Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Looking for Judy Muller

About two years ago I found a lovely quilted jacket size 8 that had been donated to a local organization and featured in their annual fund raiser Christmas Bazaar. I was thrilled to discover it and equally thrilled that no one had yet snatched it up. Now I am on the search for the maker. The label inside reads "Judy Muller Original".  It's quite possible it is someone here in the Pacific Northwest.

If you know a Judy Muller who could have made this jacket, please leave a comment. Thanks so much! If one can document a quilt, why not a quilted jacket!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Quilts as Memorials - Remembering 9-11

Quilts have a long history as memorials and that has only increased since the last quit revival began in the 1970s and really took off again in the 21st century.  The 9-11 memorial quilts and the Quilts of Valor are just some of the most widely publicized examples.

After reviewing all of the 9-11 quilts that were posted on the ArtQuilt list in October 2001, I sat down and tried to write about my feelings. I was living in Northern Virginia at the time, just outside Washington, D.C.  It was a very traumatic time for all, to say the least. Given that Washington had also been attacked, rumors were rife. 

As a 20 year old, I had lived thru an attempted coup d'├ętat in East Africa in January 1964. That was shortly after Kennedy's assination. I thought the world had fallen apart on both occasions. 

So much terror and tragedy has transpired in world history since 1964 but nothing really holds a candle to the atrocities of the 20th century when millions and millions died under incredibly repressive government regimes and wars. 

All I could think of on 9-11-01 was that it had finally reached American soil as well. A new generation of Americans were now experiencing a wake-up call just like we did when Kennedy was assassinated. How very sad.

I mostly stick to prose and research...very very seldom write poetry. But that night the prose just didn't "work."  So I had to resort to poetry, clumsy and rough though it may be.  (Hiaku it is not!) I use quotation marks liberally on purpose.

At the time I wrote it, I sent it to all the artists on the Art Quilt List who had made a quilt to hang in Houston at Karey Bresenhan's invitation. I decided to post it here this -- the 11th year anniversary -- in honor of all those who perished in 9-11, as well as all those who were injured or helped with the clean-up.

"America From the Heart: Quilters Remember September 11, 2001" hung in Houston in October 2001.

Here is another blogger's take on the event. Don't trust all the links on that blog though. Some are way out of date.  Here is a pinterest site with more 9-11 quilt photos. 

See many of the arts made to memorialize this day by clicking here.

Karen Alexander

Independent Quilt Historian

Reflections on 9-11 ArtQuilts

How moving each piece of  9-11 art
meditation comes effortlessly as I gaze …
piercing deeply
its metaphorical nature;
expressing that which has no words
yet in spite of
"no words"
striking at the heart of
"unconscious knowing"
in both
heart and head

Hearts and heads
another “attempt”
at metaphor…
expression of "universal truths"
that in fact
know “no boundaries”
never can be

“universal truths”
ever be
than a fleeting moment
even in

when "captured"
even for
that “moment”
many do not
recognize it
for what it is;
Again and again “truth”
"invisible in our midst
"hidden behind the veil"
of our blind unknowing.

“Universal truths”

a closed mind…
any specific
or philosophy…

“Concretized” vision
too easily
in its
for “natural”
in the
of the

No artist need apply here.

What happens then
when “truth” is
The concretized

pulverized concrete blowing in the wind.

the images
of “horror”
become carriers
“universal truths”

once again
September 11
to ask
with no answer…
"Will we humans ever
'get it'…..
'once and for all'?"

Will we
the "vaccine"
future generations
the death and destruction
that comes out of
"concretization" of
“spiritual” truths…
“pulverized concrete blowing in the wind?”

I think not.
simply continue
to "dance the dance”
of individual

to “fruition”
wholely unique


“One” human being at a time
one “random” act at a time
one “moment” at a time
the “endless” cycle
“being and becoming.”

nothing new

I do not ask
“expecting” answers…

it's just me
because this is
how I express
creative impulses…
how I
attempt to
and process
the “shock”
the "senselessness"
of such
projected onto others.

Thank you,
each one of you,
not just for your 9-11 art-quilts,
but for all those
wonderful “images”
that you
bring forth
giving us not only
a “glimpse” of your
creative “imagination,”
a chance
to take a deeper
at our own "stuff."

