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About Our Quilt Folk Art | Wisconsin Historical Society

Resource Description

About Our Quilt Folk Art

Wisconsin Historical Museum Collections

About Our Quilt Folk Art | Wisconsin Historical Society

The Wisconsin Historical Museum has over 150 quilts in its collections that represent 200 years of quilt history. Approximately half the quilts were made in Wisconsin. The oldest quilt dates to 1750. The newes dates 19xx. The first quilt was acquired in 1914.

The quilts represent the changes in tastes, fabrics, genres and other trends over the centuries, primarily with the Wisconsin-made quilts. They document the transformation of quilting from a luxury craft to a form of popular culture.

The Museum quilts are particularly strong in African American quilts from late-20th-century Milwaukee and signature quilts from the mid-19th century (six are in the classic "Courthouse Square" or "Album" pattern). The museum is also has two calamanco (glazed wool) quilts from the 18th century, a white trapunto quilt from the early 19th century, and its large collection of doll and crib quilts.

How Quilts in the Museum Collections are Organized

Online

More than 150 of these large, beautiful folk art pieces are available for viewing online. Browse categories allow you to view quilts and comforters by context, date, overall pattern, specific pattern, form or motif, or technique.

Once you select a browse category, you will have several options to narrow your search based on the parameters of that category.

Browse Quilts in the Museum Collections now.

As you drill down, you will see a list of quilt item records. Each listing has a thumbnail image and a brief description. To enlarge the image, click on the thumbnail. To see the detail record of the quilt, click on its brief description.

What’s not included online: Quilts from the Wisconsin Historic Sites.

Browse Categories

Context

Quilts are grouped to 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

Quilts made by African Americans.

Anniversary

Quilts made to celebrate a state, national, or organizational anniversary.

Crib

Small quilts meant for a child’s crib. A crib quilt measures at least 24” and at most 48” in both directions.

Doll

Very small quilts meant for a doll and/or its cradle. A doll quilt is no more than 24” long in both directions.

Fundraising

Quilts made to raise money for favored causes, often by groups. It is often in the form of a signature quilt.

Hmong

Quilts made by a member of the Hmong culture.

Incomplete

Quilts whose tops were finished (either pieced, appliquéd or embroidered), but the backings were never added.

Patriotic

Quilts expressing patriotic sentiments, usually decorated with flags and other national symbols.

Signature

Quilts 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

Quilts made in Wisconsin. Approximately half the quilts in the collection were made in this state.

Date

Quilts are grouped into eras of quilt history that typically 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 usually because a quilt may have been started by a member of one generation and finished many years later by her descendants.

You will be able to see the various dates associated the quilt when you click its brief description.

Overall Pattern

Browse by the three main overall patterns found on quilts:

Block-style

Quilts made from patches pieced into squares or blocks, then sewn together, usually in repeating patterns, to form the quilts.

Center medallion

Quilts with a large non-repeating pattern that is usually centered on the quilt. It can be pieced or appliquéd.

Whole-cloth

Quilts made from one fabric and primarily embellished with quilting.

Specific Pattern, Form or Motif

Quilts are organized into patterns that appear at least once in the collection. Quilts 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

Quilts 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 25.

Basket – Quilts that include a pictorial or abstract representation of a basket.

Chain

Quilts that include a chain motif. They are usually made from small squares laid out diagonally in two or three rows.

Courthouse Square

Quilts that include 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

Quilts made from irregular shaped patches, often in dark colors and from a variety of fabrics including velvets, satins, and brocades. They are often embellished with fancy embroidery and are usually tied rather than quilted. These quilts were generally made between 1880 and 1910.

Fair Ribbon

Quilts made from fair ribbons, usually from county or state agricultural fairs.

Floral

Quilts that use pictorial or abstract representations of flowers.

Log Cabin

Quilts 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

Quilts that have 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 and Realistic

Quilts that include pictorial representations rather than abstract design. This section does not include basket and stylized or abstract floral designs.

Puff

Quilts composed of three-dimensional puffs; small silk squares slightly gather and sometimes stuffed with batting, pieced together.

Sampler

Quilts consisting of a variety of patterns, the idea being to show as many as possible.

Snowflake

Quilts that include a pictorial or abstract representation of a snowflake.

Star

Quilts that use stars as its primary motif.

Strip

Quilts with patterns organized in strips running the length of the quilts. They may consist of un-pieced strips or un-pieced strips alternating with pieced strips.

Wheel

Quilts 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."

Technique                                                                                             

Quilts are organized 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 – Quilts that have 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 – Quilts that have embroidery as its primary or secondary embellishment. Crazy quilts, which are often embroidered, are not included here. Crazy quilts can be found in the “Specific Pattern, Form or Motif” section.

Pieced – Quilts that are 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 – Quilts or comforters whose front and back are attached in several places with thread or yarn that has been tied into a knot.

Detail Records

Each quilt or comforter has a detail record, which contains the following information.

Catalog Number - the identification number the Wisconsin Historical Museum uses to track the object. Please refer to this number in any correspondence with Museum staff.

AAT Object Term - 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.)

Materials/Medium - a list of materials used to make the quilt, 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 - 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 Quilted Patterns" (1993). Appliquéd pattern numbers come from her "Encyclopedia of Applique" (1993).

Dates - dates associated with the object's history. Dates may refer to design, manufacture, modification, use, and/or subject.

 

Physical

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Questions?

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 or storage locations.

Special Thanks

The online quilt gallery was made possible by a generous donation by Geoff Hoffman of Hoffman Manufacturing Corporation, who designed and built an 11-foot-square collapsible quilt photography stand for the Wisconsin Historical Museum.