Charleston Works To Star In ‘Quintessential Quilts’

Star of Bethlehem pieced quilt, mid-Nineteenth Century. This eight-pointed star, also called Lone Star, is surrounded by floral chintz appliqués as well as a dramatic diamond border. An interesting comparison quilt is in the collection of the Shelburne (Vt.) Museum; it is identical except for the four floral sprays between the center star points.

CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Charleston Museum will present an original exhibition, “Quintessential Quilts,” on view August 17–March 30. This exhibit in the Historic Textiles Gallery will present the museum’s finest examples of quilting from the late Eighteenth Century through the Twentieth Century.

Included will be representative work from the major quilting categories — whole-cloth, chintz appliqué, pieced, traditional appliqué, paper-template pieced or mosaic, crazy and modern. Several quilts included in the exhibition are recent donations and will be exhibited for the first time.

Whole-cloth quilts are made when two pieces of fabric, with or without batting, are stitched together to create a design. In whitework, the whole-cloth is white with white stitching or quilting. Cording or stuffing could be inserted between rows of stitches from behind. Other names for this technique include trapunto and Italian quilting. A stuffed and corded whitework demilune, or dresser cover, dates to the late Eighteenth Century. Information given at the time of donation indicates that this piece was made by “family slaves.”

In the Eighteenth Century Indian fabric printers began designing popular European-style prints for Western markets. Exhibition highlights include a masterpiece by Gracy Drummond in the 1840s, having each block carefully marked with a family name. A fine appliquéd Tree of Life design, inspired by Eighteenth Century Indian palampores, was created by Maria Boyd Schulz of Charleston.

Among paper-template piecing, or mosaic-style quilts, a technique that enjoyed extended popularity in the Lowcountry throughout the Nineteenth Century, is an 1852 silk quilt made by Marina Jones Gregg, wife of Charleston silversmith William Gregg.

A fine example of a mid-Nineteenth Century piecing is a Star of Bethlehem quilt, which descended in the Eason family of Charleston.

In traditional appliquéd quilts, shapes of solid or print fabric are cut to form a pattern and are sewn to a larger background. The technique is the same as for chintz appliqué, but here the shapes create the pattern rather than the fabric print. A green and red Sun Dew reverse appliqué quilt on view is an interesting pattern thought to be indigenous to South Carolina.

Crazy quilts are constructed of irregularly shaped pieces of fabric, often silks and velvets, and usually decorated with embroidery. Between 1880 and 1900, Charleston women, along with women all over the country, participated in this national fad, which reflected the Victorian “cluttered” design aesthetic. An exhibition highlight is Catherine Mazyck’s crazy quilt made around 1885 of the silks, velvets, embroidery and symbolism that defined this movement.

The museum is at 360 Meeting Street. For information, www.charlestonmuseum.org or 843-722-2996.

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