Sunday, April 23, 2017

the source of scraps

Hawaiian scrap quilt, c. 1970, 54" x 66"
This Hawaiian scrap quilt is coming soon from an Etsy seller in Eugene, Oregon. It is very much like a lot of the examples I have found so far, but the fabrics are slightly older than most. Does that mean it is an older quilt? Not necessarily.

Early in my search, I saw signs of the early mid-century in Hawaiian scrap quilts, particularly the fabrics. My idea about the period of scrap quiltmaking in Hawaii originally included the 1940s and 50s, but up to this point I have not collected any examples from those decades.

My search turned up quilts with fabrics from the 40s and 50s, but their construction pointed more to the 60s and 70s. One of the big differences between the fabrics of the 1940s and 50s and those of the 60s and 70s is the inclusion of DayGlo in the later period.

The garment industry in Hawaii took a big hit in the 1970s as a result of the decline in tourism. As factories closed, scraps were liquidated. When I first learned about the Hawaiian garment industry and its role in the scrap quiltmaking tradition, it explained a lot. It all boiled down to the source of scraps.

1960s and 70s fabrics glowed a bit more than the earlier fabrics
Only a couple years ago, there was practically no information about scrap quilts in Hawaii. At the time, I read a blog written by a collector of vintage Hawaiian shirts who was very alarmed about Hawaiians cutting up valuable vintage shirts for quilts.

In 2016, I published research and debuted the exhibition
"Kalakoa, Discovering the Hawaiian Scrap Quilt"
Fortunately, it is much more likely the quiltmakers got their scraps from the factories. In fact, if you travel to Hawaii today, you can find bags of Hawaiian scraps at many of the fabric shops.

Saturday, April 22, 2017


In 1976, it seemed like everyone was into arts and crafts. Quilts were not part of my family's arts and crafts repertoire, but I feel strongly connected to the quilts of the 1970s, especially the Bicentennial quilts.

This Bicentennial quilt is coming from an eBay seller in Connecticut. It was made by a junior high school student, or students, in 1976. It has the look of a group quilt.

There is a label on the back, but it's not 100% clear from the photo what the label says. Looks like the name of the school. I'll have to report back when it arrives.

The guy with the top hat cracks me up. I wonder if it's supposed to be Uncle Sam...

The backing fabric also looks very interesting. It appears to be a patriotic print, and a nice, large piece of it!

The white felt stars are coming apart in places, an easy fix. Otherwise the quilt appears to be in good condition.

As Bicentennial quilts begin to surface in the quilt marketplace, I am following along with great interest. I'm intrigued with the primitive looking design work, so reminiscent of my childhood experience with arts and crafts, and hallmark of a new generation of quiltmakers.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Bicentennial Quilt by Barb McKie

Bicentennial quilt, 61" x 73" by Barbara McKie, Lyme, Connecticut
This superb Bicentennial quilt by Barbara McKie arrived yesterday. If the name Barb McKie sounds familiar, it's because she made the wonderfully modern black and white "Interacting Pyramids" quilt, the one I found in the antiques shop in Aurora a few weeks ago.

I shared that quilt during show and tell last night at the Portland Modern Quilt Guild meeting. It was by far the oldest quilt there, made in 1974, and in my opinion it was the most modern. There were wide eyes, mouths agape and audible gasps, my three favorite things when sharing an old quilt with a large audience like that.

screen shot from Barb's web site showing one of her photographic textile works
Barb's name is familiar in art quilting circles. When I found the black and white quilt, people asked if it was the same Barb McKie they knew through SAQA. Her most recent work involves photography and quilting, beautiful although a departure from her early work. A well-rounded artist, she works in a variety of media and makes jewelry and wearable art as well as quilts. Her husband Jim is a sculptor.

As a collector of old quilts, I have a soft spot in my heart for the early works, and now I'm lucky enough to have two of them, both from my favorite decade, the 1970s!

The Bicentennial quilt includes a variety of fabrics and techniques. It is machine pieced and hand and machine appliquéd and has cottons, velvets and some felted wools.

The design features a map of the continental United States in silhouette in the center, filled with an American flag, and sections of flags from various countries including Russia radiating from the US map. I was pretty speechless when I first saw it. Many thanks to Barbara for offering me the quilt. I hope people around the world will now see it and enjoy it as much as I do.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Throwback Thursday: My First Book

Three years ago this month, I began working on my first book. It was a bilingual coffee table book, "New York Beauty, Quilts from the Volckening Collection" over 300 pages, published by Quiltmania in France.

Shelly Zegart wrote the Foreword, and I wrote everything else and did all the photography. April turned out to be photography month. Originally, I planned to use the photos I had already done, but one day I was working on redoing a photo, and the ambient light was just perfect.

"Before" photo - not bad, but wait 'til you see the "After"
(click image to zoom in)
As soon as I saw the before and after, I realized I needed to redo all the photos. It was a dreadful realization considering the amount of work and the tight deadline, but I felt energized and optimistic about stepping up my game. I think it may have been Quiltmania's only book working with a photographer who was not part of their staff.

"After" photo - the quilt looks much more like this shot
(click image to zoom in)
It was very important to capture the texture from all the great quilting, no easy task when working with white and light colored surfaces. There was a two-hour window suitable for shooting photos each day, and 70 quilts to shoot and edit in the month.

All the photos were done by the end of April. In May, I wrote most of the text, so the bulk of my content was completed in a two-month period. It was a surprisingly condensed culminating experience after collecting and studying the quilts for a quarter century.

