At the 2023 Quilt Celebration at the Quilter’s Hall of Fame in Marion, Indiana, album quilts were the focus of the weekend.
Quilter Hall of Fame Inductee, Elly Sienkiewicz, whose name is synonymous with Baltimore Album quilts joined us by zoom as her good friend, Ronda McAllen, described in detail Elly’s quilts that surrounded us. Album quilts were first made in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1840s. An album quilt consisted of many applique blocks of different designs created by women who then combined them into one large “album.” Blocks were frequently reverse appliqued and represented religious themes, political views, home and family. Floral urns, floral baskets, and fruit baskets were also very popular. Women of the day did not have the right to vote, but they represented their views by appliqueing the symbols of their favored political parties on their blocks such as the Democratic party’s rooster. Many Baltimore album quilt blocks were heavily embellished with embroidery, silk ribbon, and inking. Other album quilts were created with a simpler color palate, generally green and red. After all the blocks were completed, the women would create the top and gather around the frame to quilt it.
It is so fitting that Elly’s first book was entitled Spoken Without a Word. Published in 1983, it was the first pattern book based on 19th century Baltimore album quilts. Now forty years later, she has written 24 books on them and over 50 articles. She has taught the art of applique to countless quilters around the world.
Elly’s album quilts share many of the same techniques and symbols used back in the 1840-1860s: reverse applique, embroidery, ruched roses, inked messages, and family names. Her quilts depict homes, monuments, special events, florals, and wreaths. The exhibit included quilts she made to honor her mother, husband, and two sons. Just like the originals, Elly’s album blocks are created and quilted by many hands.
This year there was not a Heritage Honoree. Instead, Arlan and Pat Christ filled the gallery with green and red quilts from the same 1830-1850s era. Not necessarily Baltimore Album quilts, they were all appliqued and had similar features. It was exciting to see these quilts created 175 years ago and Elly’s modern take on them together.
Arlan and Pat Christ live in Berks County, Pennsylvania where they enjoy traveling the region and purchasing antique quilts. Arlan shared with me that if there are family members, he does not purchase their quilts. He is a firm believer that quilts should be kept in families. Pat is a quilter and spends many happy hours in her sewing studio. They enjoy traveling to quilt shows and museums which provide the opportunity to examine quilts. They are members of many quilt and fabric study groups, including the Midwest Fabric Study group that I joined last year. Pat enjoyed my presentation on quilt restoration I gave last fall at the Shipshewana conference. Every quilt has a story, and retrieving knowledge to secure the heritage of antique quilts has become the prime objective of The Christ Collection. Arlan privately shared a few of their fascinating stories with me. They will be shared with you in future columns! To learn more about the Christ Collection go to: thechristcollection.com
Lois Levihn is the owner of Born Again Quilts restoration studio and shop. If you have a quilt or textile story to share, contact her at 260-515-9446 or firstname.lastname@example.org