lack of education, the desire to know the unknown-- but there is also the element of avoiding the truth. If you think about what really happens with quilts, perhaps it explains why some folks are happier embracing the myths.

Thank you to all the readers, especially those who commented and exchanged information about the stuff of legends during the month of September. I hope it was a productive and informative back-to-school month. 
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Saturday, September 30, 2017

The stuff of legends, part 9: the evolving myth of the "humility block"

Flawed theory: the "humility block" is a romanticized myth gone viral.
Many of today's quiltmakers believe incorporating intentional mistakes in a quilt is paying tribute to an age-old, Amish tradition. The so-called "humility blocks" were intended to express the belief that only God was perfect. Charming story, but did they really do that? A romanticized myth gone viral, the humility block is the stuff of legends.

Was it an honest mistake?

A turn-of-the-century blue and white quilt with a repeat appliqué pitcher and bowl design has an obvious mistake. The appliqué is backwards in one block. Was it an honest mistake? Was it noticed too late and left in? It would be difficult to say because we don't even know who made the quilt. When you don't know the identity of the maker, making statements about intent is problematic.

This quilt appeared in "Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics"

"Certainly the myth of putting the error in the quilt to express humility has not been proven,"said Lee Kogan, Curator Emerita of the American Folk Art Museum in an interview for "Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics." "I think when you're making a quilt that has very complex patterning, it's likely that a slight deviation will take place here and there,"

"I have heard a lot of these stories," added Elizabeth Warren, Trustee and Guest Curator of the American Folk Art Museum. "I spent a lot of time debunking the myths, that for some reason keep reappearing and I don't know why." She thought possibly it had "something to do with people's view of quilts as something homey."

Amish crib quilt, c. 1900

Mistakes happen. You don't have to plan them.

The humility block is widely attributed to the Amish, but that's not what Amish people say. "I once asked an Amish quilter about the humility block thing citing the phrase '...since only God is perfect,'" said quiltmaker, teacher and author Pepper Cory in a reply to a post on Facebook. "She looked sideways at me and said, 'Yes, I heard about it. From an English (non-Amish) quilter. But I was never told that.' End of story."

"Similar to what I was told when I asked Amish ladies," said Pennsylvania quiltmaker and historian Barbara Garrett. "The most common comment: 'I read in a magazine that you all think that about us. That was the first I heard the idea." The Amish quiltmakers readily admitted mistakes happened, and you didn't have to plan them. 

"As a long time quilt maker I can attest to the fact that one does not have to try to make an error," said artist Joe Cunningham.

mistakes happen
If the quiltmakers of yesterday did not include humility blocks in their quilts, why would quiltmakers do it today? The story so charming, people want to believe it. So, they use it as a design element in their work. It may not make the myth more real, but it serves its own purpose. It canonizes the legend. Perhaps the best way to express humility is to do as the Amish actually do. Embrace unintended mistakes rather than making something more out of them.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The stuff of legends, part 8: make-do quilts in America

Quilts in America did not originate as make-do objects.

Unpopular as the notion may seem, America's early quilts 
were objects of wealth, disposable income and free time, 
not signs of poverty. 

Its a stubborn myth, but someone's got to bust it. Quilts in America did not originate as make-do objects. They were not originally made out of necessity by the less fortunate. Many of them were not even made to keep the family warm at night. America's earliest bedcovers were primarily elegant objects, displayed by affluent European immigrant families as decorative furnishings in well-appointed homes. Unpopular as the notion may seem, America's early quilts were objects of wealth, disposable income and free time, not signs of poverty.

wholecloth quilt, c. 1790, New England

Make-do tendencies certainly existed, especially when colonists made their own materials out of available resources such as wool and flax. The frugal use of fabric also indicated the limited availability and steep expense of taxed, imported textiles. Mills were slow to open in the colonies but the industry would start to thrive by the 1840s. African slave labor turned cotton in to one of America's most important crops. Of course, there were many problems, leading to the Civil War.

wool with various tones from different dye lots, c. 1810, New England
The American Civil War was fought over slavery, but it could also be called the war fought over cotton. Tobacco was another cash crop but it was a luxury. Cotton was much more of a necessity, and while black slaves labored, white slaveowners prospered. That was the ugly reality about the burgeoning textile industry in the United States.

quiltmakers would make do if they ran out of fabric, but they tried to hide it

A few years ago, quilt historian Suzanne Swenson presented a lecture in Paducah at the AQS annual show. It was called“What Happened to Cotton and Quilting During the Civil War?” and the lecture gave historical perspective of the effects of the Civil War on the cotton industry, quilting, and people's lives. According to Swenson, the Civil War was not just a soldier’s war in the field, it was also a war of struggle and survival for the women on the home front suffering the material shortages of everyday life. 

