22 November 2015

Small Wonders at the New England Quilt Museum

The New England Quilt Museum recently received a gift of 29 doll quilts and doll beds made by husband-and-wife Maine craftspeople Lorayne and Lloyd Dodge.  This gift, and the loan to the museum of a collection of small Amish quilts, prompted curator Pamela Weeks to mount a show of over 60 diminutive quilts, entitled Small Wonders, on view through December 26, 2015.

In background, Lone Star crib quilt c. 1900.

Susan A. C. Burnham, Redwork crib quilt, c. 1880.

The purpose of a crib quilt is fairly obvious - a functional child-sized bed covering, but such quilts are also  physical embodiments of the sheltering protectiveness of parenting. But beyond utility, miniature quilts have an appeal all their own. Quite a bit of artistry was expended in the doll quilts on view - even the most simplistic have a thoughtful arrangement of colors, carefully designed borders and, although a doll has no need for a warm bed covering, the doll quilts are nevertheless layered and quilted like their full-sized cousins.

Dodge miniature beds and quilt.

Diamonds in a Square doll quilt, c. 1900.

The tradition of small quilts continues, as artists find the small format conducive to techniques such as embroidery and bead embellishment, which  might be overly time-consuming on a large project, and for the sheer enjoyment, perhaps, of what Tasha Tudor, in reference to doll houses, called "perfection in miniature." 

Ethel Shulam, Golden Ladies, 2004, detail.

Also, with  a reduction in scale comes a freedom to experiment with form, to break free from the rectilinear tradition of bed quilts altogether.

Carol Henry, Callen's Comet, no date.

Many of the quilts, however, use traditional patterns and techniques to create quilts with powerful visual impact in spite of their small dimensions.  Unfortunately, the makers of the 19th and 20th-century small quilts are, for the most part, unknown, as the works were not signed or labelled. If the artist is known, I provide this information in the caption; otherwise the maker is unknown.

Lone Star crib quilt, c. 1900, detail.

Amish Sunshine and Shadow doll quilt, c. 1900.

Nine-patch crib quilt, c. 1900.

Diamonds in a Square doll quilt, c. 1900.

Triangles crib quilt, c. 1850.

The traditional log cabin quilt pattern seems to lend itself particularly well  to just about any scale - the fabric strips, or "logs," can vary in size, the number of logs can vary per block, and the number of blocks can vary as well - the pattern remains visually intact.

Square within a Square doll quilt, c. 1880.

Log Cabin doll quilt, c. 1870.

Miniature quilt-maker, and former Marine, George Siciliano, introduced to quilting by his wife Virginia, creates miniature quilts, using silk fabric in jewel-like tones, which are each a  technical tour-de-force of small-scale log cabin piecing.

Betwixt and Between, George Siciliano, 2012.  2874 pieces.

6522, George Siciliano, 2014.  Title refers to the number of pieces.

Some Assembly Required, George Siciliano, 2013.

Another contemporary quilt maker working in a small scale is Nancy Messier, whose work is shown below, and who uses a variety of techniques in addition to piecing.  On the top row in the image below, the quilts are: left  Shadow Play; right Winter Tree.  The bottom row, from left: Heart Bursting with Love, Shell Seeker, and When I am Old I Shall Wear Purple High Tops.

Small quilts by Nancy Messier.

Nancy Messier used applique techniques is many of her works on display, and although most of the historic small quilts in the show were pieced, there were some examples of quite imaginative applique.

Moon Heart and Star doll quilt, c. 1870.

Since the quilts were made for children, many of them feature wonderful collections of juvenile prints, including the Double-Wedding Ring quilt below.

Double Wedding Ring crib quilt, c. 1930.

An assortment of doll quilts, labelled using Scrabble tiles.

Curator Weeks used an intriguing  method to key her quilts to the wall labels -  Scrabble Set tiles, as shown in the image above. This seems appropriate, as so many of the quilts were accessories for playthings.  Books, in addition to toys, explore our fascination with  the realm of the small as well - Gulliver's encounter with the Lilliputians, and Mary Norton's The Borrowers, the fictional tiny folk who would have loved to have had bed coverings such as these. 

DH photographing miniature quilts by Sheila Holland.

Raggedy Ann, snug beneath her doll quilt.