Archive for Sunday, November 12, 1989


November 12, 1989


Crazy quilts of the late 1800s get their name from the "crazed glaze" of Japanese ceramics of the day, which their design emulates not from their crazy looks.

String quilts, also popular in the late 1800s, made good use of narrow strips of fabric castoffs, really and quite possibly were made by Lawrence quilters with scraps from the Wilder Shirt Factory, which operated from the late 1800s until about 1915 in the 600 block of New Hampshire Street, where Reuter Pipe Organ Co. is today.

Lawrence resident Barbara Brackman loves tracking down such clues to the origins of quilts and she's included hundreds of historic tidbits in her new book, "Clues in the Calico, A Guide to Identifying and Dating Antique Quilts."

"The point is," she said of an indistinct date woven within a network of quilt patches, "if you look close, you can sometimes find the clues."

AN EXHIBIT of quilts dating from 1800 to 1950, which belong to the author and her husband, James Holmes, as well some owned by the Elizabeth M. Watkins Community Museum, is on display through Dec. 22 at the museum, 1047 Mass., to coincide with release of Brackman's book.

Brackman said one of the exhibit quilts, among the oldest she has seen in Kansas, is from Watkins' collection and dates to about 1800. In the center, its maker incorporated a blue petticoat, the likes of which were fashionable only from the 1750s until 1800.

Watkins also has a very good example of a crazy quilt in the exhibit, which was donated to the museum by the late Cloyd Achning, Brackman said.

Accompanying the 29 exhibit quilts, which were hung by Marge and Dan Ragle, John Nichols and Marilyn Livingood, are explanations by Brackman of the history of their patterns and how they were dated.

BRACKMAN SAID last week she became interested in these homespun creations about 20 years ago as a Kansas University student.

She started quilting herself and buying old quilts around town. At a local second-hand store, she paid $1 for her first one and found a giant package of 1930s Kansas City Star quilt patterns that piqued her interest in historic styles.

In her art history class in Spooner Hall, she recalled, she was idly opening storage drawers at the back of the room one day when she discovered the university's antique quilt collection.

Soon, she said, she gained permission to examine the quilts, most of which had been in the university's possession since the 1930s, and then volunteered to help with a more precise cataloguing of the collection.

Today, she is an honorary curator of that collection, which now is at KU's Spencer Museum of Art, and she said it continues to inspire people today, as it did her 20 years ago.

AFTER COMPLETING her degrees in art education and special education at KU, Brackman pursued her quilting interests as a hobby while working on campus in the demonstration school at Haworth Hall and in the special education department.

In the early 1980s, though, grant monies that funded her positions began to dry up and for the first time she considered turning her hobby into a full-time occupation.

Brackman began freelancing articles about quilting, and other folk arts, to quilters' publications and popular magazines, and became a contributing editor for the Quilter's Newsletter magazine, which has its headquarters in Denver.

As an itinerate teacher of quiltmaking and quilt dating, she traveled the country, fine-tuning her own identification skills, and eventually self-published her first book, "An Encyclopaedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns."

BRACKMAN SAID she's always been one to file away bits of information and was able to pull the encyclopaedia of 400 patterns together from her on-going index card file on quilts.

Three years ago, she got a computer and began systematically entering data on authentically dated quilts in some 20 different categories, including fabric and binding types, developing the database from which she has written her latest book.

Originally, Brackman said she thought quilting ideas were unique to their makers, but her growing body of information suggested that quilt patterns and fabrication styles rose in popularity over time and then died out, to be replaced by others.

The database, and hence the book, now provide a systematic means of dating old quilts whose makers hadn't the foresight or concern to embroider or ink a date on their own handiwork.

BRACKMAN SAID "Clues in the Calico" includes information on quilts through the 1950s, while the only other books she has discovered on dating quilts stop with 1850, when mass-produced fabrics were first manufactured.

Brackman said she wanted to provide information on quilts that Kansans would be buying and noted that dating can increase the value of a quilt.

"Clues in the Calico" was published by EPM Publications Inc. of McLean, Va., a publishing house that specializes in Washington, D.C., regional publications and quilting books.

In addition to its historic information, the book includes a number of photographs of quilts, including many that belong to local residents. The cover, for example, features a log cabin quilt that belongs to Brackman's neighbor, Susan Pogany.

MANY OF THE local quilts were photographed at Watkins Museum, where the high ceiling allowed a kind of scaffolding to be brought in from which the quilts, laid out on the floor, were photographed.

Steve Jansen, director of the museum, said that because of Brackman's work and her willingness to assist the museum, the facility was able to bring an exhibit of national stature to the community. He added that the quilts will be on display during the second annual Holiday Tour of Historic Homes Dec. 9 and 10, which this year features the Oread neighborhood and the museum.

Jansen said that along with the exhibit quilts, visitors to the museum also can see four other quilts, including the founding quilt of the Kaw Valley Quilters Guild, which features 17 scenes of local life; the late Betty Hagerman's Bicentennial quilt; and Sammie Messick's quilt of the museum's exterior.

A Victorian fan quilt made by the Clinton Lake Quilters, which will be given away by the Clinton Lake Historical Society, also is on display.

IN CONJUNCTION with her exhibit, Brackman will teach a five-hour workshop on dating quilts, for which there is a charge. The workshop, which will be held Dec. 11 at the museum, will offer hands-on experience with old fabrics, including those used in quilts on exhibit. Interested persons should contact Brackman.

"Clues in the Calico" is on sale locally at the Stitch On Needlework shop, 926 Mass. During the exhibit, the book also is on sale at the museum, which will receive a portion of the proceeds from its sale.

Following the close of the quilt exhibit at 4 p.m. Dec. 22, Jansen said the museum also will close for the holidays. Reopening is set for Jan. 2.

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