Text by Kate Hebert, Chief Curator at American Museum & Gardens’
The American Museum & Gardens’ quilt collection is hailed as the finest collection of American quilts outside the USA. There are over 250 quilts in the collection and a fifth of these are on display throughout the Museum. Pieces exhibited showcase the different techniques used in American quilt making and include early Whole-Cloth quilts, appliquéd designs (including the stunning Baltimore Album Quilt), pieced designs (like the iconic American Log Cabin Quilts), and Amish quilts. In addition to the fabulous quilt collection the Museum holds other fine examples of American textiles, including Jacquard weavings, rag rugs, and samplers.
Quaker Square-in-a-Square Quilt,1835-1850, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Image above: Crazy Patchwork Pennants, First half twentieth century, American
Most objects exhibited in the museum were collected specifically for the Museum displays after the founders, Dallas Pratt and John Judkyn, had decided to embark on the project of establishing a museum of American decorative art in Britain. They had already begun collecting quilts, however, before they even dreamt of forming a museum. Inspired by pieces they saw displayed at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, they began to collect quilts for themselves, which they continued to add to once the American Museum had opened.
Wool Applique Quilt, c.1830, New England
Keen to test out their idea for a museum of American decorative art, John Judkyn persuaded Electra Havemeyer Webb to lend him a collection of quilts that she had gathered for the Shelburne Museum. These pieces were displayed in an exhibition designed by Judkyn Antique Quilts and Quilting held at Freshford Manor in 1958. The exhibition proved to be very popular and raised enough money to re-roof the parish church. The success of this exhibition was a contributing factor to the idea to form an entire museum dedicated to the decorative arts.
Tippecanoe and Tyler Too Quilt, 1840s, American
The collection includes monumentally sized quilts such as the Baltimore Album Quilt (c.1847, Baltimore, Maryland) which is over 3½ metres long and wide, and has an understandable ‘wow’ factor. But some of the humbler pieces have their own charm, often demonstrating great skill on the part of the stitcher who is able to breathe new life into fabrics that have been discarded. With the title of the Selvedge Fair being ‘Make Do’ this year, we thought it would be a great opportunity to share some of the textiles in the collection that have been made from reused materials or recreated over time.
Cigar Silk Ribbon quilt, c.1880, American
The Quaker Square-in-a-Square Quilt (1835–1850, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) is believed to be made from leftover pieces of silk from dressmaking, with some of the triangles in the blocks pieced together from smaller scraps of fabric. The Wool Applique Quilt (c.1830, New England) has large areas of ‘background’ fabric, which has been created by sewing narrow strips of wool together and overlapping them to create a ribbed effect. There is evidence that this quilt has had three different backing fabrics, each one replaced by a new one as it wore out, prolonging the life of the quilt. When looking at the Tippecanoe and Tyler Too Quilt (1840s, American), you can see disruption in pattern of pieced fabrics and quilting stitches shows that quilt was cut up and sewn back together in a slightly different arrangement.
Baltimore Album Quilt, c.1847, Baltimore, Maryland
While many quilt designs can only be achieved through the purchase of fabric specifically for that project, there is also a tradition of using fabric scraps to make quilts. Indeed, even ribbons used for packaging were crafted into elaborate covers for pieces of furniture, particularly during the latter part of the nineteenth century. During the late 1800s, cigar companies tied bundles of cigars with silk ribbons, which had the name of the company or cigar manufacturer stamped or woven into them. Cigar-smoking was a common activity so most households had a plentiful supply of these ribbons. It was common for women in the household to collect these bright ribbons and sew them together in an early form of upcycling. An example of this can be found with the Cigar Silk Ribbon Quilt (c.1880, American). Another quirky example of textile art from the collection is the Crazy Patchwork Pennants (First half twentieth century, American), whose maker pieced together wool felt university pennants to make a colourful arrangement.
Three-Leaf Clover Hooked Rug, Nineteenth century, America
Hooked rugs utilise small scraps of fabrics that are hooked through a coarse weave backing, such as burlap. The Three-Leaf Clover Hooked Rug (Nineteenth century, America) has a pattern, with its small multicoloured diamonds, which lends itself well to using up scraps. While the Spaniels Hooked Rug (1925, American) still uses scraps of fabric, but it has a limited colour palette so a more intricate picture can be achieved.
Spaniels Hooked Rug, 1925, American
These beautiful pieces are just a small fraction of the textile treasures on display at the American Museum & Gardens. We look forward to welcoming you soon.
The Selvedge Fair, Bath will be held on Saturday 9 September at the American Museum & Gardens. Find out more and book your tickets here.