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Quilts and Textiles


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Great Lakes, Great Quilts

In 2001, Great Lakes, Great Quilts from the Michigan State University Museum was published by C&T Publishing of Lafayette, California, in collaboration with the MSU Museum.

In addition to providing a brief introduction to the history and scope of the Museum’s quilt collections, the book also featured twelve quilt projects. Each project included an illustration of a quilt from the MSU Museum collection and instructions for making a quilt that was either inspired by or reproduced the original.

The selection of quilts to make into projects was based on a number of factors including variation in technical or design complexity for quilters of all skill levels, representation of the diversity of quilts in the collections, and the availability to quilters of similar patterns. Quilts made prior to the 1960s were faithfully reproduced using available reproduction fabrics in the projects; those made after the 1960s were typically reinterpreted. Patterns for eleven of the projects were designed and quilts sewn within a span of less than six months. The twelfth quilt had previously been patterned as a raffle quilt for the museum.

The project quilts form a teaching collection which, unlike the original quilts which need more specialized care, can travel out of the museum to settings such as classrooms, educational programs, and special events.

Photo of reproduction of the Sawtooth quilt
Sawtooth Quilt

Mary Worrall, designer and piecer;
John Putnam, machine quilter
East Lansing, Ingham County, Michigan
Cotton with cotton/polyester batting
86” x 102”
MSUM Teaching Collection TC2001:6

A multitude of fabrics appeared in the original “Sawtooth” quilt, offering Mary Schafer many examples of fabrics from the last quarter of the 19th century to study. Quilts of this ear often featured colors such as madder brown, chocolate brown, double pink, and indigo. Popular prints included stripes, plaids, and paisleys. Tones and patterns similar to these have frequently been produced as reproduction fabrics in recent years. A wide variety of fabrics with the “feel” of the circa 1876 fabrics helped to recreate this reproduction.

The “Sawtooth” reproduction quilt uses the quilting designs of the original with additional motifs adapted for machine quilting. The large triangles of the reproduction feature a simple flower, one of Mary Schafer’s original quilting designs.

Photo of original Sawtooth quilt
This quilt only appears in the exhibit as an image on a text panel.
Sawtooth Quilt
Matilda Vary, piecer;
Mary Schafer (b. 1910), finisher;
Ida Pullman, quilter
Top ca. 18796, finished ca. 1980
Top: Ceresco, Calhoun County, Michigan; finishing: Flushing, Michigan
Cotton with polyester batting
81.25” x 97”
MSUM 1998:53.86
Mary Schafer Collection
Quilter and quilt historian Mary Schafer began collecting quilts, quilt tops, and vintage fabrics as a means to educate herself about quilt history. To share her growing knowledge with others, she transformed many old tops into finished quilts, often designing an original border and creating a unique quilting design to complete the piece. Of this practice, Schafer has said, “I feel that unfinished quilts do not come into the open as much as finished quilts , so that’s the reason I finished them.”
Schafer felt it was important to recognize the women who were creating these quilts. Mary located this quilt top in a Flushing, Michigan, antique store. Through several inquiries, she was able to learn the maker’s name, Matilda Vary. After she added a border and had the piece quilted, Mary signed Matilda Vary’s name in ink on the quilt.

Photo of reproduction of the Four Square Variation quilt
Four Square Variation Quilt
Mary Worrall, piecer and designer;
Barbara Worrall, piecer;
Kari Ruedisale, machine quilter
East Lansing and Howell, Ingham and Livingston Counties, Michigan
Cotton with cotton/polyester batting
76” x 84”
MSUM Teaching Collection TC2001:8

With the many reproduction fabrics and new tools currently available, creating a reproduction of the “Four Square Variation” was easy. For example, instead of tracing around a cardboard template and cutting a square with scissors, the Worralls used rotary cutters to quickly and precisely cut strips of fabric; Ruedisale machine-quilted, rather than hand-quilted top.

Photo of original Four Square Variation quilt
This quilt only appears in the exhibit as an image on a text panel.
Four Square Variation
Elizabeth Samantha Fowler Weatherbee
(c. 1840-death date unknown), piecer;
quilter unknown
Top dates to 1903, finishing 1969
Calhoun County, Michigan
Cotton with cotton/polyester batting
68” x 78”
MSUM 6581.2
Gift of Florence Vogt

The quilt’s fabrics-shirtings-in a palette of wine red, navy, gray-blue, and blacks-and are very typical of their era. Simple patterns such as the “Four Patch” or “Four Square” became very popular at the end of the 19th century. The original top was made by Weatherbee to commemorate the birth of her grandson, Benjamin Edward Weatherbee. The top was later finished by an unidentified quilter who embroidered the dates “1903/1969” in the center. Florence Vogt received the quilt in the mid-1970s from her cousin and his wife because they knew she loved quilts and they had no children to inherit it. Florence has in turn donated it to the MSU Museum.

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