The struggle was especially real for Southern women of the Confederate States. Swenson talked about what happened to all the American cotton, how much cotton made it through the southern blockades, where the North was getting its cotton to keep the mills running, and whether more quilts survived in the North or in the South. It was fascinating! (if I can ever find a link, I will share it)

a Southern, Civil War period quilt, elegant and warm

Even in the harsh political climate before and after the Civil War, Southern quilts were elegant objects. Improvisational style would eventually be seen in Southern quilts, but it arrived a little later with used clothing and scraps from the garment industry, more toward the turn of the century and later.


In a certain regard, make-do quilts, which could also be called scrap quilts or improvisational quilts, first emerged in the form of elegant Victorian crazy quilts; made from bags of sumptuous scraps purchased by refined ladies, who painstakingly pieced them together randomly, embellished them with fancy stitches learned at the finest finishing schools, and draped over the settees in the front parlors of their large Victorian houses. Make-do quilts in America, the stuff of legends.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The stuff of legends, part 7: The Romance of Pattern Naming

"Drunkard's Path" c. 1890, sold to MSU Museum, MI.
"History would be much easier if 
everyone could get their stories straight."

The inclination to construct meanings for quilts leads to all kinds of stories about pattern names. "Drunkard's Path" is a prime example. The pattern is loaded with romantic baggage, but not everyone agrees on the story. It was included in the Underground Railroad Quilt Code hoax, said to indicate the irregular path slaves needed to use to avoid capture. It was also said to be a symbol of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, either invented or adopted by the organization to illustrate the path of the drunken husband, representing the evils of alcohol use.

Drunkard's Path is Brackman pattern #1461, from Ladies Art Company #46, published in 1895. There were several other names for the pattern, which appeared earier in some cases, but the publication date was around the turn of the century or later.

History would be much easier if everyone could get their stories straight. I would love it if people could take a time-out, and altogether stop making up stories about quilts...as if that would ever happen! The temptation is irresistible, and it creates a blurry line between fact and fiction. When and where did pattern names originate? How did they become popular? What function did the names serve? The romance of pattern naming is the stuff of legends.

Shealy Family Quilt, c. 1870, South Carolina
There is little evidence to suggest pattern names were in use much before 1900. This information pretty much ruins the majority of romantic stories people tell about quilt pattern names, but it is all too easily swept aside when beliefs are held more dearly than historical facts. The real story, warts and all, is that many of the popular names for quilt patterns were products of the Colonial Revival and Depression era, when designers and copy editors assigned names as part of the marketing of patterns in newspapers and magazines.



Time to turn on the ultimate quilt mythology lie detector. 
Are there quilts, or not?

Patterns, such as the 1930 Mountain Mist "New York Beauty" came with fictional accounts presented as historical fact. According to the pattern description, New York Beauty was "...a very old pieced pattern dating from 1776."

Time to turn on the ultimate quilt mythology lie detector. Are there quilts, or not? Are there any examples of the complex, geometric pieced quilts known as New York Beauty from the Revolutionary War period? No. Are there comparable examples suggesting a trend toward complex geometric patchwork at the time? No, it did not appear until much later, around the 1840s in America. Were there any records documenting this patchwork design in 1776? No.


I spent more than 25 years collecting and researching quilts made with the pattern, and never found one made before the middle of the 19th century. The Mountain Mist date, 1776, was most likely chosen by the pattern designer because of its patriotism and obvious significance in United States history. The information was further embellished with a note about the original, inspiration quilt being red, white and blue.

Mountain Mist maintained a collection of quilts, which was recently acquired by the International Quilt Study Center & Museum. One quilt, an old pieced quilt is thought to be the inspiration quilt for the "New York Beauty" pattern. It was made in the late 1800s or early 1900s, but certainly not in 1776. Incidentally, it was red, white and green. Mountain Mist's story failed the lie detector test in more than one way.

1870s quilt made with a pattern that got its name later-
"Cross Roads to Bachelor's Hall"

Not really knowing was better than making up stories.

