Patches From the Past
Scraps of Fabric, Sewing & Quilting History

The American Quilt Study Group Seminar 2004

~ Judy Anne's first conference on the history of quilting~

In 1980 a group of scholars interested in quilt history founded the American Quilt Study Group, based in California. They now have a yearly symposium at which papers are presented, and their annual journal, "Uncoverings", is the most important scholarly publication in the field.*       Jonathan Holstein

Imagine a conference center buzzing with quilters. Better yet all of them quilt history enthusiasts. In fact a few aren't quilters at all but the love of quilt, textile and women's history has brought them to the 2004 American Quilt Study Group. That is the wondrous atmosphere that I just experienced.

This year's seminar was held in Vancouver Washington October 8 through 10 but if you wanted even more quilty experiences you could attend on October 7 to participate in extra study centers and tours.

I didn't arrive until early Friday afternoon and the conference center was already active with study groups, displays of quilts, book and antique sales and folks talking quilts and quilt history. In addition two busloads of people were still out on tours of museums and other area attractions.

I put my belongings in my room and hurried on to the quilt study session, "Way Down South: Quilts of the Deep South", led by Teddy Pruett. Note the above picture of Teddy next to the centerpiece of magnolias that she arranged for the group. You can't get much more southern than that! Instead of addressing the more often discussed antebellum quilts Teddy offered a unique look at quilt making during the impoverished years between the Civil War and World War II. The resulting thick, casually made quilts told a story of the south during these difficult years.

I'd barely caught my breath before it was time for the opening banquet. It was great chatting with other quilt history enthusiasts from all over the country. After eating we listened to the keynote address about women's connections through quilts. The evening ended with slides of quilts and time for informal chats in rooms and halls about the conference center.

It seemed I'd just shut my eyes when morning came. Saturday is the really BIG day of the seminar. I didn't make it to breakfast so my day started with the presentation of papers. I own several of the study group's professional journal, Uncoverings but I soon found that reading something in print is far different than seeing a live presentation. I have a pretty good sense of the big picture of quilt history but here I was learning about those little, and until now unknown, things that build the whole.

We looked at quilts made by individual families and at quilts made for specific purposes. Lucinda Cawley exhibited and told about mid nineteenth century friendship quilts made in southeastern Pennsylvania. These quilts were inscribed in the fraktur calligraphy used to document important events by the Pennsylvania Germans. An example can be seen in the background of the picture on the right. Loretta Chase and Pamela Worthen, shown to the right, spoke on an album quilt from the Blue Hills.

Remember I mentioned this was the big day. No minute was wasted. Lunch included the choice of attending one of thirty different 'roundtables'. I chose "Thread Your Research Needle" guided by Kimberly Wulfert. As you can see in the picture to the left that we were all quite absorbed as she offered us a new way of looking at research. She pointed out that research is hard work and must be done using high standards but she also helped us see the fun and excitement found in research. By the end of the session I knew that it would take time and patience to find something that truly fascinates me before embarking on the road to research. Kimberly had pointed out that if we are open to possibilities our research topic might well find us.

More study centers were offered on Saturday afternoon but I had decided I'd best not take on too much so I foolishly thought I had a bit of a break. But the afternoon flew by with viewing the quilt exhibit then browsing through booths of antique quilts, fabrics and books. Next I moved on to the silent auction. This was a new activity for me and I picked a few things to bid on. I even returned later to up my bid on a couple of the books I wanted. Of course I took time to talk with people here and there then barely had time to glance at the book sale before it was time to get to dinner.

You might imagine that things were winding down a bit by then but not at an AQSG seminar! After dinner the live auction began. What fun it was with Julie Silbert as auctioneer. Between hot bidding on some wonderful items and Julie's great sense of humor it was an event not to be missed. Just before the auction began the results of the silent auction were available and I found I had won the two wonderful books shown to the right.

Next it was time for show and tell. This is a major event of the conference and I was holding on with all my might to stay awake and see it. Finally I decided to go lie down in my room for just a little while. Of course I fell sound asleep and missed a marvelous display of quilts. Next year I will have to find a way to make it through the day and evening. Perhaps a lot of coffee is in order.

Having fallen asleep a bit early I made it to breakfast Sunday morning. It was great visiting with long time member Pat Means who first inspired me to join the American Quilt Study Group. Then it was time for more paper presentations. I was especially fascinated with the study of Indigo-Resist fabrics of the eighteenth century and the amazing story of a quilt that was made for General Grant by the ladies of Eureka, California. I had no idea people that far west were so involved with the Civil War.

At last it was time for the closing luncheon. It ended with a presentation of what will be offered at the 2005 seminar in Golden Colorado. It sounded wonderful and of course I'm already planning how I can get there next year. My husband came to pick me up after lunch. I'd gathered up my luggage and treasures from the conference including my "housewife". Volunteers had made one for each of us attending the conference. A housewife is a small roll up sewing kit used by early New England women. Mine is pictured to the left.

We had a long drive to go so I'd decided against the shop hop or one of the enticing study centers that were held on Sunday afternoon. So many tempting things were offered. I needed several versions of myself in order to take it all in.

If you aren't already a part of the American Quilt Study Group I hope in reading this you are inspired to join and to attend the seminar. Not only is the AQSG an important organization promoting scholarship in the study of the history of quilting but learning and sharing about this topic is great fun for any quilt history enthusiast.

2004 Judy Anne Johnson Breneman (Do not reproduce this article without permission from the author.)


* p110 "Abstract Design in American Quilts: A Biography of an Exhibition" Jonathan Holstein

The American Quilt Study Group
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through this national organization

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