Stuff in the Attic

When I first agreed to write this blog, it was with the intention of showcasing The Quilters Hall of Fame Collection: the “stuff” we have in the attic.  But then COVID came along, and I wasn’t going for Collections work days every month, so I switched up to writing about the Honorees which was something I could do from home. Now, Dale, Mary Jane, Regina and I are back on track-with a little help from our friends, and I have some interesting (I hope) things to tell you about.

The big news, which you might have seen on TQHF’s Facebook page or elsewhere, is that we have received a fantastic donation of quilts made or collected by Hall of Famer, Mary Schafer. I wrote a little about Mary last November, and told you that there are many, many Schafer quilts on the Quilt Index.  That’s partly because during her lifetime, Mary donated a large number of her quilts to Michigan State University.  Those quilts have been designated “Collection One” and we now have “Collection Two”, the remainder of her extensive work. An exhibit of all of Collection Two is promised for next Spring or Summer.

Let me take you behind the scenes with this exciting acquisition. Mary’s granddaughter, who had a close connection with Mary, was moving to Florida and decided it was time to end her stewardship of the collection. She contacted us and offered the quilts and we were thrilled to have them. Things went very smoothly in the end, but there were some issues along the way.

We knew that we don’t have room to keep all 100+ quilts in the climate-controlled Collections room on the third floor, so we had to decide what we could take. Dale Drake did a marvelous job of triage, but hard decisions had to be made. It’s difficult to determine from a picture alone which quilts are high priority to keep; color and condition often don’t photograph well. (As it turned out, condition was rarely an issue because, even though Mary herself stored the quilts in egg cartons in her basement, her granddaughter had kept the larger ones flat on a bed, and most were in very good shape.) Here’s a shot of Mary’s first quilt, Rhododendron, which shows its age, but is going to stay with us because of its historical significance—not to mention its pleasing motif.

Then there was the question of which full-size quilts were most representative of Mary’s work. A first quilt, like Rhododendron, was an obvious choice. And then the first quilt Mary designed. And then some samples of her particular style (she’s noted for taking a simple block for the quilt center and adapting an element of the block for the border). We all drooled over a medallion quilt, The Harvesters, and then there was a second medallion that looked pretty good too. But what about the medallion that was Mary’s foray into broderie perse? The rest of the committee thought three medallions was more than enough, but I lobbied heavily to include the Welsh medallion. I’m glad I did because when we saw it on the table, we all realized it’s an excellent example of the Welsh style and has a typical, charming color scheme—a good contrast to the other medallions. Here’s Harvesters and “my” Welsh one.

We had to make selections (I almost said “cuts”, but that’s a scary word when it comes to quilts) among the crib quilts, but we decided we could keep all of the doll quilts—they don’t take up much room. We told the family that we would find good homes for the quilts we can’t keep, so watch for an announcement of a sale following the exhibit of all of Collection Two (probably not before Summer 2022, but keep your eyes peeled because there will be some wonderful items).

Next, there was a logistics problem: how to transport over 100 heirloom quilts from the Ann Arbor, Michigan area to Marion, Indiana? Should the Collections committee drive up and retrieve them, incurring travel and lodging costs? Did we know someone in Marion with a camper who could fetch them back and keep them close the whole way to their new home?? Should we hire a fine arts mover who would drive straight through and not risk having the quilts sit in a motel parking lot along the way, but who would charge three times the fee of a regular mover??? In the end, Mary’s granddaughter and her husband delivered the quilts.

But that still left us unloading the U-haul and getting everything inventoried. Lots of steps were taken bringing the quilts into the Honoree Parlor on the first floor of the House. After a quick pizza break (all hands washed carefully before returning to the quilts), we had everything cross-checked awaiting photo-taking the following day. Photography was set up on the second floor, so that meant shifting everything up one flight. It took four of us a good nine hours (we did stop for lunch and dinner) to get a shot of each quilt, front and back and usually a detail of the quilting or interesting fabrics. And once the pictures were taken, everything had to go up one more flight of stairs to be laid out for cataloging and storage.

Along with the donation of quilts came the remaining contents of Mary’s sewing room: two sewing machines, slides—hopefully of quilt-related scenes, but maybe just vacation shots– with three different kinds of projectors, bags of notions, an entire box of clothing patterns (Mary made garments before she started quilting), fabric including bark cloth curtains, and a fair amount of correspondence (Mary participated in Round Robin pattern exchanges and wrote often to other Hall of Fame Honorees).  Of course, all of this was mixed in with church bulletins and auto oil change brochures, so another volunteer spent all day sorting out the obvious “chaff”. Who knows how much of the remaining “wheat” we’ll keep? It will all have to be photographed, measured and described, and that data entered online.

