Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Cape

The quilted cape from Honolulu is here, and it is wonderful. I think it was made some time in the middle to late 20th century, but no later than the 1980s. It was framed, and appears to have very minor fading, but the back is bright. Interestingly, a back was put on after the piece was quilted. Hard to say if the maker wanted more of a garment finish or what, but the back is also a redder red.

It is appliqued, echo quilted and bound on all edges in yellow and black. The ties for around the neck are part of the black neck binding.

The cape has a stiffness from the batting and extra backing. When worn, it takes on a rigid, cone or bell shape rather than draping loosely.

I have looked everywhere for other quilted capes but have not found any yet. I have also sent a note to the seller asking if there was any more history they could share. It's a very special and unusual object, possibly even sacred, so I will take good care of it and will look forward to learning more about it.

very old wool quilts

Wholecloth quilts made of wool were among the earliest American quilts. The course, heavy wool bedcovers appeared in New England in the middle to late 18th century. Two wonderful examples arrived yesterday. Both of them were made in the 1790 to 1810 period. The first one is reversible and T-shaped, made for a tall, four-post bed. It is green on one side and yellow ochre on the other.

From far away the quilt seems very plain because of the solid fabric. There is some unevenness due to fading and color loss, but each side is a single color. Up close, it is a masterpiece.

The quilting is beautifully planned, with whimsical botanical motifs framed by double lines of quilting in a lattice grid. The center panel is framed with undulating feathers on the side and foot panels, and filled with parallel, diagonal lines. So simple, but so elegant.

There are sweet little details, such as the quilted heart at the center of the foot panel. The edge finish is what we might call a pillow-edge or knife-edge. If you don't know what that is, just Google it. A few years ago I blogged about the various types of edge finishes seen in very old quilts. To read more, click here.

The second quilt is from the same period and region, but it is a little more simple than the first quilt. It is a rich reddish brown color, almost purple in the right light, with an overall design of connected, repeating and overlapping circular motifs forming a lattice grid. The negative space is filled with parallel lines and diamond grid quilting, in rows.

From across the room, it would look like a brown rectangle hanging on the wall. Up close it is very rich. I look forward to spending more time studying these quilts, recording some of the specifics such as dimensions, and comparing them with other quilts from the same period and region. I have one other wool wholecloth from New England, c. 1790, a pieced quilt from Rhode Island, c. 1800, and another pieced quilt from New England, c. 1810. Here are those three quilts.

wool wholecloth, New England, c. 1790
wool geometric pieced quilt, Rhode Island, c. 1800
wool geometric pieced quilt, New England, c. 1810
To reiterate a point I made in a blog post last year, early American quilts were elegant objects made by affluent families. They made frugal use of the available materials, but they were hardly making scrap quilts. It's fun to look at a group of them, see trends and also the things that make each object unique. There's nothing like handling quilts when it comes to learning about them. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Irresistible Nine-Patch with Hearts

How could I say no to this irresistible 1970s Nine-Patch quilt with appliqued hearts?

I love how the hearts are placed on a diagonal, alternating direction. A lot of thought went in to it. The Nine-Patch blocks are also well-planned, cleverly pairing solid and print fabrics. These photos are from the auction listing. I will get better photos when the quilt arrives.

The quilt is 96" x 96" and is coming from an eBay seller in Buckeye, Arizona. It appears to be hand quilted. Can't wait to see in person.

Monday, May 29, 2017

rewind to 2013

In 2013, American Quilter Magazine published my first article on the quilts of the 1970s. Kathie Kerler was working as one of the contributing editors around that time. We met several months earlier to discuss story ideas, looking at quilts from all periods. We landed squarely in the 1970s, and it was an apt reflection of my activities.

At that point, I had a couple years of collecting 1970s quilts under my belt. I was coming up with exciting finds, and learning about what quiltmaking was like in the 1970s. The article was a progress report. There would be others.

It was a good idea to speak with people who made quilts in the 1970s. Their voices were clear and unambiguous. Not enough time had passed for romanticism to invade the accounts of what happened, and it was refreshing.

Around the time I started making noise about the quilts of the 1970s, there was a period when things seemed to dry up. Fewer quilts were turning up on eBay and Etsy, and prices were climbing. Maybe I'd made a little too much noise about these quilts. Ultimately I realized the benefit in having a head start. It made me very decisive and focused, even though I was certainly open to whatever quilts surfaced.

