It’s All in the Genes.

On this day in 1873, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis received a patent to create work pants reinforced with metal rivets they called “waist overalls”—blue jeans were born. Strauss was a Jewish immigrant from Bavaria who ran a successful dry goods business with stores all over the Western states. Davis, a tailor from Nevada who bought supplies from Strauss, designed the new garment and asked Strauss to fund the patent application. The 501 brand jean was originally sewn in worker’s homes and quickly became the best selling work pant in the U.S.  Levi Strauss & Co. now employs over 10,000 people worldwide.

Pauline Salzman of Treasure Island, Florida made this house-shaped quilt, titled “It’s All in the Genes,” for the “Home Is Where the Quilt Is” contest held by the Quilt Alliance in 2012. From Salzman’s artist’s statement: “Finding the perfect pair of jeans is not a unique problem. It’s about the jeans and the genes. However, this quilt was, also, about expanding my horizons. I took a class from Susan Shie where I learned to paint and write on fabric. This technique allows me to tell a story and have a great deal of fun.”

View this quilt on The Quilt Index to read more about it’s history, design and construction. Be sure to use the zoom tool for a detailed view.


Quilt Index partners

Amy Milne headshot

Posted by Amy E. Milne
Executive Director, Quilt Alliance

Q.S.O.S. Spotlight

Have you ever started to make a quilt–gathered your fabric and started cutting pieces pieces–only to change your mind about the design or pattern halfway through the process? Today’s Q.S.O.S. Spotlight features two quiltmakers interviewed at the 2011 International Quilt Festival in Houston who shared the stories behind their quilts and the serendipitous change of plans that shaped their designs. Sometimes the detour can be just as fun as the original route!

Barbara Ann Bauer Barrett shares a quilt that started as an intricate traditional block and unexpectedly took flight:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I call this quilt ‘Sing a New Song’. It features a large bird in the center that happened by accident. A few years ago, I thought I wanted to make a New York beauty quilt. I got started on all of the arcs that takes and soon decided that I really didn’t want to finish that. They sat around for a while on the table and one day they started to look like feathers to me. I put them up on the design wall and a bird came out. I decided he was pretty enough to pretty much stand on his own with a few friends and a little suggestion of nature. The border is interesting. It’s made of scraps from a weaver from Taos, New Mexico. She makes garments and sells her scrap bags here at festival. I picked up a couple last year and turned them into a fringed border. It’s one of my favorite parts… I think the quilt represents a joy in nature. We’ve recently moved to the country, so I have nature all around me. I’m more aware of it. I like that it used old things and repurposed them. That made it special for me. It also represents freedom. The bird is having a good time flying in the beautiful batik sky.”

Helen Ridgway tells the story of a collaborative quilt and its continuing evolution from balloons to fairies: RidgwayA

“This quilt is called “Fairy Frenzy” and it started as a quilt with five balloons and a big bow at the bottom. And since you’re looking at it, you can tell it looks nothing like that with a big bow at the bottom… We all went home from this meeting and we were all supposed to make something that looked like a balloon. So we were just doing little ideas. I remember well that I only did a quarter of mine because I thought, ‘Gosh, that got pretty big,’ and it was going to be round. I was going to have four of those… When we brought them together we thought, ‘I think those look like flowers, not like balloons. Why don’t we make a garden?’ So we scrapped the bow, we scrapped the balloons, and we decided to make a garden. We still didn’t have fairies in it at all but we all started using–I hate to tell you–ugly fabrics that we had in our stash and we put all these fabrics that we thought were ugly fabrics together and made all of these flowers. They are all paper pieced and then appliquéd onto the background.


 We had a hard time coming up with the background and somebody had this green batik in their stash so they gave it to us so we did that and then we started putting stems on the flowers, we started fraying some of them, we thought that was cute. We turned one of them upside over at the leaves, and then we decided what were we going to do with the bottom of this thing. Then somebody said, ‘If it’s a garden, we probably need some grass.’ So we took all of those greens and we put fusible on the back of them and then we kind of swirled them and put all of that green there. We still didn’t have a way to stop it. So we must have worked on ending this quilt at the bottom for three months.”

