If You Love to Look at Old Quilts, Thank Sally Garoutte

Before I get to Sally Garoutte, I have a follow-up to do. I promised to keep you posted on the International Quilt Museum’s retrospective of the 1971 Whitney Museum “Abstract Design in American Quilts” show.  You’ll remember that the original show was mounted by Hall of Fame Honorees Jonathan Holstein and Gail van der Hoof, and at the time it rocked the art world by showing quilts as modern art. We’ve come a long way since then, but it’s always good to go back to the beginning. Here’s an iconic example from the original exhibit.

Rainbow Stripes
Inscribed E. S. REITZ. Probably made in Pennsylvania, 1890-1910
IQM 2003.003.0041

Over the next several months, IQM will have four exhibits, each exploring a different aspect of the show: Abstract Design in American Quilts at 50, Raising the Profile, New York Nexus, and Journey to Japan. There’s a link below to the current exhibits on the IQM site; scroll down and select any of the four exhibits, and that will take you to a page where you can link to descriptions of each quilt in the exhibit, photos of the quilts on display, and even a 3-D tour of the exhibit in the IQM. There’s so much to see from the comfort of your couch, and so much to think about. Or, if you’re lucky, maybe you can catch one of the exhibits in person. Either way, be sure to mentally thank Jonathan Holstein and Gail van der Hoof for their foresight; Happy 50th Anniversary, “Abstract Design”!

And the Whitney exhibit also provides the tie-in to this week’s Honoree, Sally Garoutte. You can read her full bio at the link below, but I’ll focus on her quilt story (and a bonus). While the “Abstract Design” exhibit was up on the East Coast, Sally was in California turning her studies in silk screening, color and textiles into a special interest in quilts. With fellow-Honoree Joyce Gross, Sally founded the Mill Valley Quilt Authority, (one of the early groups to promote quilting and the preservation of quilts).  Sally and Joyce collaborated over many years, publishing Quilters’ Journal and founding the American Quilt Study Group. On the left is a photo from 1986 AQSG Seminar, with Sally front and center; she’s flanked by other notables who look a little different today. You may not recognize Barbara Brackman and Julie Silber, but Bets Ramsey is ageless. The photo on the right shows quilt documentation at the first AQSG Seminar in 1980; I won’t attempt to identify people from behind, but do you know what the quilt block is? But note the woman wearing a vest with a similar quilt block vest—fashions change, but quilt study carries on.

Sally was the editor of Uncoverings, AQSG’s annual publication of members’ research papers, from its founding through 1986, and co-editor in 1987. She herself contributed articles about Hawaiian textiles, Marseilles quilts, and an 1846 California quilting party.  The list of other writers during her editorship includes many Hall of Fame Honorees: Barbara Brackman, Merikay Waldvogel, Virginia Gunn, Joyce Gross, Cuesta Benberry, Bets Ramsey, and even Florence Peto. You might also recognize Judy Mathieson of Mariner’s Compass fame and Joe Cunningham who, pre-pandemic, was teaching his improvisational style to guilds around the country.

But Sally didn’t take all comers. Even articles by famous persons had to be historically accurate and measure up to Sally’s standards for research. Here’s her thoughts on quilt history:

In an effort to illuminate the history of quilts in America, some early writers unfortunately did just the opposite. Using the writing style of 50 years ago, most historians did not document their sources, and simply stated their theories and surmises as though they were fact…. Folklore, however, is not history. Although we need the lore to understand what people thought and how they felt about things, we need history too. We need to know what happened and what people did, and we need to document it dependably.

“Early Colonial Quilts in a Bedding Context,”.Uncoverings; 1980.

In one of her early articles, Sally explains scholarly research:

Simply put, a scholarly paper is the account of research that has been done by its author. Its distinguishing feature is that it is verifiable.It states where and how its information was found, so that any other person can go and look at the same information. An article or paper that does not state clearly where its facts came from is not scholarly. It is a story asking to be taken on faith. It is not verifiable. The reader can only hope that the author has searched factual material before writing her conclusions, as there is no way to check it.

