No, no, no, not that holiday! I mean, who celebrates St. Patrick's Day anyway? I'm talking about National Quilting Day of course! And what better place to celebrate National Quilting Day than at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum.
In addition to their regular exhibits, the Museum also had an assortment of speakers and demonstrations in honor of the day, so you could learn all sorts of things about quilts.
Even though I'm not a quilter myself, I still had a great time at the Museum seeing all the beautiful things that can be made with quilting techniques.
This is the home of the world's largest publicly-held quilt collection. They've got over 3500 quilts! Obviously all 3500 can't be on display at one time, so instead they have a handful of exhibitions on display, each of which gets changed out for a new exhibit every 9 months or so. When I visited in March 2013, their main exhibit hall contained the exhibitions Perfecting the Past: Colonial Revival Quilts, Indigo Gives America the Blues, and Posing with Patchwork: Quilts in Photographs. Incidentally, the entire 3500-quilt collection can be viewed online on the Quilt Center's searchable database. You can search for quilts from a certain region or time period, or containing a particular pattern. So even the quilts that aren't currently on display (and with 3500 quilts, that's most of them) can still be seen!
In the latter half of the 19th century, as industrialization took hold of the country, many Americans began feeling nostalgic for what they thought was a simpler time: the colonial period. The colonial period, encompassing pre-1840 America, was seen as America's Golden Age - the height of a truly "American" culture. The Colonial Revival of 1880-1940 showed up in art and architecture, as well as in a renewed interest in handcrafted, homemade goods like quilts. This style looked to design motifs that were popular in America's early days, and quilters used techniques and patterns that mimicked those motifs.
Indigo dyes, which were made from the indigo family of plants, were highly valued because they are long-lasting dyes that are available in a wide range of blue shades. Since indigo does not naturally adhere to fabric fibers, dying fabric with indigo was a very complex process. As the process was refined and perfected over the years, indigo became more and more popular, and blue fabric showed up more and more in quilts.
This exhibit featured old photographs of people posing with quilts alongside actual quilts - either the same quilt from the photo or a quilt of a similar style. Photographs can be an important tool in preserving the history of a quilt, showing who made it and when.
My personal favorite quilt in the museum came from this exhibit. It was made by a woman named Bertha Neiden between 1909 and 1914. Bertha was born Bayla Schuckman in a Jewish village in Russia in 1888, and immigrated to Nebraska when she was 21. She found work as a dressmaker in a department store, and made this quilt in her spare time. She completed it in 1914, and that same year it won a purple ribbon in the state fair, which is where the below photo comes from. The quilt contains an impressive 10,222 pieces of fabric! I love the quilt's unique colors and complex geometry - you can tell she put a lot of time and care into perfectly shaping and aligning each and every piece.
In honor of National Quilting Day, the museum had a lot of extra exhibits and demonstrations in addition to its regular collections, including how to make quilts, how to document and preserve quilts, and sewing machine demonstrations.
At the end of my visit to the Quilt Museum, I made my way down to the seminar room to attend a presentation by a woman named Molly Anderson, an artist from Minden, NE who uses traditional quilting techniques to create visual art. She had several of her pieces there, and spoke about her inspirations and the techniques she used to create each one. The secret to most of her works was careful shaping and placement of the fabric pieces, as well as careful choice of fabrics, many of which were dyed in interesting patterns and colors. She also does all of her sewing by hand, with no help from sewing machines! After a day of seeing traditional quilts that were exclusively made to be put on a bed, it was very interesting to see someone using the same techniques to create modern, nontraditional works of art of all different sizes and shapes that were solely meant for visual display, and not meant to be used on a bed. My favorites were her landscapes - it was impressive how she used different fabrics to depict the sky, mountains and trees.
Visit the Quilt Museum's website here