The Hexagon Diamonds quilt is the only one from the article that made it to Nebraska. It is part of my exhibition, "Off the Grid" and will be on display until the end of August at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum. The museum is part of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and is located at 
1523 N. 33rd St.
Lincoln, NE 68583
For more information including hours and events, click here.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Collecting Polyester Quilts

Two years ago, I wrote an article for Blanket Statements, newsletter of the American Quilt Study Group. In some ways, it was a shout out to future generations. It documented a moment in time when we began to see things change. I was never sure if anyone actually read the article, but it seems relevant today. So, here it is!


Collecting Polyester Quilts
By Bill Volckening

Quilts of the 1970s are beginning to surface, and many of them 
are made with polyester double
knit materials. Polyester is often unfavorably viewed—scratchy, cheap, and the fabric of outdated garments such as leisure suits. However, the domestically made quilts are strangely appealing. They are innovative, extremely vibrant, and they represent an important period in American quiltmaking.

Figure 1: Nine Patch, unknown maker, c. 1970, 
Found in Washington state, 84 x 74 inches. 
All photos by Bill Volckening. 
Interest in quilts made between
 1950 and 2000 recently spiked when San Francisco collector and author Roderick Kiracofe published his
 book Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar, 1950-2000. Several objects made with polyester appear in the book, including an orange and blue Nine Patch variation from the Volckening Collection. (1) (See Figure 1)

The quilt came from an eBay seller in Washington state and includes cotton blends and polyester;
 it is backed with a blue and 
white striped bed sheet, tied, and finished with a wide blue binding. Amelia Peck, curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art commented on it in her essay “In Dialogue with an Anonymous Quilt.” (2)

“I love this quilt because it reminds me of my childhood,” said Peck. “It’s as simple as that. I’m sure I had a blouse made
 of that orange and blue fabric printed with hexagons when 
I was in the fifth grade. The whole quilt, its color palette and psychedelically distorted nine patch blocks, looks very ‘Mod’ to me—the height of fashion in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That was the era when I first became aware of style and fashion. I would have loved this quilt then and I still love it now.” (3)

The polyester formula originated in the writings of Wallace Carothers of DuPont, who is also credited with the invention of nylon in 1935. Carothers worked with a team of chemists around 1930, experimenting with the earliest form of polyester. (4)

At the time, DuPont chose to concentrate on Nylon research. By 1945, British chemical company Imperial Chemical Industries patented Terelene polyester, known in the U.S. as Dacron. DuPont purchased the U.S. rights for further development, and later opened plants in Delaware and North Carolina to produce Dacron. (5)

Figure 2: Tile Block Quilt, unknown maker, c. 1975, Louisiana, 120 x 112 inches. 
This monumental scale quilt is made of brightly colored polyesters. 

In 1951, DuPont showed a suit made of Dacron to 
a group of reporters in New York. The suit was worn
 for more than two months without being pressed. It was dunked in a swimming pool, machine-washed and surprisingly was still wearable. (6) The fabric was wrinkle resistant and did not stretch or pucker when washed. Dacron was touted as a wonder fiber. (7)

Polyester double knit garments were available by 1960, and solution dyed fabrics, also known as dope dyed or spun dyed fabrics, were introduced to polyester production in 1962. (8) 
In the solution dyeing process, the pigment becomes part of the fiber and the resulting fabric has excellent colorfastness.

By the 1970s, the popularity of polyester double knit garments began to decline as cottons were becoming more widely available. Quilting cottons were still scarce, and calico print fabrics used for making clothing started to appear in quilts. However, the growing interest in quiltmaking inspired people to make quilts out of what was available— polyester double knit. Those who wore polyester double knit say it was scratchy, hot in the summer but not warm in the winter, and it held stains. (9)

Figure 3: Crazy Block Quilt, unknown maker, inscribed 
“Aunt Beula, Dora, Margie,” c. 1975, Idaho, 95 x 76 inches. 
This quilt is made of polyester fabrics using mostly raw-edge 
appliqué on cloth foundation.
Despite knowing how colorfast polyester fabrics are, it is still surprising to see the high level of saturation in the quilts. An excellent example is a monumental Tile Block quilt from Louisiana. (See Figure 2) It is made of many solid color fabrics, some with textured surfaces, and the patches are stitched together with black rickrack. The piece is 120 inches by 112 inches, and is exceptionally vibrant. One of the other characteristics of polyester double knit fabric is its resistance to unraveling. A large Crazy Block quilt from Idaho is made mostly with raw-edge applique. (See Figure 3) The patches are outlined with hand stitching, which is mostly decorative.