Last year, I co-authored a research article for the American Quilt Study Group newsletter with Marian Ann Montgomery, PhD, Curator of Clothing and Textiles at the Museum of Texas Tech University. The article was about the "Cross Roads to Bachelor's Hall" pattern. Research began with an unidentified quilt I'd found. It clearly predated the initial publication and naming of the pattern, which raised questions about the pattern and name origins. Not really knowing was better than making up stories. We do not know what the pattern was called before 1906, but we know the design existed. 

Cross Roads to Bachelor’s Hall was pattern number 2946 in the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns by Barbara Brackman, and was attributed to Clara Stone. The pattern appeared in Practical Needlework: Quilt Patterns, published in 1906 by C.W. Calkins & Company in Boston. The booklet was one of a series containing patterns originally designed by Clara Stone for periodicals published by Vickery and Hill Company in Augusta, Maine. 


Double Wedding Ring is another highly romanticized pattern name. Robert Bishop's 1989 book, The Romance of Double Wedding Ring Quilts collected and examined more than 50 quilts in the search for the origins of the pattern. Bishop did not find any Double Wedding Ring quilts made before 1890, and today, the time frame is easily corroborated through documentation records on the Quilt Index, an online database with more than 50,000 records. These facts are problematic for supporters of fantastical stories about the pattern. Most Double Wedding Ring quilts were made in the 1930s or later.

It may be terribly unromantic to say when and where pattern names originated, but it's better than making up or repeating implausible stories. Pattern names were products of the mass media, the Colonial Revival and the Great Depression. The names were created by pattern designers and copy editors for newspapers and magazines publishing quilt patterns, starting around the turn of the century. Be wary of any stories that say otherwise, especially without written documentation from the appropriate period. Pattern naming...it's the stuff of legends.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The stuff of legends, part 6: The Underground Railroad Quilt Code Hoax

The presence of quilts, or lack thereof, is the ultimate
quilt mythology lie detector test.
Setting the record straight: the biggest hoax in the history of American quilts is the Underground Railroad Quilt Code. It started with a 1999 book, "Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad" by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard. According to the story, slaves created quilts with secret codes to advise those fleeing captivity, guiding them safely along the Underground Railroad. Unfortunately, the story was heavily promoted before it was vetted. 

OK, so maybe it's a little insensitive to call it a hoax. That's a word I chose to bring attention to it, and attention is needed. The story surfaced almost 20 years ago, and people still believe it! Passing time does not lessen the sense of urgency among historians to set the record straight. The International Quilt Study Center & Museum presented a brief overview of the topic in its World Quilts section of the web site. "A folk story from an individual family" was a more tactful way to characterize it.


Where are the quilts?

The story is based on recollections from Ozella McDaniel Williams, a Los Angeles teacher who learned quiltmaking in South Carolina and once sold a quilt to Tobin. Williams shared the family's oral history about the quilt codes with Tobin, who asked Dobard to assist with a book on the subject. The year before the book was released, Dobard appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show, promoting the family story as fact. 



The nagging question for supporters of the historically-implausible story continues to be, "Where are the quilts?" I was curious, so I did a quick search of the Quilt Index, an online database with more than 50,000 records such as state documentation project findings and museum collections. The search, using the keyword "slave" produced 110 results, and roughly 30 of those were from the appropriate, pre-abolition period.


None of the quilts fit the descriptions from the book, and only one had a block referenced in the book - a Shoo Fly quilt from North Carolina. The quilt was said to be buried by slaves during the Civil War, and although the makers were listed, the quilt was not identified as slave made. Examples attributed to slaves were predominately elegant quilts, the kind used by slave owners, such as an 1826 "Broderie Perse" documented in North Carolina. That quilt was "possibly" quilted by slaves, according to the record.



From a quilt history perspective, several of the block designs did not exist before abolition, and barely existed before 1900. Very few Double Wedding Ring quilts made before 1900 have ever surfaced, for example. Log Cabin quilts did not appear much before 1870. The naming of quilt patterns did not really take place until the advent of mass media and publication of quilt designs in newspapers and magazines. That was around the turn of the century. There was one publication during the pre-abolition period that published patchwork designs - Godey's Lady's Book - but the publication did not assign any names to patterns. The naming of patterns was also part of the trend toward romanticism, springing out of the Colonial Revival.

The story of the Underground Railroad Quilt Code left historians, who do not have major network television talk shows, scrambling for ways to communicate the truth. And the truth was, there were no quilts to support the story. The presence of quilts, or lack thereof, is the ultimate quilt mythology lie detector test. Today, almost two decades after the story first surfaced, millions of Americans still believe in the story. Quilt historians, who already have a hard time reaching the mainstream with their research, face an uphill battle.

