Ask any kid in school if they like history and I’ll bet the vast majority will say ‘no’. All those dates to memorize, presidents to learn, battles to read about, facts to dissect-- personally, as a kid, I never really understood why we needed to know all that stuff. I guess I’d never had a teacher who impressed upon me that knowing what came before us directly and completely makes us who we turn out to be.
My husband somehow understood this from a young age and his enthusiasm for history has played a large part in my desire to devour every bit I can find on certain subjects, one of which is quilting.
I have a small collection of antique quilts and have a lecture on the subject in which I talk about my experience finding quilts at small-town auctions, tag sales, thrift, antique and junk shops, along with some anecdotes on the history of quilting and fabric in America. It’s a rather entertaining lecture if I’m to believe attendees and I’m always trying to increase my knowledge of these treasures by reading, taking classes and attending seminars on the subject, when available, to keep my lecture fresh and up-to-date.
Every time I do, I realize what a vast amount of information there is out there about how our forebears fostered our passion for quilt-making.
A couple of Sundays ago, I spent several hours with some fascinating historians. Most of us would think of these particular individuals as quilters but because of their desire to know about old quilts and their search into the making of quilts that came before us, they become something more.
Julie Silber and Joe Cunningham (of The Quilt Complex http://www.thequiltcomplex .com) and Barbara Brackman held the seminar, “Julie and Joe’s Quilt Adventure,” entralling a lucky roomfull of quilt buffs with their knowledge of why people made the quilts they made and when and where they made them. This particular day was spent at the San Jose Quilt Museum where the exhibit “Still Crazy”--as in crazy quilts--was on display. Learning that the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia was the empetus for the inspiration that became a crazy quilt frenzy from roughly 1883-1893, threw me not into the art of putting pieces of cloth and fancy embriodery stitches together, but the churning, changing, complex mix of people, world trade and world events that is this fascinating subject, history.
Crazy quilts have never really appealed to me. It might be because they tend to be dark and heavy, or that most of the ones I’ve seen are in bad condition or unfinished. But when surrounded by crazy quilts that are highly embellished works of art, truly the best of the best, the quilter in me develops an instant bond with these treasures and I suddenly have no trouble understanding why quilters’ needles were taken up to produce what became epic stories and some, masterpieces.
I’ll bet most quilters don’t give a thought to how this art, this pastime, this passion of ours got started; where did all these patterns come from? who, what and where was their inspiration? why has there been the ebb, flow, fad and craze of certain patterns in certain decades? I encourage all quilters to pursue these questions at every opportunity and I can think of no better teachers than you’ll find at The Quilt Complex.