March 29, 2011

A Little Quilt History

"Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts" from the collection of Joanna S. Rose is now on exhibit in NYC. One of the beauties the American Folk Art Museum is using to advertise the show is a stunning circular optical illusion quilt.

I remembered seeing such a quilt in Cyril I. Nelson's 1985 Quilt Engagement Calendar published by E.P. Dutton, and I was sure Ms. Rose had purchased that quilt for her collection. The text below the photo of the quilt in the calendar (last week of September if you have it) notes that a second quilt, almost identical and "obviously by the same hand" came to light a week after the Dutton quilt was photographed. It's probably safe to say that quilt is the one in the exhibit! The red and white circular piecing and the 4 corners on the calendar quilt are identical to the Joanna S. Rose quilt. The calendar quilt does not have the curlicues at the N-S-E-W positions and the very center is white rather than red. Fraternal twins - maybe the quiltmaker wanted to see if the quilt looked different with a different center? And did she prefer the one with or without the curlicues?

I remembered the year of the Dutton calendar and the red and white quilt, in particular, because I had purchased a quilt in 1984 that had similar op art piecing:

The circular center is 15" and consists of 468 pieces (!) with a button at the center. I think the center was pieced by one person and the quilt was finished by someone less skilled, although the Mariner's Compasses are very good. The Dutton quilt is dated c. 1920 but the fabrics in my quilt hark back to the late 1800s.

The blue fabric is all the same print. See where the dark color appears to have migrated and some of the white areas look green? That tinge is probably from oil left behind where fingers repeatedly touched the fabric. The day I bought the quilt, I had told the dealer he could leave it hanging up and I would come back later. As I was writing the check, at least 5 people ran their hands over the center area and expressed astonishment that it was really pieced. Who knows how many hands had tested the quiltmaker's skill? We decided then to take the quilt down!

If you go to the Red and White Quilts exhibit, I hope this story adds a little to your enjoyment. If, like us, you don't get to go :( you can scroll down on the Museum page (link at top of this post) and choose one or more of the digital & social media ways to see the show. :)