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Top 10 Titles for the Study of Quilts 
from Seven Quilt Historians

Edited by Nancy Cameron Armstrong  

During the CQA/ACC week at Thunder Bay, I had the opportunity to talk at length with many of the new CQSG members and although there was much interest expressed, many were wondering where to start with the vast body of literature that has already been published.  I asked if an article with booklists from "the experts" would be useful?  "YES, PLEASE!" was the universal reply.  

The request I mailed was "a list of the first 10 titles you would buy (or if out-of-print, try to locate somewhere) if you were trying to build a collection for the study of quilts." Several of the lists contained original publication dates for titles that are now available in reprints; where there are reprints, of which I am aware, the reprint information is included.  Some titles are out-of-print; these titles may be available in libraries, or-with luck-searches at second-hand stores may bring results.  

Although there are many titles that appear more than once, the lists are reproduced in their entireties to help underline the importance of the titles that are suggested time and again.  For example, Quilts in America, now readily available, appears on all but one of the seven lists.  For those just beginning a collection, you may want to focus your first purchases on those titles held in high regard on several of the lists.  And remember ... these lists were first requested in 1992.  With the high volume of outstanding quilt history publications in the recent years, a new request might well include some of the newer titles.  Certainly, all of the AQSG UNCOVERINGS would appear. 

Cuesta Benberry provided two lists; the first is a "top ten" or "basic" list, the second is a list of some of her "favorites" with added suggestions about building a quilt library.  You will note that each reply contains more than 10 volumes, and I must admit as a librarian I knew that each would be tempted to latch on to the word title and add just a few more of their favorites that could not be omitted!  Now, let's hear from our seven experts ... 

Cuesta Benberry — "A Baker's Dozen of Recommended Basic Quilt Books." Over the years, hundreds of quilt books have been published, many of them quite valuable for quilt historians.  Especially useful are the various catalogues of quilt exhibitions, museum collections, quilt patterns, quilt identification guides, state quilt search project books, quilt history texts, books featuring quilt works of a single individual, quilt encyclopedias, the research volumes of AQSG, the Oral Traditions Project, and the Quilt Digest issues.  

In building one's personal quilt library, it may be a serious mistake to arbitrarily exclude all of the quilt manuals or "how to make" quilt books, especially if those books contain original designs and new techniques.  In the future, the manuals may serve as authentic records for tracing the origins and the dates of various designs and techniques that will appear on later quilts. Among the hundreds of available quilt books one may possibly collect, I believe there are a dozen or so basic texts that should be represented in a quilt historian's personal library.  Just as flour, sugar, eggs, and milk are essential ingredients to be found in a baker's kitchen, so are the following books basic to a quilt historian's library. 

  1. Bowman, Doris. The Smithsonian Treasury: American Quilts. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1991. 
  2. Brackman, Barbara. An Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. Reprint ed. Paducah, KY: AQS, 1993. 
  3. Dunton, William Rush. Old Quilts. Catonsville, MD. By the Author, 1946. (out of print). 
  4. Finley, Ruth. Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1929.  Reprint ed. McLean, VA. EPM, 1992. 
  5. Hall, Carrie and Rose Kretsinger. The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America. Caldwell, ID: Caxton  Printers, 1935. Reprint ed. New York: Dover, 1988. 
  6. Kobayashi, Kei. Shelburne Museum: the Quilt. Tokyo: Gakken, 1985.
  7. Orlofsky, Patsy and Myron Orlofsky. Quilts in America. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974. Reprint ed. New York: Abbeville Press, 1992. 
  8. Peck, Amelia. American Quilts and Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Dutton Studio Books, 1990. 
  9. Peto, Florence. American Quilts and Coverlets. New York: Chanticleer Press, 1949. (out of print). 
  10. .______________. Historic Quilts. New York: American Historical Co, 1939. (out of print). 
  11. Robertson, Elizabeth Wells. American Quilts. Studio Publications, 1948. (out of print). 
  12. Safford, Carleton and Robert Bishop. America's Quilts and Coverlets. New York: E.P.Dutton, 1972.  Reprint ed. New York: Bonanza, 1985. 
  13. Webster, Marie D. Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them. Garden City, NY: Doubleday Page & Co.,  1915. Rev. ed. Perry, Rosalind Webster. Santa Barbara, CA: Practical Patchwork, 1990. 