Quiltmania did all of the design, layout and translation, and less than one year after I worked on my contributions, the book was out. It was such a whirlwind, I still have to pinch myself.

The book is about a group of 70 quilts in my collection, all sharing common motifs related to the complex New York Beauty pattern. This motif first appeared in American patchwork quilts in the middle 19th century, before the Civil War.

During the last 25 years, the motif became quite popular, and it was easier to do with the introduction of foundation piecing. The history was a little cloudy, though. There were romantic ideas floating around, largely representing a provincial point of view. I had to do a lot of vetting. Soon, everything was crystal clear.

Being able to handle the quilts in person was most helpful. They answered a lot of my questions. I collected them over a 25 year period, originally because I loved the design but later because I felt they would tell us something. They told us a lot. As I went about my work, I listened to the quilts more than I listened to anyone or anything else. It was the right thing to do. Thankfully, the quilts were very clear communicators, even though they often spoke softly.

I know a lot of people who aren't necessarily into quilts, but they love this book. Most people love quilts, they just don't spend a lot of time thinking about them. My book views quilts in kind of a different way; by collecting examples of a shared motif made all over the United States over more than 150 years, and letting the pieces of the puzzle fall in to place. "New York Beauty, Quilts from the Volckening Collection" is available from the Quiltmania USA website. For more details, click here

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Long Time No See!

1978 RCC Swim & Dive Team
The other day I found a bunch of old photos including this photo from 1978. It is the Riverton Country Club Swim Team. I swam with the team for four summers until I was 15. I hadn't seen most of them in more than 35 years.

1981, I was 15 years old.
We were catching up on Facebook, mostly reminiscing about how much fun we had, peppered with inquiries about the whereabouts of old friends and news of a few who were not with us anymore. We didn't really go into what we were doing now, but I could tell there was a lingering question...

"What's the deal with all the quilts?"

Here's a quick catch-up for anyone who missed the last three decades. In 1989 I bought a quilt. It was only supposed to be one quilt, a great old quilt to make my future house a home. Over the years, I bought other quilts and used them to decorate the walls. Twenty years later, I had a lot of quilts, but no idea what to do with them all, so I started sharing them. People were interested, and soon, things started happening.

2011 - my first exhibition at Benton County Museum
2013 - my first feature article in Quilters Newsletter Magazine
2015 - my first book!
Fast forward to 2017, I am working on my third book. Quilts have toured internationally, appeared in publications globally, and I am preparing an exhibition for this summer at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum. The last three years have been a real whirlwind, but so have the last thirty.

I retired from swimming in 2009, a two-time USMS National Champion,
FINA Masters World Champion and USMS Long Distance All-Star

When I bid farewell to most of my childhood swimming friends, the internet barely existed and there certainly wasn't anything like Facebook. We didn't share our high school swimming experience since I went away to Peddie, and our teams did not compete with each other. I always wondered what it would have been like to stay closer to home and keep closer tabs on friends and teammates. Maybe I would've known where they went.

1980 RCC Swim & Dive Team
It was like reading a book and not getting to read the ending. I always wondered, especially when looking through the old team photos. Over most of the years, I maintained an involvement with swimming, and finally retired in 2009. During those years I always hoped to run into old teammates at swim meets. A few times, I did.

We're all grown up now, even the smallest kids on the team have kids of their own and I am thankful to finally see how things turned out for them. We lost a few friends, and we miss them terribly, but at the same time we want to know and we want to remember them.

Social media is far from perfect, especially in the current political climate. In the last year, social media was even kind of dreadful at times. That's why it is so nice to know social media can serve a better purpose, to virtually reunite a group of people who spent several wonderful summers together as kids. What a great boost it was for me, and I hope it was for them, too. Long time no see!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


Time to pack up some quilts and ship them out to the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. It's a familiar ritual, significantly fine-tuned since my first quilt exhibition in 2011. Since then, my quilts have been to France, Ireland, all across the US and in a number of publications.

These quilts from my 1970s collection are fairly indestructible, but I am packing each one in a plastic bag, chuffed about reusing plastic bags from the last exhibition. Hoping to get all the quilts in two boxes, but it may end up being three. I think I need more packing tape!

By the way, it's tax day. I filed, paid, and received notification that my returns were accepted weeks ago. Happy to can spend my time packing the quilts rather than crunching numbers at the last minute. The exhibition will open sooner than we think, May 26th! For more information about the museum and upcoming events, click here.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"Off the Grid" Opening May 26th

This summer, a selection of works from my 1970s collection will be on display at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

 It is a big honor. Check out this video, even if you already know about the museum, you'll be impressed.

The exhibition is called "Off the Grid, The Bill Volckening Collection" and it'll be up from May 26th to August 27th in the center gallery at the museum. 

The facilities are superb, the staff is top notch and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to exhibit there.

My exhibition will feature discoveries from an important period in American quiltmaking, the 1970s. Many of the quilt historians I have met were learning to make quilts in the 1970s, so they have personal perspective, but they did not necessarily see value in these quilts. Some even scoffed at the polyester double knit materials. 

I recognized the value in these quilts as soon as I began to look at them, and also saw they were incredibly undervalued. The quilts were the products of the great American quilt making revival of the 1970s. They had cultural value.

The museum has excellent space with tall walls and high ceilings, so we will be able to exhibit some of the larger works in the collection. I'm very happy about that. Not every space is able to accommodate such large quilts. So, mark your calendars, May 26th to August 27th, and if you're interested in hearing me speak, I'll be there August 4th for a talk. For more information about the museum and its upcoming events, click here.