American Quilt Study Group: History Uncovered

Quilters interested in history have an exciting opportunity to explore the stories contained in quilts at an American Quilt Study Group (AQSG) seminar in Farmington, Connecticut, this fall. While the annual AQSG gathering is known for the research papers that get presented, there are other ways at the seminar to get involved in the historical look at quilts, namely quilt studies. With these studies there is no contest, no judging, and no prize, just quiltmakers wanting to learn more about quilts and sharing their knowledge and love of history with others.

This year's study is of pre-1840 bedcoverings. Seven quilters have reproduced such bedcoverings in an effort to better understand how early quiltmakers approached the craft -- what fabrics they used, their chosen construction type, and their preferred quilting styles. Some participants have duplicated a small portion of a large piece or reduced the scale in order to stay within the 200-inch limitation for the total length of all sides.

These quilts will be presented, along with a featured speaker, live and silent auctions, tours, and show-and-tell, at the 26th annual AQSG seminar October 6-8. This is the fourth study presented during an AQSG seminar. Earlier studies examined chintz, crib, and two-color quilts.

Quilters with even a passing interest in history are welcome to attend and participate in the discussions, view the exhibits, shop at the vendor booths, and take part in the steady stream of informative activities.

Among others, seminar participants will see the following quilts. For more quilts, additional seminar information, and registration details, visit

Having been fascinated by sunburst and compass designs for many years, Cindy Vermillion Hamilton of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, found an early example pictured in The Quilter's Guild Collection: Contemporary Quilts, Heritage Inspiration edited by Bridget Long for The Quilter's Guild of the British Isles. In re-creating it Cindy learned that what at first glance appeared to be a simple pattern was actually quite complex to put together. "The diamond pattern breaks at the corners of the center square, creating a need for subtle compensation throughout the field of diamonds," she says. "Even an experienced quiltmaker like myself can be fooled by the seeming simplicity of a patchwork design." Cindy also discovered that the center is really taller than it is wide. The maker minimized the discrepancy, however, by varying the size of the sawtooth triangles so that all four sides have the same number of points.

In the middle of piecing the field of diamonds, Cindy realized there was an almost mirror image in the arrangement of the fabrics in the original. "This would have required a large space to lay out the pieces and plan the placement of each diamond -- a daunting task for a large quilt, even by today's standards," she says. "I doubt this quiltmaker, working in the early years of the 19th century, had the luxury of a design wall!"

As part of her mental travels to the past, Cindy used authentic construction techniques and materials. She stitched every part of her new quilt by hand, including attaching the binding. While the original remained unquilted, for the reproduction she added batting and backing and quilted the diamonds in the ditch to avoid detracting from the piecing. The design of the fan quilting in the border appears in other medallion quilts of the time.

Janet Locey of San Juan Bautista, California, used the contemporary techniques of machine appliqué and free-motion machine embroidery to capture the look of a circa-1800 quilt. She worked from a photograph in America's Quilts and Coverlets by Carleton L. Safford and Robert Bishop of a masterpiece made by Sarah Furman Warner of Greenfield Hill, Connecticut.

The rumor that Joe "the Quilter" Hedley had become wealthy as a professional quiltmaker in northern England may have led to his death at the hands of an unknown assailant in 1826. At least this is what Penelope Tucker of San Jose learned from North Country Quilts & Coverlets from the Beamish Museum by Rosemary E. Allan. It was there Penelope found a picture of one of Joe's quilts and the story of his life. The center of the circa-1815 example of Joe's work featured a square printed with a basket filled with flowers especially for use in quilts in the early 19th century. Penelope obtained a new flower basket panel, copied from the Jane Austen quilt at Chawton, England, by Makower Fabrics. She placed it at the center of her reproduction of Joe's original medallion-style quilt, now in the collection of The North of England Open Air Museum at Beamish, County Durham.

To stay within the size limitation, Bobbi Finley of Williamsburg, Virginia, chose to replicate only the center portion of a quilt she found at the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, D.C. Anna Catherine Hummel Markey Garnhart stitched the original top some time between 1815 and 1820. Bobbi says she enjoyed doing the traditional appliqué the most, including the reverse appliqué in the eagle and stars.

