A Common Thread

The art of embroidery and quilting shows how artists learned and lived back in the day.

Courtesy of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg

Most times, we don’t pay attention to bed coverings like quilts unless we’re shopping for a new one. Of course, the one your grandmother made as wedding gift or other special occasion still brings a smile to your face. But Colonial Williamsburg’s two latest exhibits will make you want to get your own thread and needle out and start stitching.

“These exhibits show the great American society of the past and explores the wonderful regional diversity, as well,” says Kimberly Smith Ivey, Colonial Williamsburg’s senior curator of textiles.

Courtesy of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg

Stitched in Time: American Needlework is open at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and features nearly 60 examples of bedrugs, whitework, embroidered hand towels, quilted petticoats, samplers, mourning and commemorative needlework, crewelwork, needlework with religious and geographical influences as well as sewing accessories.

At the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, an entirely new rotation of quilts, including most that are newly acquired and never before displayed, can be seen in The Art of the Quilter which opened in 2021. 

“As a curator, my job is to collect pieces that speak to many different peoples. In hopes that one day it would connect with someone,” says Ivey.

These textile samplers are more than just fabric with the alphabet or bible verses on them. “They really do attest to the lives of these girls who made them. Without the work the American decorative (Folk) arts would be much the poorer,” notes Ivey. It also shows the western migration of these arts and of the teachings of some regions.

Whether the artist was rich, poor, free, or enslaved, the common thread was, well, thread in these women’s lives. it crossed economic, social, and geographical boundaries and borders. “It reinforced societal and religious expectations of a young girl at the time,” says Ivey. A framed sampler was even proof of the family’s social standing. And maybe you’ll find some inspiration or see something familiar from your own family history.

The Art of the Quilter will remain open to the public until August 2023, while the American Needlework will be on exhibit until 2025. ColonialWilliamsburg.org

Courtesy of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg
Konstantin Rega
A graduate of East Anglia’s renowned Creative Writing MA, Konstantin’s been published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Poetry Salzburg Review, www.jonimitchell.com, the Republic of Consciousness Prize (etc.). He contributes to Publisher Weekly and Treblezine.
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