Patterns of History

By Maureen A. Taylor Premium

Do you have a historical, handmade quilt in your family? If so, you might want to participate in one of the many state Quilt Documentation Projects. According to Quilts, Inc. <> and Quitter’s Newsletter Magazine <>, more than 19 million people engage in quilting today, many following the same patterns used by their ancestors. Anyone familiar with quilts is sure to recognize traditional designs such as the Log Cabin or the Wedding Ring, but many ancestral and contemporary quilters create unique patterns that feature needlework or family mementos. While these bed coverings keep families warm, they are also artistic expressions of the men, women and children who made them.

In 1981, individuals in Kentucky began documenting the quilts made in their state as a way of preserving their heritage. Their idea, a Quilt Documentation Project, quickly spread to other states. The volunteers who work on these state projects look at quilts in both private and public collections, and seek information on the people who crafted them. You can find a history of quilt documentation projects, written by Kentucky project co-founder Shelly Zegart, online at <>.

While each state project varies in size and scope, many publish books of the significant quilts they’ve found. A list of these books is online at <>. Find a project in your area by searching online for Quilt Documentation Projects, or contact your local historical society. For instance, in Massachusetts, participants in Documentation Days bring quilts made before 1950 and anything related to them. In return, they receive reports on their quilts with photographs, information on caring for their heirlooms and labels identifying their quilts as part of the Massachusetts Quilt Documentation Project.

The April 23-26 annual show of the American Quitter’s Society, Box 3290, Paducah, KY 42002, has examples of contemporary and historical quilts on display. Call (270) 898-7903 or visit <> for more information. The New England Quilt Museum, 18 Shattuck St., Lowell, MA 01852, also houses historical quilts. Call (978) 452-4207 or visit <>.
From the February 2003 issue of Family Tree Magazine.