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New Pathways into Quilt History written by Kimberly Wulfert, www.antiquequiltdating.com

Quilt Historian Interview with:

Lynne Zacek Bassett
Textile & Costume Historian

1) How do you prefer to be described within the field of textile history?
If you have a business, please tell us about that.

“I prefer "textile and costume historian." I consider quilts and all other "flat” textiles to fall under the term “textile.” I don’t consider myself to be more or less of a quilt historian than a costume historian.”

2) When and where did you begin your serious interest in the history of quilts, textiles or garments?

“It goes back so far, I hardly know when it began. My first opportunity to study historic textiles came in 1983, when I was a summer fellow at Historic Deerfield. I did a research paper on 18th-century crewelwork. I was totally hooked after that experience, but looking back I realize that I was well on my way but just hadn’t recognized it yet.”

3) What “known” individual or group influenced you most and why?

“Jane Nylander has been a career role model for me ever since I first became familiar with her publications when I was an undergraduate student. I admire her work greatly. She held what I considered to be my “dream job”—being curator of textiles at Old Sturbridge Village, and I set it as my goal to do the same. As a friend in the profession, Jane has been very generous and encouraging to me.”

4) Who became your personal mentor as you began your learning?

“Nancy Rexford, a costume historian here in Massachusetts (and author of the book, Women’s Shoes in America), first recognized my affinity for historic costume. She encouraged me to join the Costume Society of America and to focus my career on costume. In 1990, I stepped into her former position as curator of the Northampton Historical Society, where I learned a tremendous amount from the records and extremely well organized costume collection she left behind.

“I also credit my mother, who bought me my first sewing machine when I was six and taught me to sew and embroider. She recognized before I did that I was going to end up doing something with textiles in my career.”

5) What aspect of study were you most passionate about at first? How has this changed over time and why?

“When I had an opportunity to do my first exhibit in 1990, I chose to do quilts. I started collecting quilting books before I bought my first costume book, and the first items I ever tried to sew, besides doll clothes, were quilt blocks. I am still passionate about quilts, but have become equally passionate about historic clothing because of my work with clothing collections in museums. I love how a garment comes to life when it’s properly dressed on a mannequin! At first I concentrated on learning how to date a textile or garment according to its construction and surface design. What I find most interesting now is relating quilts and clothing to the decorative arts and social history of a particular period—they’re all related, and it is so much more rewarding to have a real understanding of WHY a particular quilt or costume looks like it does.”

6) What is your current “pet project”?

“Right now I am concentrating on a large project for the Civil War sesquicentennial, which begins in 2011.  I am partnering with my friend and colleague Madelyn Shaw to produce a traveling exhibition and a book about Civil War textiles, and how textiles were integral to the struggle—from the social and economic tensions between southern cotton plantation owners and northern cotton mill owners, to textiles that kept the soldiers clothed, warm, and dry.  The symbolism of flags, and the role of women on the homefront, who spent every possible moment sewing and knitting garments, rolling bandages, and scraping lint for men on the frontlines and in the hospitals, is an important part of the story.  Through textiles we can understand how the war affected civilians and soldiers, as well as the military and political leaders who generally get all the attention.  And every theme that we explore is first examined through the story of a quilt!  The first exhibition will open at the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, in April of 2012.  Our book, which is to be published by the University Press of New England, will also come out in the spring of 2012.”

7) What aspect of your research or contribution to textile studies has satisfied you the most?

“In 2005, I won the Costume Society of America’s Richard Martin Award for Excellence in the Exhibition of Costume for my exhibit and catalogue, ‘Modesty Died When Clothes Were Born’: Costume in the Life and Literature of Mark Twain, produced at the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Connecticut. The project looked at how Twain’s literature, Victorian culture, and the appearance of late Victorian costume were all intertwined. It was a very fun and rewarding project. I greatly enjoyed rediscovering Twain’s literature, which I had not read since college.

"I’m also very proud of my most recent publications—2009 was a big year for me!  I was the editor and a contributing author of Massachusetts Quilts:  Our Common Wealth (University Press of New England).  This book was the culmination of 15 years’ effort on the part of scores of dedicated volunteers.  I also wrote a couple of book chapters that came out that year.  Picturing Victorian America:  Prints by the Kellogg Brothers of Hartford, Connecticut, 1830-1880  was published by the Wesleyan University Press and has my chapter, “Dressing Romantically:  Clothing in the Kellogg Brothers Antebellum Prints”; this book won the American Historical Print Collectors Society’s Ewell L. Newman Award for being the best book about American prints to be published in 2009.  And I finally published my master’s thesis in 2009,
“The Sober People of Hadley: Sumptuary Legislation and Clothing in Men’s Probate Inventories, Hadley, Massachusetts, 1663-1731,” in Cultivating a Past:  Essays on the History of Hadley, Massachusetts (University of Massachusetts Press)."

