Date of this Version
The documenting of thousands of quilts by small groups throughout the United States was one of the most notable parts of the 1980s surge of interest in quilt history. The purpose of this study was to examine the phenomenon of quilt documentation projects of the 1980s and to gain a better understanding of the social and cultural factors that influenced the organizers and the participants. Inspired by the success of the Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc. in 1983, organizers in thirty-five other states initiated or completed statewide documentation projects by 1989. This study examined five of those statewide projects—the Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc., the Texas Sesquicentennial Quilt Association’s Texas Quilt Search, the North Carolina Quilt Project, the Nebraska Quilt Project, and the Kansas Quilt Project. Utilizing archival materials (project proposals, grant proposals and reports, training materials, and correspondence) for each project and media coverage (local, state, and national), this study investigated the goals, objectives, and motivations of the project organizers and the project participants. In order to gain insights into the motivations of the participants in the projects, the content of media coverage prior to documentation days was compared to the media coverage after documentation days. In addition correspondence between the general public and project organizers was examined. The findings of the study point to a convergence of cultural influences in the 1970s and 1980s that created a climate for the statewide quilt documentation projects. Specifically, the project organizers responded to the success of the Kentucky Quilt Project, the increased interest in family, state and national heritage, the increased interest in ethnic and women’s history, and the quilt revival of the 1970s. Participants responded to the opportunity to share and record their individual family histories in a permanent archive, the opportunity to celebrate their own accomplishments or those of their female ancestors, and to the nationwide revival of interest in quilts and quiltmaking traditions.