Friday, June 29, 2018

Mountain Mist Pattern Number 48, "Jack-o'-Lantern" Quilt

1930s Mountain Mist Pattern Number 48, "Jack-o'-Lantern", Florida, 65" x 83"
"Jack-o'-Lantern", pattern number 48 from Mountain Mist was copyrighted in 1934, but apparently it was not made often. I have never seen one before, and couldn't find another image of one online. 

According to Linda Pumphrey, author of "Mountain Mist Historical Quilts", the original design included a pieced, scalloped edge finish-- not for beginners. This one has a much more simple border and edge. It is also a little smaller (65" x 83") than the original design (95 & 1/2" x 81"). The simplified border and edge finish could account for the size difference.

"It sure reminds me of some of the Margaret Hays designs, but I have nothing to prove that," said Pumphrey. "The colors were labeled Bittersweet, Poppy, Tangerine, Burnt Orange, Deep Yellow, Medium Yellow and Light Yellow."

The description on the Jack-o’-Lantern pattern calls it an original, exclusive to the Mountain Mist pattern series. It was designed for quiltmakers looking for new pieced quilt ideas, and would be
 an "interesting, attractive addition to a bedroom finished in the antique or the modern manner.”  

This quilt came from an eBay seller in Largo, Florida. Now that it's on my radar, I'll be on the lookout for others. Ultimately, I would love to see one of these quilts, fully finished according to the instructions, with the pieced, scalloped edge finish.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018


The other day, I woke up and logged in to eBay. No particular reason, I was simply curious to see what antique applique quilts were available. Imagine my surprise when I found this applique quilt from South Carolina.

19th century applique quilt from South Carolina
It's a doppelgänger! I found another quilt very much like it four years ago in a shop here in Portland, and called it the "Start the Car" quilt. To read more about it, click here.

The "Start the Car" quilt, found in Portland in 2014
The two quilts share the same block design, a large, stylized floral motif with four branches. Both quilts have six of these blocks and meandering vine borders.

Barbara Brackman blogged about this design on her Material Culture blog in 2013, calling the design "Pumpkin Patch" based on an early published design by Ladies' Art Company. To read more about it, click here.

I didn't have to think long or hard before clicking "Buy It Now" - and the price was very fair. Can't wait to see the two quilts side-by-side, in the cloth!

Friday, June 22, 2018

My Favorite Things: Originality

About 20 years ago, I found a new way to look at a lot of quilts in a short period of time. The best part about it was the quilts were all for sale. I was browsing through the auctions on eBay, spending many hours scrolling through photos of quilts and quilt related items for sale.

1840s pieced and appliqued quilt from Baltimore.
Seeing the quilts in rapid-fire mode helped me learn which ones stood out. There were hundreds of pastel-colored quilts in familiar patterns such as Dresden Plate, Double Wedding Ring, Grandmother's Flower Garden and Sunbonnet Sue. I was looking for something different, not the same quilts everyone else had.

Pennsylvania Hexagon Pictorial, c. 1900
Seek and you shall find! I love the head-turners, oddballs and quirkies. My favorite question is "what was the maker thinking?" The more unusual it is, the better.

1890s pieced quilt made of silks
I love a technical masterwork as much as other collectors, but there has to be something more. It could be a one-of-a-kind original design, or it could be a new way of thinking about a traditional design. It could also be far from perfect. Originality was much more important to me than technical mastery.

1920s pieced quilt with fans, New York
early 20th century velvet crazy quilt
There is nothing quite like the excitement of finding the one quilt that really jumps off the page...or off the computer screen. With tens of thousands of quilts up for auction at any given time, you can do a lot of looking on eBay and other auction and sale sites.

1930s pictorial quilt, Ohio
I did a fair amount of buying, some selling, and a lot of looking. It was an important formative experience, eventually leading to more focused collecting and research. It was really a good lesson in originality. After looking at thousands of quilts every day for decades, the most indelible quilts were the most original ones.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

My Favorite Things: 1970s Quilts

"I don't give a damn what anyone says...
I love 1970s quilts, and I'm going to collect them!"

It was a beautiful day when I said to myself, "I don't give a damn what anyone says...I love 1970s quilts, and I'm going to collect them!" The idea didn't come without some pushback from all the folks who thought they knew better. But really, they didn't know diddly.

1970s polyester crazy block quilt, made with raw edge appliqué 
The quilts of the 1970s were rarely the technical masterworks we see being made today. A lot of them were put together by inexperienced quiltmakers, and made out of material people joke about today. The road to gaining acceptance and respect would be long, it seemed.

how could anyone look at these colors and not learn anything?
The presence of polyester double knit fabrics is precisely why the quilts are so great. Fade-resistent fabrics made it possible to preserve the vision of the artists. Their use of color was masterful.

