A Century of Quilts: America in Cloth (Feature)

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November 30, 2001

In the last century, Americans embraced an ever-changing lifestyle that saw daily transportation evolve from the horse and buggy to the automobile. Air travel moved into the space age and the telephone and television became a part of everyday life. The art of quilting also experienced changes in technique, fabric and design, but the reasons for creating quilts and the stories behind them remain surprisingly similar to those of the past.

A Century of Quilts: America in Cloth, airing on PBS as part of the December 2001 membership drive (check local listings), celebrates quilting by featuring some of the best American quilts of the 20th century, the stories behind their creation and the quilters as they work.

In May 1999, The Alliance for American Quilts, the American Quilt Study Group, the International Quilt Association and the National Quilting Association formed a search team to find the century's best American quilts. Twenty-four representatives from these four groups, along with five additional panelists, representing the corporate sponsors of the project, formed a search team.

Each of the panelists nominated up to 100 quilts with the first round of nominations totaling 1,720. Through successive rounds of balloting the list narrowed until only 100 remained. Many of these exquisite quilts were featured together exclusively, and for the first time ever, at the 1999 International Quilt Festival in Houston.

A Century of Quilts: America in Cloth travels across America to visit many of the notable quilters who created some of these quilts. The program captures them at work in their studios and homes and telling the stories behind the creation of these magnificent treasures. As unique as the quilts themselves, the stories are tales of a creative spirit spurred by love, sorrow, joy, fond memories, proud cultural ties, love of nature, religious beliefs and a need for artistic expression. Together, the quilts and their creators weave the story of how quilting transformed throughout the last century and emerged as an evolving art form.

In the program, Jane Sassaman tells the story of her quilt 'Willow.' The design was inspired by an image of an embroidered, Elizabethan jacket and named for her daughter. According to Sassaman, making the quilt was a way to pay homage to other needle workers and to create a quilt for her daughter--one that would impart an optimistic message for her to be less serious and celebrate life more. Other notable American quilters featured in the program include Miriam Nathan Roberts, Jonathan Shannon and Faith Ringgold.

The quilts, as varied as their creators, preserve history, record events, tell stories and create beauty in myriad colors, textures and cloth that reflect the variety and many facets of the quilters themselves. These American quilters continue to preserve an art form that eloquently represents the diversity of American life and the continuing tradition of quilting in new and different ways.

Funding for A Century of Quilts: America in Cloth is provided by Pfaff Sales and Marketing, (Pfaff Sewing Machines) Thirteen Moons Gallery, the Alberta Kimball Foundation, Wisconsin Public Television viewers and PBS.