Quilter’s Journal; Spring 1981; Vol. 4, No. 1

Sally, for all her interest in quilt history, wasn’t a quilter, but there’s still a little to show. This quilt, which appeared on the cover of the 1978 issue of the journal Textile Chemist and Colorist, is the only quilt Sally made.

Courtesy of Kate Garoutte for
The Quilters Hall of Fame 42 Masters Who Have Shaped Our Art

She also contributed a block to the Cuesta Benberry Friendship Quilt, but I don’t know if she made it or collected it; it looks pieced, but it also could be a print. Here’s the whole quilt with Sally’s block in the lower right corner and a larger version of that block—it’s called “Star on a String”.

“Cuesta Benberry’s Friendship Quilt”. 1979  Garoutte block “Star on a String” Assembled by Betty Hagerman and Helen Ericson. Collection of Michigan State University Museum acc.#2008:119.11
Garoutte block “Star on a String.”

The reason I suggest that Sally’s block could be a print is because silk screening was her medium.  So now, here’s the bonus: I’m going to get to show you some things I just helped to catalog for the Quilters Hall of Fame collection. Here are two little quilts, the tops of which were made by Sally; we know that the log cabin was quilted by someone else, but don’t know about the other. There are links below if you want to read the full descriptions.

Also in our collection is a group of screen prints, eight of them showing autos, and six with people in or on the water. These were part of a research project, “Treasures From a Shoebox”, that Sally did when she was at Goddard College in 1974. The original images were family photograph negatives that she found in the attic. Here’s one of them, and there’s a link for the rest. With all but one of the images Sally experimented with different colors of ink or with different background fabrics, so be sure to see them all to get a flavor of her artistic process.

We also have a large undated piece made by Sally and donated by Hall of Fame Founder, Hazel Carter. We don’t know if this was also a college project or a later work, so if anyone has more information, please let us know. This is a large piece, 47” x 66”, and unlike the “Treasures”, it is printed on a heavy fabric, almost like a woven coverlet. I can’t imagine what it would be used for, so I’m going to say it’s “art for art’s sake” (ars gratia artis—you’ve seen that quote above the lion in old movie reels).

Well, that’s Sally Garoutte. I wouldn’t be writing today if I hadn’t attended an AQSG Seminar in Lincoln, Nebraska in 2012 and gotten hooked on quilt history.  And I’m looking forward to this year’s Seminar in the Shenandoah Valley, where I’m sure to see many wonderful old Virginia quilts and many wonderful old friends and colleagues.  I have a lot to thank Sally Garoutte for, and I’m glad to have had this chance to get to know her better.  I hope you feel the same way.

Your quilting friend,


IQS Abstract Art. https://www.internationalquiltmuseum.org/exhibitions/now-showing

AQSG. https://americanquiltstudygroup.org/

Starley blog about AQSG. https://www.discoverypub.com/columns/Quilts/1118_Quilts/index.html

Log cabin. https://quiltershalloffame.pastperfectonline.com/webobject/B2259870-E9F5-4D0B-8063-278191233860

Tumbling blocks. https://quiltershalloffame.pastperfectonline.com/webobject/0A294F36-B852-42B4-9185-004765572716

Treasures from a Shoebox. https://quiltershalloffame.pastperfectonline.com/webobject?utf8=%E2%9C%93&search_criteria=%22sally+garoutte%22&searchButton=Search

Coming Soon…

I’ve read that the French have no good expression to say “I’m excited about….” A direct translation “Je suis excitée” would more often be understood as talking about physical arousal—not appropriate. This vocabulary gap is most unfortunate because they would have no way to tell you about how happy I am that there will be an in-person Celebration this year. There’s a link below for an interesting article exploring the different cultural outlooks behind this linguistic issue, but don’t go there yet; we’ve got quilt-related things to talk about.

Celebration is going to be pared down—no meal events, social distancing arrangements, etc.—but it’s happening. Yippee! You may remember that I wrote about taking part in the nomination process for our 2021 Heritage Honoree, Mary Gasperik; I’m super excited now to see her inducted. I have seen some of her quilts in person, and I’m looking forward to seeing more. She made one masterpiece that was on display in the Smithsonian for a year, and I hope that one comes to visit at the Hall of Fame. You can get a preview of her work on the Quilt Index; but it would be better if you can come to Marion and see the real things. (Link below.)

