Massachusetts quilts

Editorial Staff

Recently more than two dozen of the most significant quilts discovered to date by the Massachusetts Quilt Documentation Project went on view at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell in the exhibition Massachusetts—Our Common Wealth: Quilts from the Massachusetts Quilt Documentation Project, which runs through September 20. So far, some six thousand quilts have been documented as a result of this fifteen-year-long effort to find and record examples made throughout the state’s history.  

As the quilt and textile scholar Lynne Z. Bassett writes in the exhibition’s accompanying catalogue, it is not known when Massachusetts women began to make their own bed quilts, but from the early 1700s teachers of needlework advertising in Boston papers offered instruction in quilting in the English and French styles. A distinctive Massachusetts style of quilting emerged by about the mid-eighteenth century. No longer confined to the rigid framed center medallion designs of British whole-cloth quilts, Massachusetts quilters began making bedcovers (and then petticoats and other garments) using glossy worsteds imported from England with designs that reflected the baroque and rococo curves and foliate motifs seen in the furniture, ceramics, metalwork, and printed textiles of the day. By the late 1700s, cotton became the preferred textile, and quiltmaking evolved further to reflect not only the change in fabric, but also the ascendance of the neoclassical style over the rococo.

The exhibition brings together important examples of these early quilts, as well as folk art appliqué pieces, Civil War album quilts, and incredibly detailed whole-cloth quilts, exploring the complete history of quilts and quiltmakers in Massachusetts. It was organized by Vivien Lee Sayre, who has played a key role in the Massachusetts Quilt Documentation Project and currently serves as a member of the project’s steering committee.

Massachusetts—Our Common Wealth: Quilts from the Massachusetts Quilt Documentation Project · New England Quilt Museum, Lowell, Massachusetts · July 17 to September 20 ·

Image: Pieced quilt attributed to Emily Monroe, c. 1865. New England Quilt Museum; photograph by David Stansbury.