8) Within this arena, what would you like to do, but haven’t done yet?

“I want to finish my chapters for the Civil War textiles book I’m working on with Madelyn! I also dream of doing a major exhibition, hopefully with a catalogue, of romantic era costume, integrating the decorative and fine arts with dresses from about 1820 to 1860. 

"I also want to get into as many museum and historical society collections as possible and get their costume and textile collections properly housed and organized, and make them intellectually accessible through accurate cataloguing. There are such treasures in every collection, large and small! Through exhibitions and programs, I want to make the communities which support these museums appreciate their costume and textile collections, which are so often neglected and misunderstood.”

9) Any further comments are invited.

“Support your local historical society! American history, art, and material culture are terribly neglected in our schools and by our government. We are in serious danger of losing our heritage—and I mean every American’s heritage. We cannot replace museum collections or historic buildings, which represent our local and national history, if they are closed, sold off, or destroyed because of neglect or a lack of funding.”


10) Please describe the contributions you have made via books, exhibits, presentations, contests, articles, fabric lines, research papers and the like.

Books

Editor and contributing author, Massachusetts Quilts: Our Common Wealth Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England for the Massachusetts Quilt Documentation Project, 2009.

Textiles for Clothing of the Early Republic, 1800-1850: A Workbook of Swatches and Information, Arlington, Va.: Q Graphics Production Company, 2001.

Editor, What’s New England About New England Quilts? Proceedings of a Symposium at Old Sturbridge Village Sturbridge, Mass.: Old Sturbridge Village, 1999.

Northern Comfort: New England’s Early Quilts, 1780-1850  Nashville, Tenn.: Rutledge Hill Press, 1998. (with Jack Larkin)


Book Chapters

"Dressing Romantically: Clothing in the Kellogg Brothers Antebellum Prints," Picturing Victorian America:  Prints by the Kellogg Brothers of Hartford, Connecticut, 1830-1880  Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.   

"The Sober People of Hadley: Sumptuary Legislation and Clothing in Men’s Probate Inventories, Hadley, Massachusetts, 1663-1731," Cultivating a Past:  Essays on the History of Hadley, Massachusetts Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009.


Exhibit Catalogues

For the Joy of It: Appliqué Quilts from the Judy Roche Collection. Chadds Ford, Penn.: Brandywine River Museum, 2006 (with Deborah Kraak).

"Modesty Died When Clothes Were Born": Costume in the Life and Literature of Mark Twain. Hartford, Conn.: The Mark Twain House & Museum, 2004.

Telltale Textiles: Quilts from the Historic Deerfield Collection. Deerfield, Mass.: Historic Deerfield, Inc., 2003.


Selected Articles

  • “Mark Twain, Horace Greeley, and an 1872 Calico Print.” Blanket Statements. American Quilt Study Group. Summer 2005.

  • "Inspired Fantasy: Design Sources for New England's Whole-Cloth Wool Quilts." The Magazine Antiques. September 2005.

  • "Red Fezzes and Yellow Slippers: Mark Twain and Charlie Langdon in the Holy Land." PieceWork. July/August 2004.

  • "Stenciled Bedcovers." The Magazine Antiques. February 2003.

  • "Just a Housewife,” [roll-up sewing kits]. PieceWork. May/June 2003.

  • "Sarah Halsey’s Mermaid Petticoat." PieceWork. January/February 2003.

  • "Jerusha Pitkin’s Embroidered Coat of Arms." PieceWork. May/June 2002.

  • “A Classical Turn: Fashion in the Time of President John Adams.” White House History. White House Historical Association, No. 7, Spring 2000.

  • “A New England Whole Cloth Quilt.” Blanket Statements. American Quilt Study Group, Summer 2000.

  • “Guard Thy Hours: Bead Watch Chains of the 1830s.” PieceWork. Interweave Press, May/June 2000.

  • “Flowered and Feathered Fantasies: New England’s Early Wool Quilts.” PieceWork. Interweave Press, September/October 1999.

  • “The Needlework of First Lady Grace Coolidge” PieceWork. Interweave Press, July/August 1999.