Broderie perse, or chintz appliqué, fascinates Lorie Stubbs of Lakewood, Colorado. Shefeels that using already printed motifs for appliqué frees her to concentrate on developing new arrangements. She collects reproduction chintz and looks for quilts that contain the original fabric. Through careful searching, she found a circa-1830 English example in The Quilters Guild Collection, Contemporary Quilts, Heritage Inspiration edited by Bridget Long for The Quilters' Guild of the British Isles. A new blue stripe chintz she already owned matched the fabric in the sashing of the circa-1835 quilt. Lori titled her quilt "Granddaughter's Flower Garden" as a tribute to her grandmother who died as the quilt was being made.

Connie J. Nordstrom of Farmington, New Mexico, named her quilt "Anonymous" in honor of the unknown maker of an antique quilt she saw in a dealer¿s booth at the 2003 AQSG seminar. Measuring 24 1/4 x 27 1/2 inches, Connie's reproduction is much smaller than the original. The hexagons are the same 3/8" per side, however. "I have reproduced the feel of her quilt as closely as possible, using reproduction fabrics in the colors she chose," Connie says, noting that both quilts are frame by a red chintz border. "As I assembled these tiny hexagon flowers, my admiration and awe for the unknown, 19th-century quiltmaker grew and grew."

Jeananne Wright of Longmont, Colorado, owns the signed and dated original AFFAJANA MOWE 1811, a "calimanco," or quilt made of highly glazed wool. Quilted with 88 hearts, it may have commemorated a marriage. The large pink center surrounded by uneven Nine-Patch and framed star blocks represents a transition from whole cloth to pieced blocks styles. The fabrics on the back contain yarns spun and dyed by Rhuamy Gage Cobb, born in 1823 in Syracuse, New York.

For her own quilt, Jeananne tried in vain to replicate the glazed finish on practice pieces using hot irons, an egg white wash, starch, and spray lacquer. She was able to incorporate vintage and hand-dyed wools, use a knife-edge finish, and pull the quilting needle through with needle nose pliers.

A second quilt by Jeananne features furnishing and apparel cottons. In the original "Variable Stars on Point" from Calico and Chintz: Antique Quilts from the Collection of Patricia S. Smith by Jeremy Adamson, squares of chintz alternate with pieced blocks. The focus of this style was definitely the fabric: high style, imported, expensive, and treasured. These early quiltmakers loved beautiful and colorful textiles and were bold in their combination of color and pattern," Jeananne says. "My idea in reproducing this quilt was to free myself to use these bold fabrics in combination, without too much thought to symmetry, as this early quiltmaker did. Some stars recede, blending into the background, while other pop out, creating a visually exciting quilt."

An 1838 Diagonal Flying Geese quilt from the Robert and Ardis James Collection at the International Quilt Study Center caught Georgann Eglinski's attention. "I was amazed by the graphic power of the quilt but also by its tranquility, its stillness," says Georgann of Lawrence, Kansas. "It looked like a good quilt to sleep under." She determined that with today's small-size prints, a scaled-down version of the original would turn out best.

Claire McKarns of Encinitas, California, chose a circa-1820 quilt from Connecticut in honor of her native state and the site of the 2006 AQSG seminar. The original Variable Star child's quilt from Kelter-Mace Antiques appeared in The Quilt Engagement Calendar in 1981. Claire's reproduction contains two original fabrics from the early 1800s in addition to smaller-scale modern fabrics. She made the layout more symmetrical by adding a fourth strip of sashing along the left edge. Elaine Euler did the hand quilting and Twink Bumann helped with the binding.

Susan Price Miller of Pella, Iowa, likes to study the early quilts of the Netherlands via the book Quilts: The Dutch Tradition by An Moonen. She duplicated a child's quilt from Friesland made between 1820 and 1840 and now in the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden. The quilt illustrates how early Dutch quiltmakers developed an overall design around a central focus through the careful placement of light and dark values in a wide variety of prints. By examining the directional fabrics, Susan could determine whether two triangles came from one square cut in half on the diagonal or were cut individually to maintain symmetry.

To honor her great-great-grandmother, Barbara Rothemel Noll, who was born in Berks County Pennsylvania in 1803, Catherine Noll Litwinow of Bettendorf, Iowa, looked for inspiration in several Pennsylvania quilt research project books. She eventually chose an 1840s basket quilt made by Mary Jane Tryon Waid and pictured in Threads of Tradition: Northwest Pennsylvania Quilts edited by Marianne Berger Woods for the Crawford County Historical Society. Catherine hand-pieced baskets adapted from the Tiny Basket pattern in Classic Basket Patterns by Marianne Fons and Liz Porter.

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