Feature Articles

August 2013

The Charleston Museum in Charleston, SC, Offers Historic Quilt Exhibition

The Charleston Museum in Charleston, SC, will present Quintessential Quilts, an original exhibition of some of the Museum’s finest examples of quilting from the late 18th century through the 20th century, on view in the Historic Textiles Gallery, from Aug. 17 through Mar. 30, 2014.

Included will be representative work from the major quilting categories - whole-cloth, chintz appliqué, pieced, traditional appliqué, paper-template pieced or mosaic, crazy and modern. Several quilts included in Quintessential Quilts are recent donations and will be exhibited for the first time.

Whole-cloth quilts are made when two pieces of fabric, with or without batting, are stitched together to create a design. In whitework, the whole-cloth is white with white stitching or quilting. Cording or stuffing could be inserted between rows of stitches from behind. Other names for this technique include trapunto and Italian quilting. This stuffed and corded whitework demilune or dresser cover, dates to the late 18th century. Information given at the time of donation indicates that this piece was made by “family slaves.”

In the 18th century Indian fabric printers began designing popular European-style prints for Western markets. Stitchers cut out printed figures from the popular chintzes and sewed or appliquéd them to a larger background. Chintz appliqué, or broderie perse, became perhaps the best loved, and unusually long-enduring, quilt type in the Lowcountry. In a masterpiece by Gracy Drummond in the 1840s, each block was carefully marked with a family name. An amazing appliquéd tree of life design, inspired by 18th century Indian palampores, was created by Maria Boyd Schulz of Charleston.

Paper-template piecing, or mosaic work, is done by cutting out paper templates, often in the shape of hexagons or diamonds, and covering them with a slightly larger piece of fabric. The fabric is basted to the paper and the individual elements are whipstitched together to form a continuous surface. Also referred to as English template piecing because it was widely practiced in England, this technique enjoyed extended popularity in the Lowcountry throughout the 19th century. One elegant example is an 1852 silk quilt made by Marina Jones Gregg, wife of Charleston silversmith William Gregg.

Pieced quilts are constructed of fabric shapes sewn directly together rather than applied to a background. These patterns were often created in a block style of construction. This tradition seems to have originated in America, but there is evidence that European quiltmakers adopted this block construction as well. Mid-19th century piecing is represented by an outstanding Star of Bethlehem quilt, which descended in the Eason family of Charleston.

In traditional appliquéd quilts, shapes of solid or print fabric are cut to form a pattern and are sewn to a larger background. The technique is the same as for chintz appliqué, but here the shapes create the pattern rather than the fabric print. A green and red Sun Dew reverse appliqué quilt is an interesting pattern thought to be indigenous to South Carolina.

Crazy quilts are constructed of irregularly-shaped pieces of fabric, often silks and velvets, and usually decorated with embroidery. Between 1880 and 1900, Charleston women, along with women all over the country, participated in this national fad which reflected the Victorian “cluttered” design aesthetic. Catherine Mazyck’s crazy quilt was made around 1885 of the silks, velvets, embroidery and symbolism that defined this movement.

By 1900, homemakers could purchase ready-made bedcovers and blankets from mail-order suppliers and new department stores. For a while, the homemade quilt lost its allure. But quilting has endured and flourished, whether out of necessity such as during the Depression, or as an artistic accomplishment for personal satisfaction. Many modern quilts relate to earlier designs and forms, incorporating new fabrics, colors and mechanized innovations. To complete the assemblage of quintessential quilts is the “youngest” quilt in the collection, an updated version of hexagon mosaics made by Mary Alma Parker of Charleston in 2000.

The Charleston Museum, founded in 1773, is America’s first museum. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located along Charleston’s Museum Mile. Holding the most extensive collection of South Carolina cultural and scientific collections in the nation, it also owns two National Historic Landmark houses, the Heyward-Washington House (1772) and the Joseph Manigault House (1803), as well as the Dill Sanctuary, a 580-acre wildlife preserve.

For further information check our SC Institutional Gallery listings, call the Museum at 843-722-2996 or visit (www.charlestonmuseum.org).

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