Monday, July 17, 2017

more velvet love

A few years ago, I started looking at velvet quilts. They were intriguing. The people who made them must have been intriguing, too. They thought differently. Other quiltmakers used cottons and wools. Even in the Victorian period, when velvets were among the rich fabrics used in crazy quilts, they were not often the primary fabric. That means velvet quilts are a little unusual.

This quilt came from a lovely lady who was a local dealer at the Antiques Expo in Portland over the weekend. She couldn't remember where it came from, but said it was possibly from the midwest. It is 79" x 80" and includes 25 blocks with crazy patchwork, LeMoyne stars and "x" blocks. Two of the blocks have small pink and white flowers appliqued in the center.

Decorative feather stitch covers every seam, and a variety of thread colors were used. Although the quilt would be considered a crazy quilt, there is a sense of structure. A cluster of star blocks fills the center, cornered by the "x" blocks and surrounded by the crazy blocks. There are also two wheel blocks, which seem more casually placed.

Here are some of the other velvet quilts in my collection. Maybe one day there will be enough for an exhibition.

Friday, July 14, 2017

who are you?

Does anyone know the maker of this quilt? I received this message the other day but was not able to determine who sent it. I hope it wasn't one of the people whose accounts was blocked for sending spam, but if so, let me know and we can fix it. If you know whose quilt it is, even if it is not yours, please let me know. I love that someone wanted to do a quilt with this design.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

new Spoonflower fabrics

rainbows, not available to the general public
It's a lot of fun to play around with Spoonflower and create custom fabric designs. So far, I have designed and printed dozens of fabrics but have not used many of them and have not made many available to the public. Recently I had two designs printed. One was an old design, and is not available. One is a new design based on an old object, and is now for sale.

my original idea for the rainbow fabric was to use it as borders in a medallion style quilt,
but I ditched the idea and will use the fabric for another project

The rainbow print is a design I came up with almost three years ago, when toying with the idea of doing a digitally printed medallion style quilt. I ended up going in a different direction, printing the fabrics for my first "Fruity Beauty" prototype, and never printed the rainbow fabric until now.

Fruity Beauty (2014) - Quilted by Jolene Knight
There is a stack of fabric in my stash waiting to make a larger "Fruity Beauty" quilt. The prototype has been published, exhibited, and was featured in the 2016 men's juried exhibition at the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.

Battenberg - in person it's a little more neutral and slightly darker - a good gray!
The second fabric I recently printed is from a photo of my Great Aunt Alma's Battenberg lace project, which she never finished. I took a detail shot and did a mirror image repeat to create a continuous design. This fabric is now available, and I think quiltmakers will like it. We're always looking for interesting neutral gray fabrics, right? For details, click here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

when there are quilts

1970s Hawaiian scrap quilt found in Oregon
Following up on yesterday's blog: in a Facebook discussion on the subject of two-color, black and white or gray and white mourning quilts, I made a comment about when "a thing" really was a thing. It was when there were quilts, and not just a few quilts. The example I cited was Hawaiian scrap quilts.

At first, there were only a few quilts in my Hawaiian scrap quilt group; two quilts, to be exact. One was discovered at an Antique Expo event in Portland, and the other came from an eBay seller in Hawaii. With just a couple clues, I started sniffing around.

The tradition of scrap quilts in Hawaii revealed itself by chance, and I pursued it. The quilts were a little hard to find at first, and still do not come along every day, but I found plenty of them once I really started looking.

In January, I went to Oahu on a vintage buying trip and found a bunch of scrap quilts and tops. Some of them were earlier pieces with 1950s fabrics, made in the 50s or 60s. Most were 1970s. I talked to people when I was there, and learned a few things about the quilts, the fabrics and the culture.

It was a moment when research led to rewards far beyond the academic. There was nothing like running around to vintage shops in Hawaii, wearing shorts, sunglasses and sandals, and taking short breaks for fresh ahi poke while all my friends were snowed-in back in Portland! Sorry, friends, but it was sweet, and I deserved it!

In terms of academic rewards, the quilts and tops I found confirmed specific methods of construction popular in these objects, such as the absence of batting and the use of aloha shirt and muu muu fabrics.

The tradition of scrap quilts in Hawaii essentially sprang out of the garment industry, the source of cutaway fabric scraps. A lot of those factories closed in the 1970s following a decline in tourism. Something had to happen with the scraps, and it did. Where there are scraps, there are quilts!

The Queen's Quilt
The idea of scrap quilts as an expression of cultural identity in Hawaii had its roots in Hawaiian history and folklore. A crazy quilt made by Queen Lili'uokalani and her attendants called "the Queen's Quilt" now has a home at Iolani Palace in Honolulu. The quilt documents Lili'uokalani's life and imprisonment.

Lili'uokalani as a young lady
Lili'uokalani was imprisoned at Iolani palace at the end of her reign, and she was the last reigning queen of Hawaii. The quilt, while missing for many years, was always remembered as an important cultural object and part of Hawaiian history. The story about the quilt was included in elementary school education and Hawaiian folklore.

The crazy quilt, and/or scrap quilt - as a form of expression - was part of Hawaiian cultural identity even before many were made there. Hawaiians knew about the Queen's Quilt, and when cutaway garment scraps were available decades after Lili'uokalani was deceased, Hawaiians made crazy patchwork. It's like they just knew to do it that way.

When I went looking for quilts, I found them. At this point the group includes more than 50 examples.