You dare us
“responsible” ownership
the paradoxes
“saints” and “demons”

Karen B. Alexander
October 27, 2001

My little memorial wall hanging Sept 2012 made simply from scraps from my scrap bag.

9-11 Memorial websites:

Voices of September 11

World Trade Center Memorial Quilt

Stitchers, Through Internet, Touch, Care, Heal

"With Needle and Thread, Precious Lives We Hope To Mend."

Friday, September 7, 2012

Virginia Avery's Passing

(page from "Ladies Circle Patchwork Quilts", Feb 1997, article by Jinny Avery)

On a very personal note...honoring a friend;
the Legendary Jinny Avery, 1912-2012

The photo below was taken in 1988 when the Enchanted Quilters of Lopez Island, Washington brought Jinny to the island to teach a class on art clothing. My mother-in-law (Wini Alexander) is the 2nd person on the left in a green shirt and is the one responsible for getting me into quilting in the first place. Wini passed away in August 1999.

I was not yet involved with The  Quilters Hall of Fame when the above photo was taken and would not be for another 10 years. I discovered the photo in my MIL's files about 2005 just as I was beginning to work with Jinny on the plans for her Induction into the hall of fame. I had never known that she had visited the island, much less my in-law's home. Indeed, I now look out upon this very scene every day of my life as I work at my computer for my husband inherited the house they would later build around this very deck that now holds all my quilt stuff!

As a result of working so closely with Jinny over many months for almost a year on behalf of The Quilters Hall of Fame on her Induction process  (2005-2006), I became close personal friends with Jinny. The fact that both Jinny and my husband were jazz musicians also brought us closer together. I will never forget my visit to her home in the fall of 2006 on my way home after a fabulous two week textile study tour to France. She was so excited for me and wanted to hear all about what I had seen and learned and insisted that I stop in New York on my way home and stay with her so she could hear all about the trip. She had a way of making you feel like one of the family instantly.

At home September 2006
Notice the pin at Jinny's throat. It reads "IT'S OK"

Notice the pin on Jinny's garment. This pin had a very special significance in Jinny's life. It came into her life sometime after her husband died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving her with 4 children to support and raise. Several years later she  experienced the unexpected loss of a son as well.  As a result of the life-lessons she learned from these losses and challenges in her own life, Jinny inspired all who knew her to live life with gusto. I have never forgotten this pin and her take on life. She wore the pin everywhere on everything. It continues to inspire me today.

The pin.

My goodies from my textile study tour to France all spread out on
the sleeper sofa in Jinny's living room. She was such a generous friend
and wanted to hear all the details of my trip.

With Jinny in her home.

 Jinny was "only" 93 at the time of my visit and you would have thought she was 63 for she drove us to the train station to catch the train into the city, something she frequently did on her own! We three (Jinny, myself and her other house guest Deborah) hopped the late afternoon train into New York City to attend a gallery opening of the work of a long time friend of Jinny's, Marilyn Henrion.

After the exhibit opening, Donna Wilder drove us across New York City and out to Westchester where we had dinner. To go out to dinner -- to do anything with Jinny Avery --- was one incredibly FUN TIME! What an amazing woman she was! What a spirit and zest for life she had! 

Dinner in Westchester after the exhibit open in New York.
L-R: Jinny Avery, her house guest friend Deborah,
Donna Wilder, Karen Alexander

This is a delightful piece Jinny made based on a cartoon that one of her friends drew 
to celebrate the  King Street Stompers, a group she had jammed with and 
performed with publicly on occasion for over 50 years.

September 6th I received the news that Jinny passed away that morning, just three weeks short of her 100th birthday. A year ago, before I knew I would have a much awaited grandson due at this time, I had planned to fly back to New York for Jinny's 100th birthday party. She was so looking forward to that party and for awhile we all thought she just might make it. But sadly, she left us today. 

But never fear, Jinny....Gary and I will still be celebrating come September 29 from across the country!  And we know you will be present in SPIRIT wherever the celebrating is taking place!!!

To read more about Jinny's professional life, read my tribute to her on The Quilters Hall of Fame blog by clicking here. There you will also find links to two video interviews that exist of Jinny and her professional work.