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"I remember that my initial response was a mixture of surprise and optimism," said Laurel Horton in a 2006 lecture she gave at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. "The more I heard about the book, however, the more I realized that many of the details did not correspond to what I knew about either quiltmaking or the realities of slavery."

The lecture was based on a paper she wrote, and I wanted to include the video here because she deserves credit for doing such good homework. If more people take the time to listen to what she had to say, they might realize the Underground Railroad Quilt Code is the stuff of legends.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The stuff of legends, part 5: constructing mythologies

The search for deeper meaning is at the heart of the inclination
to construct mythologies about quilts.
"What does it all mean?" I wondered, looking at a remarkable pictorial hexagon quilt made around 1900. I got the quilt from an auction house in the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania, but there was no information with it. The iconography seemed to refer to secular Christianity, and although it was hard to say anything more specific about the quilt's meaning, there were plenty of theories.

Curious...very curious! 

The search for deeper meaning is at the heart of the inclination to construct mythologies about quilts. In the pictorial hexagon quilt, the iconography inventory included: two buildings, a central cross, nine chalices, four keys, two candles, two anchors, a roof-shaped rainbow, 49 flowers, and two objects at the bottom that look like bones. Curious...very curious! 

Considering the amount of labor involved and the specificity of the imagery, there had to be special reasons for the creation of this quilt. The thing is, unless some form of documentation appears, we do not know. We can only guess, and it's OK to do that, but it would always be a guess.



It is important to understand what we can say about a quilt, 
and also what we cannot say.


Until recent years, pictorial quilts were few and far between. They were often one-of-a-kind originals, such as the 1930s quilt from Ohio with a log cabin and an American Flag. There could be many reasons why it was created, but it's important to understand what we can say about the quilt, and also what we cannot say.

We can provide a detailed physical description, with dimensions, colors, fabrics, methods, skill level and an inventory of pictorial elements. We can also discuss what each pictorial element represents. Certain aspects are educated guesses, such as circa date. When makers' information is not known, I try to avoid statements about their identities, but the clues can be tantalizing. 


The pictorial hexagon quilt is an object with tantilizing clues. Although the combination of elements seems to refer to secular Christianity, the denomination is unclear. The purpose behind the quilt is also unclear. Could it be an expression of Catholicism? Is it based on period sampler designs? Could it be a wedding quilt, depicting two families uniting through a marriage? We simply do not know, but that doesn't stop us from going down the path of constructed mythology and romanticism.

Ask, and if you're lucky, you'll receive.

I hope to someday learn more about the pictorial hexagon quilt, which is why I post photos of it from time to time. It is such a specific quilt, I have a hard time believing nobody out there knows something about it. Ironically, I've gotten some flack from critics who are quick to say asking for information reveals how little I know. In fact, it reveals the unlimited potential to learn. Ask, and if you're lucky, you'll receive. Until then, it will be entertaining to discuss ideas about the quilt, even though the ideas would not qualify as part of its history.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The stuff of legends, part 4: the "Slave Quilt" on Antiques Roadshow


Couldn't anyone see the quilt wasn't made in the 1830s? 

Things that make you go hmmm: the "Slave Quilt" segment on Antiques Roadshow. The memorable segment first aired in 2003 and also appeared on episodes in 2013 and 2016. It is infamous among quilt historians and anyone with basic knowledge of textile history. The information about the quilt is clearly incorrect, and it raises questions.

Why didn't any of the Antiques Roadshow experts see the red flags? Couldn't anyone see the quilt wasn't made in the 1830s? Fourteen years after the segment first aired, why hasn't the Antiques Roadshow corrected it, or at least pulled it from the line-up?

(If you haven't seen the appraisal, click here to view it.)



The quilt was supposed to be made in the 1830s, according to the owner. Looking at the images in the video, especially the details, the quilt was clearly not that old. It appeared to be from the last quarter of the 19th century, 1875-1900 period. Slavery was abolished in 1865.