Cuesta Benberry — "Favorite Quilt Books."  For the past 30+ years I have accumulated a massive library focused on my quilt interests.  In fact, I no longer consider the collection a library.  I now think of it as an archive because of the varied nature of the holdings.  In my archive are thousands of quilt and/or quilt-related books, journals and magazines, quilt photographs, prints and slides, a couple hundred quilt scrapbooks, countless paper cutting quilt and quilting patterns, various original hand-written historical documents, and quilt ephemera.  

All items collected with great love and care were meant to build a vast storehouse of quilt information.  To be asked to choose ten favorite quilt books was a difficult task because I cherish each book in the collection. Ordinarily, my favorite books would be determined by the research project on which I was working at the time.  If, however, I omit specific projects from my thinking, and list the books I just like and find extremely interesting, the following ten books come to mind. 

  1. Christensen, Erwin O. The Index of American Design. New York: Macmillan, 1959. 
  2. Ferrero, Pat, Elaine Hedges, and Julie Silber. Hearts and Hands: the Influence of Women and Quilts on  American Society. San Francisco: Quilt Digest Press, 1987. 
  3. Fitzrandolph, Mavis. Traditional Quilting: Its Story and Its Practice. London: B.T. Basford, 1954. 
  4. Grudin, Eva Ungar. Stitching Memories: African-American Story Quilts. Williamstown, MA: Williams College Museum of Art, 1990. 
  5. Marston, Gwen and Joe Cunningham. Mary Schafer and Her Quilts.  E. Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Museum, 1990. 
  6. Orlofsky, Patsy and Myron Orlofsky. Quilts in America. New York: McGraw-Hill: 1974. Reprint ed. New York: Abbeville Press, 1992. 
  7. Waldvogel, Merikay. Soft Covers for Hard Times: Quiltmaking and the Great Depression. Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 1990. 
  8. Webster, Marie. Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them. Garden City, NY: Doubleday Page, 1915; Rev. ed. Perry, Rosalind Webster.  Santa Barbara, CA: Practical Patchwork, 1990. 
  9. Wilton, Countess of. The Art of Needle-Work from the Earliest Ages. London: Henry Coburn, 1840. 
  10. Woodward, Thomas and Blanche Greenstein. Twentieth Century Quilts, 1900-1950. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1988. 

From my experience, I would like to say a little about building a quilt library.  Be open-minded and receptive to any print information containing the word "quilt"; collect it!  Even if one knows the information in a specific item is spurious, it is still worth obtaining.  Incorrect information has value to the historian, as it is prime evidence one can use later when building a case that holds an opposite viewpoint.  

Do not be intimidated by the size of another person's quilt library.  No one has everything printed about quilts!  I have seen others' collections that at best could be described as miniscule.  Yet in those tiny collections I have seen materials I not only have never seen before, I also did not know of their existence.  I can truthfully say I have never seen collections of any size - huge, moderate-sized or tiny, where I did not find something about quilts absolutely new to me.  There is a tremendous amount of print information about quilts in existence.  Collecting is also an act of preservation that should be encouraged. 

Barbara Brackman —  "My list of 10 books for Quilt Study ... 

  1. Brackman, Barbara. Clues in the Calico: A Guide to Dating and Identifying Antique Quilts. McLean, VA: EPM, 1989. 
  2.  _________________. Encyclopedia of Appliqué. McLean, VA: EPM, 1993.
  3.  _________________. Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. Reprint ed. Paducah, KY: AQS, 1993. 
  4. Finley, Ruth. Old Patchwork Quilts And The Women Who Made Them. Reprint ed. McLean, VA. EPM, 1992. 
  5. Meller, Susan and Joost Elffers. Textile Designs: 200 Years of European Patterns. New York: Harry N.    Abrams, 1991. 
  6. Montgomery, Florence M. Printed Textiles: English and American Cottons and Linens, 1700-1850. New York: Viking, 1970 or London: Thames and Hudson. 
  7. Osler, Dorothy. Traditional British Quilts. London: B.T. Batsford, 1987. 
  8. Schoeser, Mary and Celia Rufey. English and American Textiles from 1790 to the Present. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1989. 
  9. Set of Jeanette Lasansky's Pennsylvania Symposium papers. Lewisburg, PA: Oral Traditions Project. 
  10. Set of Uncoverings. San Francisco: AQSG. 

Dorothy Cozart —  "What an assignment!  As you can see by my early reply, I couldn't get it off my mind until I had decided on the first ten titles I would buy if I was trying to build a collection for the study of quilts.  You will notice that I underlined "titles" because that phrasing allowed me to cheat a little.  

My list does contain only 10 "titles," however, there are actually 23 books on my list.  I could never leave all of the Uncoverings or all of The Quilt Digests off any list of "must-haves."  I do believe that any one interested in a good overview of quilt history for the 19th and early 20th century could not go wrong with my list.  So, having made my apology, here is my list, in no particular order." 

