Vintage Quilts at Quiltcon

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I’m back from Quiltcon and a few days of recovery! The show floor had a special exhibition of historical quilts from the collection of Roderick Kiracofe. Kiracofe is the author of several quilt history books. The quilts in this exhibition are also featured in his latest book, titled simply Quilts, which is self-published via Blurb. You can also download it as an e-book, which he encourages, so you can zoom in on the images and see the fabrics and quilting up-close. Learn more about the book here on The Quilt Show blog.

I’m so glad that Quiltcon thought to include quilts like these. They are by unknown makers, collected from flea markets and eBay, mostly hand-stitched and hand-quilted, and made outside more established traditions of quiltmaking. Juxtaposed with the main MQG exhibition, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast. They’re apples and oranges in a lot of ways, but the spontanaeity, cheer, and warmth of these quilts has been very influential to the modern quilt movement. I wondered if quilts like these can even be made anymore. My thoughts went in a lot of directions about this question but mostly ended up at “yes” after taking Denyse Schmidt’s Improvisational Patchwork class on Sunday.

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10 Comments

  1. Jennifer says:

    Wow, those are all amazing. So inspiring!

  2. Yes, these were awesome to see! I was in the gallery early one morning and saw someone floating around with a camera – and now I wonder if it was you! Sorry I didn’t get to meet you at QuiltCon. :)

  3. Kim says:

    Erika, it was Friday morning and I was there before the show opened (I didn’t know the show wasn’t open yet — I don’t know how I got in!) Sorry I didn’t get to meet you, too!

  4. My mom pointed out that the green background quilt was likely red when it was made – bright reds from that time period tend to fade to green over time. To me – the major difference between these antique quilts and the newer ones is seen in the women making things out of what they had on hand – dress scraps, clothing scraps, etc… they are organic and a more genuine reflection of the maker’s life. In most of the quilts at QuiltCon – while LOVELY and BEAUTIFULLY made – they felt “contrived.” By that I mean – a perfect set of perfectly coordinating colors and perfectly new fabrics that after awhile – started to have an artificial feel. Part of the beauty of being a long-term maker/quilter/seamstress etc.. is that your “stash” builds up and you have more of yourself and your past to include in your work. It offers depth. That’s why the older quilts are so compelling – they have a layer of storytelling to them. So yes – they can be “re-created” – if the maker creates using materials that also tell a story – rather than 100% newly purchased items.

    • I completely agree, Anne. I’ve been struggling with the words to say exactly what you’ve stated here.

    • Katie says:

      Thanks so much for that very thoughtful comment, Anne! Like Kisha, I’ve thought the same thing but have not been able to express it. Very well said.

    • Mary says:

      I also agree! Not that it’s huge negative, just an observation. The first quilt I made was from scraps that I had saved over a ten year period of making clothing. The fabrics look so dated to me now but there is so much meaning in the quilt. I even have some Liberty fabric from the 80s in it!

  5. Kim says:

    @Anne Marie – Good points, thank you! I didn’t think about the “depth” of the stash and how that contributes to the finished product. I did think about the new modern quilts carrying a lot of designer brand name baggage, and what that means. Does that matter since it’s a relatively small circle of people who recognize the fabric designers? How will that effect change over time? I would never suggest that we return to the days of anonymous fabric design in order to achieve greater authenticity/less ego in quilts, or whatever we are striving for here.

    Of course it’s a matter of taste too — I happen to respond to the vintage quilts more, but I can appreciate that some people might prefer quieter designs, more precise workmanship, more negative space, whatever.

  6. Denise says:

    I often feel like new fabric is too bright and shiny, too crisp – and I’m always trying different techniques to add character to the fabric without simply destroying it (though I’ve been known to do that as well :) ). With the quilt I had in QuiltCon, I tinted, dyed and stained the fabric to give it a more worn look.

    But honestly, I think the natural beauty of quilts emerges with age and with use. Can “show quilts” ever achieve that natural beauty? My hunch is no. That’s not to say that they’re less beautiful (in fact, they are gorgeous) but their beauty is in the technical perfection, perfect color coordination, etc., not in their authentic reflection of the maker’s life. Others may disagree, which is cool, it’s just my opinion.

  7. Roderick Kiracofe says:

    Thank you so much for the nice write-up.