By: Virginia Gunn
Nineteenth century women regularly exhibited quilts, entering them in community fairs where thousands of visitors admired them. Extant fair records challenge quilt historians because of incompleteness, recording inconsistencies, imposed categories, time-lag responses, changing definitions, and gender reporting. However, analysis of three sets of Ohio records (Ohio State Fair, Wayne and Summit County Fairs) from 1850-1900 suggest fair records may help us sort out quiltmaking myths/realities and understand overall trends/changes at grassroots levels. For example, Ohio quiltmakers made log cabin and crazy quilts in quantities that made separate categories necessary, but women also continued to create traditional silk quilts and white quilts throughout the century. Antique quilts and those made from extraordinary numbers of pieces intrigued fairgoers, but they also admired machine-made quilts as well as silk, cotton, and worsted comforts. Attention given to quilts made by the very young and old suggest that, contrary to women’s magazine lore, this was exceptional rather than the rule. Further comparative research in other locations would help to correctly define nineteenth century categories based on a mixture of size, material, and technique but never labeled pieced or appliquéd/applied in this study.