Sales records maintained by the Volckening Collection from 2010 to 2014 indicate many polyester quilts were available for less than fifty dollars, primarily through eBay, Etsy and local vendors. A masterpiece Hexagon Diamonds quilt found at a thrift store in Oregon was purchased for thirty-five dollars. A thirteen- star American Flag quilt from Florida with a prairie point edge finish, made of cotton and polyester blended fabrics, cost less than ten dollars. The shipping was more expensive than the quilt.

Figure 4: Double Wedding Ring Quilt, unknown maker, polyester, 
c. 1970, Altadena, CA, 90 x 90 inches. 
By 2013, several great quilts appeared in the 250-dollar range, but by the end of the year, there were not as many vintage polyester quilts available. It is not clear if the market slowed because of sellers realizing 
there was a surge in sales, if the available quilts were snapped 
up, or other reasons; around
the same time more than one reputable quilt dealer started offering polyester quilts. In 2014, an outstanding quilt came to the collection from California quilt dealers Julie Silber and Jean Demeter of The Quilt Complex. (10)

The incredibly vibrant Double 
Wedding Ring quilt is mostly
 polyester double knit with a few 
wool patches. (See Figure 4)
 The wool, a bright red fabric,
 deteriorated in places and is
 being replaced with vintage 
polyester double knit fabric purchased through eBay. According to Silber, the quilt came from an African-American estate in Altadena, California, but no additional information was available. A sibling Double Wedding Ring quilt, also sold through The Quilt Complex, is part of the collection of Roderick Kiracofe. (11

One of the intriguing characteristics of the polyester Double Wedding Ring in the Volckening Collection is the inclusion of DayGlo fabric; a fluorescent, greenish-yellow, tennis ball color in the upper right-hand corner block. History from the DayGlo Color Corporation explains the origins and development of the intense, glowing colors.

In the 1930s, Bob and
 Joe Switzer, sons of a 
California pharmacist, began experimentation with colors that would glow under ultraviolet
 or black light. By 1940, they were working on new colors
that glowed in daylight. During the World War II era, DayGlo had military applications, such as signaling aircraft from the ground, ocean buoys and night missions. After the war, there were many more uses for DayGlo color.

“As the chemistry and manufacturing process improved, the areas of application expanded,” according to the DayGlo Color Corporation history. “Advertising, safety and promotional firms began to recognize the uniqueness of these bright colors and specified their use.” The trademarked name DayGlo caught on, and
in the late 1960s, the company officially changed its name from Switzer Brothers, to DayGlo Color Corporation. (12)

Figure 5: Hexagon Diamonds, unknown maker, c. 1970, Oregon, 80 x 78 inches. 
This quilt was plucked from a thrift shop in Tigard, Oregon, for just 35 dollars. 
The late 1960s and early 1970s were characterized as having “shocking color combinations, eye-jarring patterns, and large-scale motifs,” according to Eileen Trestain in Dating Fabrics 2: A Color Guide, 1950-2000. “Acid green, hot pink, tangerine, purple and turquoise could all be used in a paisley or a mod flower print,” said Trestain, who called the colors bright, clear and unmistakable. (13) (See Figure 5)

An informal survey of quilt makers of various age groups indicates the Baby Boomers and earlier generations who wore polyester garments generally were less likely to embrace the quilts than 
quilters from Generation X and later. Award winning New York-based quiltmaker Victoria Findlay Wolfe has a deep appreciation for polyester quilts. Growing up in Minnesota, she slept under polyester quilts her grandmother made.

