Saturday, June 5, 2010

Honoree Shiela Betterton

It’s always exciting when a museum with a major quilt collection publishes a book showcasing the quilts in its collection. The American Museum in Britain published just such a book this winter—Classic Quilts from The American Museum in Britain (ISBN 13: 9781857595987)

[Click on highlighted words in green to follow links to more information.]

The Quilters Hall of Fame feels a special connection with The American Museum in Britain due to its relationship with the museum’s founding textile advisor, Shiela Betterton. Betterton created the museum's original quilt collection. As a result of her work with the collection—as well as her research and writing in the field of quilt history, Betterton was inducted into The (International) Quilters Hall of Fame in 1999.

Betterton, who was born near Newcastle upon Tyne in 1920, passed on December 26, 2008, at the age of 88. However, we are fortunate that this intrepid quilt historian was able to take part in this book before passing on. Indeed, she wrote the Preface to the book.

Left: Shiela Betterton is interviewed by Karen Alexander in September 2007 at The American Museum in Britain.

Classic Quilts from The American Museum in Britain has a little of everything when it comes to American quilts for the book’s authors, Kate Hebert and Laura Beresford, elected to showcase a wide range of examples from the museum’s collection. This particular collection of quilts is considered by many to be the finest collection of American quilts outside the USA.

Although the book is not an in-depth quilt history book, the photos of the quilts are gorgeous and the notes about each quilt give you basic information which offers a good starting point for further research, if you are so inclined.

There are two primitive basket designs to be found on two of the appliqué quilts in this collection that I found particularly delightful. See page 29 for one in the border of Miss Porter’s Quilt (1777 Eastern Seaboard) and page 35 for another in the border of an 1850 Rose of Sharon (New York State).

One of my favorite things about this book is its close-ups of the fabrics in several of the quilts, in particular the Mosaic quilts on pages 52-55, both which happen to be from Virginia.

The close-up photos of fabrics is a real plus for anyone wishing to learn how to date quilts by studying the fabrics they contain. However, I am ever wanting more, especially of the quilt shown on page 96 (Log Cabin Quilt – Barn Raising Variation from Vermont) whose back is made up of sixty (7 inch square) blocks. The blocks themselves consist of half-square triangles. The variety of fabric scraps used in this quilt's back would delight any lover of early cotton fabrics.

Interested in further fabric studies? Click here to see the excavation of a quilt within a quilt. Click here to see a Dye History Timeline.

This books is a must buy for its photos alone in this writer’s opinion.

Karen B. Alexander
Quilt Historian
Past President
The Quilters Hall of Fame

Star of Bethlehem Quilt (c. 1835) on back cover of Classic Quilts from The American Museum in Britain

PS: You can read more of my quilt research by clicking here.