You can read more stories from the International Quilt Festival (and hundreds of other locations!) at the Quilters’ S.O.S.- Save Our Stories page on the Alliance’s site.


Posted by Emma Parker
Project Manager,  Quilters’ S.O.S.- Save Our Stories


What a Difference a School Makes.

On this day in 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously, in the case of Brown versus Board of Education, that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The trial came about after young Linda Brown was denied access to her local elementary school in Topeka, Kansas due to the color of her skin. Six years later in New Orleans, Louisiana, Lucille and Abon Bridges made the decision to send their six-year-old daughter Ruby to an all-Caucasian school. Ruby attended school escorted by federal marshals and endured viscous protestors. In solitude (the rest of the students withdraw from the class), Ruby attended every day of her first grade year, the singular student of Barbara Henry. Ruby Bridges still lives in New Orleans and serves as chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, an organization she formed in 1999 to promote “the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences.”

Marion Coleman of Castro Valley, California made this quilt, titled “Ruby Bridges: What a Difference A School Makes,” in 2006. The 41½” square wall quilt includes images and phrases printed and stitched on fabric. The quilting is described as follows: Quilted in red thread: “Tessie Provost” “Gail Etienne” “Leonna Tate” “Mrs. Barbara Hershey teacher” “Marshall’s” “Ruby Bridges” “United States” Quilted in black thread, “Jim Crow” “family” “friends” “community” “programs” “coleman” “rulers” Quilted in white thread, “pencils” “integration” “courage” “books” “letters”. The quilt is part of the Michigan State University Museum’s permanent collection.

View this quilt on The Quilt Index to read more about it’s history, design and construction. Be sure to use the zoom tool for a detailed view.


Quilt Index partners

Amy Milne headshot

Posted by Amy E. Milne
Executive Director, Quilt Alliance

With all my heart and soul and whispers.

On this day in 1964, Detroit songwriter turned vocal performer Mary Wells gave Motown its first number one hit when “My Guy” reached the top of the charts. Wells suffered from spinal meningitis as a child, and in her final years she battled larynx cancer. In 1991, she testified before a Congressional Committee to support funding for cancer research. She passed away from the disease in July 1992.

In her Congressional address she said: “I’m here today to urge you to keep the faith. I can’t cheer you on with all my voice, but I can encourage, and I pray to motivate you with all my heart and soul and whispers.”

Sallie Royston of Natchitoches, Louisiana made this Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt in 1939. This hand appliqued, pieced and quilted beauty was one of the last quilts that Royston made before her death in 1940 due to throat cancer. Her great granddaughter inherited the quilt and documented it in 2002 during the Louisiana Quilt Documentation Project.

View this quilt on The Quilt Index to read more about it’s history, design and construction. Be sure to use the zoom tool for a detailed view.


Quilt Index partners

Amy Milne headshot

Posted by Amy E. Milne
Executive Director, Quilt Alliance

Amani Path.

On this day in 1934, Grace Ogot was born Grace Emily Akinyi in Asembo, in the district of Nyanza, Kenya. She trained as a nurse in Uganda and in England. She has worked as a midwife, a tutor, as journalist, as a broadcaster and for an airline. In 1984 she became one of only a handful of women to serve as a Member of Parliament and the only woman assistant minister in the cabinet of then President Daniel arap Moi.

Moni Cah of Nairobi, Kenya machine pieced and quilted this 42” x 47” quilt between 1976-1999. Cah sells her work in a cooperative contemporary African quilt shop in Nairobi called “Amani  a Juu.” From the quilt’s label:

Our quilts are designed and crafted here in Nairobi, Kenya using local and international materials. To create an exclusive look, we dye, batik, and screen print our own fabrics. We also incorporate traditional East African kitenge and kikoi fabrics, as well as high-quality West African mud cloth. This variety provides a unique canvas for our contemporary designs. Furthermore, we hand stitch all of our bindings and use a free-arm sewing machine to quilt all-over swirl, meander, and floral designs. We measure and cut all scraps and cloth uniquely for each quilt.

