Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Double Irish Chain, c. 1840, Lambertville, NJ
"For it is in giving that we receive." -Saint Francis of Assisi

Yesterday I received the catalogue from the "Common Threads" exhibition, celebrating the tricentennial of Hunterdon County, N.J. The exhibition was a very special project, curated by longtime friend and mentor Judy Grow, the curator of the Hunterdon County Historical Society.

Judy and I met more than 20 years ago, when she was the owner of Frames & Framers, a do-it-yourself and custom picture framing workshop across the highway from Quakerbridge Mall in New Jersey. Whenever she was in the shop, we chatted about a variety of topics from her husband's magnificent artwork to my involvement with swimming.

One day, Judy had one of her quilts hanging in the shop, and we got to talking about quilts. I told her about my quilt, the red, white and green "New York Beauty" from Kentucky. She was very interested, and asked if I would be willing to lend it for a quilt show at the Prallsville Mills in Stockton, New Jersey.

At first, I was uneasy about the idea of lending the quilt. It was by far my most valuable possession, and irreplaceable. At the same time, I had absolute confidence in Judy, and wanted other people to enjoy the quilt. So I decided to lend the quilt for the show. It was the first time I ever shared a quilt publicly, and it was the same quilt I had hidden from my mother for years, fearing she would give me a hard time for foolishly spending my money. None of my fears had any merit whatsoever, as I would learn.

Needless to say I was delighted to receive the "Common Threads" catalogue yesterday, and so happy for Judy, but I also learned something. Lambertville is in Hunterdon County. I felt a little silly not knowing that, because I spent lots of time in Lambertville when I lived in the Princeton area. I'd always thought it was part of Mercer county.

Then I remembered a quilt- a red, white and green Double Irish Chain made in Lambertville in the 1840s. Mom gave me the quilt years ago, and I wasn't sure where it was. When I located it, I posted pictures for Judy on Facebook. It was never my intent to dangle the quilt in front of Judy after missing out on lending it for the exhibition. Truth of the matter was, I wanted to see if I could find a permanent home for it. Secretly, I hoped there would be an opportunity to donate the quilt, even though it missed the big dance.

Mom and I talked, and we are happy to say the quilt is on its way home, a gift from both of us to the Hunterdon County Historical Society. Even though it missed being in the exhibition by a week, Judy's efforts caused the quilt to surface, and inspired the gift. When an exhibition reveals objects such as this quilt, it is a job well done. For me, it was a chance to pay tribute to the gifts I have received. One of those gifts was the important lesson I learned from Judy all those years ago: share the quilts!

Hexagon Flowers, c. 1970s
"For it is in giving that we receive." Yesterday evening, I went to the Northwest Quilters meeting, and one of my guildmates, a lovely lady named Anne, came over during the break to thank me for looking at some quilts she was trying to sell a few weeks ago. She brought me one of the quilts as a thank you, a gorgeous hexagon flower quilt that I had admired when looking through her collection.

I was overwhelmed by her generosity, very thankful, and stunned to receive such a beautiful gift just hours after deciding to donate the other quilt. There was something magical about the whole experience of yesterday. If you ever have the opportunity to give a gift, don't ask questions. Just do it. There really is no way to describe the feeling of joy, and that may be the greatest gift of all.


I absolutely love this quilt, made by Nancy Tanguay of Warren, Connecticut, and quilted by Monika Krall of Trail, British Columbia. It's so happy, it sings to me. What is it singing?

The quilt is a pictorial rendition of the New York Beauty design, and a wonderful addition to the collection. The first time I saw a pictorial quilt made with New York Beauty blocks was a few years ago, when the Oregon Quilt Project was documenting the iconic Wedding Garden quilt by Jean Wells of Sisters, and I have searched for a pictorial New York Beauty ever since. 

One of the things I love most about Nancy Tanguay's quilt is the big, shining sun in the sky. The sun is a central motif in the New York Beauty patchwork design, but very few people have actually used the design to render the sun. What a brilliant idea, and I also love Monika's swirling quilting. 

Worth noting, Nancy and Monika teamed up to create another quilt in my collection, which was actually the first 21st century New York Beauty I added to my collection a few years ago. That quilt appeared in Quilters Newsletter, and was also part of my exhibitions at the Benton County Museum and the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. 

