World of Fabric: American Quilts

29 Jun 2010

With Independence Day coming right up, it's a good time to celebrate some of the great stitching legacies of the United States. Along with denim and blue jeans and Betsy Ross's' flags, patchwork quilts are probably the most iconic American textiles.

If you happen to be driving on I-80 through the Midwest this summer, stop in Lincoln, Nebraska, and visit the International Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska. Housed in a stunning new contemporary building (at right), the Center holds the University's stellar collection of both traditional and contemporary quilts.

Rotating exhibitions at the Center showcase quilts from around the world. If you're not planning to be traveling through Lincoln soon, visit the website for terrific online resources that can help you learn more about quilts from every perspective, as well as current exhibitions and ongoing events; there's also an online gift shop.

As contemporary quilting gains new followers, more and more people are recognizing that quilts can have the effect of  modern graphic art. The quilters of Gee's Bend, Alabama, became quilting and art stars when their unique quilting style, born of necessity and poverty, became an art exhibition that traveled the world. Improvisationally pieced and quilted with plain fabrics, intended for warmth and comfort in a very spare world, these quilts have the visual impact of contemporary paintings. These quilters carry on a tradition that was set by pioneer women in the 19th century and carried on by women in the Depression-era 1920s and 1930s and the famous Amish quilters of Pennsylvania: make do with what you've got, and use needle and thread to create things that are functional to use and interesting, even beautiful, to look at.

In Stitch, we've featured the work of modern quilter Malka Dubrawsky, and we're excited to be publishing her book Fresh Quilting later this year (see the book cover at left). Malka is a master of vibrant color, and she uses piecing and quilting to make totally modern versions of American patchwork quilts. We know you'll be inspired by her creativity (and the fabrics in the background of the photo at upper left are in one of her quilts!). But just to show you that even pioneer quilters sometimes had very graphic style, we found a page from The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America, a book published in 1935. The strawberry quilt pattern at right was made in 1875, in a bright palette of red, orange, and green. It would be perfect for a quilt today.

Celebrate your connection to this American legacy. The art of quilting is as vital today as it was in the 1800s. Today we have the luxury of a cornucopia of fabrics, we have a virtual quilting community that we can visit every day instead of waiting for a barn-raising and quilting bee, we have the choice of machine or hand quilting, and we have inspiration everywhere. If you've never quilted, maybe it's time to try!

Happy Independence Day, and happy stitching!

 

Images: Top left, The Romance of  the Patchwork Quilt in America, published 1935; top right, International Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska; lower left, Fresh Quilting; lower right, Strawberry Quilt, 1875.


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