A blog about movies and the Sturbridge area, including The Brookfields, Brimfield, Charlton, Holland, Wales, and Spencer as well as adjacent towns.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

OSV announces More Beautiful Than Any Other: Quilts from the Old Sturbridge Village Collection (SturbNew Old Sturbridge Village Antique Quilt Exhibit

Passing on an OSV press release FYI for all you quilt lovers out there. You know who you are!

More Beautiful Than Any Other: Quilts from the Old Sturbridge Village Collection

(Sturbridge, Mass.) Nov. 2, 2010: For the first time in more than 10 years, antique quilts from the Old Sturbridge Village collection are out of storage and on display to the public in a newly opened exhibit, More Beautiful Than Any Other: Quilts from the Old Sturbridge Village Collection. Rare quilts from all over New England are featured, along with a variety of period quilted garments, including petticoats, hoods, coats, and period sewing tools and accessories.

The exhibit title refers to a silver medal-winning quilt made by a “Mrs. D. Baker” judged to be “more beautiful than any other” at an exhibition held at Faneuil Hall in Boston on September 20, 1841. Both the award-winning quilt and Mrs. Baker’s silver medal are part of the Old Sturbridge Village exhibit. The oldest quilt on view dates to 1793. The exhibit is free with museum admission, and will be open through June, 2011. However, since the fragile quilts can be displayed only for a limited time, a new group of the museum’s antique quilts will replace those currently on exhibit in February, 2011. For details: 800-733-1830;www.osv.org.

Exuberant colors

Quilting, the art of stitching together layers of fabric and batting to create a warm bed covering or garment, has a long history in New England. Not only was it a quilting practical way for New Englanders to keep warm and comfortable during the long, cold winters, it was also an expression of style. “Early New England quilts often featured exuberant colors and bold patterns,” says Rebecca Beall, collections manager at Old Sturbridge Village. “People today who are used to seeing old, faded quilts are often astonished at just how bright the original fabric colors were.”

Part of the OSV exhibit is an 1823 fabric swatch book that shows the true depth and tone of the period fabric colors. “Because the swatch book was kept closed for nearly 200 years, the rich hues and bright patterns of the fabrics inside have survived in nearly original condition,” Beall notes. Another good example in the exhibit of the bold, bright patterns popular at the time is an 1835 quilt from the Capen family in Stoughton, Mass.

Artistic skill and embellishments

In addition to elaborate patterns and intricate stitches, some quilters incorporated other artistic embellishments in their designs, such as theorem painting, or stenciling, which was popular in early New England. An example of this is a stunning eight-pointed star quilt stitched in 1837 quilt by Clarissa Moore of Eastfield, Conn., who stenciled her name, date and other decorations on the quilt.

Distinctly New England

New England women began to depart from English quilting traditions, adopting different piecing and stitching techniques. “One practical and distinctly New England innovation was the T-shaped quilt, which had cut-outs at the bottom to better fit around the bedposts,” notes Jean Contino, coordinator of households, horticulture and women’s crafts at Old Sturbridge Village. Some survive with the original ties in place, such as a pieced star quilt from the OSV collection made in 1849 by Betsy Lyford of Brookfield New Hampshire.

Early piecing

Period pieced quilts sometimes included dozens of different printed fabrics, including new fabrics, scraps, and fabrics re-used from old gowns or bed hangings. When the American textile industry boomed, the price of printed cotton cloth plummeted, and by the 1830s, women could buy American-made cottons for as little as four or five cents per yard, so they often purchased fabrics specifically for a quilt. Two good examples of early pieced quilts in the Old Sturbridge Village exhibit are an 1835 quilt from the Wilbur family of Swansea, Massachusetts, and an 1808 hexagonal patterned quilt made by Phebe Winsor of Johnston, R.I. Today, the hexagon pattern is often called “Grandmother’s Flower Garden,” and early names for the pattern were “Mosaic,” and “Honeycomb.”

Sentimental inspiration

Sometimes quilters used scraps from other garments not for frugality, but for sentimental reasons. Many early quilts contain fabrics that had significance to the makers and were remembrances of family and friends. An unusual example of this is a quilt on display made by Nancy Newton of Marlborough, N.H. sometime between 1825 and1850. The centerpiece of the quilt is a silk-embroidered linen “pocket” made in the 1700s that perhaps was a cherished heirloom handed down from the quilter’s mother or grandmother. (Pockets were worn by ladies around their waists under their gowns). The rest of the quilt’s design uses motifs from the centerpiece pocket.

Conspicuous consumption

The oldest quilt on display in the Old Sturbridge Village exhibit is a 1793 wholecloth wool quilt from the family of Elizabeth Mather of Sandisfield, Mass. At the time this quilt was made, the practice of displaying beautiful, high quality quilts demonstrated the owner’s wealth and taste. Quilts adorned beds in the best room of the house -- a room that was used for dining and entertaining as well as for sleeping.

Affordable affluence

Later, as British and American textile mills produced an increasing variety of printed cloth, wholecloth cotton quilts became a fashionable and affordable way to dress a bed, and the printed fabric, not the quilting stitches, became the focal point of the quilt. An example of this “affordable affluence” is a reversible quilt from Springfield, Mass. made between 1820-25 featuring a fabric patterned with tree branches and exotic birds.

Cradle comforts

A number of the quilts on exhibit at Old Sturbridge Village are cradle quilts, which show the same techniques and styles as their full-sized counterparts. “Cradle quilts were sometimes made by an older sister practicing her sewing skills before undertaking a larger quilt,” notes OSV’s Contino. “And unlike the pink and blue colors traditionally used for babies today, there was little distinction between color palettes for boys and girls in early New England.”

More Beautiful Than Any Other: Quilts from the Old Sturbridge Village Collection will be on exhibit through June 30, 2011. Old Sturbridge Village has one of the largest textile collections in the northeast, with more than 6,000 pieces, including 250 quilts of all sizes, dozens of quilted garments, and hundreds of other bed coverings, such as blankets, sheets, woven coverlets and counterpanes (summer bed coverings).

The overall Old Sturbridge Villager artifact collection of more than 60,000 artifacts. The museum celebrates New England life from 1790 – 1840, and is one of the oldest and largest living history museums in the country, with 59 antiques buildings, three water-powered mills and a working farm. The museum is open year round, but hours change seasonally. For details: www.osv.org; 1-800-733-1830.

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