If you are in the Museum business, all of this probably sounds familiar to you. I’m still new to the “game” and enjoying the learning process, and appreciating the opportunity to see such wonderful objects up close and personal. I hope you’ve gotten a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes when a donation is made. It’s lots of work, but willingly done at TQHF by a group of dedicated volunteers: the Collections work group and members of the local Marie Webster Quilt Guild.

If you’re still reading, I’ll tell a tale on myself with regard to another donation. In 2019, we received a large plastic bin of items from the shop of our first Heritage Honoree, Mary McElwain. With COVID looming, I offered to take everything home with me to catalog. As I said, I’m new to this, so it’s been a learn-as-you-go process, and not always successful.

When we accept a donation, we assign it an acquisition number, and every object in that group gets its own object number. These are the numbers that organize our online Collections catalog. (You can access Past Perfect from TQHF’s webpage by hovering over the tab labelled “About The Quilters Hall of Fame” and then clicking on “Collections”.) Then each object is described, photographed, and measured; condition and provenance are recorded; and location within the Museum is entered (because there is no way we can remember where we put each item).

So, here’s one of the objects I was working on. 

I knew it came from the McElwain shop in Walworth, WI (by a circuitous route involving two successor business owners), and I thought it was a grouping of cardboard templates.  Remember, McElwain was in business before rotary cutters, so women often used heavy paper to trace shapes for cutting. So, I dutifully and laboriously separated the pieces into like shapes and proceeded to catalog them.

There were over 50 of them, and I was up to “bbb” in the sub-numbering. This work can be tedious, but it’s important to be accurate—or so I’ve been told.

Well, the joke was on me because when I came to this next object, I saw my error.

This shows pre-cut pillow kits in “The Laurel” pattern. You can see that the fabric came in a stack between two pieces of cardboard secured by a rubber band. Those cardboard shapes that I thought were templates were merely packaging used to protect the fabric pieces in the kit. We decided to keep the packing where it was part of a kit and to discard the extra unused pieces. All that work for nothing! Well, not for nothing; I learned a few lessons: not every object is worth saving for posterity and figure out what you’ve actually got before you start trying to catalog it.

The good news is that after working my way through nearly 40 items, I’m almost finished.  Everything will soon be up on the internet and you’ll be able to browse through McElwain’s inventory almost like it was on Amazon—or Amazon with a historical filter.

I’ll be finishing up on my writing about the Honorees in short order; just a few left because I’m not going to do the most recent inductees (too soon for an update) and I’m also going to skip the ones I know personally (too much like gossip). After that, I’ll take up my original purpose again and tell you about the Collection.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this first Collections installment.

Your quilting friend,


Karey Bresenhan: Great Expectations

I’ve been taking a break from writing because for the first time since last Spring, I’ve been able to travel for quilting events. In early July, I got together with my local study group, the Northern Illinois Quilt Study Group, to look at a member’s collection of doll quilts.  Then a week later I was at the Quilters Hall of Fame Celebration where Marti Michell and Mary Gasperik were inducted as honorees.  And I’ve just returned from the American Quilt Study Group’s annual Seminar in Harrisonburg (Shenandoah Valley), VA. Next up for me is a four-day session on Red and Green antique and vintage quilts at the end of September.  Phew!  I feel like I’ve waited so long for this, and I’m going to make the most of every opportunity.

Well, not every opportunity. The one that will have to stay on my bucket list for another year is the International Quilt Festival in Houston Texas, an annual event begun and produced for over 40 years by Hall of Fame Honoree, Karey Bresenhan.  You can read all about Miss Karoline at the link below. (I don’t think anyone calls her that, but it seems so politely Southern, and this lady deserves all the respect I can give her.) I can’t go to Houston this year, but that shouldn’t stop you; and if you can’t go either, let me give you an armchair tour.

Photo from Quilts, Inc website, www.quilts.com

The International Quilt Festival, Houston is back in 2021. The festival runs from Oct. 28 to Oct. 31 2021. Preview event is on the evening of the 27th and classes and other events start from the 25th. One day admission fee is USD 15 per person.

What will you see if you go? Quilt Show Categories for IQF 2021 are:

Hands All Around

In Full Bloom

In The American Tradition

Landscape Quilts

Tactile Architecture™

For $10.00 you can attend a lecture on current-interest topics ranging from Featherweights to creativity and everything (hexies, quilt restoration, judging, tension, pictorial quilts and more) in between. And for a higher fee, let me “point” out some of the classes:

  1. Mandala Madness- Muriel Mandala design using Appliquik Rods for turning the appliqué pieces, taught by Kyra Reps.
  2. Barn Quilt Block Painting- Taught by Margaret Atkins with Rhoda Gersch.
  3. Sunstars- A Kaleidoscope Class, two days taught by Paula Nadelstern.

