Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My Top Ten

Which quilt is my all-time favorite? To find out, keep reading!
The first quilt book I owned was "American Quilt Collections: Antique Quilt Masterpieces" by Shelly Zegart. In the book, collections are showcased and each one is represented with a single quilt. Sometimes I daydream about what I would do if I had to choose only one quilt to represent my whole collection, just like in Shelly's book. Which one would it be? Here's my Top Ten.

Cinco de Mayo, 2008, Buda Bee Quilters, Buda, Texas
10) Cinco de Mayo, a Karen Stone design made by the Buda Bee quilters in Texas, is the quintessential 21st century New York Beauty. Collecting 21st century quilts never would've occurred to me had I not realized I was on to something when collecting New York Beauties. The 21st century examples were part of the history of the New York Beauty motif, and the collection would have been incomplete without them.

Diamonds, silks, unknown maker, Pennsylvania, c. 1890
9) Diamonds are a guy's best friend, too. Originally, I bought this quilt to hang on the wall of my office. It was perfect for the decor. Whenever my mind wandered, I would catch myself staring at the quilt, trying to figure out what would inspire someone to make such an elaborate decorative piece. It is all silk, in wonderful condition, and includes thousands of small diamonds and decorative feather stitching in multiple colors surrounding each diamond. Even the black rows between the diamond blocks are pieced and outlined. It's amazing.

Album with Rooster, Hannah J. Swin, NJ, 1868
8) The rooster is a symbol of pride, honesty and courage. Do I really need any other reason to love this quilt? OK, here's another reason. It's originally from New Jersey. Hannah J. Swin of Bergen County, New Jersey made the charming two-layer appliqué bedcover in 1868. It is dated, initialed and inscribed with her name. An additional inscription, the word "Hark!" appears next to the rooster's beak. Embroidered details, such as the seeds on the strawberries, make it an especially charming piece. 

Fans, velvets, unknown maker, New York, c. 1920
7) I love unique things. Curiosities, I call them, and this quilt is a great curiosity. So many questions...where to begin? It is a one-of-a-kind original, made of velvet, and it uses the familiar fan motif in a singular way. This art deco, medallion-style masterpiece also displays a very original use of color, with red, gold, pink, purple and turquoise working together harmoniously. If it seems familiar, that may be because it was on the cover of the first edition of "American Quilts: The Democratic Art, 1780-2007" by Robert Shaw.

blue resist, cotton / linen, unknown maker c. 1760, Eastern US
6) I love old things, very old things. This blue resist is as old as it gets, if we're talking about quilts in America. It was made in the Revolutionary war period, with fabrics thought to have been made in England using a process similar to batik. Woodcut blocks were used to apply the resist paste on the fabric, resisting the dye when dried, allowing all the exposed, raw fiber to absorb dye. There are very few examples of this type of quilt known to exist, and most are in museums. This one happens to be in very good condition, and it has an applied binding in a second resist print. It is included in Kay and Lori Lee Triplett's new book

Pictorial with Flag, cottons, unknown maker, c. 1930, Ohio
5) Originality is one of my favorite things about American quiltmaking tradition, and this 1930s pictorial quilt from Ohio is original as it gets. The most striking thing about it, in my opinion, is how unusual it was to make a one-of-a-kind, original pictorial quilt design in the period. In the Depression Era, a lot of similar looking quilts were made; thousands of Double Wedding Ring, Grandmother's Flower Garden, Dresden Plate and Sunbonnet Sue quilts. Formerly part of Shelly Zegart's collection, this quilt stands out because it was so far outside the box and ahead of its time. 

Crazy Block, mixed fabrics, unknown maker, c. 1970, Hawaii
4) This remarkable 1970s Hawaiian scrap quilt is the one that led me down the rabbit hole. Early in 2015, I saw a listing for the quilt on eBay, and it came with a story about groups of women in Hawaii who would get together and make scrap quilts. At the time I already owned another quilt made in the tradition, and that quilt happened to be one that launched my whole 1970s collection. For many years I wished for a great Hawaiian quilt. Be careful what you wish for! 

Album with Lyre, cottons, Mary Couchman Small, West Virginia, c. 1850
3) Some quilts are undeniable masterpieces, and this album quilt from 1850 is one of those. Mary Couchman Small of Martinsburg, West Virginia made it, and two other almost-identical quilts have been discovered. The handwork is very fine, and includes dense quilting in the white areas but almost no quilting in the appliqué. One of the related quilts appears in "West Virginia Quilts and Quiltmakers: Echoes from the Hills" by Fawn Valentine. When I acquired this quilt from Shelly Zegart, it was a serious purchase on the occasion of my 40th birthday. At the time, I promised myself I would one day do something more with my collection.

pieced quilt, cottons, unknown maker, Kentucky, c. 1865
2) You know you've made it in the quilt world when one of your quilts is featured on an event bag. To be honest, I didn't really know that until Kaye England said something to that effect when she saw my Quiltmania Pour l'Amour du Fil bag in Nantes. The quilt on the bag is one of my all-time favorites. It's one that's hung for long periods in my home. It was one of the first quilts in my "New York Beauty" collection, and traveled to New York after 9/11 to hang in the Heritage of Genius exhibitions. This quilt and the Cinco de Mayo are included in my book, "New York Beauty, Quilts from the Volckening Collection" (2015, Quiltmania, France)

Economy Block, wools, unknown maker, c. 1810, New England
1) If I had to select just one quilt to represent my whole collection, it would be this one. I have slept under this quilt, and I'm convinced there is something magical about it. The quilt seems to know precisely how much warmth to give, and when to breathe. It is warm in the winter, but never too warm in summer. The Economy Block quilt is wool with an overshot coverlet back and applied, hand-loomed twill tape binding in red and green. The warp and weft of the top fabric are separate colors such as blue and brown, and the home-dyed wools display a subtle variation in tone, adding richness to the earthy palette. The design is well balanced, and the quilt is elegant. To make a quilt like this in the early 1800s, a lot of resources were required, and many hands both indoors and out. It is a rare and outstanding example of an early American pieced quilt, an object of great significance.

So, that's my Top Ten. It could be different in an hour, even though I thought about it for a while. Just so you know, I excluded the quilts from my Ten Most Amazing Discoveries blog, and any of those could have also made the list. What do you think? Are you surprised? Did I miss any of your favorite quilts? Please leave a comment!


  1. All are beauties! I think Cinco de Mayo and Fans would be at least in my top five. The Pictorisl quilt could be a design you see today. Thank you for sharing!

  2. What an amazing collection! Thanks for this mini-show this morning. I never tire of seeing and learning about your quilts.

  3. Wonderful quilts! I am a little surprised at some of the choices, but I understand. Your explanations are logical, and I have seen you post these quilts on your Facebook page, so they aren't new to me. Some day I hope we'll "prove" your indigo resist quilt is made from fabric made in Connecticut - almost New Jersey!

  4. Nice quilts, Bill! I would have a hard time picking my top ten, but of yours, I have a definite favorite. I'll bet you can guess which one!

  5. Nice quilts, Bill! I would have a hard time picking my top ten, but of yours, I have a definite favorite. I'll bet you can guess which one!

  6. Thank you, not only for the photos, but for your write ups, as well.

  7. You missed plenty of my favorites but then I would never be able to make a list of 10. Yes the write ups are so informative, thought provoking and just plain fun. Love the fans.....the ways the colors are used....

  8. Your whole cloth white Tree of Life would be in my top ten :-)