By Donna di Natale
A quick visit to Lincoln, Nebraska, over the weekend to see family included a visit to the International Quilt Study Center & Museum. I’ve been there several times, and each time I marvel at the exhibitions and displays.
Native Nebraskans Ardis and Robert James founded the museum in 1997, when they donated nearly 1,000 quilts and an endowment to maintain the collection. The physical structure, built with private funds, opened in 2008, and the collection has grown to more than 4,000 quilts.
This is not your typical quilt museum. Yes, there are quilt exhibitions, but the main focus is on education and textile conservation. It is an academic program of the Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The master’s degree in textile history with a quilt studies emphasis is the only program of its kind in the world, according to the university. Research, studies and training are continuously taking place at the center. You can plan your visit to include a public lecture, workshop or a Quilt Identification Day.
I went to see one of the current exhibitions, “Modern Marvels: Quilts Made From Kits, 1915-1950.” Marin Hanson, the museum’s curator of exhibitions, and graduate student Deborah Rake curated the exhibit. They have done a fine job of explaining quilts from kits and selecting quilts representative of the various manufacturers and designers.
Before I go any further, let me apologize for the poor quality of the photos. No flash is allowed inside the museum, and the only camera I had with me was the one on my phone. These photos will give you some idea of the exhibit, but you really need to see it in person or view the quilts on the museum’s website.
In the center of the exhibit, displays explain kit quilts from 1915 to 1950. From the early years, there were boxes and packets of squares and diamonds all cut and ready to be sewn into a quilt. Later, toward the ’50s, kits started moving away from precut shapes, instead containing fabric and instructions for cutting the fabric, much like quilt kits today.
Anne Orr is represented by her Dresden I kit quilt, taken from a crochet pattern she designed. The Royal Aster Quilt by Home Art Studio, a Hubert ver Mehren design, is front and center as you walk into the room.
Also included are a Daisy Chain quilt designed by Mary McElwain and two kit quilts from Paragon Needlecraft Co. – a Blue Basket quilt and a Snowflake quilt. The Snowflake is one I hadn’t seen before. I would love to find an original kit for this beautiful quilt, with all its unique appliquéd shapes.
Other quilts displayed from unknown designers are pieced quilts Trip Around the World, Double Wedding Ring (not shown) and Broken Star, and a lovely appliquéd quilt called Floral Basket.
If you have made a quilt from a kit – whether vintage or modern-day – the museum encourages you to share it on its Pinterest board.
I am a member of the museum and encourage others to become members. It is a marvelous place, and we as quilters are fortunate to have such a center. “Modern Marvels: Quilts Made From Kits, 1915-1950” continues through Feb. 28.
Donna di Natale is an author and editor for Kansas City Star Quilts. She writes every Wednesday.