So...let's consider the physical characteristics:
  • solids rather than prints
  • strong reds from synthetic dyes
  • unstable/unmatched greens*
  • fugitive dyes gone tan
  • complex geometric patchwork
  • elbow/Baptist fan quilting, medium/sparse density
  • machine-applied binding, approx. 1/2" wide
*Note: in the video, the owner referred to blue fabric. The fabric appears to be green in the video.

click to enlarge - look closely at the machine-applied binding
Other than being made of cotton, the physical characteristics do not in any way correlate with quilts made in the 1830s. What would we expect to see in the 1830s?
  • imported copperplate printed fabrics
  • finely woven fabrics
  • Turkey red print fabric, often with condition flaws
  • basic geometric patchwork; also wholecloth and appliqué 
  • refined, elegant design
  • fine finishing details, narrow bindings
  • mostly hand work including piecing

...it is also important to consider the bogus provenance...

All signs pointing to the 1870s or later would ordinarily end the discussion, but it is also important to consider the bogus provenance. According to the owner, the quilt was supposed to be one of the quilts listed in a Polk estate record from 1864. The record did not include specific information about the quilts or who made them.


The pattern was supposed to be an African design, and that's plausible. However, the design also relates strongly to trends in patchwork quilting at the time, the last quarter of the 19th century. Several four-pointed sawtooth star designs, beginning with "Philippines" by Ladies Art Company in 1901, appear in Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.


Complicating the issue, the quilt was included in exhibitions and was featured on the cover of the exhibition catalogue for "Jubilee, The Emergence of African-American Culture" from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research library of the New York Public Library. When the quilt appeared on the Antiques Roadshow, the error was immediately and embarrassingly apparent. The object and its provenance were simply not well-vetted.


Things that make you go hmmm...

Antiques Roadshow is a television show. The producers call the shots, but they need to take much greater care with quilts. The "Slave Quilt" debacle is only one example. I have gone to four Antiques Roadshow "On Tour" events, and each time it was clear the appraisers assigned to evaluate quilts had some knowledge of quilts, but they were clearly not quilt experts.

Her first question really should've been, 
"Bill, what are you doing here?"

The last two times I attended, in 2016 and 2017, the appraiser at the "Textiles and Rugs" table was a perfectly lovely lady from Louisiana who was a textile conservator. I felt bad for her, because she was flying by the seat of her pants with quilts, trying to appear authoritative but falling way short in the information department. Oddly, she had the same opening question both times, and it was almost an assumption-- "was the quilt passed down through the family?" Her first question really should've been, "Bill, what are you doing here?"

At this point I am not sure what to do about the "Slave Quilt" on the Antiques Roadshow, or the larger problem-- the producers' apparent problem with quilts. I suppose I could write a letter to them, but I honestly don't think they care what I think. Friends have told me to become one of their appraisers, but I think I can say "no thanks" to that. It's not a paying gig, I'm not looking for a job, and I can think of many other ways I want to spend my summers. Sadly, all I can really do is say, "that sucks" and move on, but I hope readers will understand not everything they see on the Antiques Roadshow is true.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The stuff of legends, part 3 - "Perfection!"

"Perfection" and "precision" are not interchangeable terms

This morning, I read a blog post by Karlee Porter of Karlee Porter Design. It was the story of her run-in with the quilt police, but it was essentially about perfection. In quiltmaking and other creative practices, perfection is a lofty goal. It is also the stuff of legends.

1860s quilt from Kentucky, precise but not perfect
Look at old quilts. The most magnificent examples of sewing skill are hardly precise. If you look for flaws you will find them. However, you don't have to think of them as flaws. Quilts can lack technical precision and still be perfect. They are perfectly imperfect.

a masterpiece 1850s quilt from Kentucky, perfectly imperfect
Some of the most exciting quilts are perfectly imperfect. A lack of precision does not lead to the conclusion that the quilt is not perfect. It is intriguing to see the human choices, the places where makers faced challenges and made things work.

mismatched colors in an 1880s quilt
Maybe they ran out of fabric and couldn't find a precise match. Perhaps the fabrics were more closely matched when the quilt was made, and fading revealed the differences in dye lots.

asymmetry in an 1870s quilt
A lack of symmetry may have worked best for the bed. Did it really need a fourth border if the bed was going to be pushed against a wall? Would it be the right size? Leaving off a border could've been the perfect solution!

an 1860s quilt in poor condition
Do people stop caring about quilts when they are not in perfect condition? Quite the contrary! Quilts in poor condition are fascinating. A quilt may start out in perfect condition but end up raggedy. The condition is a perfect expression of the life it lived.
1880s quilt with tan fabric faded from its original color
Perfection is the stuff of legends because it is so often confused with precision. Perfection is faultless, free of flaws, and too much precision can be a flaw. With works of art, perfection is a sense of clarity about the many creative choices and how they work together. It is about balance, all the stars aligning, when everything is just right. Precision is more like a sign of practice and technique, exactness. Of course, abandoning precision is one of the available creative choices. Sometimes it is the perfect choice.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The stuff of legends, part 2: "Hawaiian" quilts

Hawaiian quiltmaking, particularly the promotion and commodification of a singular, regional style, is the stuff of legends. 