  1. Quilts in America, Patsy and Myron Orlofsky (New York: Abbeville Press, 1992). 
  2. Baltimore Album Quilts, Dena S. Katzenberg (Baltimore: Baltimore Museum of Art, 1981). 
  3. Printed Textiles,  Florence Montgomery (New York: Viking, 1970) out of print. 
  4. North Carolina Quilts, Ruth Haislip Robinson (Chapel Hill, NC: University of NC, 1988). 
  5. Uncoverings 1980-1990, Sally Garoutte and Laurel Horton, editors (San Francisco: AQSG). 
  6. The Quilt Digest 1-5, Michael M. Kile, editor (San Francisco: The Quilt Digest Press, 1983-1987). 
  7. Hearts and Hands, Pat Ferrero (San Francisco: The Quilt Digest Press, 1987). 
  8. Crazy Quilts, Penny McMorris (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1984). 
  9. Clues in the Calico, Barbara Brackman (McLean, VA: EPM, 1989). 
  10. Quilts in Community: Ohio's Traditions, Ricky Clark, George W. Knepper and Ellice Ronsheim (Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill, 1991). 

Katy Christopherson — This assignment is, like that of identifying one's favorite quilt, an impossible task. 

  1. The question of a single "how-to" book gave no trouble; if "only one," The Quiltmaker's Handbook by Michael James (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1978) is it.  One could learn on a desert island what to do.  And knowing how, whether one does it or not, is relevant to the study of quilts. 
  2. Quilts in America by Patsy and Myron Orlofsky (New York: Mc-Graw Hill, 1974) should be read for its scope. (New York: Abbeville Press, 1992.) 
  3. The Pieced Quilt: an American Design Tradition by Jonathon Holstein (New York: NY Graphic Soc., 1973).  Though the author has questioned the scholarship himself, it is the watershed introduction of the quilt as having significance as an aesthetic statement. 
  4. Hearts and Hands: the Influence of Women & Quilts on American Society by Elaine Hedges, Julie Silber and Pat Ferrero (San Francisco: The Quilt Digest, 1987).  One of the first efforts to relate the quilt to the quiltmaker. 
  5. Quilts and Other Bed Coverings in the Canadian Tradition by Ruth McKendry (Toronto: Discovery Books for W.H. Smith, 1979) should be reviewed because of the clear link there revealed between patterns often seen as "American" which this suggests were part of the American scene prior to the Revolution and the great expansion to the West within the states. 
  6. Quilts in Community, Ohio's Traditions by Ricky Clark, George W. Kneper, and Ellice Ronsheim (Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 1991) is the selection from among the quilt projects.  Loyalty might have suggested that I simply select Kentucky.  However, reasons for any choices equally defensible, varied so much.  Additionally, it is clear that any serious student will read them all.  I put the "best" on slips of paper, scrunched them up, tossed them around and then over my shoulder.  Finally, I reached back and picked one up. 
  7. Of the older books: there is no real basis for choosing one over the other from among the work of Bacon, Finley, Kretsinger and Hall, Peto or Webster.  But one should be looked into. 
  8. Uncoverings.  If the study has acquired focus, that should be the basis for selecting one of the series which has been issued annually by the American Quilt study Group since 1980.  Reveals what serious inquiry demands.
  9. Always There: the African-American Presence in American Quilts by Cuesta Benberry (Louisville, KY: The Kentucky Quilt Project, 1992).  The significance of this study lies in its setting the quilts of this culture in a total context. Work over the last decade by anthropologists has often emphasized the African link at the expense of the American reality, and this brings balance to the inquiry.  This should also serve to alert the student to so-called "genres" of quilts and suggest some scepticism of the over-easy attribution of cause without proof which characterizes some studies. 
  10. The QUILT: Stories from the NAMES Project by Cindy Ruskin and Matt Herron (New York: Pocket Books, 1988).  A document of a time, a plague, and of the role of the quilt as catharsis.  It is a compelling part of the entire story. 
  11. and 12. At this point frustration sets in.  Two more in particular vied for inclusion: Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns (Paducah, KY: AQS, 1993) and The Freedom Quilting Bee by Nancy Callahan (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama, 1987). And think of what may be in process!

 Virginia Gunn  — The "assignment" is a great idea and the kind of thing I really like to think about.  Recommended titles for a "Study of Quilts" collection. 

