July 2024

Covering Quilts

Mission impossible – The International Quilt Museum heist

by Sandra Starley


Imagine being let loose in the most amazing quilt museum in the world and getting to pick out any quilt to take home. Well … This was my most recent quilty assignment with my beloved American Quilt Study Group. I was to decide what quilt I would take out of the International Quilt Museum – if it were NOT a crime. Darn! I knew it sounded too good to be true. But I did get to do a lot of dreaming and thinking and studying.

OK, a bit of background on the assignment and the history of Quiltside Chats, which is a partnership between the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, NE, and the American Quilt Study Group (AQSG), also headquartered in Lincoln. The project sponsor is Quiltfolk Magazine. An AQSG member is asked which quilt they would sneak out of the building and then discuss the quilt and what makes it intriguing with the Museum Curator of Collections, Carolyn Ducey, in an hourlong lively conversation: a Quiltside Chat. The series has been ongoing for more than three years and is up to the 17th episode with yours truly. The chats air every few months on Facebook Live; then they can be found on the American Quilt Study Group YouTube channel. If you haven’t discovered them yet, you are in for a real treat as the past episodes cover a range of incredible quilts showcased by knowledgeable quilt scholars. The quilts discussed run the gamut from early embroidered quilts (1700s England) to fancy Chintz Applique of the 1840s, to several 1930s and 1940s quilts, and on to the work of Jean Ray Laury in the 1970s.

The International Quilt Museum is a world-class facility; it has an amazing collection of quilts mainly due to the foresight of collectors Ardis and Robert James. Their collection and financial support were and are the bedrock of the museum, continuing through their foundation. You could spend days viewing all the online collections and resources at internationalquiltmuseum.org. I highly recommend visiting both online and in person.

How to choose just one quilt? Even if it is a dream or maybe because it is a magical exercise, how could I limit myself to a single quilt? I watched all the previous episodes and realized I could follow the lead of my fellow AQS Certified Quilt Appraiser and Collector, Mary W. Kerr, and choose several quilts. I could tie them into my own collections and wide-ranging interests and general love of antique quilts. Of course, I had to focus on 1840s antique signature quilts from the Pennsylvania and New Jersey area especially with Quaker ties – my passion. Some fancy and some fairly simple quilts; but I also wanted to highlight a couple of more humble quilts and even a total wildcard: a funky four block Eagle Quilt.

My episode is airing on June 30, and so you should be able to watch it on YouTube right after you finish reading this article. I hope you will enjoy learning about the quilts, I would love to swipe from the museum and why. The museum has thousands of quilts from across the world and I hope you will visit them. Don’t forget to watch the prior episodes of the Quiltside Chats to learn more about some of the interesting people behind the quilt seams. You will be inspired to pick out a few quilts to try to sneak out. Cue the Mission Impossible theme song and I’ll meet you in Lincoln.


a rocky road quilt

A Medallion Quilt

A Medallion Quilt, maker unknown, 103” x 101”, c. 1840-50 Massachusetts, James Collection, International Quilt Museum (Image courtesy of the author)

Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at utahquiltappraiser.blogspot.com. Send your comments and quilt questions to SandraStarley@outlook.com