Common Threads: Quilting Traditions in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, a major exhibition of 48 Hunterdon County quilts dating from 1832 to 2013, celebrates the 300th Anniversary of Hunterdon County. Judy Grow, Flemington resident and Curator of Textiles for the Hunterdon County Historic Society, is Curator. This exhibition brings together some of the most important and evocative examples of quilts made or held in Hunterdon County. Most are historic quilts; many are signature quilts associated with churches and families of note, and many date from the first half of the 19th century. Five contemporary quilts are included to show the continuity of visual and artistic achievement.
Besides private collectors and quilters, quilts in the exhibition are on loan from The Red Mill Museum Village in Clinton, the Hunterdon County Historical Society in Flemington, The Astle-Alpaugh Family Foundation in Annandale, the Lambertville Historical Society in Lambertville and the Lebanon Township Museum in New Hampton. Two of the quilts are coming home to Hunterdon from Utah and Indiana.
The exhibition is made possible in large part by a grant from the Quilter’s Guild of Dallas TX. BlackLab Photo Studio and Imaging in Flemington donated the photography, and many Hunterdon County residents donated time to conserve the various quilts and to ready them for exhibition.
In the 1800s the Hunterdon County population was generally prosperous and was able to afford expensive imported fabrics for both their quilts and clothing. In the late 1700s and early 1800s most bed coverings were woven coverlets or blankets. Quilt making was done by choice, not necessity, requiring both the wealth to buy the materials and the luxury of time to spend doing decorative needlework.
The increase in sentimentality of the first half of the 19th century, the increasing ease of migration with the resultant fracturing of families, the invention of ink that could be permanent on fabric, and the use of that ink in autograph albums, also led to the craze for making signature quilts to commemorate a significant person or event with the explicit request to “Forget Me Not.” Fourteen of the quilts in the exhibition contain signatures that are stamped, inked, or embroidered. Later in the 19th century signature quilts were often used as fundraisers. The privilege of having a signature added was sold to raise funds for a church, establish a library, or fund missionary work. Many old county names will be found on these quilts and those seeking their ancestors will find their search made easier with keys to the names, placement on the quilts, and often birth and death dates associated with the signers provided.
Two of the quilts in the exhibition, both dated June 5, 1843, include the same fabrics and pattern and have the same names inscribed on them. One is owned by the Lambertville Historical Society and the other by the Hunterdon County Historical Society. They are being seen together probably for the first time since they were made, possibly to commemorate the first wedding anniversary of Myra and Martin Coryell.
Most of the quilts in the exhibition show what are considered regional New Jersey characteristics. Block patterns including Uneven Nine-patch, Eight-Pointed Star, Peony, Oak Leaf and Reel, Sunburst, Log Cabin and a design called both Chimney Sweep and Album Block are common.
Quilting today is a multi-billion dollar industry with numerous publications devoted to the subject. Quilters are willing to travel great distances to purchase tools, patterns, and fabrics or to see exhibitions of quilts both antique and modern. The Internet allows people who share the passion to span great distances to connect and share the same friendship and fellowship found in a local quilting group. New tools and techniques make new designs possible and old designs easier to execute, in far less time.
Hunterdon County boasts two quilt guilds that meet once a month. The Hunterdon County Quilting Guild (currently about 60 members) meets at the Readington Reformed Church in Readington Township. The Courthouse Quilters Guild with about 100 members meets at the Masonic Lodge in the Borough of Frenchtown. Both guilds host speakers to teach new techniques and both participate in bi-annual quilt shows.
It is certain from the quilts in this exhibition that Hunterdon County had and continues to have a host of talented and dedicated quilters.