  1. For an overall study of quilts as artifacts of material culture: Patsy & Myron Orlofsky, Quilts in America. Reprint ed. (New York: Abbeville Press, 1992) 
  2. For an overall view of social history connected to quilts, with a slightly feminist perspective: Ferrero, Hedges. and Silber, Hearts and Hands. (San Francisco: The Quilt Digest Press, 1987). 
  3. For an overview of the most recent findings related to quilt study: a complete set of Uncoverings, papers of the American Quilt Study Group (San Francisco: AQSG). 
  4. For understanding of regional research set in a larger perspective: In the Heart of Pennsylvania Symposium Papers and Pieced by Mother Symposium Papers, edited byJeannette Lasansky. (Lewisburg, PA: Oral Traditions Project). 
  5. To get turned on to what is happening and has happened around you: the state project report for your state or the state nearest to you if your state has none.  For example: in my case, living in Ohio, Ohio's Quilts in Community, by Clark, Ronsheim, and Knepper. (Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 1991). For Canadians: Ruth McKendry, Quilts and Other Bed Coverings in the Canadian Tradition. (Toronto: Discovery Books for W.H. Smith, 1979). 
  6. For introduction to the wonderful material that emerges from oral history: Buferd & Cooper, The Quilter's: Women and Domestic Art (New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1978) 
  7. For introduction to the fascinating world of quilt patterns: Hall & Kretsinger's. The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt. Reprint ed. (New York: Dover, 1988) This is, of course, a classic with emphasis on midwestern depression patterns, but it gets one "turned on" to these items.  When addicted, you would need to add works such as Barbara Brackman's, Encyclopedia of Quilt Patterns. (Paducah, KY: AQS, 1993). 
  8. For introduction to the important area of quilt-related textiles: If fabrics intrigue, Meller & Elffers, Textile Designs (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1991) is a terrific new book. 
  9. For an understanding of the rewards of "digging deeply" into the study of one style of quilt: the classic, Dunton, Old Quilts (Catonsville, MD: By the Author, 1946) and more recent, Granick, The Amish Quilt (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 1989). 
  10. For those who are visually and aesthetically oriented (I seem to use over and over again):Safford and Bishop, America's Quilts and Coverlets Reprint ed. (New York: Bonanza Books, 1985) the visuals here remind us of how far we have traveled since this work emerged in the 1970s; or, ... (I find it hard to limit myself to 10) a set of The Quilt Engagement Calendars.  I like to have lots of overall views of quilts to compare to things I run up against. 

Ruth McKendry  — This is an interesting idea, but it is difficult to know what is in print at any one time.  These are the quilt and textile books I found most useful when I was researching my book Quilts and Other Bed Coverings in the Canadian Tradition (Ed. note: This title has an extensive bibliography with which those studying Canadian quilt history should be familiar).  

I used, as well, several early quilt pattern books, account books from village stores, and various history books containing references to early quilting, such as Samuel Strickland's Twenty-seven Years in Canada West, (1853; reprint Edmonton.  M.G. Hurtig, 1969), 295-296.  Also, I obtained information from many, many quilters, some of whom are no longer with us. 

  1. Burnham, Harold B. and Dorothy K. Burnham. Keep Me Warm One Night. Toronto:  University of Toronto, 1972. (out of print) 
  2. Colby, Averil. Patchwork. London: B.T. Batsford, 1971. (out of print) 
  3. _____________. Quilting. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971. (out of print)
  4. Finley, Ruth E. Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them. Reprint ed. McLean, VA. EPM, 1992.
  5. Hall, Carrie A. and Rose Kretsinger. The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt. Reprint ed. New York: Dover, 1988. 
  6. Holstein, Jonathan. The Pieced Quilt, a North American Design Tradition. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1973.  (Ed. note: US publication omits North in title. Both are out of print). 
  7. McKim, Ruby. 101 Patchwork Patterns. Reprint ed. New York: Dover, 1962. 
  8. Montgomery, Florence M. Printed Textiles, English and American Cottons and Linens, 1700-1850. New York: Viking, 1970. (out of print)
  9. Orlofsky, Patsy and Myron Orlofsky. Quilts in America. Reprint ed. New York: Abbeville Press, 1992. 
  10. Safford, Carleton L. and Robert Bishop. America's Quilts and Coverlets. Reprint ed. New York: Bonanza Books, 1985. 

