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Quilt History Snippets - November 2022
By Kathleen L Moore
Posted: 2022-11-03T20:51:20Z

What:   Review of Uncoverings 1990, Volume 11 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group

Topic:   “Pre-1940 Quilt Tops: Their Status and Fate in Western New York”

Authors: Barbara K. Phillippi

Phillippi’s research is based on quilt tops brought to the New York Quilt Project’s quilt documentation day events in Western New York in 1989 and includes a discussion about whether or not these tops should become finished quilts.


There were 1,713 quilts brought to Western New York documentation days of which 151 were unfinished quilt tops, although unfinished tops were not listed in pre-event public announcements. To be precise, Phillippi defines unfinished tops as “pieced or appliqued fabric which was created as the primary, or topmost layer of a quilt.” She then describes the geographic location noting that “Western New York state is a largely rural, agricultural area” with “several small cities and many lesser hamlets tucked into valleys between the rolling hills.” Buffalo and Rochester are the region’s “two large cities.” [p. 164] Interestingly, she also notes that the southern-most counties of this region are part of Appalachia and are “recognized as an economically distressed area by the federal government.” [p. 165] Phillippi states her assumption that based on the number of tops brought in for documentation, unfinished “tops exist in some quantity in the region.” [p.165] Her interest in these unfinished quilt tops has to do with the frequency with which she is asked questions about having the tops quilted or the potential for selling the tops. Because of this, she wanted to “determine the status of quilt tops made before 1940 in the geographic region.” [p. 165]


What follows is a discussion about whether or not these tops should be quilted. Phillippi quotes Barbara Brackman and Jeannette Lasansky’s contemporary-to-the-time’s opinions that “finishing older quilt tops…may rob the top of historic, aesthetic, and monetary value.” [p. 165] To collect data, Phillippi contacted owners of record per the NY Quilt Project records and consulted records with permission of the Museum of American Folk Art which was a sponsor of the documentation project. She found twenty owners and constructed a survey form to standardize her data collection. There is a good deal of information about these “time span” top owners, a term Phillippi borrows from Marie Geary, Director of the Eastcoast Quilter’s Alliance in Westford, Massachusetts. [p. 168]


Phillippi also discusses and groups information she found into discreet sections specifically identified for quilt shop owners, groups who quilt for others, professional Amish quilters, other quilting professionals, antique dealers, auctioneers, and the policies of museums and historical societies. She then discusses the arguments for and against finishing “time span” quilt tops quoting from Barbara Brackman, Jeannette Lasansky, Patsy Orlofsky, Helene von Rosenstiel (a “noted costume and textile conservator”), Merikay Waldvogel, Elizabeth Mulholland (a curator associated with the DeWitt Historical Society in Ithaca, NY), and Mary Schafer as well as an Associate Professor of Psychology at Houghton College in Houghton, NY and Laurel Horton, a folklorist.


Phillippi does not provide a hard and fast conclusion about the dilemma of whether or not to finish “time span” quilt tops. She does provide much food for thought and, as with so many of these previous article reviews, she provides the potential for follow up research and discussion.


That’s all for this month. If you do not have a copy of this, or any, edition of Uncoverings, check the publication list on the AQSG website to see if the particular volume is available…many still are. To access an online version of any issue of Uncoverings find the links at As always, you can contact me at