Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I have a confession - I am a nerd.  I am actually a nerd of many kinds - a science nerd, a history nerd, a quilt nerd, a museum nerd, a Park Service nerd.  And yesterday, my dear bloggies, those last three collided in a fantastic way.

Last Sunday my husband and I took a trip to the New England Quilt Museum, in Lowell, MA. We took a detour on the way into the NPS Visitor Center to pick up some yardage woven at the Boott Cotton Mill (we saw the exhibits there on a whole other trip, and that's a whole other post).  We also picked up some repro prints at NEQM at the end of the day (more on that later) - so, yes, we went to Lowell to buy fabric.  (I repeat, I am a huge nerd.)

From the Bancroft Collection, Marcus Fabrics for NEQM.

The current exhibit at the New England Quilt Museum is One Foot Square, Quilted & Bound - a collection of quilts (including several Civil War hospital quilts) constructed with quilt-as-you-go techniques that result in "potholder" blocks, which are then whipstitched to assemble the quilt.  Many of these were signature blocks, and the curator's speculation (which seems quite plausible) is that this construction method was a way of speeding up construction of bee quilts.

The biggest downside to the museum, in my mind, is that they do not allow photography in the exhibits.  So this post will be picture-poor, but I will try to describe our favorites the best I can.  On the plus side, they did give out a mini-catalog of the exhibit that lists the titles, dates, makers, and sizes of the quilts exhibited.  My not-so-inner museum nerd loves it, and only wishes they'd included catalog numbers for future reference.  While I'm on the subject of the collection, the museum does have a very limited online gallery; however, only the Cook-Borden star quilt is currently displayed.

Two of the standout pieces are actually sister quilts, both made by the Portland Ladies Aid Society in Maine in 1864.  They share fabrics, embroidered and appliqued motifs, and makers - which makes them incredibly rare.  As a quilter, I think they are pretty; as a historian, I think they are amazing.  They feature motifs of cannons and mortars, Masonic compasses, and an observatory that was a landmark of Portland.  One is in much better condition than the other - not surprising given their age and the use of silk.

I was struck by a third Maine Civil War quilt as well.  There was a red and white Crosses and Losses quilt made with the same "potholder" technique.  It is dated 1863, but with the two color solid blocks it could have been made by a "modern" quilter yesterday.  I have added Crosses and Losses to my to-do list - now the question is solids or prints?  Two color or rainbow?

The final highlight for us was a diamond quilt made in New Hampshire in 1876.  It was essentially a nine-patch made out of diamonds.  Eric was fascinated by it, and studied it while I looked at the rest of the exhibit.  Each block was individually bound - they started with a red stripe, and apparently ran out and replaced it with a red check.  It was a signature or presentation quilt, and Eric was finding patterns in the use of the red check and common surnames.  This is the quilt that inspired Eric to go back to the shop and pick out reproduction fabric.  He's been playing with drafting his design, and it may be taking a more modern direction, which will be fun.  I'm still having visions of those period prints in diamonds on my bed, though...  So there might be two diamond quilts in our future!

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