'Old World Quilts' Opens Sept. 6

'Old World Quilts' Opens Sept. 6

September 4, 2019

The International Quilt Museum’s newest exhibition shows off the oldest quilts in its collection. 

“Old World Quilts,” which opens Sept. 6, features more than 20 never-before-displayed quilts made in the 1600s and 1700s. 

Made in Asia and Europe, the quilts show how trade routes between the continents shaped the production, materials and design of textiles in Europe. Likewise, the popularity of certain textiles in Europe shaped the market in Asia as makers appealed to their new customers.

“What is most compelling is that these quilts show the connection between Asia, South Asia and Europe that occurred as early as the 17th century,” said Carolyn Ducey, curator of collections. “The design elements we see later in American quilts are the result of global trade that began in the 1600s.”

The museum’s two earliest quilts are included in the exhibition. Probably made in the Mediterranean region of Europe around 1600, the pair of quilts feature yellow silk tops, red backs and ornate designs stitched into the material. While there is little information available about these quilts, they are similar to six other known pieces that survive from the period.

Exhibiting its oldest quilts created some unique challenges. To prevent further damage to these fragile pieces—and to ensure they survive for future generations—the IQM used a variety of display techniques, including flat mounts, slat boards and rolls. 

The museum is taking this opportunity to educate visitors about the care required to preserve textiles. For example, the museum keeps its galleries and storage facilities at a steady temperature and humidity level to prevent environmental damage. The museum also reminds visitors to avoid touching these—and any—quilts on display, because handling historical textiles can cause irreparable breaking in the fibers.

The exhibition officially opens on Sept. 6 in conjunction with First Friday. The IQM will offer free admission to “Old World Quilts” and its other galleries from 4-7 p.m.

“Old World Quilts” is showing in the IQM’s West Gallery through July 12, 2020.