Saturday, February 28, 2015

Polyester, the wonder fiber

Textiles are big part of researching the quilts of the 1970s. Polyester, most often associated with uncomfortable, outdated garments such as double knit leisure suits, was prevalent throughout the period. Its popularity in garments spanned middle of the 20th century, into the 1970s, but faded with an increasing demand for cotton, "the fabric of our lives".

the three quilts in the center of this display are all polyester
The development of polyester began around 1930 with Wallace Carothers of DuPont. Carothers was also experimenting with nylon, and DuPont pursued the invention of nylon prior to polyester. That circumstance was likely due to the instability of polyester, which in its early stages of development would revert back to a solution state rather than producing a stable fiber.

Generally speaking, polyester fabrics appear in quilts of the 1960s and 1970s, but especially the 1970s because many people wore the garments in the 1960s and later repurposed them. Quilts were made new with all polyester double knit fabrics, which were more readily available than good quilting cottons. The patriotic polyester pop art "Grandmother's Fans" quilt displayed last week at QuiltCon was a great example of a quilt made from newly purchased fabrics.

patriotic polyester pop art - fabrics purchased new for the quilt
If you come across a handmade quilt made with polyester material, it is likely to be from this period, and if you see DayGlo, it is likely from the middle 1960s or later. DayGlo, like polyester, has a very interesting history.

DayGlo fabric, upper right-hand block
Research about polyester and polyester quilts has now begun, whether or not the world is ready. These domestic objects made by everyday women and probably a few men, represent a narrow and very specific period in history; and they connect clearly with the work being done today. When the science behind the remarkably colorfast fabric is revealed, as well as the cultural factors contributing to a surge in the popularity of quiltmaking in America, the polyester quilts of the period are clearly more than just flashes of color. 

Ten Favorite Things (in the 1970s)

I had a blue Panasonic Toot A Loop Radio, and my sister had a red one
Disk-Go case for vinyl 45's (singles/records)
the coolest record player ever - the Concert Hall! (thanks Mom & Dad!)
The Futura Light, by Visual Effects - I got mine at Spencer Gifts in the mall
sweet ride - the Raleigh Chopper! had the red, couldn't get the purple
All the kids on Hemlock Drive in North Caldwell, NJ had these
another method of transportation, better than a bicycle in some situations
The SSP King Cobra was the ultimate race car - my fantasy ride.

Big Jim and his Sports Camper - out in the woods
I was way too obsessed with the Coleco Electronic Quarterback - omg!

Friday, February 27, 2015

"Modern Materials, Quilts of the 1970s" Web Seminar Endnotes

Today I presented a web seminar "Modern Materials, Quilts of the 1970s" in a live broadcast, and afterwards I had a few more thoughts to share. I showed the following series of slides toward the end of the web seminar, and they launched a new discussion about the relevance of 1970s quilts today.

In comparing "You Can't Rush Art" by Amanda Jean Nyberg to the 1970s polyester Rail Fence quilt, I pointed out similarities and differences between vintage and modern. The overall image, use of color and design share distinct similarities. However, the finish in the modern quilt is far more refined and polished.

Sometimes antique and vintage quilts have a sense of anachronism. They seem to predict the future. This vintage, 1970s Double Wedding Ring has a deconstructed appearance, and layers. The sense of peeling back the layers is also evident in Victoria Findlay Wolfe's masterpiece Best in Show quilt from QuiltCon 2013, "Double Edged Love". Not surprisingly, Victoria is inspired by antique and vintage quilts, and slept under polyester quilts made by her grandmother while growing up in Minnesota.

"Lite Brite" by Marie Shell is a direct reference to a popular toy first marketed in the late 1960s and hugely popular in the 1970s.

It is thrilling to see the similarities in color palette between Shell's quilt and the vintage 1970s Tile Block, and even more exciting to see the title refer back to the vintage inspiration.

The construction and finishing details in modern quilts also have roots in quilt history, but not the 1970s-- more like the middle 19th century. At the beginning of the web seminar, I talked about collecting antique quilts for 20 years before falling in love with my first 1970s quilt. The quilts from the middle 19th century are among my favorites, and they are thin, crisp, cotton quilts with great quilting-- a finish you could also expect to see in a lot of modern quilts.

At the end of the web seminar, I included a small tribute to Spock, Leonard Nimoy. Just before I went on the air, I heard he had passed away. He was part of my 1970s experience. Star Trek was on after many of my other favorite shows, such as Batman, Gilligan's Island, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. Today, I still love Star Trek. To quote longtime friend Chris Vacek of Boulder, Colorado who posted about Spock on Facebook today, "RIP Spock. Your passing is....illogical."

For those who missed the live event, and even for people who attended my morning tours and lecture on the 1970s at QuiltCon, I recommend checking out the web seminar because it includes some epiphanies such as the relationship between vintage and modern quilts. As soon as it is available for rebroadcast, I'll make sure to announce it. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

20 More 1970s Quilts!

Because people loved the 1970s quilts so much at QuiltCon, I thought I'd share some more. Pictures only-- no captions or info right now. Enjoy the groovy quilts!

Polyester Patchwork Photobomb!!

Fox 7 in Austin, Texas did a really great spot on QuiltCon, and I was delighted to see quilts from my exhibit, "Modern Materials, Quilts of the 1970s" included in the footage. It was a Polyester Patchwork Photobomb with Best in Show Winner, Kathy York of Austin-- two of my quilts behind her to the left.

The one you can easily recognize is this incredible polyester Diamonds quilt, monumental in scale and in fact too large for the tallest post and drape in the show. They had to pin it over at the top to avoid having it on the floor.

OMG!! I'm just giddy about this!!
Best of all, the quilt made by my friend Janis Pearson back in 1972, gifted to me, made it into the footage, prominently!! They panned the quilt for several seconds while talking about the vintage quilts-- and they mentioned that there were a few in the show.

OMG! Janis!!! LOOK!!! Your quilt on TV!!!
Stars, 1972, by Janis Pearson, Oregon
Wow, wow, WOW!! Janis was there at the show, and I hope she savored the moment as much as I did. If you're interested in seeing the Fox 7 segment, here it is!

MyFoxAustin | KTBC | Fox 7 Austin | News Weather Sports

I'm sure all of you would like to get a better look at this quilt made by Kathy York of Austin Modern Quilt Guild. It won Best in Show!

It is called "i Quilt" and I call it a quintessential 21st century quilt. Shout out to Elizabeth Hartman of Portland Modern Quilt Guild, who made the QuiltCon ribbons, and Jen Carlton-Bailey, who pieced the give-away quilt seen in the photo behind the ribbon. And another Polyester Patchwork Photobomb!