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.

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

What’s it Like to Have a Career in Textiles? Ask Gail van der Hoof

I often think that, had I enjoyed a wider world view when I was young, I would have come to quilts much earlier than I did. As a 1950s child of the steel mill area of Chicago’s South Side, I knew no one who had quilts—it was chenille spreads for us .  And I certainly had no idea that it was possible to study textiles or to get academic training as a museum curator. I wouldn’t say my youth was wasted (my English major gave me the life-long pleasures of reading and writing) but I look with a little envy at people like Honoree Gail van der Hoof whose lives took a very different direction.

Gail is known in the quilt world as the partner of another Honoree, Jonathan Holstein; in 1971 they co-curated a ground-breaking exhibit of quilts at the Whitney Museum of American Art.  They are credited with changing the perspective of quilts as home goods/decorative arts into “real” art to be hung on walls. The 50th anniversary of that exhibit is coming up and I’ll write more about it later, but here are some images of quilts in the exhibit;  they were collected by van der Hoof and Holstein and are all now at the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, NE. 

For today though, I’d like to explore a more intimate aspect of this Honoree.  First, take a few minutes to read the biography on the Hall of Fame website, and we can compare notes. https://quiltershalloffame.net/gail-van-der-hoof/

OK.  Here’s one thing that struck a chord with me:  Gail never became a quilter, but she had an over-arching interest in textiles. Imagine taking the Orient Express to Turkey to explore textiles!   Can’t you see her in a market looking at rugs? I wonder if she haggled for her purchases?  Probably so, if her introspective assessment gives us a clue.  “I must have been a rag picker in my last life. I have always haunted thrift shops or used clothes markets and can always find something good.”  How many of you can relate to that?

And that question opens the way for more questions.  Do you love finding bargains?  And what do you do with them?  Are you like Gail and wear what you find, or are you shopping for fabric there? I know there are women who find old aprons and dresses to use for repair of vintage quilts, and I have read articles that suggest treasure hunting at the thrift shops for flannel shirts and hankies (for “masculine” and “feminine quilts”). 

If you are a quilter, do you ever mix textiles, or do you stick with cotton?  I tried using silk once and found it to ravel more than I expected—I probably should have used a stabilizer—but it catches the light in a way that makes the quilt more interesting.   I’m going to have to “up” my technique if I ever get around to making a piece from my husband’s old neckties, and I have an idea for using some of my no-longer-worn scarves.  But that’s about as far as I dare to go. The biography also mentions Gail’s other travels, to Holland, England, other parts of Europe, and to West Africa. All of those places have a significant and distinct textile history, and I wonder how much of that Gail explored on her trips? I’ve been to the Toile Museum in Jouy, France, and to the mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. I enjoyed seeing the swatch books of 19th century fabrics at the museum in Manchester, New Hampshire. 

(There aren’t enough photos of Gail, so I’ve added my vacation pics.)

But all of that was just “spectator sport”.  What would it have been like if I had studied textiles in college as Gail did? I don’t think I would have enjoyed it any more, but I certainly would have been better able to put it all in context.

So, I think that’s what makes Gail van der Hoof a Hall of Fame Honoree: the ability to have brought her academic training and work experience to see quilts from a different perspective. First, as something worth collecting, and then as something worth appreciating for art’s sake.  She deserves her place and I’ll try not to be too envious of her career path.

Your quilting friend,