It was interesting to distinguish between the earlier and later mid-century quilts. One of the main differences was the inclusion of DayGlo fabrics in the examples from the middle 1960s and later.

Recently I met more than one person from Hawaii, and I learned crazy patchwork blankets were made for newborn babies. I'm sure there were cottage businesses making baby quilts, as well as individual quilters making quilts as gifts.
I also found a pillow not too long ago. Hard to say if it is related or represents a larger trend in Hawaii, but I will be asking.
traditional Hawaiian applique quilt
Incidentally, the reason why Hawaiian scrap quilts were such a revelation, at least to me, was that Hawaiian quilts were known for one distinct, predominant style. Hawaiian quilts were elegant, two-color, snowflake-cut, echo-quilted botanical applique quilts. There were no print fabrics or crazy patchwork in these quilts.

Those elements were uleashed later, in the scrap quilts, which were rooted in Hawaiian culture as much as the applique quilts. The scrap quilts also had the strong connection to the Hawaiian garment industry, and by association the travel and tourism industry as well. Say what you will about old quilts. It is only "a thing" when there are quilts. In a nutshell, that's why black and white mourning quilts weren't a thing. There were not enough quilts to support the idea.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"...but where are the quilts?"

This gray and white Ocean Waves, c. 1890, is the only
pre-1900 gray and white quilt I have ever owned.
No information came with the quilt
Today I received a question about mourning quilts. Was there a tradition of black and white, or gray and white mourning quilts? The quick answer is "no," there is no evidence to support a widespread tradition of two-color mourning quilts. There are always exceptions to the rule, of course, but I have another way of answering the question. If there was a known tradition of antique, two-color, black and white or gray and white mourning quilts, they would already be collected to death.

exploring mid-century modern design: a 1974 quilt by Barb McKie
The interest in mid-century modern design and optical art would make antique black and white quilts hugely popular. However, in my travels very few antique black and white or gray and white quilts surfaced. If they had, I probably would've bought them all! Black and white is such an ideal expression of modernism, an aspect of quiltmaking I always appreciated.

At one time I owned a gray and white "Ocean Waves" quilt. It was the only time I'd ever owned an antique quilt in either gray and white or black and white. Currently the two black and white quilts in my collection are "Interacting Pyramids" 1974, by Barbara McKie, and "Spirit of Forgiveness" 2014, by Carolyn Mazloomi. Neither is described specifically as a mourning quilt, although Mazloomi's quilt does tell a story inclusive of death and mourning.

lit from behind, this all white quilt includes a symbol
of mourning and rebirth -- the willow tree
Mourning quilts are certainly known to exist, but they tend to be individual, personal expressions of grief rather than trends. I do not recall seeing a mourning quilt made in black and white. Two all-white wholecloth quilts in my collection have large willow trees in the center. The tree is a symbol of mourning, as well as rejuvenation and rebirth. So, they could really be dowry quilts as easily as mourning quilts.

I cannot be certain any of the quilts I have ever owned were truly intended as mourning quilts, but one quilt came with such a sad story, it essentially was a mourning quilt.

Anna Showalter Trissel made this quilt around 1880
in Rockingham County, Virginia
It was a red, white and blue Irish Chain made by Anna Showalter Trissel in the 1880s. Trissel was widowed when her youngest son, David, was three years old. She died two years later, when David was five. Before her death, she made this quilt for her young son. David grew up and married Lily Hess. He died eight months later. Lily was remarried to David's brother, John Trissel, in 1910. They gave this quilt to their daughter, Iva, the second of six children. 

Wow, that's quite a story! It was published in “A Treasury of Mennonite Quilts” by Rachel and Kenneth Pellman. I sold the quilt through Latimer Quilt & Textile Center a couple years ago, but made sure a copy of the book went with it. 

I was curious, so I did a quick search of eBay for "black white antique quilt" and the search produced just one item, a quilt top. If that doesn't say it all, what does? eBay is by far the largest marketplace for antique and vintage quilts in the world.

So, that's my take on the idea of antique, two-color, black and white or gray and white mourning quilts. They weren't "a thing" -- because if they were, they'd really be a thing among collectors. If you ever hear someone talking about quilt history and you're not sure if what they're saying is true, there's a simple way to respond. Ask, "...but where are the quilts?" Either you will get a good answer or not. Most likely you'll get a blank stare.

Monday, July 10, 2017


On Saturday I was visiting with Jean and Charlie Lasswell, and Jean had a quilt she thought I'd like. She found it somewhere in her travels, and it is a 1970s polyester crazy quilt with the most unusual edge finish. All the way around the perimeter there are loops made of narrow strips of polyester, stitched together and adorning the whole edge.

I'd never seen anything like it before. The quilt is 40" x 64" and is in very good condition with only minor loss to a small section of blanket stitch. People have already asked if the loops are scrunchies or the loops once used to weave potholders, but I believe they were actually the creation of the maker. Each loop has a seam on it. What an interesting quilt! Thank you, Jean.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Etiquette and Those Who Seek Negative Attention

John Bridges has good advice for targets of internet trolls. In a nutshell, it is "Don't feed them." So, rather than spending a lot of time with this subject -- it's a beautiful, sunny day and I 'ain't got time for that' -- I can highly recommend "As a Gentleman Would Say" by Bridges and Bryan Curtis. Although it is geared toward men, it is good advice for all. Available through Brooks Brothers.