Basket Quilts

Story and images provided by Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar

This winter the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar is featuring a traveling quilt show from the American Quilt Study Group, “The Study of 19th Century Basket Quilts.” Baskets play an important role in history, having been used by most cultures in some form. Baskets can be made from a variety of materials and have served many purposes, from storage to specialty baskets, sieves, fish traps, and food processing. Basket designs have carried over into quilt designs, and today there are over 139 pieced and appliqued basket patterns.

“The Study of 19th Century Basket Quilts” exhibit features 25 quilts made by members of the American Quilt Study Group. What began as a small group, in 1980, has grown into a unique and highly respected international organization. The American Quilt Study Group establishes and promotes the highest standards for interdisciplinary quilt-related studies, providing opportunities for study, research, and the publication of works that advance the knowledge of quilts and related subjects. The group stands as one of the oldest and largest member organizations dedicated to quilt related studies in the world.

The biennial Quilt Studies have become a popular part of the American Quilt Study Group’s activities. Participation is voluntary by AQSG members. Responding to a selected theme, a quilt is created, which is copied from or inspired by an existing antique quilt. Each participant is asked to provide an image of their inspiration quilt and write a statement about what was learned through the process of creating their own quilt.

The Stillwater History Museum has hosted a number of quilt shows from the AQSG over the years, including Civil War, Colonial Revival, and Star Quilts. Inspiration for these quilts is gathered from quilts in museum, historical society, and personal collections across the country.  The quilts in this exhibit have been inspired by 19th century quilts with one or more basket elements. The exhibit will include a variety of basket designs, including single and multiple block basket designs. Some of the quilts included in this show have no true pattern, providing a challenge for quilters to figure out how to create similar designs.  

A few highlights from this show include the quilt made by Kay Ross, who strived to make her quilt as true to the original as possible. All of her applique pieces of the baskets and other designs were created by hand, and both the original and her creation include fine detail.

Another quilt was inspired by one made in the late 1800s by Sarah Doty Rosseel Passage, a minister’s wife in a small town in Pennsylvania. Sarah’s diary tells of taking her black dresses to a local dressmaker to try to make them more stylish. The colorful silk basket quilt that she made, provided true inspiration for this basket quilt with a crazy quilt style.

This exhibit will also include a variety of handcrafted baskets from Stillwater residents. Two of the weavers, whose work will be included in the exhibit, are Judy Mahle and Debby Strickland.  Both ladies were mentored by the late Bernie Kopel.

Judy began weaving in 1996.  A neighbor, Bonnie Drummond, invited her to an open house for people interested in basket weaving.  At Bonnie’s prompting, Judy signed up for classes.  Although she felt inadequate after the first class, she continued to attend.  “After all, I paid a deposit on two more baskets. Then I was hooked.”  Twenty-two years later she is still weaving.

Debby started a few years later in 1999.  Although her baskets begin with a design in mind, they often veer off the path and go in their own direction. Her baskets are jokingly referred to as a “Debby Strickland one of a kind!”

The exhibit will be rounded out with needlework examples and tools from the Stillwater History Museum’s collection, including pieces donated to the museum by the Sheerar, Enix, Fenimore, and Murray families.  Handiwork pieces include lace, quilt squares, cross stitch, pin cushions, and more.

The exhibit will open on December 26, and will stay open through February 10, 2018. The Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar is located at 702 S. Duncan. The Museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, free of charge. The Museum also remains open on Saturdays and Sundays, from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm.  Additionally, the Museum would like to invite visitors to a Holiday Open House on December 6th. The event will take place from 5:30 to 6:30, just before the Christmas parade. The Community Singers will lead some songs at 6 pm and cookies will be served.