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Quilt Collection | Wisconsin Historical Society

Resource Description

The Quilt Collection

Online Collection Tour

Quilt Collection | Wisconsin Historical Society
This image is a detail of a giant dahlia quilt made by Ella Strahm of New Glarus, Wisconsin in 1940.
This Giant Dahlia quilt, made by Ella Strahm in 1887, can be found in the online quilt collection.

About the Quilt Tour

Content of the Tour

This tour features more than 150 quilts and comforters from the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Museum. This tour does not include quilts in the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society's historic sites.

The tour contains selected information about the quilt. The first thing you see is a thumbnail image and a brief description of each artifact. Clicking on the thumbnail results in a zoom image. Clicking on the brief description yields more information, including:

  • Catalog number - this is the identification number that the Wisconsin Historical Museum uses to track the object. Please refer to this number in any correspondence with Museum staff.
  • AAT object term - this is what the artifact is called according to the Art and Architecture Thesaurus, a vocabulary created by the
    J. Paul Getty Trust. (In a few instances, local terminology is used.)
American Folk Art Quilts, book by Maggi McCormick Gordon
American Folk Art Quilts, by Maggi McCormick Gordon. This lavish photography book for quilters features 35 beautiful, antique quilts from the Wisconsin Historical Society collections. Be inspired to create your own replica using the book's historic patterns and block layouts. Information on the cherry tree quilt featured on the cover of this book can be found in the online quilt collection.

Buy this book.
  • Materials/Medium - this is a listing of the materials of which the object is made, in terms used by the Art and Architecture Thesaurus.
  • Detailed description - this is a physical description of the object. Information about the condition and overall size is not accessible online at this time.
  • Object history - this is contextual information about the object, its maker, its wearer(s), and/or the circumstances surrounding its creation and use. If such information is unknown, the object history does not appear. Also included, where applicable, is quilt historian Barbara Brackman’s number for the pattern design. This should eliminate any confusion caused by the same quilt pattern having multiple names. Pieced quilt pattern numbers come from Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns (1993). Appliquéd pattern numbers come from her Encyclopedia of Appliqué (1993).
  • Dates - these are dates associated with the object's history. Dates may refer to design, manufacture, modification, use, and/or subject.

If you would like more information regarding any of the objects, please contact the Curator of Costumes and Textiles. The Historical Society cannot provide information regarding appraisal values and storage locations.

Organization of the Tour

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The tour consists of lists of object records created from searches of a master database. The searches represent different ways to access the quilt collection – by context, date, overall pattern, specific pattern, and technique. For those who would like to just browse the collection, there is an "All Quilts" section.

Touring by Context:

In this section quilts have been grouped in ways that reflect their original purpose, intended use, the culture of the maker, and other unique characteristics that do not fall into technique, date, or pattern categories.

  • African American – a quilt made by an African American.
  • Anniversary – a quilt made to celebrate a state, national, or organizational anniversary.
  • Crib – a small quilt meant for a child’s crib. The quilt measures at least 24” and at most 48” in both directions.
  • Doll – a very small quilt meant for a doll and/or its cradle. The quilt is no more than 24” long in both directions.
  • Fundraising – a quilt made to raise money for favored causes, often by groups. It is often in the form of a signature quilt.
  • Hmong – a quilt made by a member of the Hmong culture.
  • Incomplete – a quilt whose top was finished (either pieced, appliquéd or embroidered), but for which a backing was never added.
  • Patriotic - a quilt expressing patriotic sentiments, usually decorated with such elements as flags and other national symbols.
  • Signature – a quilt incorporating a large number of names, autographs or signatures. Often made in order to raise funds for a church or charity with the subscriber paying a small fee to have his or her name embroidered or inked on the quilt.
  • Wisconsin-made –a quilt made in Wisconsin. Approximately half the quilts in the collection were made in this state.

Touring by Date:

The quilts have been grouped into eras of quilt history that usually represent two to three decades. Although the beginning and ending years are not exactly the same, the eras have been adapted from Barbara Brackman’s Clues in the Calico: A Guide to Identifying and Dating Antique Quilts (1989) and Roderick Kiracofe's The American Quilt: A History of Cloth and Comfort 1750-1950 (1993).

The same quilt can appear in more than one era if it is associated with a date range that straddles these eras. For example, if an object was made sometime between 1850 and 1880, inclusive, then it will appear in the lists for 1840-1869 and 1870-1899. Circa dates frequently result in the placement of an object in more than one era.