“They were warm and we grew up in a house with just a wood- burning stove,” said Findlay Wolfe in a 2013 interview in Generation Q Magazine. (14) “So you appreciated how warm Grandma’s quilts kept you on a cold winter night.” Findlay Wolfe, a superstar in the modern quilting world, received Best of Show at QuiltCon 2013 for “Double Edged Love,” a playful, deconstructed Double Wedding Ring quilt. The magazine dubbed her one of the “Double-Knit Twins,” along with the author of this article, for collecting the quilts nobody else wanted. (15)

Polyester quilts of the middle to late twentieth century are unappreciated and undervalued, but they occupy a very important space in American quiltmaking tradition. There was a sharp increase in quiltmaking in the 1970s, influenced by the Bicentennial among other events. Synthetic fibers were new, but these modern materials were the most widely available. Quilt makers continued to show ingenuity, creating beautiful, enduring objects. They had fun, loved what they did, and it shows.

1  Roderick Kiracofe, Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar, 1950-2000 (New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2014), 168-169. 

2  Kiracofe, Unconventional & Unexpected, 38-44. 

3  Kiracofe, Unconventional & Unexpected, 44. 

4  Matthew E. Hermes, Enough for One Lifetime: 

Wallace Carothers, Inventor of Nylon, ( Washington, D.C.: Chemical Heritage Foundation, 1996), 103- 134.
5  DuPont, DuPont Heritage Timeline, com, November 2, 2014. 

6  Diane Sustendal, “Men’s Style; Wash It, Wear It,” New York Times, April 28, 1985. 

7  Sue Gardner, “Buying for the Home” Chicago Tribune, May 28, 1951. 

8  Eileen Trestain, Dating Fabrics: A Color Guide 1950- 

2000 (Paducah, K Y: American Quilter’s Society, 2005) 46.
9 Personal interview of Madge Ziegler by Bill Volckening, “Quilting in the 1970s: When Bed Quilts Became Works of Art” American Quilter, May 2013.
10 Auction and sales records maintained by the Volckening Collection, Portland, Oregon, 2010- 2014.
11 Auction and sales records maintained by the Volckening Collection, Portland, Oregon, 2010- 2014.
12 DayGlo Color Corporation,, February 12, 2015.
13 Trestain, Dating Fabrics, A Color Guide 1950-2000, 46.
14 Tracy Mooney, “ The Double-Knit Twins: Collecting the Quilts Nobody Else Wants,” Generation Q Magazine, no. 5 (June-July 2013): 59.
15 Ibid.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Now Open!

Today's the day! "Off the Grid" is now open in the Center Gallery of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. The select group of quilts includes mostly abstract, geometric patchwork representing my early impressions of the quilts of the 1970s.

My first impression was "COLOR!!!" Everything about the color seemed strangely familiar, but dramatically different in the context of American quilt history.


It was a much-referred-to but almost completely unstudied period -- the great quiltmaking revival of the 1970s. Where were the quilts? Many of them were fresh to the market in 2010 and later.

The quilts were priced to sell, and the period wasn't picked to death. Just the opposite. Hardly anyone else was collecting 1970s quilts. I had an absolute field day.

Even though I lived through the 1970s, I saw the world through the eyes of a boy. We did not have handmade quilts in our family, so discovering the quilts of the 1970s was like rediscovering my childhood through the objects I'd never seen before.

It was a revelation, but it was also like visiting with long-lost friends, and it led me on a long and worthwhile journey. Thank you to the staff and volunteers at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum for sharing my interest in these quilts and hosting this exhibition. I look forward to visiting and seeing the installation in person.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

quilted cape from Honolulu

Here's something different. It's a quilted cape from Honolulu. I have seen traditional capes made of feathers but never one made like a quilt. The echo quilting is a hallmark of the popular Hawaiian applique quilts.

A feather cape in the Bishop Museum has almost the same design. I discovered an image online and took a screen shot. The feather cape must have been the inspiration for the quilted one. The designs are remarkably similar, and I am sure the feather cape is much older than the quilted one.

Since it is coming from Hawaii, the seller offered to remove it from the frame for shipping. Thank goodness! I didn't want the frame. Can't wait to see it in person, and get some better photos. Maybe I'll be able to figure out approximately when it was made. The auction description said it was "vintage" but gave no circa date.

After some exhaustive and relatively fruitless Google searches, I finally came up with a possible hit. There are groups that use ceremonial capes. One of those is the Royal Order of Kamehameha I.

I had a chat with Blaine Fergerstrom, Secretary of Chapter 1 of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I in Honolulu, and he loved the cape but hadn't seen a quilted cape before. The capes they use are velour, so possibly this one was made as a unique display piece. Also, the design is not the one their chapter uses. So, the search continues...