The quilt was purchased by a Michigan State University Museum employee and is now part of the museum’s permanent collection.

View this quilt on The Quilt Index to read more about it’s history, design and construction. Be sure to use the zoom tool for a detailed view.


Quilt Index partners

Amy Milne headshot

Posted by Amy E. Milne
Executive Director, Quilt Alliance

Crazy for St. Louis!

On this day in 1904, the first modern Olympic games to be held in the U.S. opened in St. Louis, Missouri. The World Exposition was held at the same time in the city, which overshadowed the poorly organized games. Since there were few entrants, and most were from the U.S., American athletes won most of the awards.

Sue Dee Grainger Brown of Houston, Texas made this stunning hand pieced, embroidered and embellished Crazy Quilt in 1886. The Quilt Index record states, “Family history on this quilt states that it won first prize a the St. Louis World’s Fair.” Brown’s family members documented the quilt during the Texas Quilt Search. The quilt is included in the book Lone Stars: A Legacy of Texas Quilts, Vol. I, 1836-1936, by Karoline Patterson Bresenhan and Nancy O’Bryant Puentes (Austin: University of Texas Press) and was included in an exhibition by the same name in the Texas State Capitol Rotunda, Austin, Texas, April 19-21, 1986.

View this quilt on The Quilt Index to read more about it’s history, design and construction. Be sure to use the zoom tool for a detailed view.


Quilt Index partners

Amy Milne headshot

Posted by Amy E. Milne
Executive Director, Quilt Alliance

Tennis racquets in 1885 and 1973.

On this day in 1973 tennis stars Robby Riggs, U.S. champion from the 1930’s and ‘40’s, and Australian Margaret Court faced off in a $10,000 winner-take-all “battle of the sexes” challenge match. Court lost to Riggs and Riggs went on to challenge Bill Jean King to a $100,000 winner-take-all match, an event dubbed “the libber vs. the lobber.” King beat Riggs in three sets.

This Crazy Quilt was made in New Hampshire between 1885-1890 by an unknown quilter. The quilt is made of silk velvet and satin and heavily embroidered with a horseshoe, fans, Kate Greenaway, Chinese fans, large wheeled bicycle, animals, and a tennis racquet. It was documented in 1984 by the maker’s great-great niece during the North Carolina Quilt Project.

View this quilt on The Quilt Index to read more about it’s history, design and construction. Be sure to use the zoom tool for a detailed view.


Quilt Index partners

Amy Milne headshot

Posted by Amy E. Milne
Executive Director, Quilt Alliance

Growing Quilts, Harvesting Support.

Every year I make a quilt for the Alliance’s fundraising contest.  I love doing this for so many reasons, but the one I want to share with you is how important this is for me as a quiltmaker.  I get to play with new ideas on a small scale and try new techniques as I think about each year’s theme…

But wait a minute!  All my quilts have been about gardens!

That being the case, please allow me to escort you on a garden tour, to show you how these contest quilts themselves have “grown” each year.  I want you to see all the techniques I’ve discovered along the way and incorporated into my subsequent work.

2008 The Home in the Garden

photo 1

In this quilt, for the first time, I tried printing a photograph onto fabric and then enhancing it with hand embroidery.  It was like “painting by numbers” a little bit, very easy, and so much fun.  I’ve made many home portraits since this first one.

photo 2

Freeform applique as applied to crazy quilting was another first for me, discovered while making this quilt.  Now it is my preferred method of choice for creating any crazy quilt block.

Photo 3

Here is how those white patches look sewn down…..

photo 4

….and then hand embroidered with crazy quilt stitching.  Another first: only using one color for all of the stitching on the seams.  Again, this is something I do a lot now.

