QUILT REGISTRY | About
In the 1970s, quilters and craft historians in Canada, and elsewhere, were reflecting on heritage and history, whether of settlement, migration, immigration, or resistance. This interest in ‘family trees’ nourished the ‘quilt revival’, taking the form of documentation programmes with both families and quilts recorded by newly formed organisations. The Quebec Quilt Registry was started in the 1980s by three Montreal quilters: Diane Marchand, who was curious about the number of quilts in Quebec which was better known for woven bed covers; “Freddy” Wilson, who enjoyed the never-ending stories associated with the objects; and Adaire Schlatter, who wanted to investigate the craft in the context of the French/English community in the province.
The Quebec Quilt Registry is a useful resource to those interested in the rich and culturally diverse history of Canadian quilts, a history worthy of further research and scholarly attention.
The value of the Registry is evident when considering that many earlier inventories of quilts in Quebec may only be pieced together through scattered archival documents, such as a 1752 Quebec sales record of quilts in this province (many bought from France), referred to in Mary Conroy’s Three Hundred Years of Canada’s Quilts (1976).
One of the earliest pieced quilts in North America (made of silk brocade and damask, velvet, linen and cotton) is in Montreal’s McCord Museum, inscribed “1726” (McCord M972.3.1). It is documented as made in England. Indeed, there are ties to the English quilting traditions of paper piecing, framed medallions and whole-cloth quilts, but the proximity to the United States affected Canadian quilters early on and the American pieced block quilt quickly gained prominence. In spite of these shared materials and quilting techniques, the social and political circumstances of the quilters meant that the tradition developed differently in Canada.
An exceptional example of an early Canadian log cabin quilt is held in the Buxton Museum. The quilt was made by a fugitive slave woman in the early 1840s and carried to Canada as a gift for William King, founder of the Elgin Settlement in Buxton, Ontario, a region known for its large population of free slaves. This important aspect of the history of Canadian quilts was displayed in the ROM’s 2010 exhibition “Stitching Community: African-Canadian Quilts from Southern Ontario” and is included in Tobin and Dobard’s Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad (2000).
The history of quilts also offers insight into the history of Canadian settlement. The immigrant populations of Canada contributed to its quilting traditions. For instance, the single, double or triple Irish chain is a fairly common design in Canada and the wave of Irish immigrants to Quebec in the 19th century would have included women who embodied the skills and knowledge to produce it.
There are many more of these cultural strands woven into the history of Canadian quilts and worthy of further study, including the ceremonial blankets produced by First Nations quilters and the Mennonite quilt fairs and exhibitions which continue annually, among many others. The Quebec Quilt Registry offers the opportunity to document quilts from all of these culturally diverse and often intertwining threads of Canadian history and society as they appear in the province of Quebec.
The Quebec Quilt Registry – The Beginning
The first Quebec Quilt Registry day was 7 December 1991, at the St. Lambert Community Center – in a snow storm – and thirteen quilts were recorded. It was a beginning! Now, 25 years later, the “blue book” numbers 4,706. The quilts date from 1726 to the present day. Some are pristine, some in tatters, all have something to add to the grass roots investigation of the Registry. The founders of the Registry designed a bilingual form for registration, found a network of volunteers to help and a system of work evolved.
How does the registration process work?
We are a basic team of four to eight volunteers who register, inspect and photograph. The host group is asked to sew on the official labels. We will travel to any place in the province with the proviso that there are at least twenty-five quilts to be registered. A $7.00 fee per quilt is charged to defray the cost.
The registrar takes the information of the owner, the quilter and the information contained on the label of the quilt is there is one. Sometimes there are no answers to the questions asked as the piece may come from a flea market/auction/attic. In many cases, the family’s pride in showing an heirloom, handed down carefully from generation to generation, is evident. These stories are now recorded. The program is for all quilts located in Quebec, not necessarily made here.
At the inspection table, many details are noted. What is the design, is it original or from a book? What are the fabrics and colors – this information is a good clue to dating the quilt. What are the quilt’s dimensions? What is the backing fabric, is it one piece or several? What type of batting was used? Was the piece sewn by hand or by machine? The quilting is examined – was it done by hand or by machine. Until recently 90% were hand quilted, but now more works favour machine quilting.
The final procedure from the team is the digital photo; a photo frame with black background fabric is used. The overall pattern is enhanced in the vertical position. When warranted, details and/or lining photos are also taken. Lastly, the label is sewn on the reverse side. Museums sometimes opt to keep labels separate if fragile textiles are involved. As each quilt is added to the Registry, a unique registration number is assigned to the quilt as it appears on the quilt registry label. A copy of the completed registration document including the photograph is sent to the quilt owner.
Quebec Quilt Registry functions under the umbrella of Courtepointe Québec, the provincial association for quilters and quilting groups.