Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Why document quilts?

It's important- that's why!

I'm wrapping up the latest round of documentation with the New York Beauty collection before it goes to San Jose for my exhibit. It was an interesting group of quilts. There were 12 quilts representing the period from the Depression to 2011.

Christine Wrobel's magnificent "Great Cities²" quilt was part of the group. One of the things I appreciate about this quilt is the large piece of millennium fabric on the back. It shows the full print, all six cities- and the World Trade Center appears four times. It's just one of those extra bonuses, and something you discover when documenting a quilt and capturing its complete physical description.

The process of documenting quilts is fairly straightforward- fill out a form, get good pictures, and that's basically it. There are already pictures of most of my quilts, but the forms need to be filled out. I'm using a four-page form, adapted from the one used by the Oregon Quilt Project.

This form is for physical description, and includes fields for information such as dimensions, materials, construction, condition, finishing, pattern sources, exhibition and contest history, and any other pertinent information such as publications. There is also a separate history form.

Going back to the importance of documentation, wouldn't you love to know who made this red, white and green quilt? I would! Unfortunately, we may never know who made it because the quilt has never been formally documented. It came from East Texas.

All quilts have stories. One hundred years from now, if my "Wild Eyed Susans" quilt is somehow still around, someone might find humor in the description of a man who couldn't sew, attending a Folk Art Quilting Retreat in Sisters with 40 other people, all ladies who could sew up a storm. If the story was lost and the label became separated from the quilt, it would be just a pretty little art quilt done with experimental methods, presumably by a female quiltmaker.

But maybe it would turn up in a search of the Quilt Index- and that's the whole point. By documenting quilts we are creating a record, which is retrievable, and it preserves our stories. After the New York Beauties go to San Jose, I'm hoping to spend more time documenting some of the other quilts under this roof, including the ones I've made.


  1. Excellent points Bill. Are these forms available for anyone to use or only for official documentarians? I have lately been doing more documenting of my own quilts, though not with as much detail as I am sure you have.

    1. Forms are available at the Oregon Quilt Project web site, and we're encouraging quiltmakers to self-document.