Sometimes an object may seem out of place in a given era. This is frequently because a given quilt may have been started by a member of one generation and finished many years later by her descendants.

When you click on the brief description of an object in a list, you will be able to see the various dates associated with it.

Touring by Overall Pattern:

The collection has been divided into the three main types of overall patterns found on quilts, specifically:

  • Block-style – a quilt made from patches that have been pieced into a square or block. The blocks are then sewn together to form the quilt. This usually refers to a repeating pattern.
  • Center medallion – a quilt with a large non-repeating pattern that is usually centered on the quilt. It can be pieced or appliquéd.
  • Whole-cloth – a quilt made from one fabric and primarily embellished with quilting.

Touring by Specific Pattern, Form or Motif:

In this section the quilts have been organized into patterns that appear at least once in the collection. A quilt may be found in more than one category if more than one pattern appears on the quilt. Some of the definitions are taken from the Art and Architecture Thesaurus.

  • Patch – a quilt that is made from one patch shape, usually in the same size. The patch shape can be square, hexagonal, rectangular, triangular, or diamond. The patches can be grouped into blocks of four, nine, or twenty-five.
  • Basket – a quilt that includes a pictorial or abstract representation of a basket.
  • Chain – a quilt that includes a chain motif. It is usually made from small squares laid out diagonally in two or three rows.
  • Courthouse Square – a quilt that includes blocks made from a stepped square with a white “+” or “x” in the middle. Often this white area has printed or embroidered names. In Barbara Brackman’s book, Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilted Patterns, this pattern is also called “Odd Fellow’s Quilt,” “Album,” “Arbor Window,” or “The Cross Patch.” The Wisconsin Historical Museum has more Courthouse Square quilts than any other pattern.
  • Crazy – a quilt made from irregular shaped patches, often in dark colors and from a variety of fabrics including velvets, satins, and brocades. It is often embellished with fancy embroidery and is usually tied rather than quilted. These quilts were generally made between 1880 and 1910.
  • Fair Ribbon – a quilt made from fair ribbons, usually from county or state agricultural fairs.
  • Floral – a quilt that uses pictorial or abstract representations of flowers.
  • Log Cabin – a quilt made of blocks constructed of strips of fabric arranged in a way that simulates the construction of a log cabin. This type is usually tied rather than quilted and rarely contains
  • Nine X – a quilt that has a diagonal orientation within the block or the blocks are divided by two diagonal seams creating an “X.” The descriptive name “nine x” is taken from Barbara Brackman’s book, Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilted Patterns.
  • Pictorial & Realistic – a quilt that includes pictorial representations rather than an abstract design. This section does not include basket and stylized or abstract floral designs.
  • Puff – a quilt composed of three-dimensional puffs; small silk squares slightly gather and sometimes stuffed with batting, pieced together.
  • Sampler – a quilt consisting of a variety of patterns, the idea being to show as many as possible.
  • Snowflake – a quilt that includes a pictorial or abstract representation of a snowflake.
  • Star – a quilt that uses stars as its primary motif.
  • Strip –a quilt whose pattern is organized in strips running the length of the quilt. It may consist of un-pieced strips or un-pieced strips alternating with pieced strips.
  • Wheel – a quilt whose primary design includes repeating circular motifs. It may be pieced or appliquéd. The descriptive name “wheel” is taken from Barbara Brackman’s book, Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilted Patterns.

Touring by Technique:

This section organizes the quilts by the techniques used to make them. Some quilts will be included in more than one category if more than one technique appears on the quilt.

  • Appliquéd – a quilt that has a solid color ground with a design, often floral, that has been laid on top of it and sewn down. The appliquéd design can be sewn to a whole-cloth quilt or it can be made in blocks that are sewn together. Crazy quilts, which are often appliquéd, are not included here.
  • Embroidered – a quilt that has embroidery as its primary or secondary embellishment. Crazy quilts, which are often embroidered, are not included here. Crazy quilts can be found in the “Touring by Specific Pattern, Form or Motif” section.
  • Pieced – a quilt that is made from patches, usually in geometrical shapes, that have been sewn together to form the top of the quilt. Quilts made from large blocks that have been appliquéd and then sewn together are not included in this section. They can be found under appliquéd quilts.
  • Tied – a quilt or comforter whose front and back are attached in several places with thread or yarn that has been tied into a knot.