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Quilts and Textiles

 

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Quilters & Reproductions

Quilters have always used older quilts as reference sources for designs, techniques, fabrics, and styles. Some quilters make exact copies of older quilts but most make variations of the original or use part, or all, of the original as inspiration for an entirely new design.

Before published patterns and illustrated quilt books became widely available in the 20th century, quilters shared patterns and designs simply by looking at each other’s quilts or by exchanging patterns and blocks through the mail in “round-robin” exchanges. Some quilters maintained vast collections of patterns and blocks based on older quilts.

Today, manufacturers frequently produce textiles that reproduce older (and usually out-of-print) fabrics and pattern manufacturers write step-by-step instructions on cutting, piecing, or appliqué thereby making it easier to reproduce old quilts.

Reproduction String Quilt
Mary Worrall, designer and piecer;
John Putnam, machine quilter

2000-2001
East Lansing, Ingham County, Michigan
Cotton with cotton/polyester battning
61” x 76”
MSUM Teaching Collection TC2001:11

By choosing a darker sashing, which sets off the bright colored fabrics within, Worrall created a quilt that takes on an entirely different look than the original. Worrall “string pieced” eye-catching prints to a foundation fabric. In string piecing, fabrics are often used randomly in the design, without regard to color of strip width, creating a “scrappy” effect. String piecing commonly appears in simple square blocks such as those found in this quilt. Using a thick variegated thread for machine quilting also enhanced the vibrant palette.
   

Original
This quilt only appears in the exhibit as an image on a text panel.
String Quilt
Viney Crawford (b. 1912)
1986
Idlewild, Lake County, Michigan
Cotton and polyester
64” x 80”
MSUM 6520.1
Michigan African-American Quilt Collection

Within the African-American community, “Nine-Patch” and “Strip” pattern quilts done in the “String” technique are most often cited by quilters as the first ones they learned and continue to prefer. Viney Crawford made this “String” quilt especially for the Michigan State University Museum in honor of the Yates Township Center in Idlewild. Idlewild, located in a rural area of Michigan’s lower peninsula, was developed in 1912 as a resort for the growing number of middle-class African-Americans who were not welcomed at other resorts. In its heyday, the resort hosted a who’s who list of African-Americans prominent in all walks of life and was destination for many of some of the nation’s most notable performers. An African-American Quilt Discovery Day was held in Idlewild in July 1986.


Reproduction Underground Railroad Quilt
Beth Donaldson, designer and piecer;
John Putnam, machine quilter

2001
Lansing, Ingham County, Michigan
Cotton with cotton/polyester batting
72.5” x 96.5”
MSUM Teaching Collection TC2001:2

The design is a dynamic combination of plain blocks and pieced blocks in the "Underground Railroad” pattern (also called “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Grandmother’s Fan” patterns). The colors of the original quilt are soft and lovely and, since the original was made relatively recently, it was fairly easy to find fabrics to duplicate it. Donaldson thought it would be interesting to reverse the quilt’s original color palette in the reproduction. She place her blocks of soft blues and a full range of yellows on a background of several different deep navies to create a “scrappy” look.


Original
This quilt only appears in the exhibit as an image on a text panel.

Underground Railroad Quilt
Myla Perkins (b. 1939)
1984
Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan
Cotton/polyester with polyester batting
MSUM 7421.1
Michigan African-American Quilt Collection

This quilt was made by Myla Perkins and her sister Clara Clark, along with Elva Gamble, Gwen Spears, and another set of sisters, Charlsetta Buie and Elizabeth Jaggers, the original members of the Detroit Group, The Quilting Six Plus. Jaggers said that when the group first got together in the late 1980s, family and friends doubted that “six beautiful, intelligent black women were getting together to quilt.” When The Quilting Six Plus held their own exhibit and displayed more than 70 quilts, visitors were impressed and many asked to join the group. Myla Perkins named her variation of the “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Grandmother’s Fan” pattern the “Underground Railroad” quilt. Its name had nothing to do with the widely circulated but currently unsubstantiated story that certain quilt patterns were used as signs for travelers on the Underground Railroad.


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