If you pick up most any book about Hawaiian quiltmaking, there will be lots of quilts made in a similar manner. They are applique quilts, predominately solid fabrics, two-color, with large, symmetrical paper cut botanical snowflake designs and echo quilting.


Hawaiian quiltmaking, particularly the promotion and commodification of a singular, regional style, is the stuff of legends. If it sounds vaguely familiar, think back to "part 1" - the promotion and commodification of a singular style, improvisation, as the "African-American" style of quiltmaking. To read more on that topic, click here.
Miller family quilt, c. 1930, Kailua, Hawaii
If you travel to Hawaii, you will see appliqué quilts and pillows for sale in gift shops. A lot of those objects are made outside of Hawaii, in places such as the Philippines, and are made with the sole intent of satisfying the tourist market. In that regard, a lot of "Hawaiian" quilts are not even Hawaiian anymore.

"Hawaiian" style quilt made in the Philippines
The symmetrical, botanical designs are directly related to scherenschnitte patchwork found in Pennsylvania and surrounding areas around the time missionaries were present in Hawaii.

block from an 1850s quilt made in West Virginia
In light of the general acceptance of the idea that "Hawaiian" quilts are echo-quilted applique quilts, it is intriguing to discover a separate tradition of purely Hawaiian quilts-- Hawaiian scrap quilts.

Hawaiian scrap quilt, c. 1960
Scrap quilts cleverly make use of cutaway scraps from the Hawaiian garment industry, also the source of aloha shirts and muumuus.

Hawaiian scrap quilt, c. 1960

The quilts represent more than a spin-off on mainland trends. Consistently, cloth foundation piecing such as string piecing appears in the tops. A large number of the scrap quilts are backed but have no batting. Most are not tied or quilted.

Hawaiian scrap quilt, c. 1970

Some are bedspreads, with an edge finish but no backing. All of them are time capsules of the Hawaiian garment industry, beautifully presenting and preserving the scrap fabrics. They are vibrant, and combine an unlimited number of hot colors in a delightfully carefree way.

Hawaiian scrap quilt top, c. 1970
Geometric motifs appear and reappear, such as alternating, string-pieced blocks forming squares on point, or diamonds. The narrow strips of fabric required to create these designs are exactly the type of scraps the garment industry would produce as a byproduct. The repeating geometric motifs are reminiscent of those seen on a much smaller scale in kapa cloth.
Hawaiian scrap quilt top, c. 1970
Crazy patchwork and crazy blocks frequently surface, as well. The process of making these quilts offers a reasonable way to use irregular scraps to create lively but cohesive designs.

Hawaiian scrap quilt, c. 1970
Hawaiian scrap quilt, c. 1970
Hawaiian scrap quilts are rooted in Hawaiian history, perhaps to a greater degree than the applique quilts. In addition to the geometric repeats and their relationship with kapa cloth, the crazy, cloth foundation pieced patchwork is connected to a royal object called The Queen's Quilt.

Cooke Family Quilt, c. 1890, Hawaii
The Queen's Quilt was started in 1895 by Queen Liliuokalani and her attendants while she was imprisoned at Iolani Palace during the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. This quilt, also the stuff of legends, disappeared for many years following Liliuokalani's death in 1917, but its story was passed down through the generations.


It is unclear where Liliuokalani got her inspiration to make a crazy quilt, but recently another Victorian era crazy quilt surfaced, and it belonged to the Cooke Family, the educators of young Liliuokalani at the Chiefs' Children's School. The Cooke Family Quilt raises questions and could possibly provide answers regarding where Liliuokalani could have learned about crazy quilts.
Hawaiian scrap quilt, c. 1970
The discovery of Hawaiian scrap quilts, both as distinct regional tradition and as an oeuvre of collectible, leads to a greater understanding of Hawaiian quilting heritage and Hawaiian culture. Tourism was certainly a big factor, and the repeating geometric elements seen in kapa cloth, foundation-pieced crazy patchwork seen in The Queen's Quilt and fabrics seen in the garments show the strong connection to Hawaiian history.