Patsy Orlofsky and Textile Conservation

I have a small follow-up before I get to this week’s Honoree.  You may remember that when I wrote about Honoree Cuesta Benberry, I invited those who knew her to share information. There’s only so much you can learn from the internet, and I hoped to take advantage of personal knowledge while it’s still available. (Quilt historians take note; we should be doing more of this across the board.) Well, to my pleasant surprise, I received a communication from Quilters Hall of Fame founder, Hazel Carter.

Hazel gave me some information about Cuesta’s “Always There” quilt. She related that Cuesta was adamant that she did not make the blocks herself.  I knew that Cuesta wasn’t much of a quiltmaker, but I knew she had participated in round robins, and I thought she made at least some of those blocks. (There’s a link below where you can see a number of blocks from Cuesta’s collection that now belong to the Quilters Hall of Fame.) Hazel was able to tell me that Bettina Havig, who published a book of Honoree Carrie Hall’s 800 block patterns, had done one, as had a friend of Bettina’s. Hazel thought the makers’ names might be recorded as part of the documentation at the University of Michigan, but I can’t find it.  Can anyone else help?  If you made a block, or know who did, please share your knowledge.

I was saving this for later, but now is as good a time as any to tell you that Hazel Carter created a block to honor Cuesta Benberry. Here’s a shot of Cuesta’s induction to TQHF with the block on the wall behind her and Hazel, and the pattern–in case you’re ambitious.

Okay, now we can get to Honoree Patsy Orlofsky.  If you know her name, it’s probably because you own or have come across the book she wrote with her husband Myron called Quilts in America. Published in the Bicentennial era (is that, or will it become a recognized “era”?), this coffee table book was intended to raise the status of quilts as collectible antiques or objects of folklore.

Google Books describes it as follows:

This work on traditional quilts offers guidelines for establishing the age of antique quilts and information on the areas of the country where they were made. Techniques, tools, fabrics and dyes are described in detail, along with all the known types and patterns of quilt and how to care for them.

In writing the book, Patsy brought her art history background and experience as a crafts teacher, but both she and Myron came to it with an interest in authentic American folklore objects. You can read more about Patsy’s life at the bio link below. What interests me is their idea that even worn out, faded quilts were worth inclusion in the book; not being in pristine condition showed what they called “the life of the quilt.” This viewpoint is reminiscent of the Velveteen Rabbit: “ ‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real’.”

But it’s a viewpoint that perhaps runs contrary to Orlofsky’s other claim to fame. After writing Quilts in America, Patsy turned her talents to textile conservation and in 1977-8 she established the Textile Conservation Workshop (TCW) in South Salem, New York where she still works as Executive Director. TWC is a not-for-profit organization that treats textiles of historic importance and artistic value, serves as a consultant to cultural institutions around the country, and maintains an active outreach education and survey program for small museums and historical societies. Here’s an example of a recent project.

TWC will restore this quilt, which was damaged in a riot in the area of the Oregon Historical Society. The front will be repaired and the backing replaced. OHS will retain the backing as a separate object to document the history of the quilt and the riot.

Being on the TQHF Collections Committee, the work that Orlofsky and TWC do for museums is especially important to me. But you only need to be aware of quilting’s historical significance to appreciate their work.  We wouldn’t have such wonderful museum exhibits (and lately, virtual viewings) if conservators like Orlofsky weren’t at work behind the scenes. If you are interested in a general overview of conservation and curator functions, you will find Orlofsky’s “Textile Conservation” article (link below) to be informative and approachable. Just a small example of TWC’s good work.

Let’s take a look at some of the conservation work TWC does.  I’ll share some photos, but there’s also a link below if you want more eye candy. There aren’t many quilt shots on the website, but the before/after section is inspiring, and Eeyore will be a hit.  Here’s Patsy Orlofsky, inspecting an object stored (properly) in an acid-free box.

Photo: TWC

There’s a good bit of science and chemistry involved. Fabrics are identified and tested for color-fastness, and solvents may be used for cleaning. The photo on the left shows the use of a suction table which aids in controlled application of the chemicals.

Of course, it’s not just historically-significant quilts that need repair and restoration. How many of us have done our best to preserve a family heirloom? Or even an ordinary piece? This morning I noticed a small tear (defective fabric? A slip of the rotary cutter?) in a table topper I was half-way through quilting. It was too late to replace the offending piece, so I hand appliquéd a patch using the leftover fabric.  That was easy; I didn’t have to worry about finding matching fabric, dealing with fading or shattering, or preserving authenticity. So, hat’s off to those, like Patsy Orlofsky, who do real conservation.