Adieu, dear friend.

PS: Below are photos of Jinny's retrospective exhibit that our TQHF team put together for her induction into The Quilters Hall of Fame in July 2006.

Photo on right by Amanda Little

Jinny Avery inspects Come to the Cabaret.

Right: Bog Coat Goes to a Party. 

It was pure joy to have the opportunity to hear and see Jinny play the piano with a Dixieland-style band, including my husband Gary on clarinet, at her Induction into The Quilters Hall of Fame in July 2006. Gary, a jazz musician all his life, admired her talent so much and enjoyed exchanging emails with her occasionally.  He told me after the jam session that Jinny was clearly the best musician on the stand that day!  

Gary is also a jazz and classical DJ on our local radio station.  Today he just played the New World Symphony at 2:15 (Pacific Time) on his classical program, and then he will play a solo jazz piano version of “Going Home” (from that symphony), dedicating it to Jinny. Then he will play about 20 minutes of music from Jinny’s 2011 album, “It’s OK” (recorded when she was 98 !) during the first 30 minutes of his jazz program, from 3:00 to 3:30 Pacific time. If you have access to the internet, you can listen to the show live Friday afternoon, September 7 at  Once on the Website, just click on the words, “LISTEN LIVE” TO TUNE INTO THE STREAM.

Jinny, we salute you, grand lady that you are!

Karen Alexander

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Prince's/Princess Feather - Hats or Trees?

What inspired the Prince's Feather Quilt pattern, feathers on hats 
or trees, i.e. date-palm or coconut palm trees? Or was it something else altogether?

(Sold by eBay seller vintageblessing in 2011)

An Indiana Princess Feather...
or is it...

This was once a fabulous Princess Feather with very fine quilting.
If use is a sign of love, it has been well loved.

From wence does the quilt pattern Princess Feather originate? 

Very good question and one quilt historians have debated for some time.

Barbara Brackman has a photo in her book "Clues in the Calico" of one of the earliest variations of this pattern that I am aware of.  This particular quilt is in the Helen F. Spencer Museum of Art and is dated 1818 in cross-stitch on the quilt, always very helpful in establishing the emergence and evolution of a particular pattern.

Although this dated 1818 quilt is listed as a Princess Feather, I see a much greater similarity to the Prince's Feather-Polygonum orientale plant than a plumed feather as later variations of the pattern would take.

Click here to take a peak at the various plants that could have inspired this pattern...or at least its name! This website has quilt photos interspersed with the photos of the plants!  Here is one titled "Love-lies-bleeding". Do you think that would be melodramatic enough for a mid-19th century young woman?

 Now take a look again at the detailed close-ups of the 1818 quilt by Mary Somerville at the Spencer Museum website.  Here is one of the central medallion but the website has even closer details of the foliage around the central figure. To my eye, this particular quilt is about plants, not feathers. Did Mary Somerville name the quilt herself or was it named by a later generation?

Gift of Dorothy Jewell Sanders to KU Spencer Museum of Art

The Evolution of a Pattern

It's interesting to see the evolution and variation of this pattern thru the years. After 1850 it seems to be rendered in red and green on a plain muslin ground the majority of the time, with occasional accents of orange, yellow or blue of some kind.

from Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Applique available thru C&T Publishing

Here is an 1873 variation; and a link to another that looks a little more like mine but is still unique. Here is still another variation where the feathers are made to look more like a string of hearts.

Some think it resembles the plumes royalty once wore on their hats and wonder if Queen Victoria influenced the popularity of the pattern.

Robin W. Doughty writes in Feather Fashions and Bird Preservation: A Study in Nature Protection, “With sentiment, exhibitionism, or a confusion of both prevailing, women donned feather trimmings in every decade of the last [19th] century, particularly after 1850. In this later period, every hat worn on the street could almost be counted upon to boast a pair of wings.”

When I discovered this photo of Victoria's mother, whose to say it wasn't she who started the earlier fad that led to the Princess Feather quilt pattern!

In fact, shortly after Queen Victoria’s accession to the English throne in 1837, bird of paradise and egret “ospreys” became very popular. By 1875, the heads of English women boasted entire birds. In addition, it was believed that no lady was completely dressed without a fan of marabou, peafowl, pheasant or pigeon plumage mounted upon a tortoise-shell handle.