Photo 5

Giving the central section an on point setting allowed for some fun in those four blue silk corners.

photo 6

A confession!  I dripped some juice on that blue silk and could not get it out!  So, do you notice those white mother-of-pearl butterflies?  You guessed it.  And again, what I tried here I’ve used since, so in later quilts, if you see butterflies you’ll know they’ve flown in to solve some dilemma……

2009 Ode to Tamar

Flowers, not quite gardening, became the subject of the next quilt.  This gave me a chance to revisit a favorite technique from my early quilt years, Broderie Perse, which is a style of applique using printed elements to create a scene on the background fabric.  Combining Broderie Perse with a crazy quilt background and border of small blocks was this year’s adventure.

photo 7

A pile of cut out flowers, ready to arrange in collage fashion.

photo 8

I have made more floral collages than I can count, but it had been several years…so I was loving this!

photo 9

The collage is set and ready to sew down in this picture.

photo 10

I’ve pieced the border blocks and have begun arranging the all black background fabrics.

photo 11

The top is all finished and awaiting embroidery.

photo 12

The black background reminds me a lot of the white background in The Home in the Garden. The fabrics and stitching again each only use one color. Many quilts of mine now use these strict design parameters.

photo 13

In case you were wondering who the Tamar is in my quilt’s title is, this label gives the answer.  While I could not replicate the quilt by Tamar North pictured here, it totally inspired the making of mine.  Using antique crazy quilts as a jumping off point for my own interpretations has also become a recurring theme for me since making this quilt.

2009 Garden Lace

I enjoy printing my own floral arrangement photos onto fabric.  For this quilt, I wanted to try using nothing but these fabrics in a quilt to see how it would look.

photo 14

Fusing lace over wide ribbon, and then using that to cover the seams between fabric  patches, was another new idea in this quilt.  Every year, I learn so much working on my Alliance quilts!

2010 Granddaughter’s Flower Garden

My cousin Tracy Seidman painted this watercolor of our grandmother’s house.  After printing the image on fabric, I set it in a border of vintage Grandmother’s Flower Garden blocks.  This began my continuing explorations of combining vintage blocks with crazy quilting and embroidery.

photo 15

Three dimensional flowers were prevalent in my work at this time, so I had to add some to this quilt too.

2011 Soil and Sky

The theme for this year’s contest was “Alliances”.  I can find a relationship to gardening in any contest theme, and this year’s quilt was no different…to me, the relationship between soil and sky is truly a romance, not just an alliance.

This quilt combined my own printed fabric (including imagery of paintings of tomatoes I found online, after I received the painter’s permission to use them), some Broderie Perse, three dimensional vegetables instead of flowers, and for the first time, stitched writing on the quilt.  I wish I had used a darker thread color so that the words are easier to read.  But these small quilts are great for teaching us what to do better next time.

photo 16

Those tomatoes are so great!  In the upper left is a photograph of tomatoes growing in our garden, too.

photo 17

The carrots are vintage millinery (can you imagine a hat with carrots on it?).  Their tops were another experiment for me.  I tried doing some machine thread-painting on water soluble stabilizer, rinsing the stabilizer away, and gluing the resultant “carrot tops” to the carrots.

photo 18

I read this quotation on the Facebook page of a man whose life’s work has been teaching small scale sustainable agricultural practices to villagers all over Africa, via the Peace Corps.  And how true this sentiment is! Click on the picture so you can read it.

photo 19

Except for the writing not being dark enough, this is my favorite of my Alliance quilts.  But there are two more that I loved making too and that have taught me a lot, so read on…

2012 Washougal Valley View

For years I had tried to figure out how to integrate a little machine quilting into my heavily embroidered and embellished crazy quilts.  It seemed to me that those two surface treatments were mutually exclusive.  But for this quilt, I was determined to find a way.

photo 20

The vintage blocks–and some flying geese strips I had made years ago of vintage fabrics–were put to work for my background.  How I love using those old blocks and fabrics!  They contrast well with the sky, which was hand painted by Mickey Lawler, of SkyDyes.

photo 21

The hills of my view of the Washougal River Valley came next, along with a fragment of hand dyed Battenberg lace for the lower border area, a gift from my dear friend Michele Muska.

photo 22

I added a little cabin, symbolic of my own home, and some three dimensional flowers to the foreground.  And….there is the quilting!  It’s in the sky!

