Monday, March 1, 2010

Quilting in the Genes

I've wondered if the propensity to arrange tiny pieces of fabric in different patterns might not be some sort of genetic marker. Some natural tendency passed down through generations whereby those afflicted try to make sense of the world by controlling, albeit in a minor manner, the creative chaos. Highfalutin' phrases for this simple question: is quilting genetic?

In my family, I thought I'd not gotten any quilting genes but then again,  I possess two very ragged family quilts. Both from my grandparents' generation (1920s-30s), the first is a ragged kid's quilt made from Ruby McKim's Birds pattern. The pattern, scanned from the 1931 McKim Studio catalog, is shown at right. My dad, who had worked on the quilt as a kid, proudly gave it to me when he realized I probably was going to be a quilter forever.

The other is, at first glance, a totally white quilt. Odd, since there are appliqued blocks which if viewed in a strong light, show as a typical Rose of Sharon quilt. And that's what strong dry-cleaning fluid will do to old quilts! Mom told me that quilt was made either for or by her mother. But that's it--the extent of the family patchwork legacy--two very faded quilts.

Some lucky people come by their quilting talent in their family and you can trace their heritage. Joe Cunningham out in San Francisco is one such gifted quilter. His website is . Joe's own work ranges from the traditional to the contemporary and recently he sold his handmade quilt Bend in the River to the deYoung Museum. That's why he's grinning in the photograph!

 There's an exhibition at the AQS Quilt Museum in Paducah KY that also displays Joe's work plus quilts made by his mother and grandmother. These are wonderful and I am envious that Joe can truthfully say he comes by his quilting genes naturally.The Dresden Plate quilt is by his grandmother Minnie Rose.

Joe's mom Janice made this indestructible, bright-as-the-day-it-was-made polyester double-knit beauty.

Thank you to Joe for letting me write about him and his family quilts. So, go rifle through the quilts in that old trunk and see what your own quilting DNA might be!


Joe Cunningham said...

Thanks Pepper! It is a treat to see my mom's quilt here, as it looks so different at this scale. Makes me like it even more.

Irene said...

More than just a genetic thing: quilting is contagious, and most of all: prospective husbands seem to sniff at you for disposition.... so: my husband's family has been quilting for many decades, and I am more or less infected by my mom. DH sniffed: yep! this one lady will not destruct my mothers handiwork! and so we married, happily ever after, buried in fabrics and patches ;^}

BonnieB said...

I have to say my Mom never quilted, but taught me to embroider, knit and sew. She was determined that my sister and I would not be tomboys like her, but like ladies. It worked for me, but not my sister. My grandmother was the quilter and I can remember being sick with measles and having a wonderful scrap quilt on my bed. I loved all the different fabrics.
However, my Mom put all the quilts from my Grandma in the washer and then they were no more. The memory of those quilts got me started. That and the love of handwork from my Mom. BonnieB

Jean Baardsen said...

My mother taught me to sew, but I don't remember any quilters or quilts in the family. Lots of crocheted afghans though....

Helen in Hume said...

In my family it was considered almost a sin to sit empty handed and we all did some sort of hand work in the evenings - especially the winter evenings. I have rugs made by my Grandfather, but sadly only one very worn silk comforter quilt. My Grandfather's sister threw out all my Great-Grandmother's quilts. I know why she did but I still wish she hadn't!

Vicki Lane said...

Very cool, Pepper. None of my living family quilted but I grew up with and still have beautiful quilts by a great great aunt. And they inspired my interest in quilts.