Brackman once mused aloud during a quilt dating workshop she was doing for TQHF in Marion, Indiana, if there might be some connection between the surge in popularity in this pattern after 1850 and the Hungarian revolutionary Lajos Kossuth's visit to the U.S. in that same decade.

Kossuth became an American darling in the 1850s and was supposedly famed for wearing a plumed hat. He was also apparently known to have caused many a woman to swoon.

Unfortunately I could find no close-up photo of Kossuth in a plumed hat, but here is a link to a very short article on the history of the plumed hat.

Here is yours truly at Barbara Brackman's induction into The Quilters Hall of Fame in 2001. 
A little bird told me that a coterie of BB's friends were going to wear hats. This is one I found at an 
antique shop on my drive from Virginia to Indiana to attend Barbara's Induction.  
This also happens to be my vision of the perfect Kossuth hat!

Yes, there is more! This is a long blog post so bear with me!

Here is the cover of the 1866 Godey's book as well as a page from it about working with feathers. This was sent to me by QHL member Stephanie Whitson Higgins.

Isn't Lillian Russell fabulous in her multi-plumed wonder? However, this photo was taken in 1898 so too late to inspire the surge in Princess Feather quilts in the 1850s. Could she have inspired the pattern to continue in polularity? Hmmm.

Or Mae West?

The American Textile Manufacturer commonly called the Textile Colorist began publishing in 1875 and its first issue contained remarks about ostrich feather dyeing. It was WWI that finally ended the overdose on ostrich feathers, although a growing outcry of bird preservationists had already begun by the 1880s.  To see an ostrich feather in order to compare it to the Princess Feather design, click here.

from Brackman's Encyclopedia of Applique

In Stafford and Bishop's "America's Quilts and Coverlets" page 192 is a Princess Feather (below) from the Henry Ford Museum with a ca1810 date (fig. 283 not 286 as stated in the above drawing). This is a very familar pattern.

A little aside. On pg. 193 (fig. 287) of the same book is a  combination of a Princess Feather and the tulip dated ca1825 whose twin, I swear, appears on page 126 of "Fons & Porter Presents Quilts From the Henry Ford" with a suggested date of between 1860 and 1890. However, the the later quilt has some sprinkling of blue flowers wereas the earlier version has no blue at all.

So Who Has the Answers?

There is rarely one absolute answer to the "beginning" date of a quilt design prior to the 1870s.  If we are lucky, we may stumble across a sketch or specific reference to a quilt design in a private letter or a personal diary in our research, but those are rare. Women's magazines were still too few to have much impact on quilt pattern designs until after the American Civil War (1861-1865).

from Brackman's Encyclopedia of Applique

However, we can certainly find plenty of possibilities for design influences even if we don't know who made the first quilt of a specific design, what she called it or why she made it.

Other Possible Design Influences

Could another possible source of resurgent interest in this pattern have come from woven Jacquard coverlets? In Stafford & Bishop's "America's Quilts and Coverlets" there are at last four woven coverlets that have the correct design elements of folage or plumes in them that very much resemble the Princess Feather design. However, these plumes are not assembled in the exact format as we see in the Princess Feather even though the potential design element is there.

The closest format in the woven coverlets to the Princess Feather design I've personally seen is of cocount trees!

This is one tiny segment (enlarged) of the upper third of a woven coverlet seen on page 248 (fig. 375) of Stafford and Bishop, also from the Henry Ford Museum. The pattern is called True Boston Town, c.1840, showing Boston harbor with its merchants ships ready to set sail for China. The upper portion of the design shows the Chinese town and the lower two-thirds of the design show Boston Harbor full of ships.

Getting back to the possible Kossuth influence. 

Kossuth was a colorful and handsome character to be sure. Here are some excerpts from Wikipedia about Kossuth:

From Britain he went to the United States of America: there his reception was equally enthusiastic, if less dignified. Henry David Thoreau commented that this excitement was due to superficial politicians joining Kossuth's political bandwagon. He was the second foreign citizen to make a speech to a joint session of Congress held in the old House chamber (National Statuary Hall), Lafayette being the first....

