The culture of quilting

By Ryan Cornell

Quilts can tell us a lot about our past.

Just ask Neva Hart, a quilt historian and volunteer with the Virginia Quilt Museum in Harrisonburg.

“Remember that women were not allowed to vote before 1920, so if they had a political party or political candidate they liked, they would sometimes put in ribbons and that would tell the sentiment of the quilt maker,” Hart said. “In World War I and World War II, a lot of the quilts were supportive of the soldiers who went off to war, so there were a lot of patriotic quilts.”

Quilt historians like Hart can tell where and when a quilt was made from its patterns, fabrics and design. For example, she said local quilts tended to be more conservative.

“People in the Shenandoah Valley liked to make quilts with triangles and a lot of stars, so we’ll see a quilt that is structured, made with stars and the stars are made with triangles and the colors are dark,” she said. “And the dead giveaway is often a zig-zag design all around the border.”

A statewide survey conducted 25 years ago by the Virginia Consortium of Quilters created a database of more than 3,000 quilts made before 1900. Hart said they’re going back to document the quilts they might have missed the first time.

She said the consortium has been collecting data and oral histories from families and has documented about 1,500 quilts over the past year.

Local quilt owners are invited to bring their quilts and their stories when the Virginia Consortium of Quilters hosts its quilt documentation and appraisal day at the Strasburg Museum on Aug. 2.

Hart said they once documented some quilts from the early 1800s that featured family names from that era. Those quilts were later purchased by Colonial Williamsburg and used to track the ancestry of some of the names in their cemetery.

“That kind of thing is a big find,” Hart said.

But don’t let that stop you from bringing in your 20th century quilts. She said they’re also looking to collect data on newer quilts that could indicate how styles have changed over the past century.

Quilt appraisals will be available from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and are suitable for insurance and donation purposes. Each appraisal is $50 and takes about 20 to 30 minutes.

Volunteers from the consortium will be documenting quilts from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A fee of $10 for the first quilt and $5 for each additional quilt will be charged and will benefit the Strasburg Museum.

Data gathered from the documentation event will be used by researchers of history, genealogy and material culture at the Virginia Quilt Museum, and information about quilt owners will be kept confidential.

“People put their hands on a quilt and they don’t see it as a quilt,” Hart said. “They see grandma’s dresses, they see fabrics and shirts that remind them of their ancestors.”

The Strasburg Museum is located at 440 E. King St. For more information, contact Hart at 540-427-0184 or nevahart@verizon.net.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com