Or if you’re looking for something curvy instead of spikey, try one of these:

  1. Teeny Tiny Flamingo Collage- Laura Heine
  2. Quilted Texture from A to Zen- Bethanne Nemesh
  3. Turned-Edge, Layered Hand Appliqué- David Taylor

These are just a few of the classes listed on the first page of the website; there are 15 more pages with something for all interests. You can view them all at the link below.

Is October too soon for you? Don’t worry; you’ll have another chance August 4-6, 2022 when Quilt Festival moves to Long Beach CA for a summer session.  Here’s a photo of the venue, the Long Beach Convention Center.  And check out the background: there’s a cruise ship on the left and what looks like an ocean-going steam vessel on the right! You could arrive by sea.

Long Beach Convention Center. Photo from Quilts, Inc website, www.quilts.com

If running the world’s biggest quilt show wasn’t enough to merit Quilters Hall of Fame recognition, Karey Bresenhan could still be an honoree, and I’d still have interesting things to tell you about her. Did you know she read “Gone with the Wind” before she was ten years old? Or that Bresenhan shares a common profession with Ruth Finley (see my February 3, 2021 post)? Karey holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Sam Houston State University and a master’s degree in journalism from The University of Texas at Austin, and Ruth went undercover to write exposé. Karey’s writings are a bit more tame than Ruth’s; she wrote for corporations, and later put her word-craft to use in writing quilt books.  But, still a connection.

My first introduction to Karey’s written work was what turned into her magnum opus, “Lone Stars: A Legacy of Texas Quilts” which she wrote with her cousin, (and life-long quilting collaborator) Nancy O’Bryant Puentes. Growing out of the Texas Quilt Search -which followed Kentucky as just the second quilt documentation project in America—”Lone Stars” eventually covered three volumes. There’s a link below to an article which showcases a selection of ten quilts, and a second link to all 144 of the books’ quilts on the Quilt Index.

Let me show you one which is my favorite because it embodies Karey’s love for her home state and its quilting legacy.

Patterson, Jewel Pearl C. Founder’s Star Quilt. 1986. From Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin, Texas Sesquicentennial Quilt Association, Texas Quilt Search. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=25-21-105. Accessed: 08/29/21

This quilt, made by Karey’s mother with the help of her aunt, cousin, and Karey herself, is quintessentially Texas. It’s a Lone Star of Texas executed as a feathered star, set in medallion format and framed by a sawtooth border; the next border features four-pointed stars known as Texas Tears; the outer border is a row of Battle of the Alamo blocks, (per Karey) “named in honor of that Shrine of Texas Liberty”. Quilting motifs include Texas wildflowers such as the bluebonnet (the state flower), feather quilting and a row of five-pointed Texas stars.

Karey wrote several other books– “America from the Heart: Quilters Remember September 11, 2001”,

“Hands All Around: Quilts from Many Nations”, with Robert Bishop and Nancy Lehman, and these titles:

I started off telling you that I have deep respect for Karey Bresenhan, and here’s why: I don’t think I could write this blog without some of the resources Karey has had a hand in. She co-founded the Alliance for American Quilts (now the Quilt Alliance—see link below) which has promoted the safeguarding of American quilt history through projects such as Quilters S.O.S. (Save our Stories), Boxes Under the Bed, and Quilt Treasures. I often poke around on these sites to find information, photos and videos to share with you. She was also one of the forces behind the 1999 Ultimate Quilt Search which resulted in the selection of quilts for “The Twentieth Century’s Best American Quilts”, and she had most of those exhibited that year in Houston. I often find information about honorees in that book.  Thanks, Miss Karoline.

And I’m not the only one who thinks highly of Karey. When HERstory.online put out a call for quilts honoring strong women, this one featuring Karey Bresenhan was submitted.  It, along with dozens of others, hung at the International Quilt Festival in Houston in 2017. It looks like Karey and captures her love of all things Texas.

Can I end this by paraphrasing Winston Churchill?  Never have so many quilters owed so much to one person, and that person is Karey Bresenhan.

Your quilting friend,


Bio info. https://quiltershalloffame.net/karey-bresenhan/

Houston classes. https://www.quilts.com/quilt-festival/quilt-festival-houston/all-classes/

Lone Star selections. https://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/common-threads/  (You only get two free views at this site.)

Full Lone Star collection. https://quiltindex.org/results/?search=quilts&qproject=Texas%20Quilt%20Search

The Quilt Alliance. https://quiltalliance.org/