Having learnt English during an earlier political imprisonment with the aid of a volume of Shakespeare, his spoken English was 'wonderfully archaic' and theatrical. The Times, generally cool towards the revolutionaries of 1848 in general and Kossuth in particular, nevertheless reported that his speeches were 'clear' and that a three-hour talk was not unusual for him; and also, that if he was occasionally overcome by emotion when describing the defeat of Hungarian aspirations, 'it did not at all reduce his effectiveness'. 

Don't you think listening to a three hour speech in an un-airconditioned room in the 1850s would make any woman faint! Of course, if the speech was outside, it might have been another form of heat stroke that did the ladies in given the amount of clothing they had to wear at that time.

Comparing Princess Feather Patterns 

The Quilt Index and the International Quilt Study Center data bases offer the perfect vehicles for comparing and contrasting any quilt pattern.

I pulled up 137 examples of quilts named Princess Feather in the Quilt Index alone. It was interesting to note that Mary Schaffer had indicated on one of the Princess Feather quilts she reproduced that it was "adapted from an 18th century Virginia territory quilt currently housed at Mt. Vernon, VA."

Is anyone familiar with such a quilt at Mt. Vernon?  It would then mean the pattern dates back at least to the late 1700s as a quilt pattern! This is very exciting. I hope to track down this source through the quilt history community network.

(above) eBay 2011

Stella Rubin  -  2011 

(Here are two more fabulous quilts on Stella's here and here.)

eBay 2012 ( I think!)

eBay - Sept 2014
eBay seller - upstatetreasures14 in August 2014
This is the only one with a pillow sham that I personally have ever seen.

Copake-LOT #210 - August 2014

eBay - Nov 2013 - Indian Sari fragment

eBay Oct 2013 - woven coverlet - Princess Feather upper right corner

And this brings me back to my own Indiana Princess Feather!

I found my Princess Feather "rescue" quilt quite unexpectedly in Gem, Indiana, in July 2002. Love the viney border! Click here to see another great viney border.

Gem is an unincorporated town in Sugar Creek Township, Hancock County, Indiana. I was on my way from Virginia to Marion, Indiana with my friend Hazel Carter via Columbus, Indiana where we had stopped to see a quilt exhibit and to enjoy the wonderful architecture in Columbus that this Indiana town is so well known for.

As we continued our drive north on a back contry road, I suddenly spied a sign that read "Gem" and a bell went off.  My Navy Signature quilt dated 1941-1942 has a number of signatures from Indiana, and one of those signatures has "Gem, Ind." written after it!  (You can read more about this Navy Signature Quilt now listed in the Quilt Index by clicking here.)

Until that moment, I did not know where Gem was in Indiana because I had yet to do research on that particular quilt. But, lo and behold, here I was in Gem, Indiana!

So, of course, I just had to buy this Red and Green "rescue" quilt (above) to commemorate the event!


Here is additional info from AQSG member Carol Gebel who has been exploring this pattern for several years. You can read her research paper in Uncoverings 2007 published by the American quilt Study Group.


It was fun to see your blog on the Princess Feather quilt design. I gave a paper on the Princess Feather applique at the 2007 AQSG seminar in Lowell, MA. I agree that many were inspired by the Amaranth plant, also known as Princes' Feather, Princess Feather, Kiss Me over the Fence, Love Lies Bleeding as you say, and Prince of Wales' Feather. Perhaps the source of the belief that the design developed in Great Britain is that last name for the plant that was so popular in Victorian gardens.  However, my research which included reviewing the design as it appeared in British quilt books and contacting quilt historians in Britain determined that it is an American "invention".  Since some of the quilts include flowers on stems between the plumes, it seems that at least those quilters thought of the design as being botanical.  Others may actually have associated it with the Prince of Wales insignia of three upright ostrich plumes. The Princess Feather plant is geographically widespread and varieties are used as a food source.  Has names in many languages around the world.   Anyway, a gorgeous quilt by any name.  Love your "rescue example".  I had 3 Princess Feather quilts when I researched the topic.   I now have 6 and 1 top.  Hope to meet up with you in Lincoln.   Carol Gebel