Photo 23

This is the finished quilt, in the house shape for the theme  “Home is Where the Quilt Is”.  I loved absolutely every second, making it.  I’ve made several other quilts with my little home in them, too, including the next one…

2013 20 Years in the Garden

While this year’s quilt is not a crazy quilt per se, after years of embroidery making crazy quilts, there was no way I could depict a garden in a quilt without it.

photo 24

The quilt is well along in this photo.  You know my process by now!

photo 25

A little trick I discovered is shown here.  My bed of silk ribbon lettuce needed some definition…so I used a permanent marker directly along the edge of the ribbon after it was stitched into place. Risky!  I knew if it didn’t work, I could snip out the ribbon and try again…but I didn’t need to, at least, not this time….

photo 26

My husband is always trying to get me to spend more time in his garden (weeding, I suspect.)  But this kind of “gardening” works for me!  I am gluing the squash leaves into place.

photo 27

The quilt is finished, and ready for its adventures this summer at various exhibits, and then to go to its new owner’s home after it is auctioned off.

photo 28

Always, always label your quilts.  People in the future will want this information!  On my label is my husband’s garden, the inspiration for this quilt, where we have indeed spent twenty happy years.

I hope you can see by now what an important and thoroughly joyous part of my quilt life making the Alliance contest quilts has been.

Won’t you make one too?  You’ll be so glad you did, surprising yourself at what you learn.  And you will feel such satisfaction, helping this wonderful cause of documenting, preserving, and sharing quilts and their makers’ stories.

And thank you for taking my tour!  See you in 2014…..

AllieAllerAllison Ann Aller is an award-winning quilter, author and teacher who has served on the Quilt Alliance board of directors since 2009. See more of Allie’s work, including more great tutorials and works in progress on her blog, Allie’s in Stitches.

Sing it! Stitch it! Happy Mother’s Day, Carter’s!

On this day in 1909, “Mother” Maybelle Carter (Addington), country music legend, was born in Nickelsville, Virginia. She is the mother of three daughters Helen, Valerie June (better known later in life as June Carter Cash), and Anita. The sisters performed with their mother as the “Carter Sisters.”  The Carter family was inducted into The Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970. Maybelle Carter passed away in 1978 and is buried with her family in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Mary Carter Rollins and Mary Alice Carter, mother and daughter from Boones Creek, Virginia, made this Dresden Plate quilt around 1929. The quilt is all handmade: pieced, appliqued and quilted with scrap fabric that includes old dresses. The quilt was documented during the Quilts of Tennessee project by the daughter/granddaughter of the makers.

View this quilt on The Quilt Index to read more about it’s history, design and construction. Be sure to use the zoom tool for a detailed view.


Quilt Index partners

Amy Milne headshot

Posted by Amy E. Milne
Executive Director, Quilt Alliance

Mother’s Choice.

On this day in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a presidential proclamation making the Mother’s Day holiday official, to be celebrated on the second Sunday of May. Many U.S. states celebrated Mother’s Day as early as 1911, and the idea for a day of peace in honor of mothers is credited to both Julia Ward Howe (1872) and Anna Jarvis (1907).

Viola Haeline Dollar Lake of Macon, Georgia made this Mother’s Choice quilt in the 1940’s. Lake was a homemaker and mother of eight children who learned to quilt as a teenager for necessity. Her great granddaughter inherited the quilt and documented it during the Florida Quilt Project in 2007.

View this quilt on The Quilt Index to read more about it’s history, design and construction. Be sure to use the zoom tool for a detailed view.


Quilt Index partners

Amy Milne headshot

Posted by Amy E. Milne
Executive Director, Quilt Alliance