Merikay Waldvogel  — This is a good idea.  I'll be anxious to see what shows up on the lists.  If I were trying to build a collection for the study of quilts, these are the first ten purchases I would make: 

  1. The complete set of Uncoverings (Volumes 1-12). San Francisco: AQSG. These volumes offer a wide range of topics with extensive notes and bibliographies. 
  2. Brackman, Barbara. Clues in the Calico; a Guide to Identifying and Dating Antique Quilts. McLean, VA: EPM, 1989. Contains well-researched facts about quilt styles, construction, and fabrics. 
  3. Brackman, Barbara. An Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. Lawrence, KS: Prairie Flower Pub., 1979-1984. Book is unwieldy, but it is an invaluable resource for information on published patterns.  (Ed. note: Reprint ed. Paducah, KY: AQS, 1993 is not unwieldy).
  4. Montgomery, Florence. Textiles in America, 1650-1870. New York: Norton, 1984. Well-researched material on the development of the textile industry. 
  5. Affleck, Diane L. Fagan. Just New from the Mills: Printed Cotton in America. North Andover, MA: Museum of American Textile History, 1987. 
  6. Osler, Dorothy. Traditional British Quilts. London: B.T. Batsford, 1987. Written and researched by a native-born English quilt authority. 
  7. Orlofsky, Patsy and Myron Orlofsky. Quilts in America. Reprint ed. New York: Abbeville Press, 1992. 
  8. Ferrero, Pat, Elaine Hedges, and Julie Silber. Hearts and Hands: the Influence of Women and Quilts on American Society. San Francisco: Quilt Digest Press, 1987. The best overview of the sociological aspects of quilt history. 
  9. Lasansky, Jeannette. In the Heart of Pennsylvania: 19th and 20th Century Quiltmaking Traditions. Lewisburg, PA: Oral Traditions Project, 1988. Important articles of Crazy quilts, appliqué quilts, and fundraisers. Good example of oral interview form, too. 
  10. Cooper, Patricia and Norma Bradley Buferd. The Quilters: Women and Domestic Art. New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1978. This book set me off on my great quilt research adventures when I read it in the 1970s

Ed note: Xenia Cord posted her list in November 2001.  Here is her comment:

This is my recommended reading list - there is plenty of variety here
from which to pick & choose:

1.  Orlofsky, Quilts in America (dated but seminal)
2.  Kiracofe, The American Quilt
3.  Granick, The Amish Quilt
4.  Brackman, Clues in the Calico
5.  Trestain, Dating Fabrics
6.  Adamson, Calico & Chintz
7.  Montgomery, Printed Textiles 1700-1850 (O.O.P.)
8.  Warren & Eisenstadt, America's Glorious Quilts (Museum of American 
Folk Art holdings)
9.  any volume by Waldvogel
10. any of the Symposia Papers edited by Jeannette Lasansky (Pieced By
Mother-2 vols, On the Cutting Edge, In the Heart of Pennsylvania-2 
vols, Bits & Pieces) 
11.  any/all of the now 21 volumes of research papers of the American  Quilt Study Group, in their annual journal Uncoverings, or Quiltmaking in America, Beyond the Myths, (selected AQSG writings, ed. Laurel  Horton) 
12.  Any/all of the state search volumes; some unevenness in quality, but each is a learning experience. A list of these can be accessed at: http://www.booksandoldlace.com/quilting/StateQuiltHistoryBibliography.htm (the truly addicted join the American Quilt Study Group - you can reach them for information at: AQSG2@unl.edu) 

And finally, we have the books recommend by list members themselves.  Click on the hyperlinked title for more information.

  1. All Flags Flying; The Great American Quilt Contest and Festival

  2. The American Quilt

  3. American Quilts and How to Make Them

  4. Americas Quilts

  5. Clues in the Calico

  6. A Gallery of Amish Quilts; Design Diversity among the plain people

  7. Gee's Bend

  8. Hands All Around

  9. Hearts and Hands

  10. Homage to Amanda

  11. New Discoveries in American Quilts

  12. Patchwork Souvenirs of the 1933 Worlds Fair

  13. Patchwork Quilts

  14. A Piece of My Soul

  15. The Romance of Double Wedding Ring Quilts

  16. The Quilt Encyclopedia Illustrated

  17. QuiltTreasures of Great Britian: The Heritage Search of the Quilters Guild

  18. Quilting by Averil Colby

  19. Quilts in America

  20. The Quilts of the British Isles

  21. The Quilts of Gees Bend

  22. The Quilts of Tennessee

  23. Samplers

  24. SoftCovers for Hard Times

  25. SouthernQuilts

  26. Traditional British Quilts

  27. Treasury of American Quilts

  28. Twentieth Century Quilts 1900 - 1970; Women Make their Mark

  29. White Work 


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