Preserving Quilts

“The quilt, that most anonymous of women’s arts, rarely dated or signed, summarizes more than any other form the major themes in a woman’s life…”

Mirra Bank, Anonymous Was a Woman, (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1979).

“Now they will not remain a part of the silent multitude of the women of our past.” 

Janice Tauer Wass, Connecting Stitches: Quilts in Illinois Life: Papers from the Symposium Held at the Illinois State Museum, Springfield, January 1994 (Springfield, IL: Illinois State Museum, 1995).

Quilt historians like Wass took Banks’s comment on the anonymity of quiltmakers to heart during the last decades of the 20th century.  In addition to making quilts, the second quilt revival encouraged the preservation of quilts and the study of the history of quiltmaking. The movement includes museums, organizations and centers for scholarly study, documentation projects, and online repositories for quilt history and preservation.

The quilt documentation projects became a grassroots movement in the 1980s and 1990s after the success of the Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc. in 1981-1983. Collectively these grassroots projects have documented more than 177,000 quilts, and the projects continue. These projects preserved information about the quilts and their makers in permanent archives while teaching families how to preserve their own history.

With this vast amount of newly collected quilt history, founders of the Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc. and Texas Quilt Search founded the Quilt Alliance (formerly Alliance for American Quilts) in 1993 as an umbrella organization for preserving and sharing the stories of quilts and quiltmakers. Through relationships with museums, universities, enthusiasts, industry professionals, and experts, the Quilt Alliance develops projects that record stories of living quiltmakers (Quilter’s S.O.S.—Save Our Stories), encourage identification and preservation of quilt-related ephemera (Boxes Under the Bed), and document the impact of key individuals in the quilt revival (Quilt Treasures).

At the 1992 Louisville Celebrates the American Quilt “Bibliography” conference, participants from across the quilt world came to the conclusion that an “index” would be necessary. The Quilt Index is the result of those discussions. Taking advantage of today’s digital technology through the internet, the Quilt Index serves as the primary online repository for quilt history by making images, information, resources, and bibliographies available to the public.