We’ll also be inducting Marti Michell whose acrylic templates have made it possible for me to attempt a Seven Sisters quilt (no photo; I said “possible”, not “done”), and recognizing the Lutheran World Relief for their charitable work. No live auctions, but there will be small lectures. As excited as I am about the inductions, it’s a toss-up whether I’m more excited about seeing quilting friends. This will be the first non-Zoom, live get-together I’ve had in almost a year and a half, and I know most of you are in the same position. Come if you can and we’ll have a great time. Stay tuned for more details on the website.

We’re having some pretty nice weather here in the Chicago suburbs, and I’ve been out in the gardens. Maybe I can post some photos when things start blooming. In the meantime, how about looking at some flowering quilts? We can tiptoe through the many variations of tulips and then see what else I can find.

First, let’s see some real tulips.  These photos are taken from the backyard of the Quilters Hall of Fame Museum which operates at what once was the home of Honoree Marie Webster.  According to her granddaughter Rosalind Perry, Marie loved gardens and many of the quilt patterns she sold were floral designs.

Thanks to Comfort Landscapes, LLC, Marion, Indiana for their years of help caring for Marie’s garden!

Marie Webster had more than one tulip design for patterns or kits which she sold by mail order from her upstairs bedroom, placed in department stores like Marshall Field in Chicago, or distributed through the shop of another Honoree, Mary McElwain. 

Here’s one of Marie’s trade publication showing a graceful arrangement called “Windblown Tulips”, along with an actual quilt in that pattern from our collection.

From the collection of The Quilters Hall of Fame
From the collection of The Quilters Hall of Fame. Pieced, appliqued and quilted by Mollie Belle Vancil Mitchell and friends in Carbondale, IL.

The design looks different in the next quilt—there’s sashing, corner-stone borders, and a variation of the tulips in the borders—but you still get the sense of flowers bending in an early Spring breeze.

Crowner, Bertha E. (1891-1972. “Tulip Time”. Late 1930s. From American Folk Art Museum, New York Quilt Project. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=49-142-1066. Accessed: 05/02/21

The breezy look disappears in Webster’s “May Tulips”. It’s pure Art Deco, and would have been so “on trend” when it first came out.

From the collection of The Quilters Hall of Fame

In the 1930s-50s, Honoree Mary McElwain operated a quilt shop in Walworth, Wisconsin (in what was then a high-society resort area) and another in swanky St. Petersburg, Florida. Here are two pillow kits from the Wisconsin shop that I just recently cataloged (they’ll be searchable as soon as I can do the data entry). “Dutch Tulip” has the blue border and “Tulip Plant” is in peach.

Dutch Tulip could be repeated to make a bed-sized quilt like this one shown in a trade “card” from another distributor, BOAG Company of Chicago.

The final McElwain tulip offering we’ll look at borrows an element of movement from Webster although Marie was not the designer; it’s called “Tulip Swirl”. This version really makes a statement, and I think it should have an award for “Best Use of Rick Rack Trim”.

Quiltmaker, Unknown. “Tulip Swirl”. 1935. From Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=24-20-329. Accessed: 05/02/21

Here are three blocks made by Honoree Mary Schafer. I’m puzzled by the fat stems in the first one (although they make a great secondary daisy), and I wonder about the green petals in the second, but these are all readily identifiable as tulips. 

That isn’t always the case. Look at these blocks from the collection of Honoree Cuesta Benberry, who may have acquired them in a round robin exchange. That first one has more of a poppy leaf and I just don’t understand the layers of petals (maybe it’s a parrot tulip). The second makes me think of angel wings and halos. But these are both cataloged as tulip blocks.  The last in the group clearly qualifies as a tulip; it’s from Cuesta’s “Always There” quilt.

Honoree Ruby Short McKim did some tulip designs too. The first photo shows the one in her “Flower Garden” quilt, and the second is from her “Flower Baskets”.

