Today, more folks are decorating with quilts, since it's an easy way to add color, pattern and a bit of nostalgia to your home. Look at any magazine or home show on TV, and you'll see a quilt displayed on a wall, in a chair, in a vintage/antique cupboard, or in a garden on white wicker furniture.
Appliquéd folk-art quilts have always intrigued me, probably because of their wonderful imperfections and the fact that they're easy to make.
What is "folk art"? Folk art wasn't always taught in universities, but has recently become more popular. It's a type of art that comes from within the artist. It's primitive and irregular, and as you look at the pieces, it doesn’t matter how old they are. It could come from America’s past or present, as a reproduction. Though the value does change from the original. Some folk-art quilts from the 1800s in good condition can bring thousands of dollars, and we think of those as “crazy quilts."
Collecting folk art takes a little bit of, “I don’t care what anybody says, I like it!”
The appliqué shapes often look like a child drew them, and they can be embellished with blanket stitches. "Mistakes" actually enhance the quilt and lets you know it was made by a real person. You may find, for example, that a rooster is bigger than a barn on a quilt, because the quilter wanted the attention to be on the rooster. And it's OK if the trees are red or purple and not green, and the colors are bright. Lines, such as in a fence, may be crooked, and objects off-center. Large quilting stitches are used. All of these details make an appliquéd folk-art quilt unique.
Mary Nelson, a well-known Winona-area quilt artist, started out by taking a community education class to make a baby quilt for her daughter.
"I started quilting by hand, progressed to quilting by a home sewing machine, and on to the purchase of a long-arm quilting machine to quilt my own, and customers’ quilts in 2004, with my own business, Mary's Custom Quilting," she explained.
Nelson continues to take classes through quilt shops and shows to learn new techniques and designs.
"I have learned much through fellow quilters in quilt guilds I belong to, and all have forced me to try new patterns or a new color palette I wouldn’t normally use," she said.
She has done some appliqué, both by hand and machine, but it's not a technique she uses regularly — she prefers "piecing."
"But these days, I am too busy quilting my customers' quilts and don't get any of my own projects done," she added.
You can start a quilt collection by looking for them at antique malls, thrift stores, consignment shops, flea markets, fabric stores and online. If you're looking for small quilted items, look for the same color to add to a collection. You can even add your own handiwork to an item to bring a vintage piece back to life.
“I have often found quilt tops, which are unfinished piecing that has yet to be turned into a quilt, buried under other items at auctions and estate sales and sold within a group of items," Nelson said.
Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at email@example.com.