It was a very important piece to add to the collection because it opened up the whole discussion about how the New York Beauty design evolved with the introduction of foundation piecing in recent years. Having a pictorial is like putting an exclamation point at the end of that sentence. Thank you, Nancy and Monika- the two of you make me very happy!

Monday, April 14, 2014

I'm Looking forward to ____________

I'm looking forward to _________ (fill in the blank).

1) Mom's visit this summer. She is coming from Maine, and we are going to the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show. Her friends Robin and Bill Carter are coming along. Sisters is such a magical place, especially around quilt show time. The Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show is a bucket-list event. How fortunate we are to have this wonderful event here in Oregon every summer.

2) my book. Years of writing, blogging and self-publishing led to the extraordinary opportunity of writing a book with Quiltmania. The book will be about my "New York Beauty" collection and will be the culminating experience of 25 years of collecting and learning.

3) upcoming exhibitions! Once the book is done, I will prepare to exhibit 50 of the quilts at Pour l'Amour du Fil in Nantes - this time next year!! The article in the latest issue of Quiltmania, issue #100, is a very brief preview of things to come. Before I go to France, I will debut my "Modern Materials, Quilts of the 1970s" collection at QuiltCon in Austin, and will also be the featured guest at the Milwaukie Center's 21st Annual Airing of the Quilts.

4) magazine articles. Soon there will be an article in Patchwork Professional, a German magazine. There will also be an article in American Quilter about the Kentucky quilts from my "New York Beauty" collection. I wrote the article especially for American Quilter and the Kentucky based American Quilters Society.

5) visiting the DAR Museum. The Achsah Goodwin Wilkins appliqué counterpane will be displayed at the DAR Museum in Washington, D. C., as part of a major exhibition of quilts from Maryland and Virginia. I will be attending the event to help celebrate the gift of this object to the museum, and look forward to seeing it in its new home.

6) more projects! There are so many ideas flying around right now, it's crazy. It is wonderful to be approached by so many smart, talented people who want to work together. I now have a bucket list of potential collaborative projects. Hard work really does pay off. But the thing about hard work is, it generates opportunities for more hard work. I say, "bring it!"

If you had to fill in the blank for "I'm looking forward to ____________" what would you have to say? Leave a comment below, and I will look forward to hearing your good news!

Friday, April 11, 2014

readability, and my first Oregonian article

applique counterpane, c. 1820, Achsah Goodwin Wilkins 

I love having the opportunity to write for a variety of publications. My first article written for The Oregonian is now online and will appear in print before end of the month. The article is about investing in collectible quilts. Click here to read it.

Today I posted a link on Facebook, and there was some interesting discussion about reading levels. I wanted to talk a little about that in today's blog. When you work in journalism and publishing for a long time, there are certain practices that are part of the process, but it's easy to forget, people usually do not know about these practices. Running readability tests on finished copy is one of those practices.

Mass media publications are typically written at an eighth grade reading level, and that is not meant to be an insult to anyone who is educated beyond the eighth grade. I appreciate it because it makes newspapers and magazines very quick and easy to read, and easily digested.

For me, the most interesting aspect of readability statistics is how the reading level relates to an academic writing style. Last week I was reading an online article written by two quilt historians. The article was barely readable in my opinion. After the Facebook discussion today, and running a readability test on my own copy, I was curious to see how my writing compared to the other article.

my article
article written by quilt historians
When I compared the two sets of statistics, it was easy to see why the article written by the quilt historians was such a struggle to read. First, it was twice as long as the typical magazine or newspaper article. There were more sentences per paragraph and many more words per sentence than in my article.

Most enlightening were the readability statistics. The Flesch Reading Ease score was below 40 in the article written by the quilt historians. In my article, it was already on the low side at 56.2. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level for my article was 9.3, ninth grade. The other article was written for a 12th grade level.

That's a very significant difference. It speaks directly to the reasons why quilt history has such difficulty reaching the mainstream, and is also why I am able to easily communicate to a mass audience. As a side-note to the discussion about readability, it is worth mentioning that most mass media outlets use AP style, whereas academic writing uses Chicago style.

During the last year, as opportunities have come my way more and more often, folks have said they do not understand why some people seem to have all the luck when it comes to getting published. It's not luck. Readability is one of the main reasons why I get many of the opportunities that others do not.