Hexagon Diamonds, Oregon - a masterwork in polyester double knit
Quiltmakers in the 1970s did not necessarily think of themselves as artists, but they were. I was convinced when I saw what they did with what little they had. They used homemade, cardboard templates with sandpaper pasted to the back. There were no rotary cutters or long-arm quilting machines. Even quilting cottons were scarce.
how could anyone not fall in love with this quilt?
The quilts are full of joy. They represent a blissful starting point, or more precisely a starting over point. Other periods such as the Civil War era, Victorian period, Colonial Revival and Great Depression had a lot of quiltmaking activity, too. The surge in American quiltmaking in the 1970s was the latest in a series of revivals.

"Interacting Pyramids" Barbara McKie, 1974
There were no rules back in the day, at least not like there are today. Books, magazines and teachers were hard to find. By the 1970s, 40 years had passed since the last, big boom in American quiltmaking, but having no rules meant new quiltmakers had no idea how they could be bending and breaking the rules.
improvisational 1970s quilt made with strips of polyester
Art paying tribute to art: "Klee" by Marsha McCloskey, 1973
An appreciation for quilts as works of art grew in the 1970s. Major museum exhibitions explored antiquities in a new context-- decorative domestic objects gaining recognition as important works of art. At the same time, artists began making quilts intended to be works of art, for the wall rather than the bed.
how could anyone look at this quilt and not think it was important?
I have blogged about each of these quilts in the past. The information is out there for anyone who is interested. There are details about physical attributes, how and when quilts were acquired, places of origin and any available history. It is great to see a group of favorites together, and to think about why they are favorites.

Today, the information age generates a lot of knowledge, but we must continue searching for wisdom. It would be wise, for example, to consider all aspects of quilt history when assessing the cultural value of the quilts of an era, rather than simply picking and choosing favorite periods and styles and marginalizing others.

Things haven't slowed down much since the 1970s. Despite many changes in the industry over the years, it is still going strong. Many of our most noteworthy, experienced quiltmakers and fiber artists got started in the 1970s. That is why I say, "When it comes to the quilt industry today, all roads lead back to the 1970s."

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

My Favorite Things: Mid-19th Century Applique Quilts

1850s applique quilt, Mary Couchman Small, Martinsburg, West Virginia.
Although I never really focused on applique quilts, there are a few good examples in my collection. My favorite ones are from the middle to late 19th century.
1850s applique quilt with cardoons and meandering vine border
During the period, applique quilts were on trend, particularly red, white and green ones. Often they had bits of double pink, cheddar orange and other colors, and sometimes the original colors faded or changed over time.

Floral applique quilt, c. 1860
Most of the time, it is a bit of an investment to purchase quilts like these, but every once in a while I find a great bargain. The 1850s quilt with cardoons and meandering vine border was a bargain, and so was the 1860s floral applique quilt with green, turkey red, double pink and cheddar orange.
Nine-Block, Floral applique quilt, c. 1860
Applique quilt, c. 1860, Mrs. M.E. Poyner, Paducah, KY
A couple of the quilts are fairly well known, such as the 1860s applique quilt made by Mrs. M.E. Poyner of Paducah, Kentucky. The quilt appeared in publications and exhibitions; "Kentucky Quilts, 1800-1900" by the Kentucky Quilt Project, and "Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War" Madelyn Shaw and Lynne Zacek Bassett.
1870s album sampler with birds & wreaths
The 1870s album sampler with birds & wreaths appeared in The Quilt Digest 4 in an article called "The Collector: On the Road" by Michael Kile. Collector and dealer, the late Sandra Mitchell was the subject of the article. Good read if you can find a copy.

Album bedcover with rooster center block, 1868, Hannah J. Swin, NJ
Another favorite applique quilt is an album sampler, made in 1868 by Hannah J. Swin of New Jersey. It has a handsome, cocky rooster in the center, surrounded by a variety of decorative and floral blocks. The strawberry appliqué block just below the rooster is absolutely precious.

Whirling, leaflike feathers in an 1850s Prince's Feather from Maine
I like Prince's Feather quilts, also called Princess Feather, depending on who you ask. Three of my old quilts fall into the genre. Two are green and white, and one is red and white. There's something I love about two-color quilts, especially the green and white ones. I don't see them as often as the red & white and blue & white quilts.
This 1850s Prince's Feather with stars has a fabulous border
1890s Prince's Feather variant, a six-block with leaves
A few of these quilts will be in the new book, "Inspired Free-Motion Quilting: 90 Antique Designs Reinterpreted for Today's Quilter" - co-authored with the wonderful and amazingly talented, award-winning long-arm quilter Mandy Leins. As we eagerly anticipate the book release later this year, I dream about one day gathering all the old applique quilts together for a fabulous exhibit.

