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"Mysteries and Histories: Quilts From The Collection Of Merry May"
Quilts from the Collection of Merry May”
This exhibition explores some of
the mysteries and known histories of antique quilts and presents quilts created by Merry May, a Tuckahoe, NJ
resident, and member of the Center's Advisory Board.
Most quilts have a few basic elements. In general, they are made from a group of blocks, pieces of fabric that are usually square and about the same size, so that they will fit together neatly when assembled. Assembling these blocks consists of sewing them into rows, and then sewing the rows together to make the quilt’s top layer. Some quilts also contain sashing, usually a strip, which separates and frames the blocks and provides an additional design element to the quilt. Next come one or more borders, similar to large frames around the blocks and sashing, and consisting either of a single big piece of fabric, or assembled from many small pieces. The binding is a narrow strip of fabric, which encloses the raw edges of the fabric, batting (the fluffy middle layer), and backing.
Prior to the 19th century quilt
blocks did not usually have names but were simply referred to as patchwork. Since that time each
variation of a quilt block – and there are thousands – has had an identifying
name of its own.
Naming quilt blocks developed from
the growing popularity of publishing quilt designs in the periodicals that
began to flood American homes in the late 1800s, particularly those catering to
female readers. Early examples included Godey's
Ladies' Book and The Farm Journal.
Eventually newspapers began offering quilt patterns to readers submitting their
name, address and a postage stamp or two. And designers began to take poetic
license with block names, renaming some traditional patterns and sometimes
making up stories to capture the reader’s imagination (and postage stamps).
Today, there are quilt blocks named
after all 50 states, as well as many state capitols, birds and flowers. Some
are named for common objects, such as the Circular Saw and Bat’s
Wings. Others are named after passages in the Bible such as Jacob’s
Most of the quilt histories have
been lost over the years. That is why the antique quilts in this exhibition
must speak for themselves. Their fabrics reveal when they were made and the
skill level of the people who created them. Other quilts on display have
included the name directly on the quilt, for example, Hattie's Quilt.
Iveta Pirgova, Down Jersey Folklife
Center Director, explains, “Visitors can have fun making up stories about the quilts
on view, including Uncle Jim’s Baby Quilt, Flying Geese Strippie,
Mennonite Wild Goose Chase, and others.”
May’s new pieces were mostly made
to have fun, as class samples, and/or to challenge her quiltmaking skills.
Others were specifically designed to be samples for her “mystery quilt”
instructions. Anvil, for example, was made to replicate the deteriorating
antique quilt top in her collection. Other examples include Self Portrait,
Once Upon a Time, and Turning Point.