Detail of Flower Garden Quilt designed by Ruby Short McKim Circa 1930 made by Oma Greer Morris (Mrs. C. T., b. Oct. 20, 1894 in Comanche County, TX, m. Charlie Thomas Morris in 1914, d. Feb. 11, 1985, De Leon, Comanche County, Texas). Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Pierson (Leslie), TTU-H2021-006-002.
Detail of The Quilters Hall of Fame Opportunity Quilt 2017.

Tulips weren’t just popular as quilt motifs in the 1930s. Here’s one from fifty years before that which was collected by Honoree Mary Barton.

Detail of: “Tulip variation” Quilt, c. 1870. Gift of Mary Barton. In the Farm House Museum Collection, Farm House Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. 80.3.2

And they continue to be popular as seen in this panel of blocks made from a 2003 pattern in the magazine of Honorees Marianne Fons and Liz Porter. (Okay, the center block has daisies, but I didn’t want to crop.)

Section of “Jubilee Album” by Sue Nickels and Pat Holly. This quilt was the block-of-the-month for “Love of Quilting” and was on exhibit at The Quilters Hall of Fame in 2019.

That’s a pretty good romp through the tulips of our Honorees. But wait; there’s more. I’ve put more than one tulip on a quilt myself. These are somewhat stylized—they must be hybrids.

The Quilt Index claims 834 entries under the tulip motif. (Some look more like lilies or roses, but who am I to question?)  Lots of those are straight set like Webster’s  “Windblown Tulips” and the red McElwain “Tulip Swirl”, but many are grouped in fours. This first one has no leaves and makes your eye jump from the “x” of the actual block to a secondary pattern with a quatrefoil center.

Alexander, Esma Lea Brow. “Tulip Baby Quilt”. 1950-1975. From Indiana State Museum, Indiana Quilt Registry Project. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=39-40-3568. Accessed: 05/02/21

Here’s another layout that fools the eye; the stems of the satellite buds make a hashtag/pound sign design. (Why are those buds round? Unopened tulips are ovoid.)

Lahr, Elizabeth; Strawser, Jenn. Tulip. 1880. From Michigan State University Museum, Michigan Quilt Project. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=12-8-8433. Accessed: 05/02/21

This one has lost its stems and gained a four-lobed center, but it still has that diagonal symmetry that is so pleasing.

Blair, Mary M. Dickerson. “Tulip”. 1940. From University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Nebraska Quilt Project (Lincoln Quilters Guild). Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=29-24-3114. Accessed: 05/02/21

But I’m also pleased with this quilt where symmetry has been ignored. (Dare I say “tossed out”? It does have a nice, tossed appearance.)

Unknown, quilt. Tulip Applique. 1850-1875. From Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives, The Heritage Quilt Project of New Jersey, Inc. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=20-16-346. Accessed: 05/02/21

And there’s always someone who is totally unconventional. This quilt has an appealing vining border design and blocks where the stems form a circle instead of a cross.

Vaught, An. “Applique and Tulip”. From Indiana State Museum, Indiana Quilt Registry Project. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=39-40-3334. Accessed: 05/02/21

Most of the tulip quilts on the Quilt Index are constructed as blocks, but here’s an unusual medallion setting. The layout is similar to what you see in Webster’s “Poppies” and “Sunflower” (that’s for another day), and the stems have taken on an interesting Art Nouveau curve.

Maker, Unknown. “Tulip”. 1930-1949. From International Quilt Museum, International Quilt Museum; Ardis and Robert James Collection. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=36-34-358. Accessed: 05/02/21

Here are two more curvaceous ones.

And finally, an overall layout from the 1970s. This “first quilt” was made from a quilt kit purchased from Lee Ward’s Craft Company in Illinois.

Grzyb, Albina; Kasprzyk, Sally. Terry’s Tulip Quilt. c. 1972. From Arizona Quilt Documentation Project, Arizona Quilt Documentation Project. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=38-36-857. Accessed: 05/02/21.

And with that we’ve come full circle from Marie Webster’s kits, so it’s a good place to stop.  We never got past the tulips, so before I go, I want to show you Marti Michell’s “Wild Rose”.

You can consider it a floral teaser for either Celebration or another blog, or maybe for both.

Your quilting friend,


French language. http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20181104-why-the-french-dont-show-excitement

Quilt Index Gasperik quilts. https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=artists&kid=18-47-2