Monday, June 11, 2018

My Favorite Things: "New York Beauty" Quilts

1880s pieced quilt, unknown maker, Texas
"New York Beauty" is my favorite quilt pattern. I acquired my first one in 1989 from Shelly Zegart. It was a beautiful, 1850s red, white and green quilt with cheddar orange accents in the centers of the sunburst cornerstones.
1850s pieced quilt, unknown maker, Kentucky
Years later, I learned there was no way of knowing what the maker would've called the design, but people generally referred to it as New York Beauty, a 1930s name from a Mountain Mist quilt pattern.

1930s Mountain Mist New York Beauty
Looking at quilts for sale, there were not many made with the elaborate, pieced sunburst motif. The design was intriguing, how modern it looked even though some of the quilts were obviously very old.
1860s pieced quilt, unknown maker, Kentucky
If I saw a "New York Beauty" I would buy it or bid on it-- kind of an expensive hobby, collecting quilts made with one of the most complicated patchwork motifs-- but I did it for more than 25 years.

1870s pieced quilt, unknown maker, Virginia
Quilts in good condition were preferable, but condition did not play a big role in collecting them. It was almost like collecting mochaware. I accepted the flaws because the quilts were so hard to find.

After a while the quilts started to pile up. Maybe there were more "New York Beauties" than I first thought. People were making modern-day renditions using the design, so I started to collect those, too.

New York Beauty, 2010, by Nancy Tanguay, CT
In 2010, the Benton County Museum invited me to show quilts. The curators wanted to display the New York Beauties because the collection presented so many variants of one motif, and that was interesting to them.

1860s pieced quilt, unknown maker, Kentucky
Research took time. Vetting sources of information was the biggest task. Luckily, there were approximately 40 examples in the collection by then. The quilts could tell their own stories, and it didn't need to be about what people believed.

2011 exhibition at the Benton County Museum, Oregon
By the time the exhibition took place in 2011, I produced an 80-page, full-color self-published catalogue, which was available with the exhibition and afterwards. The catalogue is now out of print. Subsequent publications were revised, such as the catalogue for the 2013 exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles.

Leading to that exhibition was a 2012, full-length feature article in Quilters Newsletter by Mary Kate Karr Petras. The curators in San Jose saw the article and invited me to show the quilts.

2012 article in Quilters Newsletter
As I was preparing for the San Jose exhibition, I got a note from New York quilt dealer Jane Lury, who had recently sold me a magnificent 1930s "Springtime in the Rockies" quilt. The quilt was made with a 1931 Capper's Weekly pattern, and it was a wonderful variant of the New York Beauty design.
1930s "Springtime in the Rockies" quilt
Jane told me about some friends of hers. They were from France and had a magazine, and they liked to visit homes with quilts displayed as part of the decor. They wanted to come to my house, but it was a mess. There were quilts all over the place, in preparation for the San Jose exhibition.

The French edition of the magazine, Quiltmania
I was still learning who was who in the quilt world, and hadn't heard of the magazine before. It was Quiltmania. The next thing I knew, Carol Veillon, Guy Yoyotte-Husson and Christelle Leveque were at my house looking at quilts. They wanted to do magazine articles, an exhibition of 50 quilts in France and a coffee table book.

The book, "New York Beauty, Quilts from the Volckening Collection" was published by Quiltmania in 2015. Shelly Zegart wrote the foreword. It was 312 pages, bilingual, and included 70 examples of the design and variants made between 1850 and 2014. It also had patterns for three quilts. The book was the culmination of 25 years of collecting, as well as many years researching the origins and history of my favorite quilt pattern.

New York Beauty bag, introduced at the 2015 Salon Pour l'Amour du Fil
In 2015, we celebrated with an exhibit of 50 quilts at Salon Pour l'Amour du Fil in Nantes, France. It was a wonderful experience, and I made a lot of new friends from around the world.

2015: at Salon Pour l'Amour du Fil, Nantes, France
In 2016, the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum and Texas Quilt Museum displayed the quilts. Since the exhibitions overlapped by a few weeks, two completely different groups of quilts were displayed. Both exhibitions reflected the history of the New York Beauty design, and the quilts were well received in both venues.

2016 exhibition at the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum
2016 exhibition at the Texas Quilt Museum
Today, the quilts are taking a break. Many of them are in acid free storage boxes, out of the light, and not on display. I love to share the quilts, but this collection has worked hard and deserves the break.

I am considering displaying a select group of New York Beauties next summer, when I have an exhibition of quilts at Latimer Quilt & Textile Center in Tillamook, Oregon. There are other groups of quilts I am considering, but I have only showed these quilts in one exhibition in the Pacific Northwest, and that was in 2011. Of course, I will post details about that exhibition as we approach the date, and we'll see what I decide to show. If you are interested in the history of the New York Beauty patchwork design, click here to buy the book.