  • “Of Patriotism and a Family Quilt.” PieceWork. Interweave Press, July/August 1999.

  • “Virtuous Habits of Perseverance: Quilting and the Education of Girls in the Nineteenth Century.” PieceWork. Interweave Press, March/April 1999.

  • “Loom-Woven Bead Chains of the 1830’s.” The Magazine Antiques. December 1995.


Symposium Proceedings

  • “‘..a dull business alone’: Cooperative Quilting in New England, 1750-1850” and “The Foote Bed Rug: Design Influences.” Textiles in New England II: Four Centuries of Material Life, The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife Annual Proceedings 1999. Boston University Press, 2001.

  • “‘Spun me some worsted to quilt with’: New England’s Early Wool Quilts.” What’s New England About New England Quilts? Symposium Proceedings. Old Sturbridge Village, 1999.

  • “The Great Leap: Youths’ Clothing in the Early Nineteenth Century.” Textiles in Early New England: The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife Annual Proceedings 1997. Boston University Press, 1999.


Selected Lectures

  • “The Upholstered Woman: Fashions of the 1870s and 1880s,” Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Conn., 2010.

  • “New Discoveries in Early New England Quilts,” Colonial Williamsburg Antiques Forum, Williamsburg, Va., 2010.

  • “Exploring New England’s Quilts, from Whole Cloth to Friendship Styles,” Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Va., 2009.

  • “Clothing in Colonial America,” H. F. du Pont Winterthur Museum’s Winter Institute, Winterthur, Del., 2009, 2010.

  • “Inspired Fantasy: Design Sources for New England's Whole-Cloth Wool Quilts,’ Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winston-Salem, NC, 2009; H. F. du Pont Winterthur Museum, Del., 2007; Furniture Collectors of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio, 2004; Historic Deerfield, Deerfield, Mass. 2003.

  • “Stenciled Bed Covers,” American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY, 2008.

  • “Wool Bedcovers in New England: From Sheep to Sleep,” Historic Deerfield, Deerfield, Mass., 2008.

  • “Needlework in New England, 1700-1850,” Wellesley Historical Society, 2009; New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Mass., 2008.

  • “Costume Collection Management and Exhibition:  Policies and Procedures,” Costume Society of America, Hartford, Conn., 2006.

  • “A Social History of Victorian Costume,” Antiquarian & Landmarks Society, Hartford, Conn., 2006.

  • "The Romantic Era: Understanding Friendship Quilts," Litchfield (Conn.) Historical Society, 2004.

  • "American Fancy Bed Covers," Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass., 2004.

  • "The Quilt Collection of the Connecticut Historical Society," Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Conn., 2004.

  • "Documenting Regional Innovation in New England Whole-Cloth Wool Quilts, 1750-1850," Seminar in American Visual and Material Culture, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass., 2003.

  • "Keeping Cozy: Connecticut Quilts and Embroidered Bed Covers," Antiquarian & Landmarks Society, Hartford, Conn., 2003.

  • "The Romantic Era in Connecticut Costume, Art, and Literature," Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Conn., 2003.   

Exhibitions

  • “The Upholstered Woman: Fashion of the 1870s and 1880s,” Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Conn., 2010.

  • “The Allure of Lace,” Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Conn., fall 2009.

  • “Who Was Anna Tuels? Quilt Stories, 1750-1900,” Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Conn., fall 2008.

  • “Making a Splash: American Beach Fashions, 1850-1920,” Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Conn., spring 2008.

  • “‘What Can a Woman Do?’ Women, Work, and Wardrobe, 1865-1940,” Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, Mass., 2009.

  • “For the Joy of It: Appliqué Quilts from the Judy Roche Collection,” Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Penn., 2006 (co-curator with Deborah Kraak).

  • “‘Modesty Died When Clothes Were Born’: Costume in the Life and Literature of Mark Twain,” The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford, Conn., 2004.

  • “Telltale Textiles: Quilts from the Historic Deerfield Collection,” Historic Deerfield, Deerfield, Mass., 2002.


Quilt Stencils

Quilting Creations International, Lynne Bassett Early New England Quilt Stencils   

______________________________________

Thank you very much for sharing yourself with us, Lynne, and for the myriad knowledge and insights we have gained because of your efforts in this field. Continued success to you.


* Women (and Men) at Work

© 2001 - 2012 Kimberly Wulfert, PhD. Absolutely no copies, reprints, use of photos or text are permitted for commercial or online use. One personal copy for study purposes is permitted.

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