Your quilting friend,


Cuesta’s blocks. https://quiltershalloffame.pastperfectonline.com/webobject?utf8=%E2%9C%93&search_criteria=cuesta&searchButton=Search

Bio info. https://quiltershalloffame.net/patsy-orlofsky/

Article. http://www.museumtextiles.com/uploads/7/8/9/0/7890082/orlofsky_textile_conservation.pdf

TWC website. https://www.textileconservationworkshop.org/

Easter 2021

I’m writing on Saturday, but you won’t read this until after all the eggs have been found.  I hope you had a happy Easter. And I hope you will enjoy this quick look at some of our Honoree’s Easter quilts.

Since Ruby McKim was last week’s topic, I’ll start with her. Here are the rabbits from the Peter Rabbit quilt; it was first published in 1916 in the Kansas City Star and is now adapted to a panel available on the McKim Studios website.

McKim was noted for the squared-off (quadratic) shape of some of her designs, but she also had softer images like the lambs in her Spring appliqué.  This was part of the Four Seasons series originally published in the 1930s and also available on the McKim Studios website. What do you think of the triangular dandelion?

McKim Studios

I had to look hard to find other Easter animal images by Honorees.  Ruth McDowell has an entire farm series, but her work, although wonderfully realistic, doesn’t say “Easter” to me. I only found one other rabbit, this one by Yvonne Porcella (who usually does those happy, frisky dogs). But she did an Asian-inspired quilt and included a rabbit (from the hare-in-the-moon tradition) on the back of it.

Yvonne Porcella, This is a Long Distance Call; reverse.

The Quilters Hall of Fame has, as part of the collection, a number of objects that are not necessarily connected to our Honorees, but are used for education. Among these is an extensive number of family quilts, historic fabric samples, and quilts made by our great friend, Arnold Savage.  This is one he finished in 2005 from a top constructed in 1934 of tiny Nine Patches that he made as a child while recovering from rheumatic fever. He hand quilted it with Easter eggs and named it “Opus 4 / Recovery Quilt 4 Easter Egg Quilt.” What an odd, but charming image to put in those alternate blocks! I wonder what made him choose that motif; maybe he was working on this at Easter-time.

When I thought about the Easter theme for this blog, the first thing that came to my mind was the Marie Webster French Basket pattern. Even though it’s filled with flowers instead of eggs and chocolate bunnies, it reminds me of an Easter basket. There is a good example of a completed quilt in the Hall of Fame collection, along with a pattern. As you’ll see in the third photo, instructions were sparse; but since this was sold as a stamped kit, maybe that was sufficient.

This design was very popular and appeared in other colorways. A few years ago, Honoree Georgia

Bonesteel designed reproduction fabrics based on Marie’s designs – this panel shows it in pink.

And here’s a French Baskets with a green background—which I like better, even though I’m usually a blue gal.

Indianapolis Museum of Art/Newfields

Webster designed three other basket quilts, Dutch Basket, Magpie Rose, and Pink Dogwood.  Here are some shots of them from our collection.

And she also had a Bunny quilt, with eggs on the ground and in the baskets.

Other Honorees made basket quilts. This is a Ruby McKim Flower Basket quilt in the Hall of Fame Collection. McKim also had a fruit basket design, but again, nothing with eggs (and certainly no Peeps).

Honoree, Anne Orr was famous for her postage stamp designs, and she created at least two basket images in this style.

And a dishware pattern was the inspiration for Grace Snyder’s tour de force, Flower Basket Petit Point. There is a small plate in that pattern in the Hall of Fame Collection.

Of course, Marie Webster and many other pattern creators had lovely Spring flower designs which would be timely to show, but I’ll save those for another time. I want to stay on the Easter theme—unlike the editor here who really stretched the connection. I would not call those motifs “Easter Lily”, even if Honoree Ruth Finley did; it looks more like pomegranate and coxcomb to me.

The Advocate-Messenger, Danville, KY. April 12, 1930.

I’m going to close with a quilt that looks more Autumnal, but which I think really conveys the Easter message.  This quilt was made in 1939 by Mary Gasperik, our 2021 Heritage Honoree who will be inducted in July. In her own words, this quilt is about a woman “trying to bear the trials of poverty inflicted upon her by the depression” who must stop and rest “to gather fresh courage to reach the ‘World of Tomorrow’…. The birds are singing songs of encouragement.  Beyond these mountains lies Recovery.”

Mary Gasperik. Road to Recovery.

And isn’t that an appropriate thought for us this year?  We’ve been through a lot with the pandemic, but we’re on the road to recovery and there’s hope for the future. There’s always hope for a new beginning at Easter-time.

Your quilting friend,